Add in the fact that you have one of the largest cities in the United States just beyond the reaches 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.
San Diego's most nostalgic beach is a great ship-watching post.
Coronado Beach is home to the iconic Hotel del Coronado -- that beautiful red-roofed, Victorian-style hotel that dates back to 1888. The beach on Coronado Island is long and wide, with street parking easy to find if you're willing to walk a few blocks. While lounging on the beach, visitors will be treated to views of Point Loma, Mexico, the Islas Coronado, and the naval ships and aircraft carriers coming in and out of the base, which also sits on the island.
Where to eat/drink: While a visit to "The Del" is necessary, especially its fine-dining restaurant, 1500 OCEAN, there's a lively town just steps from the beach. Longtime neighborhood favorite Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge is a gastropub on Orange Ave, the area's the main drag. For a cheap breakfast to fuel a day of exploring, you can't beat Clayton's Coffee Shop, a classic '50s diner that seems to always be playing the Top Gun soundtrack.
The clothing-optional legend with lively scenes: gay, surfing, and hang gliding
Black's Beach is known best as San Diego's gay and nude-friendly beach. Yes, it's a haven for Grindr action and lots of swinging dong, but a visit there will show that all people, including many families with young children, come to enjoy some of the most stunning beach scenery in the county. Nestled under the bluffs at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Black's Beach offers views of La Jolla to the south and San Diego's coastal towns to the north. Surfers also love Black's for its famous surf break.
The best parking is by the Torrey Pines Gliderport, where gliders soar off cliffs while beachgoers start the steep, heart-pumping hike down the cliffs and onto the sand. A favorite path down is the harrowing Ho Chi Minh Trail, named in the '60s by a group of surfers.
Where to go next: Just off the beach is University of California at San Diego's main campus and a beautiful luxury hotel, the Estancia La Jolla (the spa is a must-visit). Other than that, nothing is walkable, but just down the road is one of San Diego's best, most creative taco spots, Galaxy Taco.
The epitome of the city’s hippie culture serves up copious craft brews.
Just north of Downtown is San Diego's home for all things hippie. Ocean Beach is the classic, old-school California beach neighborhood: Much of the architecture hasn't been updated since the '70s, VW vans dot the sidewalks, stores selling crystals line the main drag of Newport Ave, barefoot surfers troll the streets looking for the next best wave, and there's always a rogue guitarist -- or five -- setting up shop along the beachfront. "OB," as it's known to locals, is also home to some of the city’s best beers, burgers, and acai bowls.
Where to eat/drink: The neighborhood has recently stepped up its craft beer offerings, now proudly boasting several San Diego craft brewery tasting rooms: Pizza Port, Mike Hess Brewing, OB Brewery, Belching Beaver, Helm's, and Culture. If you'd like some food to go with all that beer, legendary Hodad's is always a sure bet for burgers, but locals favor Raglan Public House for its robust burger and beer menus, as well as nice outdoor seating. Oceanfront Wonderland Ocean Pub has a Hawaiian-inspired menu, craft brew-stocked bar, and sprawling, open-air ocean views.
A come-as-you-are local favorite is the quickest way to escape in San Diego.
Nestled into a cove in La Jolla, just south of town, is this beach marked by boulder outcroppings that offers stretches of wide sandy beaches along smaller, hidden spots nestled between the rocks. With its cliffside mansions and palm trees popping up all around, you'll think you've landed on an island paradise until you remember you're still actually in a city. San Diegans of all stripes find their way to this beach. Note the retired 40-year-olds with a lot of plastic surgery living their best lives alongside longtime locals, surfers, and Instagram-focused tourists.
Where to eat/drink: Just north of the beach is the bustling town of La Jolla, which has countless restaurants and bars to choose from. George's at the Cove is a longtime La Jolla go-to, serving up good ocean-inspired cuisine with unbeatable outdoor views and seating. If there's a chill in the air, head next door to The Hake, which has modern, globally inspired cuisine and a killer bar program -- without sacrificing on views. Just south of Windansea is the tiny hamlet of Bird Rock, in which your best bet is to grab brunch or dinner at Beaumont's, which has a rocking nighttime scene.
