by Frank Sabatini Jr.
San Diego's Diverse Beaches Offer Something for Everyone
Moonlight Beach, Encinitas
If you’re looking for quiet white sands, this broad-stretching beach in Encinitas is a good bet. Located at the very end of Encinitas Boulevard, visitors are greeted with volleyball courts, fire rings and ample public parking. A stone’s throw away, and a block north on Highway 101, a plethora of mom-and-pop restaurants, bookstores and clothing shops await in the quaint business district of Encinitas.
Beacon’s Beach, Leucadia
The path to Beacon’s Beach requires sturdy footwear to safely maneuver its winding path, making it a favorite hideaway among the locals. Officially, the beach is named Leucadia State Beach, but area residents might look at you quizzically if you call it that. During World War II, there was a navigational beacon here, so Beacon’s is the name that stuck. The beach is often lazy and peaceful, hidden behind homes on the street above, and accessed from Neptune Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard.
Situated just five miles from the Mexican border, Imperial Beach is famous for its active fishing pier (home to the Tin Fish restaurant), plus grassy parks and the annual Open Sandcastle Competition held in mid-July. The laid-back, 60s-like atmosphere also gives way to summer art displays, outdoor plaques outlining the area’s surfing history and a junior lifeguard program for ages 9-17. Look for the landmark pier on Ocean Lane.
Flip-flop west down Newport Avenue and you’ll arrive at San Diego’s most popular surfing beach, thanks to impressive waves created often by strong jetties. It is in this eclectic atmosphere that yuppies rub elbows with beach loafers and the youth culture bows to longtime residents, who fiercely uphold the neighborhood’s commercial charm, still largely untouched by big-name franchises. In eyeshot of it all is the Ocean Beach Pier, which makes for a perfect one-third-mile stroll for burning off that famous Hodad’s burger you champed down on Newport.
Coronado Municipal Beach, Coronado
Turn-of-the-century mansions and a wall of boulders form the backdrop for what the Travel Channel ranked as one of the top ten beaches in America. This expansive, family-friendly beach, which runs along Ocean Boulevard, is famous for its massive width, sandy moguls and relatively calm waters. At the beach’s north end is a sanctioned hangout for dogs. Mosey a couple miles south, and you’ll arrive at the historic Hotel Del Coronado, where the ocean view is maintained while sipping down cold cocktails on the hotel’s Sun Deck.
Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado
Straddling the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Diego Bay on the other, “the Strand” is a long sandy jetty located about four miles south of the city of Coronado, on Highway 75. The beach recently entered the Information Age, offering Wi-Fi service within 200 feet of the main lifeguard tower. If surfing the Net in a bathing suit isn’t your thing, then mosey along the sand dunes to dig for silvery oyster shells, or stake out a fire ring and put your barbecue skills to work. The beach also provides a flat biking path and more than 100 campsites that require reservations by calling 619-435-5184.
Fletcher Cove, Solana Beach
Known also as Pillbox Beach because of its history as a World War II gunnery installation, Fletcher Cove is a popular spot for surfing, body boarding, jogging and picnicking. Perched atop the beach’s dramatic bluffs is a basketball court and the city’s Marine Safety Department Headquarters, a hint that lifeguards are on duty year-round. Ample parking is available in a public lot or on the surrounding streets. The beach’s main entrance is located at 111 S. Sierra, at the end of Plaza Street.
Torrey Pines State Beach
Dramatic golden cliffs and silent hang gliders looming overhead create a postcard setting for this three-mile beach, which separates La Jolla from Del Mar. Swimmers and tourists crowd the sands to the north, where the cliffs diminish at the Penasquitos River Valley. But abundant wiggle room is afforded when walking south as you trail alongside sandstone caves and forbidding canyons. Continue farther, and you eventually arrive to a clothing-optional area, unofficially named Black’s Beach.
Mission Beach/Pacific Beach
In a straight line that begins just south of the Giant Dipper rollercoaster and continues north to the Crystal Pier, there is no better place to soak up Southern California’s quintessential beach culture than here. The famous boardwalk that connects both locales reveals colorful parades of beachcombers on bicycles and on foot, even on chilly days. The sands are somewhat narrow, although visitors find diversion in the beachside amusements of Belmont Park and two commercial districts brimming with restaurants and beachwear shops. Good eats can be found at Canes in Mission Beach and JRDN in Pacific Beach, both offering ringside seats to the everyday bustle.
Oceanside City Beach
This northernmost beach in San Diego County is replete with a boardwalk, pier and wide sands. Small parks strewn with picnic tables run along the boardwalk. And summer heralds the arrival of surfing and volleyball competitions, drawing participants from throughout Southern California. Visitors can also book boat charters that launch from the nearby Oceanside Harbor, or remain on land with a visit afterwards to the California Surf Museum.