Five San Diego Party Beaches

windansea-beachWindansea, La Jolla

Location: 6800 Neptune Place

Parking & Access: Street Parking. No parking lot. No wheelchair access.

Safety: Lifeguards are on watch in the summer and on weekends during fall and spring. There are many surrounding cliffs and rocky ledges that can be dangerous for children. There is a powerful shore-break that can be dangerous for less experienced swimmers.

Surfing: Windansea is known as San Diego’s most consistent reef break.

Amenities: This beach is located behind a residential area, and so it is fairly private with no amenities. Public restrooms and showers are not provided. There are no bonfire pits allowed here.

Highlights: Surfer’s treasure spot. According to website, alcohol is permitted from 12pm – 8pm.

Windansea is a hidden treasure in south La Jolla off of Nautilus Street. If you’re driving south on La Jolla Blvd. and you see a bar called The Shack and a 7-11, you’re in the right place. Located at the bottom of south La Jolla’s beachy yet still posh residential area, Windansea is a hub for expert surfers and a more low-key spot where college kids congregate. Not to mention, it is one of the most scenic beaches in La Jolla, with sandstone areas to layout and private tanning spots for days. Its towering cliffs are perfect for viewing sunsets. If you’re looking for a local scene that’s somewhat secluded, you’ve  hit the jackpot on this one. Plus, alcohol is permitted from 12pm-8pm – a rarity in San Diego these days. Of course you won’t want to be caught drunk in public, but having a brew out here won’t get you kicked off the beach.

Mission Beach Boardwalk

Location: Just off the 8 Freeway on West Mission Bay Dr.

Parking & Access: There is a giant parking lot for beach-goers, although it does fill up fast and parking can be hard to come by if you’re coming late on a weekend. Parallel parking will be your friend. As for wheelchair access, the beach is on the same level as the street, so there shouldn’t be any issues like cliffs or rocks standing in your way of having a great time!

Safety: Lifeguards are on duty and enforcing the separate swimming and surfing areas. The only danger here is you may have to watch out for skateboarders and rollerbladers whizzing by you.

Surf Report: Surfers usually don’t like the crowds that Mission Beach attracts. If anything, they can enjoy the artificially made waves at Wavehouse, a business located on the board walk which has an outdoor wave machine.

Amenities: Public Restrooms located at Belmont Park. No bonfire pits allowed.

Highlights: Easy access to bars, the boardwalk, and the bay, which is caddy-corner to the beach and within walking distance

Mission Beach is similar to Pacific Beach in location and character, however, tends to be less crowded and more family-oriented than PB. That’s not to say that Mission Beach doesn’t have its share of fun for 21+ year olds, with the selection of bars on the boardwalk and select events put on by the Wavehouse. However, Belmont Park hosts an array of carnival games and rides and the boardwalk is a great resource for renting all kinds of personal beach transportation like bikes, kayaks, and rollerblades, which can be found dominating the beach crowd. Mission Beach buzzes with activity between the sand and the bay, the bars and the surf.

Pacific Beach Boardwalk

Location: Where Garnet Ave. and Mission Blvd. intersect.

Parking & Access: Street Parking, and lots of it.

Safety: Lifeguards stand watch during summer.

Surf Report: The PB Pier is a popular surf destination, although similar to Mission Beach it tends to get more crowded than most like.

Amenities: There are public restrooms and showers provided where Grand Ave. runs into the boardwalk. There are no bonfire pits, unfortunately.

Highlights: Party central at the bars and on the beach.

Calling all party people – you’ve just found your biggest party friendly beach in Pacific Beach. Summer time is a-pumpin’ with tanning oil, unidentified plastic cups, bare skin, and freshly inked tats up and down the boardwalk. Lay out and watch your friends surf before grabbing a happy hour cocktail on one of Garnet’s street bars or lose the shirt for a jog down the boardwalk to people watch. There’s no shortage of spectacles to see here. Any day of the week during summer you’re bound to cross paths with boom-box carrying, hot-pants wearing, shot for shot taking ragers whether they’re college kids or young professionals simply having a good time.

Cardiff by the Sea

Location: Off 101 Hwy south of San Elijo and north of Solana Beach.

Parking & Access: Parking is located in a mid-sized lot just north of The Beach House restaurant. You have to pay a fee for parking here in the summer. Dogs are allowed on the beach seasonally, but must be leashed.

Safety: Lifeguards on watch from 10am-6pm in the summertime.

