It’s no secret San Diego has it all. A mild year-round temperature. Free unlimited access to over one hundred miles of ocean and bay shoreline. A relaxed island vibe. Alfresco dining. An outdoor nightlife. Freshair shopping. And we’re just warming up.
What makes San Diego so special is its quaint coastal diversity. A shoreline dotted with ten distinctly different coastal communities, each with their own identity, and unique outdoor activities the family, couples and single travelers will enjoy.
As cool weather approaches, warm weather beckons. This month we are drawing attention to San Diego’s core beach communities with a ten article series in order from north to south – La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma and Crown Point. Then across the bay to Downtown, the Gaslamp District, Shelter Island and Harbor Island.
Where La Jolla is a picturesque version of a Mediterranean village with sandstone cove beaches, Pacific Beach is an open face three-mile-long classic coastal California party town. Where La Jolla goes to bed early, the party is just getting started in Pacific Beach. Where La Jolla’s brightest light at night is the moon’s reflection on the calm ocean waves, Pacific Beach’s white sand shore is lined with bonfires, the sound of beer cans popping and loud laughter until the wee hours of the night. Hang ten Pacific Beach!
Pacific Beach wasn’t always a party town. It first bloomed as an agriculture community sprouting as one of the first fully functioning beach neighborhoods in San Diego. Would you believe a railway connected PB to downtown San Diego in 1889? And by 1900 lemon groves lined the outskirts of town providing a lucrative local economy. By 1950 Pacific Beach had squeezed 30,000 people into a 4.3 square mile thriving community, garnished with lemon groves, k-12 schools, a movie theater, booming tourism, and building limits to preserve the priceless beach and bay views. Seventy years later, the groves are gone, the three-story building limit remains and so does the sweet unobstructed white sand view of the Pacific Ocean.
To this day, Pacific Beach still makes lemonade out of lemons by pressing nearly 50,000 people into its narrow streets and tiny lots. If residents hadn’t joined together by voting to preserve the view, Pacific Beach could have easily soured. Today the majority of residents are single between the ages of 20 to 28-years-old, and 88% of residents have a college degree or higher and the female to male ratio is virtually equal.
With those statistics, partying in PB (pre-COVID) is a young adult’s dream. Pacific Beach is ideal for traveling with a group of friends, the single traveler or the couple who’s looking to socialize. Locals are friendly and inclusive. For tourists, there’s no shortage of good mischief floating around with beach parties brewing day or night.
Ocean and bay access with long wide soft sandy beaches. Parking is limited. Plan to park in a paid lot or come early and be ready to spend some time driving around looking for a space. Plan.
The boardwalk on the oceanside is about two-miles-long, is referred to by the locals as ‘The Strand’ and can be a party place all in itself. If you plan to ride a bike, rollerblade, skateboard or electric scooters on The Strand be prepared to dodge a lot of people. The bayside has many miles of recreational boardwalk to enjoy as well and is quieter than The Strand with less foot traffic. Dogs are allowed on the ocean and bay beaches with a leash between 6 pm and 9 am only.
Crystal Pier is a classic California ocean-wood-pier built-in 1927. The original plan had been to attract beachgoers by creating an environment like the Santa Monica Pier. Then, the depression hit and all progress halted until the city officials decided highest and best use makes the most revenue. This explains the little vacation bungalows nestled together like a flock of birds on the pier.
Kate Sessions Park is a huge 79-acre park with stunning views of Pacific Beach to the south and La Jolla to the north. Located at Lamont Street and Soledad Road, this park is a local’s secret grassy haven dotted with picnic tables, barbecues, restrooms, a playground with swings, a .75mile walking path and miles of nature for hiking and mountain biking. Dogs are allowed on leash. This is a fun park for picnics, Frisbee, kite flying and sunsets. Ample parking is available in the surrounding neighborhood. All-day parking can be found on Lamont and Malden. Due to COVID the park has become busier than usual, so be sure to plan.
Campland is a bay beachfront 40-acre RV and campsite resort with 2 pools, a gym, a game room, a restaurant & a half basketball court. Touted as the largest aquatic park in the world with over 500 sites open 365 days a year, Campland offers laundry and is also kid and pet friendly. As a matter of fact, the kids or the pets won’t want to leave. Now that we’ve mentioned the basics, what makes this place so great is San Diego can be expensive, and Campland reveals an unexpected resort ambiance that turns camping into glamping for the entire family. Campland also takes the sting out of expensive hotels. Check out Campland’s homepage video for an inside sneak peek.
Mission Bay RV Resort is a waterside RV park with 50-amp hookups, free Wi-Fi, bay beach access & laundry. Though Mission Bay Golf Course and De Anza Cove Park are nearby and across the bay from Campland, this RV resort is really an RV ‘park’. The park may be beachfront but it is lacking any charm whatsoever. The chainlink fence doesn’t help. This place is only recommended if Campland is booked.
De Anza Cove Park is a large bayfront park that flanks Mission Bay’s northeast corner with a boat launch, volleyball courts, picnic tables, jungle gyms for kids, basketball courts nearby and Mission Bay Golf Course across the street. The beach here is a sandy narrow ribbon that wraps around De Anza Cove. Mission Bay RV Park sits on the western shore of the cove shielding the park from the westerly ocean winds. Lifeguards are on staff from spring break through October. Parking is plentiful. Park Permits for De Anza Cove, De Anza Cove Park and Mission Bay Park can be obtained at the Balboa Park Administration Building, located at 2125 Park Boulevard, San Diego.