The city's beach nightlife capital and a beginner-friendly surf spot
Known around town as "PB," this is the spot for beachside bars and casual fun, fueled by college students and energetic 20-somethings. Surfers flock here, too, as the neighborhood's Tourmaline Surf Park has a break that's accessible for all levels. To jump in, all you need to do is walk up and down the boardwalk to find a class or board rental on offer. If you're not the type to paddle out, this is the place to post up and watch surfers (as well as pick one up).
Where to eat/drink: PB AleHouse is your best bet for brews and solid bar food, which you can eat on an oceanfront roof deck. Tower23 Hotel sits right on the beach and has a lively brunch scene with excellent cocktails. Newly opened Tiki bar The Grass Skirt is the place to be after dark. Its kitschy decor, fun soundtrack, better-than-it-has-to-be food, strong drinks, and adjoining poke shop, Good Time Poke, make for a delightful doubleheader.
A world-famous yoga destination where you can catch a gnarly wave
This beach north of the city in Encinitas is named after the late swami Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the fathers of modern yoga. Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship sits on the bluffs overlooking the beach, one of San Diego's most famous (and gorgeous) surfing spots. The scene here is eclectic: Devotees of various eastern philosophies smoke up and do acroyoga alongside dads sneaking away from the responsibilities of everyday life to catch a few waves. Parking can be a pain, but just down route 101 is the adjoining Pipes Beach, which is really just the southern part of Swami's.
Where to eat/drink: To refuel after a long surf session, head up the bluffs to -- you guessed it -- Swami's Cafe, an Encinitas mainstay with a varied menu. Union Kitchen & Tap has more gussied-up fare, while Fish 101 is serving some of San Diego's best fish tacos. If you're at Pipes, look no further than Bull Taco, which has the best tater tot Cali burrito and ocean view of any taco shop in the world.
Iffy for swimming, but low on tourists and surrounded by great Mexican food
If you want to get as close as possible to Mexico without crossing the border, Imperial Beach is the beach for you. Though you can't swim at Border Field State Park, it's worth a visit to catch a glimpse of the borderlands. Five minutes north, IB's expansive main beach and its long pier don’t bring in the usual throngs of tourists or college kids but remain popular with military personnel. In general, swimmers stay out of the water because of a strong rip current and the water's proximity to runoff from Tijuana. Surfers, not to be deterred, abound. Look for weekend crowds and the occasional parking lot party based out of a lowrider or two.
Where to eat/drink: IB is also becoming known for its growing food and bar scene, with several restaurants slated to open early in 2017. For now, locals swear by Salty Frog for its cheap beer and friendly staff. IB Public House is a newer gastropub stocked with craft beer. For something a little quicker, IB Street Tacos folds the best of the beach (and Tijuana) into one taco stand. Since IB is mere minutes from Mexico, fresh seafood -- mariscos -- served out of a truck is ubiquitous and a must-do before the sun sets.
Arrive early to enjoy a quintessential California beach to yourself.
Settled up north near Carlsbad is Ponto Beach, a favorite for families and beachgoers of all kinds. Set on a less populated stretch of Highway 101, the vistas on this long, rockier-than-usual beach are unspoiled, save for a power plant. Parking is free but limited, which means the crowds are often tempered.
Like most San Diego beaches, it's a haven for surfers and boogie boarders but low on amenities, so you'll have to bring your own props. Also, know that South Ponto in particular has a notorious rip current, so pay attention to lifeguards and flags. It's also a favorite for nighttime bonfires, so make sure to arrive before the sun sets to claim your spot.
Where to eat/drink: As the fire dies down, head into nearby Carlsbad for dinner and drinks. Some of the best sushi in Southern California can be found at Land & Water Co., which sources as locally as possible and serves only sustainable fish. Campfire pays tribute to the great outdoors and serves live fire-cooked delicacies within a wooden former Quonset hut. The scene here is suburban, quietly upscale, and laid-back -- a Beach Boys song come to life. It seems the more we talk about it, the worse it gets to live without it.
