A Beach Bum’s Guide to San Diego

By Sara Borzatta,

Wild coastlines, laid-back vibes and beach cruisers mounted by bikini tops and Rainbow sandal-wearing chicks as tan as the foam on a Starbuck’s espresso – welcome to San Diego, California. With more than 17 miles of coast lining the Pacific, San Diego is a beach-lover’s paradise. This is a beach bum’s guide to San Diego that will transform you into a bonafide surfer dude(t) – or at least a wannabe.

La Jolla | Pacific Beach | Ocean Beach | Mission Beach | Point Loma | Coronado | Imperial Beach

La Jolla

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Catch some rays with the seals in La Jolla. Photo by Giggs Huang CC BY

If there is such a thing as a dapper beach town, La Jolla takes the title. This affluent neighborhood boasts multiple beaches, each with its own unique architecture. La Jolla Cove Beach is a great place to be awe-inspired by the cliffs and the sea lions sunning on the nearby rocks. The Cove is a great place to snorkel but make sure you follow the locals because the swells can get dangerous and knock you against the rocks, not to mention the sea lions have been known to get a wee bit aggressive at times.

Also in the La Jolla neighborhood is Windansea Beach, a shortening of ‘Wind and Sea,’ which should appeal to anyone interested in surfing. Famous world surfing icons like Mike Hynson from Endless Summer and Windansea local Emery Kauanui Jr. have both graced this beach with more than one epic ride. Make sure you check out the nearby coffee shop and mosey down to the beach with a steaming cup of joe in hand to watch the sunset. One of the impressive features here is the large, flat sandstone rocks that line the beach and act as dividers that offer a sense of privacy and provide great spots for sunbathing and sunset-watching. The swells at Windansea are not for weak swimmers or novice surfers – at times reaching up to 12 feet high, the shallow reef provides a year-round break that provides dependable waves (not the cleanest break though). Tourists are not traditionally welcomed by local surfers at this storied break, but since most non-locals are not brave enough to paddle out – non-surfing beach-goers can visit the beach without worry.

Another beach that deserves a mention is the unofficial nudist beach, Black’s Beach. Located south of Torrey Pines State Beach, Black’s Beach is located under the buffs of the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve. Half of the beach is owned by the city of San Diego, while the other northern half is owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation – the north side of the beach is where nudity is tolerated. So if you feel like stripping down to your birthday suit, Black’s is the place to be.

EAT

Puesto | 1026 Wall Street

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It tastes even better than it looks… Photo courtesy of the Puesto Facebook page.

Mexican food in San Diego is an obvious choice with the city’s proximity to the Mexican border — but with so many amazing choices it’s hard to narrow down the best taco in town! Puesto is one of the best places to grab a taco near the beach in La Jolla. Try a zucchini and cactus taco with fresh tomatillo sauce and melted cheese. Why not top that off with a frozen Horchata or a signature Michelada like the El Rey Del Patio with fresh cucumber, tomatillo,‏ chilies, lime and Corona.

DRINK

La Jolla Brewing Company | 7536 Fay Ave.

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Try the Flight of Five and taste five of core beers at once at La Jolla Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of the La Jolla Brewing Company Facebook Page.

For a laid back drink out on the patio, head to La Jolla Brewing Company for an impressive list of local brews that are “aggressively hopped West Coast style.” These guys pride themselves on their quality craft beers plus their impressive list of guest brews. Order the Flight of Five to try their five core beers on tap for $10.

SLEEP

The Grand Del Mar | 5300 Grand Del Mar Court

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Give yourself a break from the waves and dive into the Grand Del Mar’s luxurious pool. Photo courtesy of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar.

This gorgeous property is set inland from the beach, but coastal breezes are still a regular appearance at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar Hotel. Located near the famous Torrey Pines State Beach and Natural Reserve, the hotel is nestled in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. The hotel boasts 249 stunning guestrooms with regal décor and Tuscan-inspired surroundings — with a Spanish flare. trivago users have tipped their collective hats in approval making the Grand Del Mar the highest rated five-star hotel in San Diego!

