Things To Do At San Diego's Most Popular Beaches

Upgrade your San Diego itinerary by enjoying the best parts of these beaches and their surrounding neighborhoods!

San Diego, California is loved by locals and tourists alike for many reasons. The weather is gorgeous, the Mexican food is to die for, and there are so many fun things to do. However, the biggest pull has to be the city's string of beaches over the 70-mile coastline. 

Although I would recommend visiting all the beaches if you have time, the ones below are the San Diego essentials. What I love about the different beaches here is that they each have their own personality. They each attract different crowds for different reasons, and you won't have the same experience at one beach that you had at another.

I've outlined all of SD's most popular beaches, as well as a few fun things to do at the beaches themselves as well as the areas surrounding them. If you're visiting the city with limited time, read on to figure out what should make your itinerary and what you can skip out on.

Here is the list of things you should do at the most popular beaches of San Diego.

Pacific Beach 

pacific beach PB california
Image Source: California Beaches

PB is mainly known for its nightlife, but there are plenty of things to do during the day if you find yourself in this beloved area. It's heavily residential and mostly populated by college students, so you're more likely to find regular stores and restaurants here such as CVS and Taco Bell. Some of my favorite activity recommendations are listed below!

1. Bar Hopping

pb shore club bar san diego
Image Source: PB Shore Club

My fondest memories of PB involve stumbling from bar to bar with my college friends trying to find out who had the best music, the best drinks, and the best crowd. If you're into the bar scene, PB has multiple bars along the boardwalk and even more along the infamous Garnet Ave.

My personal favorites include Baja Beach Cafe, PB Shore Club, and Open Bar, but most people I talk to recommend Backyard, Mavericks, or El Prez.

2. Get Ice Cream at Baked Bear

baked bear pacific beach
Image Source: Kirbie's Cravings

Conveniently located near the pier, Baked Bear usually has a line out the door. They are known for their tasty ice cream sandwiches and other sweet treats. The ice cream sandwiches are customizable, so you walk in and chose your top/bottom, your ice cream flavor, and any toppings you might want.

You can even have the sandwich warmed up if you'd prefer that! I know many people who stop by this gem before settling down on the beach; it's not a stop to miss!

3. Surf

tourmaline beach san diego
Image Source: California Beaches

You can surf at any beach, but PB is where all the action is. If you're on the main beach, surfing is permitted on the right side of the pier. As for other locations in this area, Law Street Beach and Tourmaline Beach are popular among locals.

I don't surf myself, but I do enjoy watching those who do when I spot them out. If you're like me and tend to sit back, rest assured there are plenty of spaces on the sand to spectate from.

Want to surf, but don't have any equipment? Don't worry! PB Surf Shop is located near the boardwalk and they rent out different types of surfboards, wetsuits, bodyboards, and more!

Mission Beach

mission beach california
Image Source: SD Community News Group

Out of all the beaches I've been to, Mission Beach tends to be the most crowded. It is located right next to Pacific Beach and within proximity to Mission Bay Park. As you might imagine, there is a lot to do here! I've narrowed it down to my favorite 3:

4. Try the historic ride at the Belmont Park

belmont park mission beach san diego
Image Source: La Jolla Village News

What's better than a mini amusement park on the beach? At Belmont Park, you can ride the historic Giant Dipper Rollercoaster, mosey around on the Liberty Carousel, bump bumper cars, and much more!

There are multiple shops and food places you can frequent during your stay if rides aren't really your thing. Not to mention, you can walk right over to the beach.

Belmont Park is my go-to place to walk around with friends and meet new people. With beach activities and restaurants surrounding the area, you won't run out of things to do.

5. Get Boozy Icees

ICEE Frozen Drinks & Cocktails Mission Beach San Diego
Image Source: Mashed

I stumbled upon this place by accident when one of my friends was visiting. It doesn't show up on the map and I can't find anything about it online (hence no picture), so I suspect it might not be entirely legal. Either way, their product is good so I'm not complaining!

If you walk along the Mission Beach boardwalk, you'll eventually run into a Wetzel's Pretzels. Near that, one of the connected stores is this place labeled "ICEE Frozen Drinks & Cocktails."

At first glance, it looks like a regular Icee stand, but upon closer inspection, you'll find that they also have a frozen margarita machine and the option to add shots of alcohol to your Icee. Family beach day just got a lot wilder!

6. Skating on the boardwalk

 skating on the boardwalk san diego
Image Source: YouTube

This can technically be done at PB too, but there's nothing like the hustle and bustle of the Mission Beach boardwalk. Food carts, music coming from the bars, the beautiful view — as long as you don't mind dodging a few clumsy pedestrians, the experience can't be beaten!

I prefer to bike along this boardwalk, but many people skateboard or rollerskate!

La Jolla 

la jolla california
Image Source: Aloha Movers

La Jolla is more than just its beach. The city of La Jolla is known for being one of the bougie parts of San Diego, where wealthy San Diegans tend to make their residence. The beach here looks cleaner than others, but it is smaller than others, too. Here are a few things that the common person can do in this neighborhood:

7. Watch seals and sea lions

la jolla sea lions san diego

La Jolla is famous for the families of seals and sea lions that frequent its shoreline. You can usually spot a few whenever you go, as long as the weather and water conditions permit. It's a great opportunity to see these magnificent beasts in their natural habitat as opposed to seeing them in an enclosure.