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1. Pizza Port571 Carlsbad Village Dr, Carlsbad
2. Mike Hess Brewing3812 Grim Ave, San Diego
3. O.B. Brewery5041 Newport Ave, San Diego
4. Belching Beaver Brewery980 Park Center Dr, Vista
5. Helm's Brewing Co. Tasting Room4896 Newport Ave, San Diego
6. Culture Brewing Co.4845 Newport Ave, San Diego
7. Hodad's945 Broadway, San Diego
8. Raglan Public House1851 Bacon St, Ocean Beach
9. Wonderland Ocean Pub5083 Santa Monica Ave , San Diego
10. Lazy Hummingbird4876 Santa Monica Ave, San Diego
11. The Nest Coffee & Tea5025-5033 Niagara Ave, San Diego
12. 1500 OCEAN1500 Orange Ave, Coronado
13. Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge1015 Orange Ave, San Diego
14. Clayton's Coffee Shop979 Orange Ave, Coronado
15. George's at the Cove1250 Prospect St, San Diego
16. The Hake Kitchen and Bar1250 Prospect St, San Diego
17. Beaumont's5662 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla
18. Pacific Beach AleHouse721 Grand Ave, San Diego
19. Tower23 Hotel705 Felspar St, San Diego
20. The Grass Skirt & Good Time Poke910 Grand Ave, San Diego
21. Swami's Cafe1163 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
22. Union Kitchen & Tap1108 South coast hwy 101, Encinitas
23. Fish 1011468 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
24. Bull Taco101 N Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
25. The Salty Frog992 Palm Ave, Imperial Beach
26. IB Public House995 Palm Ave, Imperial Beach
27. IB Street Tacos805 Seacoast Dr, Imperial Beach
28. The Land & Water Company2978 Carlsbad Blvd #110, Carlsbad
29. Campfire2725 State St, Carlsbad
30. Black's BeachTorrey Pines Scenic Dr, La Jolla
31. Pacific Beach Boardwalk, San Diego
32. Coronado State Beach, Coronado
33. Windansea Beach6800 Neptune Pl, La Jolla
34. Ocean Beach5091 Niagara Ave, San Diego
What's better than pizza and beer? Nothing, obviously. This California brewery chain specializes in house-made pizza and beer. The pizza menu includes over-the-top creations like a barbecue bacon cheeseburger pie but the original recipes, like the pepperoni, mushroom, onion, and artichoke-topped Pizza Monterey are must-orders. Meanwhile, Pizza Port's hoppy beers have won countless awards for their uniqueness -- the head brewer at each location dreams up their own beer recipe, so the drafts truly are house exclusives.
What was once an Evangelical bible store is now the home of Hess Brewing Company’s North Park production facility and tasting room, where tasting flights, beer by the glass, packaged beer, and 32oz canned “Purrowlers” are on offer. The industrial space is illuminated throughout by accents of Hess’s signature cerulean blue, creating a welcoming atmosphere to savor flagship beers like the 8 West, brewed with local orange peel and orange-blossom honey, and the hop-forward Solis IPA.
In a sprawling, three-story space on Newport Ave., OB Brewery is a five-barrel brewhouse located just steps from the Ocean Beach sands. The brewery and gastropub pours house and guest brews, and serves a menu of elevated pub food like chicken wings, fish & chips, salads, and burgers. The first floor is home to the 20-tap tasting room and brewery itself; the second floor features games like shuffleboard and foosball; and the third floor offers ocean views from a rooftop lounge.
Belching Beaver Company crafts seven distinct beers, the gem of which is the Peanut Butter Milk stout enriched with rolled oats and lactose to create a sugary, buttery flavor. Enjoy this and other malty concoctions at the microbrewery, which boasts one of the best outdoor patios in the city, complete with fire pit.
Anchored in San Diego, Helm’s Brewing Co. is the brainchild of four former shipbuilders who hand-built their brewery in the much the same way that they constructed their ships. The Ocean Beach tasting room includes 16 taps in a nautical-themed, industrial-chic space flooded with bright natural light thanks to large bay windows. Helm’s Brewing Co.’s beer selection rivals that of larger breweries, featuring Captains Pale Ale, Batten Down Brown, and Goosefoot Ginger.