Surf Report: Universal surf levels are welcome here.  Cardiff Reef on the north end of the beach creates popular reef-break.

Amenities: No showers are provided but there are public restrooms. BBQs are allowed but no bonfires are provided.

Highlights: Great camping, small surf for kids.

As a kid the choppy waves of Cardiff’s shore was one of my favorite places to hang out with my family. The shallow tide and small waves are fun for novice swimmers and surfers. The beach is located next to Cardiff’s campgrounds, which overlook the sparkling sea. I imagine sitting on the beach at sunset with my buddies after a long day in the sun, munching on a carne asada burrito and watching the tide come in.

Dog Beach Ocean Beach

Location: W. Point Loma Blvd.

Parking & Access: There is a lot that fills up with summer crowds and there’s also street parking. Dogs are allowed at all hours and without a leash, so make sure your furry partner gets along well with other dogs and you’re bound to have a splash together. There is a beach wheelchair that can be lent at no charge, but is given to the first person.

Safety: Lifeguards are on duty during summer, usually from 9am to sunset.

Surf Report: Can be rocky, but summer offers dependable surf here, no matter the tide level. Groundswells are more powerful than windswells and generally come from the southwest, offering both left and right hand waves. There are designated surf/swim areas.

Amenities: Public restrooms and showers are offered on Abbot St. Bonfire pits provided during the summer, but they are strict about burning only wood, charcoal, and paper products.

Highlights: Doggy-friendly, laid-back, prime surf spot, walking distance to popular Ocean Beach restaurants and bars along Newport Ave.

Ocean Beach is home to San Diego’s hippest hippy community with a funky culture, where artsy residents, reggae music, biker gangs, and guitar-toting musicians abound. Dog Beach is a revered attraction in OB: a K-9 haven where dogs are free to roam about unleashed and ecstatic. Laying out in the summer sun, or making friends out on designated volleyball areas, there are tons of activities to discover in Ocean Beach – all to the sound of Bob Marley serenading you from someone’s old school pick up truck. Of all of San Diego’s glorious beaches, OB will surely leave you in a chill mood.


Five San Diego Family Beaches

15th St. Beach Del Mar

Location: Where 15th St. and Camino Del Mar intersect. PCH turns into Camino Del Mar just south of Solana Beach.

Parking & Access: There is a ton of street parking, metered parking, and even validated parking in the Del Mar Plaza, although it gets insanely crowded and fills up fast, so there’s a good chance you’ll be walking to the beach from afar if you get there after 11am.  There are two ramps for wheelchair access down to the sand on either side of the park that precedes the beach.

Safety: Lifeguards stand watch everyday in the summer until dusk, but their schedule can be checked if you visit any of the towers on the beach. Waves are usually fairly mellow and it is a sandy region (not super rocky), however the sand gets scorchingly hot so it’s important to bring a good pair of sandals.

Surf Report: Good mix of reef breaks and sand bottom breaks. Exposure to various swell directions.

Amenities: 15th St. has its own showers located clear of sand so you can wash off without having anything stick to you after. There are also public restrooms located near the showers, which are directly to the south side of The Poseidon Restaurant. There are no bonfire pits allowed on the beach, but you can bring your own BBQ to the park.

Highlights: Close proximity to stellar playground and cliff-top park, as well as 15th st bars and stores

Spanning at least 4 miles, Del Mar’s gorgeous beach stretches from Solana Beach all the way to the Torrey Pines Reserve just north of La Jolla. The location is a true seascape, surrounded by cliff trails with jaw-dropping views of the Pacific, luxurious hotels, a lively playground and park for kids and family barbeques, and a handful of quaint yet upscale beach bars. Walking on the shore north toward Solana Beach will bring you to one of San Diego’s most popular dog beaches, where dogs are free to mingle, while getting wet and wild.  Lay out all day on the beach’s plethora of sandy space, go for a cliff-top walk with your sweetie or your furry friends and enjoy the breathtaking views. Surfers won’t be disappointed because although this beach gets crazy packed, there’s usually more room here to spread out. Paddle boarders are also a hot commodity here, as are skim boarders, boogie boarders, and kayakers. I’ve even seen some giant body rafts out there.

Moonlight Beach Encinitas

Location: 400 B Street.

Parking & Access: There is a small lot but mostly residential street parking. Access is available via a ramp down from the street to a picnic area that leads to the sand.  Close to the Coaster station.

Lifeguards: Year-round.

Surfing Moonlight: Surf sections are designated by a checkered flag.

