San Diego’s westernmost border is the Pacific Ocean, resulting in 70+ miles of coastline and a variety of beach towns that offer a different vibe and different housing options. Depending on your lifestyle, what activities you like, and what part of the county you want to be in, you might be more suited for one neighborhood over the other. Here is a list of some of the San Diego County beach towns and what each of them has to offer.
Oceanside is a coastal city in the northernmost part of San Diego. It is home to the marine corps base Camp Pendleton, making it a great spot for military couples and families. There are fantastic beaches in the area including Harbor Beach, Breakwater Way, and Oceanside Pier. You can learn to surf, go fishing, or go on a whale-watching excursion. For indoor activities, there are fun museums in Oceanside like the California Surf Museum to learn more about surf culture and the influence it has in San Diego.
Carlsbad is a beautiful area in Northern San Diego and is full of beach houses and condos by the beach. Carlsbad State Beach is the perfect spot for family trips and is close to some great restaurants and shopping. In the spring, you can visit the Carlsbad flower fields, famous for their endless fields of blooming flowers. Legoland is perfect for families with kids and is only a short drive down the freeway. There are a number of fun breweries to check out and great golf courses in the area as well. Every spring Carlsbad hosts the Carlsbad Village Street Fair, the largest one-day street fair in the area. The city has great options for schools, making it a good place for families.
Encinitas is a quaint beach town just off of Highway 101. Named one of the 20 best surf towns in the world by National Geographic, Encinitas is a great place to live if you love the California lifestyle. In the downtown area, you’ll find cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. Every spring, Encinitas plays host to the Encinitas April Street Faire, which takes place over the course of two days. You can enjoy arts and crafts, vendors, and live music for the weekend.
Roughly 30 minutes from downtown, Solana Beach is a great place if you want to be close to the beach but not too far from central San Diego. One of the more laid-back neighborhoods. For entertainment, there are notable music venues, boutiques, and restaurants in the area. Check out Belly Up Tavern and Music Box to see some shows and grab a drink. For outdoor activities, there’s Tide Beach Park. This is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and even fishing! Solana Beach is a great spot for families, with one of the top school districts in the state.
Del Mar appeals to many different types of people, likely because of its various different activities. Its most famous attractions are the Del Mar Racetrack and the annual San Diego County Fair. People come from all over the county to head to the races during the summer and fall. In July, much of the county gathers at the county fair for rides, fair food, and a month full of music acts. Every September, North Beach, Del Mar’s dog beach, hosts a dog surfing competition that is fun for all. Even when it’s not event season, Del Mar has plenty else to offer. If you want to be near shopping, Del Mar Highlands Center has a number of shops and plenty of restaurants.
La Jolla is a beautiful spot on the edge of central and north San Diego. Staying true to its name (La Jolla means “the jewel” in Spanish), it’s a popular place for tourists and residents alike. La Jolla Cove is a fun place to spend the day, especially when the sun is shining and the sea lions are out on the beach. Next to the cove is Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Here you’ll find people working out, sports teams practicing, and people laying out and catching some rays. Visit the children’s pool to view seals frolicking in the water and feeding their pups in the sand. Then a short drive up the road you’ll find Torrey Pines, which is popular for golfing and hiking.
La Jolla Village is a good spot for boutique shopping and dining. Similar to Del Mar in price, La Jolla is one of the more expensive areas. The population tends to be mostly families and people enjoying retirement.
Pacific Beach is home to many college students and young professionals. Families tend to stay toward North Pacific Beach because it tends to be quieter than the central streets like Grand and Garnet. Pacific Beach is a good beach for hanging out with the family, laying out and relaxing, and surfing. After a morning at the beach, there are a lot of great cafes and brunch spots just a short walk away. There is a variety of housing in Pacific Beach, from small apartment complexes, condominiums, beach cottages, and single-family homes.
A short drive away from Pacific Beach is Mission Bay. Mission Bay is a very popular town for tourists and vacation rentals. Belmont Park and Mission Beach brings thousands of families to the area every year. It’s a great place for kids young and old, with the rides, carnival games, and arcade. There’s even a wave rider when you and your kids can practice riding the waves before you head out to the ocean! If you love all kinds of water sports, Mission Bay will be your favorite spot. It’s a great area for jet-skiing, paddle boarding, and everything in between.
Ocean Beach is a small community just south of Mission Bay and west of Point Loma. It’s the funkiest of the beach towns, chock-full of trendy thrift shops, tattoo parlors, and unique eateries. Its most-loved attraction is the dog beach. People are welcome and encouraged to bring their dogs and let them run around the beach. A short walk away is the Ocean Beach Pier, one of the only places in the city where you can fish without a California fishing license. OB also has some of the city’s favorite restaurants. If you watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, you may have heard about OB Noodle House. It may not look like much from the outside, but they have some of San Diego’s best pho and fried rice. Down the street you’ll find Hodad’s, the local favorite burger joint where you can enjoy a delectable burger. The town has a very strong sense of community. It’s very walkable and locals tend to frequent the same bars every weekend to relax and catch a football game. Ocean Beach is primarily single-family homes/beach cottages and they tend to be a little smaller than the average house.
Situated just across the bay from downtown San Diego is Coronado Island. Coronado is consistently voted best beach in the U.S. by Dr. Beach. This charming small town has been dubbed “The Crown City,” as Coronado means “the crowned one” in Spanish. With gentle surf, sparkling wide-sand beaches, charming main street and great hotels, including the famous Hotel del Coronado, this island paradise is perfect for a family vacation or romantic getaway. Spend the day relaxing on the beach or rent a bike and tour the island via Coronado’s beachfront boardwalk. Take a stroll down Orange Avenue, Coronado’s main artery, which is lined with shops, restaurants, galleries, theaters and the Coronado Museum of History & Art. At the other end of the island, Coronado’s Ferry Landing offers a collection of more than 20 shops, art galleries and restaurants boasting stunning views of San Diego’s downtown skyline.
IMPERIAL BEACH AND THE SOUTH BAY
Located south of downtown San Diego and just north of the Mexico border lies the area known as San Diego’s South Bay, the gateway to Baja California. This area is home to a number of exciting attractions and also offers great surfing, sport fishing, beach volleyball and horseback riding along the coast and well as some of the best Mexican food this side of the border.
Connecting the South Bay to Coronado, you’ll find a portion of the Bayshore Bikeway, one of the most beautiful bike paths in California. This 10-mile portion features a flat, palm tree-lined path with stunning views of the San Diego Bay and Silver Strand State Beach, a great spot for families to camp, swim, surf, kayak, and fish. It also borders the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, a 3,940-acre wetland sanctuary for endangered and migrating birds, often seen from the bike path.
On the south end is Imperial Beach and the Tijuana Estuary, the largest saltwater marsh in Southern California and another great spot to see migratory birds and local wildlife. North of the Estuary, located on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, is the Living Coast Discovery Center, a family-friendly aquarium and nature center with walking trails. The Living Coast is home to more than 350 animal and plant species native to the San Diego Bay habitat.