A common knock on San Diego is that it's "just a beach town." For ocean lovers, that's a gentle jab at worst. For culture seekers, it couldn't be more of an oversimplification. More than just patches of surf and sand, beaches allow a large part of San Diego's life to revolve around the water. Locals wouldn't have it any other way.
San Diego proper boasts a ridiculous 70 miles of coastline, producing beaches that range from enclaves flanked by cliffs to wide expanses that require you to scale dunes. Certain beaches and their accompanying neighborhoods are better for surfing, some for dining, some for partying, and others for slipping off every stitch of your clothing.
Add in the fact that you have one of the largest cities in the United States just beyond the reach of the tide, and we'll say proudly that San Diego is unabashedly a world-class beach town. Here's how to pick your spots among the many while you're here… but first, some ground rules:
1. Different beaches operate by different rules, even within the San Diego Park System, so be sure to read all the signage when you enter the beach or parking lot.
2. Parking: Some beach lots close at sunset, some at 2am, and others really don’t close at all. Be sure to check the signs for your particular lot so you don’t walk back to your car only to find it behind a locked gate. If you’re parking on the street and you block a business or resident’s driveway at all, you will be towed, so don’t even consider it. Be sure to carry some cash and change for meters.
3. Alcohol, tobacco, and glass are not permitted on any beaches in San Diego County, and that's been the case since 2008. Sorry.
4. Dogs are only allowed on a few beaches in San Diego -- and even then, poop bags may not be available, so bring some with you just in case. Some beaches allow leashed dogs before 9am and after 4pm from November-March, or 6pm from April-October.
5. Bonfires are only permitted in fire rings. Some beaches have bbq grills, but personal bbq grills are generally allowed at most beaches and many provide containers for discarding hot coals. Never dump hot coals in the sand; even if you cover them, they can still be red-hot hours later for some poor unsuspecting soul to step on.
6. Lastly, the Golden Rule of Beachgoing: leave things cleaner than you found them for good karma!