Amenities: Showers and public restrooms are available between the beach and the picnic tables.  Bonfire pits are provided in the same area as the picnic tables, are open until 10pm and are reserved on a first come first served basis. There is a grassy area with a kids’ playground. There are also volleyball courts that are next to the concession stand, which rents volleyballs, surfboards, and boogie boards.

Highlights: Family friendly, fun, easily accessible.

Moonlight Beach presents a modest community environment that local Encinitas families are most fond of. The sand area spans about 75 yards inland and provides lots of space for sand activities before hitting the shore.  This is a popular surf spot, although it is notorious for crowding quickly, so avid surfers may want to arrive early or venture elsewhere. Unique to Moonlight is its Summer Concert Series, which happens Sundays from June to September.

La Jolla Shores

Location: 79500 La Jolla Shores Dr.

Parking & Access: There is one major parking lot next to an open grassy area that neighbors the shoreline. Access to the sand includes a minimal set of steps so wheelchairs may need some extra help. No dogs are allowed on this beach, although they are welcome on the sidewalk and at the park.

Lifeguards: Year-round.

Surf Report: La Jolla Shores is known to be a good spot for beginning surfers, mainly due to the small size of its waves and gentler swim conditions.

Amenities: There are local showers and restrooms for public use provided to the north side of the beach, a modern kid’s playground, volleyball areas, and bonfire pits. The bonfire pits are located on the beach as well as barbeque pits provided in the park area. Usually an early bird will need to claim the spot because pits get taken rapidly and there aren’t many.

Highlights: Lots of activities and space for large groups to BBQ.

La Jolla Shores is a pristine beach located in the downtown La Jolla area just beyond UC San Diego’s clifftops. Summer beach-goers beware, La Jolla Shores, located near two top-notch luxury resorts, is a touristy hot spot for travelers new to San Diego. Guided kayak tours, snorkeling, diving, and surf lessons are a main attraction at the southern end heading towards the cove. This can be a prime location for large groups having BBQ events like birthdays or work parties, as the park and beach offer some rare bonfire access. This is also a well-known spot for novice surfers who want to get their feet wet in the gentle waves.

Silver Strand Coronado

Location: Take the 5 Freeway south to the 75 Freeway (you’ll cross the Coronado bridge) and go south. The strand is the long thin stretch along the 75 that reaches down to Imperial Beach.

Parking & Access: Dogs not allowed on the beach and must be leashed elsewhere – dog leashes must be less than 6 ft. There are four main lots available which house up to 1,000 cars. Beach wheelchairs are available for rent at the entry station.

Safety: Lifeguards on duty in the summer

Surfing Coronado: The most popular surf break is at a spot called Outlet, located at the North Island Naval Air Base, which picks up swells from Baja. South on the Silver Strand the surf is more gentle yet still yields to fun surf.

Amenities: Volleyball, kitesurfing, fishing, an RV campground with hookups. A tunnel takes guests underneath Hwy 75 to Cays Park with tennis courts and baseball diamond.

Highlights: Camping, Kitesurfing, kid-friendly

Silver Strand is the ultimate San Diego beach experience, with plenty of access to water sports and group activities in beautiful Coronado. If you get too tired at the water, you can walk 10 minutes to the park where picnic tables and grassy areas surround you. On perfect days, kitesurfers dare to play in the windy waters and kids can line the sky with colorful kites. The long stretch along Hwy 75 allows beachcombers and tanners to spread out, while surfers usually have space from each other in the water. Dogs aren’t completely left out, since they can be at the park, although they must remain leashed at all times.

Carlsbad State Beach

Location: Intersection at Tamarack Ave. and Carlsbad Blvd.

Parking & Access: Street Parking, and a small lot on the south end.

Safety: Lifeguards are on post from towers 21 to 28.

Surf Report: Recommended for more experienced surfers. Wave height is usually short with a long ride-out.

Amenities: Public restrooms and an outdoor shower area are located near the parking lot at the south end of the sea wall. There is also a small picnic area on the upper level of the sea wall, although there are no fire or BBQ pits available (these are located at the campground).

Highlights: Romantic sunset watching, close to downtown Carlsbad, lots of space.

Carlsbad gives us one of San Diego’s most expansive views of the Pacific horizon. From a built-in sea wall which towers above the shore line, beach-goers actively jog, walk their pooches, skateboard, rollerblade, and just stroll down the 101 to get a glimpse. Stairs and a south ramp give us access to the sand and the beach spans for over 4 miles, so if you like running on the beach this will surely give you a great workout.

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