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12 Top-Rated Beaches in the San Diego Area

Located about three hours south of Los Angeles and 20 minutes north of the Mexican border, San Diego combines what may be the country's most perfect weather with mile after mile of beautiful coastline. The area has both wide, flat public beaches, easily accessible and convenient even for a brief visit, and secluded, untouched cove beaches, reachable only on foot via a winding path down from the cliffs. San Diego has beaches within its city limits and there are beaches in the various towns and cities both north and south of the downtown area. Surfers gravitate towards cities like Encinitas, Leucadia, and San Clemente, while sun worshippers and families may prefer Oceanside, La Jolla, or Pacific Beach.

1 Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach
Pacific Beach
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Pacific Beach, the city, and its main public beach, offers the archetypical Southern California beach town experience. There's a wide, smooth beach that goes on for miles. Most of the beach is fluffy white sand, with only a small part covered by the waves most of the day. The beach is flat, but slopes down right near the waterline. You also get a beachfront boardwalk filled with little stores, cafes, and even accommodations, right on the sand. Pacific Beach is great for those who love to be active outside. There's a dedicated bike path and fun on-beach activities like surf schools and yoga. The Surfer Beach Hotel is right in the heart of PB (as locals call it), with most of its rooms facing the ocean. The hotel is home to World Famous Pacific Beach, one of the area's best restaurants.

2 Del Mar City Beach

Del Mar City Beach
Del Mar City Beach
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Del Mar may be best known for its famous horse racing, but it's a beautiful little seaside community with some great beaches. Del Mar City Beach is more than two miles long, wide, and clean, with multiple lifeguard towers. There are two parks across the street, Powerhouse Park and Seagrove Park, both are great places to picnic before or after your beach outing. The adjacent beach, North Beach, is dog-friendly. The Hotel Indigo San Diego Del Mar is a 15-minute walk to the beach. It's a resort-style property with stylish bungalow accommodations.

3 La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores
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A few minutes from Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores is one of the most picturesque beaches in all of San Diego. The mile-long, gently curving beach is protected from large waves, and it's a great place for wading and frolicking in the surf. Lifeguards are on duty, and it's also known for having the most gentle surf in San Diego. Showers and facilities are available. Divers and snorkelers will love exploring San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, which is right next to La Jolla Shores. The town of La Jolla offers upscale shopping and dining. If you want to laugh, Hollywood's world famous Comedy Store has a second location here. The Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton is a great choice if you want to stay in town. It's in the center of La Jolla, near the Torrey Pines Golf Club, about a 10-minute walk to the beach.

4 Swami's Beach

Swami's Beach
Swami's Beach
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Located in Encinitas, this beach is one of the area's best surfing areas. It's a typical cove beach, with limited access and high cliffs on both sides. Surfers love it because the waves break to the right of the point of land that sticks out into the ocean. There are also beach and reef surf breaks here, and the area is especially crowded during big winter swells. It's a cool place to watch surfing because the breaks are a few hundred yards off the beach, and some surfers are able to ride the waves for a long time. Swami's has lifeguards on duty, but there are no facilities or food.

5 Playa Pacifica on Mission Bay

Playa Pacifica on Mission Bay
Playa Pacifica on Mission Bay
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Mission Bay is the bay and marina area, located between Old Town San Diego and Pacific Beach. The Playa Pacifica is the wide strip of beach between the bay and the bike/jogging path. It's between the old visitor's center building (shaped like a giant shell) and the Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa on East Mission Bay Drive. There's a covered picnic area, basketball courts, and an area for fire pits. For kids, there's a tot lot, which is a dog-free, barefoot playground area. The beach is man-made and the sand is very clean and soft.

6 Cardiff State Beach

Cardiff State Beach
Cardiff State Beach
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Located a mile south of the town of Cardiff on Old Highway 101, Cardiff State Beach is a gently sloping beach popular for surfers, swimmers, and beach-goers. The beach, which is also a state park, has lifeguards and two large paid parking areas. There are also restrooms and showers. Swimmers especially like Cardiff State Beach because currents keep the water here warmer than some of the area's other beaches. Take a hint from the locals and grab breakfast at Pipes Cafe in Cardiff before hitting the waves. The Holiday Inn Express Encinitas - Cardiff Beach Area is on a hill with some rooms overlooking Cardiff and the sea. They offer free parking, free breakfast, and free Wi-Fi.