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Pacific Beach

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Just north of Mission Beach the sands become Pacific Beach, another hugely popular beach in San Diego that shares affections from locals and tourists alike. Once populated by college students and surfers, Pacific Beach is seeing more young professionals and families move in as property prices rise. P.B. is great if you want to try your hand at fishing. Nearby Crystal Pier is a designated fishing spot where you can relax and catch a bite (literally). Swimming areas and surfing areas are segregated along the beach, so make sure to head out into the correct area. Pacific Beach is also a hub for San Diegan nightlife. Garnet Avenue (4-minute walk from the beach) is overflowing with trendy locales, quirky eateries and classic beach bars – head over this way as the sun goes down.

EAT

Kono’s Beach Cafe | 704 Garnet St.

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Photos courtesy of Kono’s Beach Cafe.

It wouldn’t be a day out in Pacific Beach if you didn’t first stop by Kono’s Beach Cafe for a breakfast the size of your head. This inexpensive surfside joint serves up some of the fluffiest French toast and pancakes you’ll ever lay your eyes on. For the bottomless stomachs – try one of the ‘Big Breakfasts’ on the menu – you won’t finish it. Breakfast is served all day.

DRINK

Pacific Beach Shore Club | 4343 Ocean Blvd.

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Try one of the slushies at Pacific Beach Shore Club. Photo courtesy of the Pacific Beach Shore Club Facebook page.

After a long day under the California sun, you’re no doubt ready for some cold drinks (and some aloe perhaps) – so look no further than the Pacific Beach Shore Club. This place overlooks Pacific Beach and the Pier, plus it has some solid DJs spinning tunes. Patrons rave about the Red Bull vodka slushie for a refreshing kick or try a cherry limeade for a chilled sweet treat. If you’re hungry after a messy night out at the Shore Club, they have delicious lobster tacos that just might save you from a huge hangover the next day.

SLEEP

Tower23  | 723 Felspar St.

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Take a look at that beach view! Photo courtesy of the Tower23 Hotel via trivago.

Although a bit posh for the likes of a beach bum, water babies will utterly enjoy the Tower23 hotel for its coastal feel and proximity to the beach. As the highest rated 4-star hotel in San Diego, trivago users agree, the sunset views from Tower23 can’t be beat.

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Pacific Terrace Hotel | 610 Diamond Street

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Another stunning view of the Pacific. Photo courtesy of the Pacific Terrace Hotel.

Opt for the highest rated 3-star hotel in San Diego, Pacific Terrace Hotel, for a beachfront property that offers guest rooms decked out in Tommy Bahama including the custom bath amenities. The wooden plantation style shutters give the whole structure a Hawaiian essence. Head down to the outdoor heated pool with an ocean view if you’re afraid of the big bad waves of the Pacific or borrow one of the hotel’s beach cruisers and hit the boardwalk for a day of pedaling and people-watching. Each guest room features either a patio or a balcony with views of the Pacific Ocean. Pacific Beach is just steps away and you can check the surf report on the hotel website, or just look out the window…

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Ocean Beach

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Take a stroll under the pier at Ocean Beach. Photo by Chad McDonald CC BY

Once called Mussel Beach for its abundant shellfish population, Ocean Beach is about a 1-mile long beach with typical yellow, coarse Californian sands, 2-3 feet waves on average and volley ball courts. The beach has outdoor fire pits available on a first come first serve basis. Roast some marshmallows and swap ghost stories – but make sure to pack it up by midnight when fire pits need to be shut down for the night. Another fun fact is that Ocean Beach is located right next to Dog Beach, which occupies the south end of the beach – this is one of the only beaches where you can let your pooch run wild, or watch other peoples’ pets go nuts.

EAT

Eating in Ocean Beach is best enjoyed with a view of the ocean and an over-sized sandwich in hand, crispy french fries and a chilled beer.

Shades Oceanfront Bistro | 5083 Santa Monica Ave. Ste 1F

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Enjoy the ocean breeze on the patio for lunch. Photo courtesy of the Shades Oceanfront Bistro Facebook Page.

Enjoy a spicy Bloody Mary on the patio overlooking the beach at Shades Oceanfront Bistro. They have amazing Huevos Rancheros and a filet mignon benedict! Make sure to try some sweet potato fries with homemade ketchup (no joke). The best part? Other than the beach view and the amazing food, this place is also pup peaceful – bring Fido with you and let him peruse the doggy menu – yes, they really have a doggy menu!