Culture Brewing Co. emphasizes a commitment to simple beer styles like the award-winning Brown Ale with malty and nutty flavors, the Black IPA with a floral aroma and rich hoppy finish, and the La Cerveza Lager. The Ocean Beach tasting room features up to 18 beers on tap and boasts a rustic, open atmosphere with high ceilings, a raw steel bar, and local artwork displayed throughout. Culture Brewing Co. encourages to bring along your whole family and even your furry canine friend.
A legendary burger dive, Hodad's has been serving face-sized burgers and even larger milkshakes to San Diego locals since 1969. You can choose to order your burger in mini, single, and double sizes, but be sure to pile on extras like cheese, bacon, and pastrami. The beachy interior is decked out with surfboard tables, memorabilia, and license plates. You'll likely have to wait in line, but it'll be time well spent.
A product of the Bare Back Grill's Kiwi crew, Raglan Public House is mellowed out with retractable front windows, picnic table patio seating, and surf-themed lighting fixtures -- all meant to evoke the laid-back vibe of the New Zealand surf town from which it takes its name. The Kiwi-inspired menu includes a New Zealand-style lamb burger dressed with mint and beetroot lettuce, and steak fries with homemade tartar sauce.
Overlooking the OB Pier, this tavern is named after a beachfront amusement park that took up residence in Ocean Beach in the early 20th century. Wonderland the amusement park shut down over 100 years ago, but Wonderland the bar is alive and well with a seafood-tilted pub menu that features coconut calamari and grilled tuna sandwiches next to more basic fish & chips and short-rib burgers. The extensive beer list has something for everyone: local craft beer, cider, Coors Lite, and PBR.
Just north of Downtown San Diego, Ocean Beach is home to some of the city's best health food options, and Lazy Hummingbird is a standout. The coffee shop serves acai bowls, smoothies, and tonics made with superfood ingredients like turmeric, aloe, lavender, and chaga mushroom. The spot also offers community art classes, live music, and houses an art gallery featuring local artists.
Lazy Hummingbird's second location, The Nest, serves the same brand of healthful acai bowls, fruit smoothies, and turmeric-infused tonics as the original coffee shop. Find the counter inside the organic home goods store Teter -- just off Ocean Beach pier.
The headlining restaurant at the Hotel del Coronado, 1500 Ocean brings guests California coastal cuisine in a ritzy, beachfront setting. Highlights from the seafood-inflected menu include a daily selection of market oysters with coconut pearls and yuzu-ponzu, local black cod with savory corn custard, and a surf-and-turf entrée of filet, lobster tail, and truffle risotto. Dining here is an exceptional experience and best reserved for a splurge-worthy occasion.
A departure from conventional Coronado restaurants, Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge is committed to serving food that changes with the seasons, part of a larger promise to keep things fresh, local, and sustainable. This means that presumably simple plates like buttermilk cornbread are intensified with bacon bits and blackened jalapeño butter, while scallops surprise with escorts of truffle-braised cabbage and roasted cauliflower. In addition to seasonal cocktails, Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge serves red and white sangria, whose fruity profile brightens the husky, earthy flavors of the food.
In Coronado since 1941, Clayton's is a retro diner that retains much of its old-fashioned feel, vintage jukebox and all. The menu is strictly comfort food: eggs, breakfast burritos, and short stacks are served at breakfast, and meatloaf, burgers, and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Pies and milkshakes make up the dessert selection, and a walk-up window sells pastries, drinks, and ice cream to passersby.
Views like those at George's are worth paying for, so it comes as a pleasant surprise that the seafood-centric menu here isn't insanely overpriced. The ocean terrace is where you want to sit for a full meal, but if you're here for cocktails and something lighter, head to the Level 2 bar, where classic negronis are served alongside proprietary concoctions like the chili-infused tequila Sea 3.
The Hake Kitchen and Bar reels in loyal La Jolla regulars with its coastal, seafood-centric menu. The key to a memorable dinner here is to order multiple dishes: start with small plates like the shrimp and pork tamale with crispy, glistening pork skin, then select an entrée for the main event. The spiced Colorado lamb loin, which arrives with plump little masa dumplings, leek, and watercress, is a standout. Oceanfront views will inspire heavenly dreams as you drift into your food coma.