7 Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach
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Coronado Beach is on Coronado Island, located in San Diego Bay. It's best known for the iconic Hotel del Coronado, located right on the beach. Coronado Beach is the mile-and-a-half-long beach area directly in front of the hotel. The beach is very flat, so it's great for skimboarding. Your eyes aren't playing tricks on you, this beach is very shiny due to the high mica content in the sand. Lifeguards are on duty during the day (most work from 9am to dusk at state and city beaches) and there are both bathrooms and showers available. Parking is free on Ocean Boulevard.

8 San Onofre Surf Beach

San Onofre Surf Beach
San Onofre Surf Beach
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Made famous in a Beach Boys song, San Onofre Surf Beach is all about surfing and a whole lot more. Of course you can surf here, but you can also fish, bike, kayak, birdwatch or just relax. San Onofre Surf Beach is one part of San Onofre State Beach, which is one of California's top five most-visited state parks. The surf breaks here range from easy beginner stuff to Trestles, considered the best surfing spot in the continental US. It's a large area; the beach is three and a half miles long. There's a long nature trail that connects to the San Onofre Bluffs, the beautiful cliffs that tower over the beach. Year-round camping is available here. San Onofre is north of San Diego, about three miles south of San Clemente. When you're done watching the surfers, dolphins, whales, and sea lions can often be spotted swimming just offshore. The San Clemente Inn is a reasonably-priced, boutique hotel in the heart of the small city.

9 Scripps Beach

Scripps Beach
Scripps Beach
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Located on either side of Scripps Pier (not open to the public) the Scripps Beach area is a beautiful, wide, sandy space with powdery white sand. It's directly below the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, which is a fascinating, must-see attraction in the area. The beach is a perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing and exploring the aquarium. Scripps is near La Jolla Shores, but much less crowded. You can park at La Jolla Shores as it's a pleasant five-minute walk. The area is popular for kayaking and there are rentals available. The Estancia La Jolla Hotel and Spa is right up the street and its cliff-top location means you have views of Scripps Beach and pier from the hotel. Take some time to visit Torrey Pines Gliderport, a cliff-top mini airport for paragliders and hang gliders. It's beautiful to watch them take off by running towards the cliff and then floating and rising on the air currents. Tandem rides are available with skilled pilots.

10 Voltaire Street Beach

Dog Beach
Dog Beach
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Located in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego, Voltaire Street Beach is an oceanfront destination that combines a great beach with fun things to do. Voltaire Street, before it dead-ends into the beach parking lot, is lined with cool local shops and restaurants. At the beach, there's a grassy picnic area and basic facilities. All of the beaches in Ocean Beach are less crowded than those in neighboring Mission Beach or Pacific Beach. At one end of Ocean Beach is the famous, original Dog Beach. This remains one of the only leash-optional public beaches in California, and it's a fun place to visit, with or without a dog. The Ocean Beach Hotel puts you right on the sand (well there's a small street in front of the hotel) a few blocks down from Voltaire Street.

11 Beacon's Beach

Beacon's Beach
Beacon's Beach
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Beacon's Beach is part of Leucadia State Beach in Encinitas. The raw, unspoiled beach is surrounded by high bluffs, with densely-built homes and condos on top. Like many beaches in the area, you park at the top of the bluffs and walk down to the beach via a winding trail. It's a popular surf break and sunbathing spot, so parking can be hard to find in the small lot. Visitors are rewarded with a very pure experience, it's just beach and ocean. This beach has coarse sand with a lot of rocky areas. During low tide, you can explore the marine life in the many tidepools.

12 Breakwater Way Beach

Breakwater Way Beach
Breakwater Way Beach
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The Breakwater Way Beach, named for the breakwater or rock jetty that creates the Oceanside harbor, is a great place to enjoy the sun. Because the area is more residential, the beach is quieter than some of Oceanside's other public beaches. This city beach has lifeguards and also basic facilities (bathrooms and outdoor showers). There are also barbecues and picnic tables. The beach is popular for volleyball and there are a bunch of volleyball courts. Breakwater Way Beach is next to the Strand, a small street and bike path that runs to Oceanside Pier. The Southern California Beach Club is a contemporary boutique hotel, right on the sand, in Oceanside.

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