DRINK

Winston’s Beach Club | 1921 Bacon St.

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Bloody Mary anyone? Photo courtesy of Winston’s Beach Club Facebook Page

Winston’s Beach Club is where you are going to want to spend your night in Ocean beach. Just two blocks from the beach, Winston’s keeps it casual. There’s live music six nights a week followed by karaoke and comedy hours. The comedians are amazing and the bartenders know what they’re doing. Be prepared to enjoy some hearty laughs until two in the morning and if you’re a fan of the Grateful Dead, a tribute band plays regularly at Winston’s.

SLEEP

Ocean Beach Hotel | 5080 Newport Avenue

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Stay at the laid back Ocean Beach Hotel to get an authentic experience of OB. The Hotel is right on the beach so you can enjoy your morning cup of joe out on the sunny balcony and look out at the surf. All of the guestrooms are decorated with chill beach tones, beachy décor and artwork from local artists. Free WiFi and free beach parking come with your hotel stay. Spend the day at the beach and then walk a few feet up to the hotel courtyard for a quick rinse in the outdoor shower before moseying up to your hotel room. Feel free to enjoy a relaxing stay with your pup in tow – Ocean Beach Hotel is pet-friendly, and basically just friendly all around!

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Mission Beach

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Wide stretch of sand at Mission Beach. Photo by patrickcam CC BY

Nestled between Pacific Beach to the North and Ocean Beach to the south, lies the most popular beach in San Diego, Mission Beach. This stretch of sand is great for people who want to actually ‘do’ things at the beach, rather than just lay in the sun (you can do that too) but the over-sized boardwalk that lines the beach is perfect for riding your beach cruiser, roller skates or just walking. The vacation rentals that line the inner side of the boardwalk are enviable and make a great backdrop for your morning run. Nearby you can find Belmont Park, a fair-like amusement park complete with wooden roller coasters and greasy sweets. This beachfront park includes all the rides from the old days like bumper cars, the classic carousel and spinning cups – guaranteed to make you feel like a kid again.

EAT

If you’re not going to make use of the picnic tables and BBQ pits located down on the beach and the grassy area next to it – then take a short walk to discover shops and restaurants of every kind.

La Playa Taco Shop | 3973 Mission Blvd.

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Look at the fresh guac at La Playa Taco Shop. Photo by y6y6y6 CC BY

Known for its post-surf burrito culture, La Playa Taco Shop is completely unassuming, abundant, fresh and delicious. Try a Carne Asada burrito with fresh guacamole and real hot sauce, or opt for a breakfast burrito with potatoes and wash it down with some sweet Horchata. La Playa Taco Shop is inexpensive and close to the beach, so it also makes a perfect pit stop on your way to or from the shore.

DRINK

Wavehouse Beach Club | 3125 Ocean Front Walk

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Fresh cocktails and live entertainment await you at the Wavehouse Beach Club. Photo courtesy of the Wavehouse Beach Club Facebook Page.

This place might be a little touristy, but it’s for good reason, the Wavehouse Beach Club is undeniably fun. The FlowBarrel artificial wave pool is perfect if you want to try your hand at surfing, but not out in the big deep blue. The surf pool generates some pretty spectacular waves and it’s situated right on the beach with the Ocean in background. If you don’t feel like surfing, it’s even more fun to sit outside and soak up the sun, listening to Bob Marley as you sip on a fresh Pina Colada and watch surfers, both on and off the beach! Try the Surf’s Up Mango Daiquiri for a cool treat.

SLEEP

The Bahia | 998 West Mission Bay Drive

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Wake up to this peaceful backdrop. Photo courtesy of the Bahia San Diego via trivago.

This 3-star beauty peaks out over Ventura Cove making for morning ocean views that will have you happily hopping out of bed for a day of sun, sand and surf. The Hotel offers either beachfront or garden view rooms with balconies overlooking both. Mission Beach is less than a ten minute walk away (0.4 miles) if you want to hit the main strip, play volleyball or splash in the waves, or you can opt to spend a peaceful morning reading on the cove beach under a hotel awning. The rooms are clean and calm with cream tones and tropical plants to put you in a vacation state of mind. Enjoy the complimentary WiFi as you sip cocktails in the Hotel’s Casablanca-inspired Tangier Lounge.