Beaumont’s is a Bird Rock gathering place with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus live music and a full bar. This versatile venue buzzes incessantly with locals here for the modern comfort food and warm ambience. Expect fusion iterations of American diner food like carne asada eggs Benedict with avocado and cilantro Hollandaise; a house burger loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic glazed onions, feta, and basil aioli; and wedge salad with fried chicken, bacon, and blue cheese. Cocktails are varied but familiar in flavor too, like the Narcissist with rye, ginger, and honey.
This two-story beachfront bar serves house brews and standard pub fare to a mix of locals and tourists. Twenty flat-screen TVs give PB Alehouse a sports bar feel, while the oceanfront roof deck makes for an ideal lunch spot with stunning views and hearty dishes like the Aztec Burger, lobster mac & cheese, and grilled fish tacos.
Just steps from the beach, Tower23 Hotel is a luxury hotel with a lively scene. It's home to JRDN Restaurant, a contemporary seafood and steak house, and Tower Bar and Lounge. The sophisticated, oceanfront restaurant and the outdoor lounge feature unparalleled views of the beach, to be enjoyed alongside a menu of high-quality, sustainable meat and seafood, craft cocktails, and wine.
This two-in-one Pacific Beach spot consists of a grab-and-go poke joint (Good Time Poke) and a tiki-themed speakeasy (The Grass Skirt). Good Time Poke is the daytime spot of the two, serving traditional and not-so-traditional riffs on the classic Hawaiian raw fish salad. Enjoy a signature bowl and pork belly steamed buns, or create your own poke… and still get the pork belly steamed buns. A pair of double doors at the back of Good Time Poke leads to The Grass Skirt, where quintessential Tiki drinks are made with high-quality rum, and an Asian-and-Hawaiian-inflected food menu features small plates like kimchee fried rice, shrimp yakisoba, and drunken noodles. There's poke here too, but it's a bit more meta than what's served at the fronting cafe. Exhibit A: the Tuna Ribbon Poke Fishbowl served atop a fishbowl, complete with live goldfish. Raw fish, live fish, we'll take it.
Swami's began as a humble juice bar on the South Coast Highway before morphing into a California mini-chain known for its breakfasts and acai bowls. In true California fashion, the morning and afternoon spot incorporates avocado into many of its dishes, and plays up the basics with items like pineapple upside-down pancakes and a tropical shrimp wrap with walnuts, dried cranberries, and... avocado. Expect a variety of Mexican-inspired food -- breakfast burritos, mole enchiladas, and fish tacos -- plus brightly colored juices and smoothies.
Union Kitchen & Tap is a neighborhood eatery and bar in Encinitas featuring American cuisine with Southern inflections and craft beer. Expect traditional bar food alongside down-home dishes like charred okra, crawfish popcorn, cheddar-scallion biscuits, and house gumbo. The exposed brick bar taps only the finest local brew efforts, with 11 rotating taps and an extensive list available by the pint or by the jug, if you’re extra thirsty.
California coastal seafood house Fish 101 has a menu that changes not only with the seasons, but with whatever fish bites the line that morning. The Encinitas seafood shack is local and sustainable in both fishing practices and ingredient sourcing, as the produce and herbs come from from various SoCal farms. Order at the counter, grab a seat at the communal table, and enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer while you wait for your California-caught, simply grilled (or fried) catch-of-the-day to join you at the table.
The fourth outpost of North County’s Bull Taco in Encinitas serves the same innovative tacos as its predecessors. The taco chain's tagline reads “inauthentic tacos,” so alongside traditional carne asada and chicken fillings, expect combinations like the SBC (shrimp, bacon, and chorizo), and the California (tater tots and guacamole). All fillings can be served in a taco, burrito, torta, bowl, or "Fancy Quesadilla." Breakfast burritos and snacks like the popular carne asada tater tots are also on offer.
Located on the Palm Ave. corridor in Imperial Beach, The Salty Frog is one of the neighborhood’s liveliest watering holes. The dive is known for karaoke but is also home to pool, shuffleboard, live music, and has plenty of TVs for sports fans. The drinks are cheap and poured in copious amounts, but safety is encouraged first and foremost: instead of driving, reserve (in advance) the bar’s “Frog Van” for free pick up and drop off in South Bay. And don’t come hungry, there’s no food here.