Pacific Surf School has over 1,200 five star reviews on Trip Advisor. Shaka! Tourists rave about how their instructors teach them to catch a wave the first day. All this could be a lot of ballyhoos, but what makes Pacific Surf School worth mentioning is their Surf & Stay package at the Blue Sea Beach Hotel. For a pure ocean surf experience, this is it. Blue Sea Beach Hotel mention in the hotel section below.
Action Sports Rentals has several locations across San Diego. Two mentioned here, near the Catamaran on the cusp of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. Whatever type of floating vessel you are looking for they have. Motor? No motor? They have it. Sailboats, motorboats, houseboats, jet skis, wakeboarding, SUPs, wetsuits, bikes, group bikes and more. All at an affordable rate.
PB Promenade, Grand and Garnet shopping streets. Most retail shops in PB are local boutiques or the occasional national surf shop chain. Pacific Beach has an all-inclusive .org website available in the link above with too many hot spots to list here. Their website is useful for finding fashion, grocery stores, gas stations, pet stores and the odd vacation need. What makes shopping fun in PB is popping into random shops with your beach clothes on looking for your evening outfit after day drinking. Click the link above for retail detail. Even though there is very little parking in Pacific Beach, the good news is, the grocery stores provide parking.
Lahaina Beach House has been a PB anchor for nearly a century. The only change is where the sun sets on the horizon as the seasons sail by. Lahaina Beach House is one of the few watering hole establishments directly on a sandy ocean beach in all of San Diego. Make note I said, “sandy ocean beachfront.” It’s hard to believe, but sadly true. Most likely before the city acquired any zoning sense. But hey, it’s still here after all these years. Don’t expect anything fancy though, and don’t expect exceptional service. Bring cash and get there early enough to grab a seat, because remember, you are there to watch the sunset and mother nature in all her glory, not get fancy. Mondays and Tuesdays are good days to go if you want any chance of some space. Good luck!
World Famous has an oceanfront view but not ‘on’ the beach like the Lahaina Beach House. The service, however, is a step up with a more palpable menu.
Baja Beach Cafe is situated on the boardwalk facing the Pacific Ocean with ample outdoor patio seating. The vibe is party town maybe because they offer an early and late happy hour five days a week.
Waterbar is another hot spot on the lively boardwalk facing the Pacific Ocean. The difference is it’s more upscale and they have recently opened a rooftop deck to accommodate more outdoor seating due to the virus.
JRDN has a motto, ‘Surf : Sky : Spirit.” As with any hipster hotel, there has to be a mouth-watering nouveau riche restaurant to go along with its glassy box and sleek sheets. Until JRDN arrived on the scene in 2005 along with Tower23 in tow, Pacific Beach didn’t cater to a high-end crowd. Now PB gives La Jolla restaurants a run for their money with mouthwatering cuisine and chic ambiance. The vibe feels like little Santa Monica.
PB Shore Club where sunsets are served daily. This hot spot has ample outdoor seating where every table has a view of the ocean, the Strand and the party action going on all around. Classic American food. Good-well-priced cocktails. Voted best fish taco in San Diego. This is arguable, however, because, after much research, San Diego may not serve a bad fish taco. They’re all good!
Fat Fish Cantina may not be waterfront, regardless, this in-town hotspot always offers outdoor dining and dynamite margaritas are always on the menu. Happy Hour mixes up a reduced-priced house margarita Monday through Friday. And Monday through Thursday FFC throws down with some amazing Happy Hour shellfish. Check out the menu in the link above for possible favs.
The nightlife in PB is located on Garnet Avenue, between Ingraham Street and Mission Boulevard. When COVID is over this category will be updated.
Blue Sea Beach Hotel is a classic Pacific Beach hotel with a throwback to the 1960s. The good news is the boardwalk beachfront hotel has been renovated to compete with hotels like Tower23. The rooms and beds are small, due to small lot permitting. More rooms equal more revenue. What makes the Blue Sea Beach Hotel unique is it’s the only oceanfront hotel with a pool in San Diego. And they partner with Pacific Surf School for a Surf and Stay package. The hotel caters to a young crowd mixed with families. The scene is considered active and rowdy if you are over the age of 30. It’s considered totally happening for the 20 to 30-year-olds. Surf, drink, swim, shop and people watch. Repeat. Some of us can get used to this regime at any age.
Tower23 is just what PB needed to bring this little beach community up to speed with the 21st century. This hot spot has been bringing finesse to Pacific Beach since 2005. JRDN is the ultimate hip Southern California experience. Tower23 Spa offers in-room massages as well as private yoga lessons. Dive into a little history here about how Tower23 came to be.
Capri by the Sea hides in plain sight on the brink of town as the only beachfront high-rise in PB much less right on the beach. For obvious reasons this place has to be on everyone’s bucket list because it’s a twelve-story unobstructed view of California’s Pacific coastline all the way to Mexico. Not only are the views phenomenal from every room and balcony, all guests are free to enjoy the common area rooftop deck. One, two and three bedrooms are available with full kitchens. And parking is free! Guest live large like a local here. Click the link above for reservations, and click here for the fascinating history behind Capri by the Sea.
Next up, Mission Beach, just south of Pacific Beach. Yet another distinctly different neighborhood that feels worlds apart, geographically and socially.
Missed La Jolla? Read more in our Travel section here.
by Courtney Paige