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Point Loma

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Sunset Cliffs Beach in Point Loma. Photo by SD Dirk CC BY

The Point Loma peninsula in San Diego technically includes Ocean Beach to the North, but that is a whole community on its own. Instead head a bit south on the peninsula to Sunset Cliffs to see some of the best beach area that the Point Loma neighborhood has to offer. As you may have guessed by the name, the best time to head to this beach is in the late afternoon before the sun sets. Wait by the cliffs to see a vibrant sun smack against the cliffs, interrupted only by the rough waves. This place is a great spot for couples and people looking for a smooth hike.

Another beach worth Room5g out if you’re hanging out in Point Loma is the small beach called La Playa. Tucked away between the east side of the Point Loma peninsula and Shelter Island, this tiny little stretch of beach is very quiet and perfect for families with young kids. The area is protected by land inlets, so there are hardly any waves and no surfers — a perfect setting to let the little ones dip their toes in the water.

EAT

Little Lion Cafe | 1424 Sunset Cliffs Blvd.

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Little Lion Cafe will steal your heart with its homemade, delectable dishes. Photo courtesy of the Little Lion Cafe Facebook Page.

This place is just as cute as it sounds! Located on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. one block North of Point Loma Ave. you’ll find this little gem that serves up some of the fluffiest Belgian waffles you’ll ever see! This euro-style eatery is fresh, quaint, family-run and perfect for a stop before or after your trek down to see Sunset Cliffs. Try the poached eggs over kale with some fresh coffee for a yummy morning treat. Little Lion is also open for dinner where you can indulge in tuna tartare followed by homemade chocolate ice cream!

DRINK

Harbor Town Pub | 1125 Rosecrans St.

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It’s Karaoke night at the Harbor Town Pub. Photo courtesy of the Harbor Town Pub Facebook Page.

Since Ocean Beach is part of Point Loma, a lot of the bars and nightlife is going to be concentrated in that general area. But if you’re looking for something outside of Ocean Beach check out the Harbor Town Pub on the east side of the peninsula (not too far from La Playa Beach). This place is definitely more of a pub than any of the other places in this guide, but it’s a great place for a wide selection of beers and a rowdy atmosphere at night — Wednesday is karaoke night, Thursday is trivia and Friday and Saturday feature a DJ.

SLEEP

Inn At Sunset Cliffs | 1370 Sunset Cliffs

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A gorgeous beach stay. Photos courtesy of the Inn at Sunset Cliffs Facebook Page.

The Inn at Sunset Cliffs is a homey, laid back establishment which is known for its stunning location suspended over the Pacific Ocean. Each of the Inn’s 24 guestrooms are brightly decorated with blues and vibrant coral. All rooms come with a guaranteed ocean breeze! The rooms have either an Ocean or courtyard view — the latter is filled with colorful gardens. This quaint, privately-owed hotel was built in the 1950s and takes pride is supporting the local community. Fashioned after buildings you would see on the Greek Islands, the Inn is a happy and serene place where you can indulge in yoga on the patio which overlooks the ocean (oftentimes getting a refreshing splash from the crashing waves).

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Coronado

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Palms on Coronado. Photo by Evo Flash CC BY

Cross the San Diego Bay bridge and you’ll arrive in the utopian neighborhood that is Coronado. This quiet community is filled with sunshine, luxuries, perfectly trimmed lawns and gorgeous oceanfront properties. An interesting tidbit about Coronado is the story behind the sand dunes. Unlike most beaches on the West Coast, Coronado feature some rolling sand dunes with grass (or something similar) peeking out from beneath the sands. At first glance, they may just look like lovely dunes – but if you ever get the chance to see the dunes from above, you’ll realize that they spell out ‘CORONADO’— the result of a creative beach cleaner from the 1980s who decided to clean masses of seaweed from the beach by moving them up shore and shaping them into a word before covering them with sand. Here’s to that guy for making his job more exciting for the day!

EAT

Miguel’s Cocina | 1351 Orange Ave. 

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Grab a taco out on the patio at Miguel’s Cocina. Photo courtesy of Miguel’s Cocina Facebook page.