IB Public House serves over a dozen local brews from its 20-tap bar in an industrial, laid-back space. The small menu of pub sandwiches, like spicy grilled cheese and a turkey wrap, is a welcome addition -- and almost necessary to soak up the craft beer. The beer selection is always rotating, but you can expect a solid representation from San Diego breweries.
IB Street Tacos is a small, bustling counter-serve in Imperial Beach, serving up some of the best battered shrimp tacos in town. Known for their street tacos, however, the restaurant offers familiar fillings for its handhelds, like adobada, pollo asado, and carnitas, on a corn tortilla with guacamole, onions, and cilantro. Seafood tacos are served on flour tortillas, and the pulpo al pesto tacos fly off the grill as quickly as the battered shrimp. The tacos are traditional; they’re small and cheap, and the small San Diego taqueria is turning out nearly 2,000 of them per day. Make sure you get at least one.
It’s not often you find yourself in a sushi restaurant that splits its menu between nigiri, izakaya small plates, and hearty French dishes. It's also not often you find yourself in a restaurant where everything from the tables and light fixtures to the breads and fish is sustainably sourced or made in-house. The Land & Water Company in Carlsbad is all of those things. Here, you’ll find aquaculture-raised yellowtail sashimi alongside crispy pork belly bacon with jalapeño cornbread, hot dinner entrées like pork bourguignon and vegetable pot pie. If you're looking for the fatty flesh of endangered bluefin tuna, you've come to the wrong place.
Campfire lights up the food and drink scene in Carlsbad with a 12-foot wood- and charcoal-fired grill and smokey dishes like grilled dates, griddle bread, and charred leg of lamb with goat milk and pistachio. And what kind of campfire doesn't have s'mores for dessert? Campfire's update on the Girl Scout classic features a spiced graham phyllo dough and the requisite filling of chocolate and marshmallow. As if the wood-fueled grill wasn't enough, the building -- a former Quonset hut from WWII -- is decked out with oak, canvas, and a carved-wood mountain mural.
Black’s Beach is known best as San Diego’s gay and nude-friendly beach, but you'll also find many families with young children here enjoying some of the most stunning beach scenery in the county. Nestled under the bluffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve, Black’s Beach offers views of La Jolla to the south and San Diego’s coastal towns to the north. The best parking is by the Torrey Pines Gliderport, where gliders soar off cliffs while beachgoers start the steep, heart-pumping hike down the cliffs and onto the sand. A favorite path down is the harrowing Ho Chi Minh Trail, named in the ’60s by a group of surfers.
PB is the spot for beachside bars and casual fun, fueled mostly by college students and energetic twenty-somethings. Surfers flock here, too, as the neighborhood’s Tourmaline Surf Park has a break that’s accessible for all levels. If you’re not the type to paddle out, post up and watch surfers from the sand instead.
Coronado Beach is home to the iconic Hotel Del Coronado -- that beautiful red-roofed, Victorian-style hotel that dates back to the late 1800s. The beach on Coronado Island is long and wide, with street parking easy to find if you’re willing to walk a few blocks. While lounging on the beach, visitors are treated to views of Point Loma, Mexico, and Naval ships and aircraft carriers coming in and out of the base, which also sits on the island.
Tucked away in a La Jolla cove just south of town, this beach is marked by boulder outcroppings and stretches of wide sandy beaches. With cliffside mansions and palm trees popping up all around the beach, you'll feel as though you're in an island paradise... until you remember that you’re still actually in a city. Note the retired 40-year-olds with a lot of plastic surgery living their best lives alongside long-time surfers and Instagram-focused tourists.
Just north of Downtown is San Diego’s home for all things hippie. Ocean Beach is the classic, old-school California beach neighborhood: much of the architecture hasn’t been updated since the 70s, VW vans dot the sidewalks, stores selling crystals line the main drag of Newport Avenue, barefoot surfers troll the streets looking for the next best wave, and there’s always a rogue guitarist -- or five -- setting up shop along the beachfront.