8. Snorkeling at different spots

snorkeling in la jolla
Image Source: Viator

If you're up for it, there are multiple different spots for snorkeling in the La Jolla area. La Jolla Cove, The Seven Sea Caves, and Turtle Town are all popular picks for this activity. As with most activities, there is a shop in the city where you can rent snorkeling gear and other equipment in case you don't have any of your own: Look for La Jolla Caves Snorkel & Paddleboard Rental near Boomer Beach!

There are also multiple businesses that offer snorkeling tours in case you'd prefer a guide.

9.Visit UCSD

geisel library ucsd san diego
Image Source: KPBS

If you have any teenagers in your group who are considering different colleges (or, if you just like to see different campuses), stopping by for a self-guided tour of UCSD is a must. Although the students who go there don't seem to think much of it, I've been able to appreciate its uniqueness every time I've gone.

I particularly love to visit Geisel Library for its beautiful view of campus as well as the view of an upside-down house. Yes, you read that correctly, but I won't elaborate further. You just have to go and see it for yourself.

A friend of mine who attended described it as a sad place where students go to cry, and I'm going to take her word on that. However, as an outsider looking in, I think it's pretty nice to visit. 

Torrey Pines

torrey pines san diego california
Image Source: Wikipedia

A mixture of shoreline and national park, Torrey Pines is a huge pull for those living a little further north. That first glimpse of the cliffs above the beach will take your breath away, and the nature in the surrounding area is so beautiful and well-kept. Here are my recommendations if you find yourself in this area:

10. Hiking at the Nature Reserve

hiking in torrey pines nature reserve san diego
Image Source: The Roaming Boomers

If you're into hiking, then you have to walk the trails at the Torrey Pines Nature Reserve. The view of the water is unmatched, and you might even get to see some wildlife along the way! There are different trails of varying difficulty throughout the park, so rest assured there is something for everyone.

A few friends I know have hiked along the trail closest to the water, but warn that you have to be careful and watch your footing. There are cliffs and abrupt edges everywhere!

11. Observe the tide pools

tide pools torrey pines san diego
Image Source: Bay Nature

If you walk along the shoreline long enough, you'll run into small tide pools that have formed inside the bigger rocks in the water. While this isn't the most exciting activity, it is really cool to see an entire ecosystem in such a small area of space. I like to touch the sea plants near the top and watch them close on contact and observe the tiny sea life jump from hole to hole. It's fascinating!

12. Explore Black's Beach and go for a tan with no lines

blacks beach san diego
Image Source: Flickr

This small section of Torrey Pines is famous for being San Diego's token nude beach. According to long-time locals, the nudists tend to occupy the north part of the beach above Glider Port Trail, while the southern part of the beach is popular among surfers for its swells. It's said that most people can't make the hike to get here though, so only consider this if you're up for a challenge! If you can find a spot, it might be the perfect place to go for a tan with no lines.

Coronado Beach

coronado california
Image Source: Coronado Visitor Center

Out of all the beaches I've been to in San Diego, I think this is my favorite. The sand, the water, and the whole vibe are just different in Coronado. The neighborhood has a clean and classy feel to it while still harboring people from all walks of life. Here are my favorite things to do when I visit this beach.

13. Collect seashells 

seashells san diego
Image Source: Pexels

My favorite thing about this beach is the abundance of tiny seashells that litter the shore. I've spent hours walking around collecting my favorites, and some I've had ever since my very first excursion to this beach. It can be a scavenger hunt for kids or a romantic date idea for couples. Either way, it's pretty cool to see and experience.

14. Visit the Hotel del Coronado

hotel del coronado coronado beach san diego
Image Source: 10Best

If you're on the beach, you can't miss the historic Hotel del Coronado towering above the sand. This castle-like beach resort has been around since 1888 and draws in tourists from all over the world.

They offer amenities such as boat rentals, guided beach yoga, a museum, and much more. Even if you aren't staying in one of the rooms, it's essential that you at least look around the place and appreciate the architecture!

15. Bike the strip

biking in coronado san diego
Image Source: San Diego Tourism

Yes, you can technically bike at any of these beaches. However, the bike path on the Coronado strip is my absolute favorite place to do this. It's not as congested as the boardwalks at other beaches, and the view of the water is unmatched.

There are bike rental shops on both sides of the beach in case you don't have your own bike, and they offer other biking equipment such as helmets and pads as well!

The beach neighborhoods in San Diego are chock full of fun things to do. From surfing to snorkeling to getting your grub on, you won't have trouble deciding what to do with this list of fun activities at your disposal.

Whether you are visiting for an extended period of time or just for the weekend, you can't leave without giving these activities a try!

Writer, blogger, and content creator from Sunny San Diego. When she isn’t writing, you can find her exploring, eating, and watching Netflix.

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