You can never have too much Mexican food in San Diego. Head to Miguel’s Cocina for an amazing location right across from the beach. Sit out on the patio and enjoy the Classic Fish Tacos under the California sun. Portions are abundant and the Pomegranate mojito pairs nicely with the hearty spice of the Enchiladas Rancheras.

DRINK

Coronado Brewing Company | 170 Orange Ave.

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Grab a local brew and head to the beach. Photo courtesy of the Coronado Brewing Company Facebook page.

Boasting a coastal vibe and the laid-back charm that will make you fall in love with San Diego, the Coronado Brewing Company has been around since 1996 and have mastered a perfect selection of local, craft beers with that signature taste of the West Coast — lots of hops. Make sure to try the Idiot IPA for a bitterly fruity flavor or the Islander for a tangy taste with mango and apricot undertones. This is the perfect place to chill with company and have a beachy brew.

SLEEP

The Hotel Del Coronado | 1500 Orange Ave.

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Gorgeous rooms with gorgeous views at the Hotel Del Coronado. Photo courtesy of the Hotel Del Coronado via trivago.

If you’re dazzled by the Coronado lifestyle and you want to set up shop in the neighborhood — The Hotel Del Coronado is an iconic must-stay of the area. Affectionately called ‘The Del’ by locals, this historical hotel has graced the area with it’s red shingled roof for more than 125 years! The refined decor and beachy atmosphere is somewhat contrasting, but that’s what makes it so special. Opt for old world glamour in one of the rooms on the historical Victorian-style building or keep it beachy cool at one of the contemporary guestrooms in the ocean towers — the resort spans over 28 acres.

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Imperial Beach

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Watch your pup catch some waves at Imperial Beach. Photo courtesy of the Unleashed by Petco Facebook Page.

Imperial Beach is probably the beach in San Diego that the locals don’t want you to know about. Imperial Beach in the South Bay region is at the most southwest end of California, right before you hit the Mexican border – sometimes you might be faced with some sewage runoff from Tijuana – but the beach is quiet, warm and a great surf spot. For the past 10 years, one of the cutest surf competition you will ever see has been taking place on the waves of Imperial beach — the Unleashed by Petco Surf Dog Competition.

EAT

Katy’s Cafe | 704 Seacoast Dr. Ste A

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Katy’s Cafe serves up fresh sandwiches just steps from the beach. Photo courtesy by Katy’s Cafe Facebook page.

For a true surfer’s cafe with the beach right out front and the relaxed vibe only found in the southern coast of the Golden State, head over to Katy’s Cafe for a yummy breakfast before the sun comes up or a relaxing lunch. This place is great for home-style cooking and fresh sandwiches like Al’s Cali King with avocado, cheddar and egg on a toasted croissant plus any kind of meat you want. The local lifeguards from Imperial Beach stop in here to get a warm cup of coffee and a hearty meal. Katy is very friendly and surfs the area, so she can give you some tips if you feel like paddling out. The Cafe also hosts an annual surf competition and features artwork from local artists accompanied by photos of local surf legends.

DRINK

The Salty Frog | 992 Palm Ave.

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Build your own Bloody Mary at the Salty Frog. Photo courtesy of the Salty Frog Facebook page.

For good chuckle and a strong drink, head over to The Salty Frog, where the name is enough to ensure you have a good time. Drinks are cheap and the bar crew is entertaining. The Frog hosts karaoke nights, open mic nights, and a 5$ make your own Bloody Mary bar on Sunday nights. Come have a drink and get silly in a casual setting.

SLEEP

Pier South Autograph Collection | 800 Seacoast Drive

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Have a posh beach stay at the Pier South Resort. Photo courtesy of Pier South Facebook page.

A modern and chic beachfront room is what awaits you at the Pier South hotel in Imperial Beach. You won’t find anything tacky or outdated at this refined facility. The clean lines, open space and designer-friendly architecture is Southern California beachy charm with a face lift. The guestrooms include a private balcony and custom bath amenities from Gilchrist & Soames. The onsite restaurant, SEA 180º, boasts a contemporary culinary fusion of Mexican and Californian dishes, and let’s not forget the 180 degree view of the Pacific ocean and Imperial Beach.

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We know there are even more beach hangouts in San Diego — so tell us your favorite(s) if we missed it!