Living in a destination community definitely has its perks, and claiming some the best beaches in the country tops the list. But for families with babies and toddlers to those with teens and beyond, which beach is best for you and your brood? We’ve scoured the coast for the best destination for every type of family excursion. So whether you’re putting on a wetsuit to catch a wave, want to comb the shore for seashells, explore SoCal tide pools, or frolic with Fido—here’s everything you need to know about which San Diego beach you should visit.
Best Beach for Watersports: Tamarack State Beach
A favorite of the older kid set, Tamarack State Beach is a must for kiddos who want to go all in and take the plunge into ocean sports and swimming. Surfers and boogie boarders alike will find plenty of waves to catch. Rumor has it that you'll also catch a stunning sunset from this locale.
Good to Know: Pack snacks or a picnic as there are no concession stands or nearby restaurants.
Between Garfield St. & Carlsbad Blvd.
Best Beach for Collecting Seashells: Frazee Beach
At the foot of Carlsbad Village, Frazee Beach is a good summer go-to spot. This beach has it all: soft, sandy beaches that are a little less crowded, lifeguards, showers and bathrooms. And a perk for the athlete? A volleyball court.
Good to Know: The small parking lot is always crowded, so head to the surface streets for free parking about a block away. If you’re hungry, grab a bite at Board & Brew (you’ll love the Chicken Club with secret sauce).
3150 Ocean St.
Best Beach for Soft Shimmering Sand: Coronado Beach
Rated as on of the "10 Best Beach Towns," Coronado is a beachgoer's dream. Picture miles of white, sparkling sand (it has a gold, glittery effect due to the mineral, mica) and a slow-slope into the ocean makes for rolling waves and primo sand castle building. The ultimate life’s a beach party beach, little ones can keep busy tide pooling in front of the Hotel Del Coronado (sometimes there’s even a guide to point out various sea creatures). Keep an eye out for the Sandcastle Man—often seen building elaborate, stunning sand castle creations that are totally Instagram-worthy.
Good to Know: You can park for free along Ocean Blvd.—if you're lucky enough to score a spot! After a day at the beach, head to dinner at the Coronado Brewing Company by the ferry terminal—guaranteed good food, great kids meals and thirst-quenching craft brews.
Best Beach for Camping: San Elijo State Beach
Looking for more than just a day at the beach? Pitch a tent or bring your RV and park it in one of the designated spots at San Elijo State Beach. Located 40 miles north of San Diego, this spot has the most perfect pure, unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean. It's a great spot to gather with family and friends because there is ample room to set up camp. You're also close enough to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Solana Beach and Encinitas if you need to grab something (ahem, extra marshmallows for those s'mores!). The campgrounds come equipped with fire rings, picnic tables and showers. Looking for more beach camping spots? Check out Campland in Mission Bay and South Carlsbad State Beach.
Good to Know: Plan ahead, reservations are available up to six months in advance. Standard campsites are $35/night.
2050 S. Coast Hwy. 101
Best Beaches to Bring Fido: Fiesta Island Dog Park
The winner of Best Dog Beach in the U.S. just happens to be right here in San Diego. Fiesta Island Dog Park is an expansive sandy island in Mission Bay, where doggies can run free among the sand dunes and take a dip in the calmer Bay water. It's a great spot for families who want a big space and lots of convenience.
Other beaches we love to bring our four-legged friend? Del Mar Dog Beach beach and OB Dog Beach (also known as the OG dog beach because it was one of the first ever leash-free dog beaches in America) are also other great options for your favorite beach-lovin', four-legged companion.
590 E. Mission Bay Dr.
Best Beach to Build Sandcastles: Cardiff Reef Beach
Cardiff Reef Beach is located in the beautiful neighborhood of Cardiff by the Sea. This gently sloping beach is great for families with young kids. Here you can collect shells, walk in the water, soak up the sun and build sandcastles. The beach has restroom facilities and lifeguards are on duty at various times.
Good to Know: Parking can be tricky during peak hours, so come prepared to scout out a spot or try to stop by at off-times.
Old Highway 101
Cardiff by the Sea
Best Beach to Catch the Sunset: Moonlight Beach
Hands down, Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, is an absolute favorite among local families. Rooted in history (the name "moonlight" traces back to the early 1900s when residents used to have midnight picnics on the beach) and rich with local flair, this is a beach that begs you to play all day and relax while watching the sun set in the evening. In addition to updated bathrooms and a buzzing snack shack, there's a play structure at the park for those who want a little extra entertainment. Lifeguards are on duty during designated hours.
Good to Know: If you want to avoid the crowds, especially during the summer months, venture to the far north end of this beach.
400 B St.
Best Beach for a Quintessential Summer Day: La Jolla Shores
The sand. The sparkling water. The relatively clean bathrooms and showers! They don't call it "The Crown Jewel" for nothing! La Jolla Shores beach is a breathtaking place to spend the day with friends and family. Located on the southern end of La Jolla Underwater Park, this kid-friendly beach offers gentle bay-like waters and a sandy ocean bottom for pint-sized swimmers. Kellogg Park, with its awesome jungle gym and swings offers a grassy place to start or end your day. Looking for a local place to grab a bite to eat near the beach? Grab food to-go from The Cheese Shop and try one of their mouthwatering sandwiches and a homemade cookie. These days are what summer is all about.
Good to Know: Waves at La Jolla Shores are typically the most gentle of all San Diego beaches during the summer months.
8300 Camino Del Oro
Best Beach for a Staycation: Silver Strand State Beach
Located 4.5 miles south of Coronado Village is Silver Strand State Beach. This urban beach is only 15 minutes from downtown and offers views of San Diego Bay. The calmer, warmer weather on the bayside is great for kiddos who want gentler waves, making Silver Strand State Beach one of the best family beaches in San Diego. The beach is used by guests of Loews Coronado Bay Resort and the resort operates seasonal chair, umbrella and other beach rentals that the public can take advantage of for a small fee. A perfect option for a family staycation!
Good to Know: The California Department of Parks and Recreation offers fun programming at this beach, like nature walks and a Junior Ranger badge program.
5000 Highway 75
Best Overall Beach: Del Mar City Beach
Fenced in playground? Check. Look out point? Check. Cool trains passing by? Check. You will be hard pressed to find anything at all wrong with Del Mar City Beach–and that's why a majority of San Diego residents will insist it's the best in town. The beach has lifeguards, restrooms, a grassy park area with a playground and it is situated right near Del Mar's prime shops and restaurants. This beach had us hooked from the first wave!
Best Beach for Tide Pools: Tide Beach Park
A curious kid's dream, Tide Beach Park is a hidden treasure among San Diego beaches—located at the north end of Solana Beach, the secluded area of sand is rarely crowded. Get ready to hike down a long set of stairs that leads you to a semicircular cove and a large reef, called Table Tops. The best time to visit the tide pools is at low tide. Prepare to see anemones, starfish, crabs and other varieties of little fish.
Good to Know: This beach does not have a restroom, parking however, is plentiful and free near the intersection of Pacific Ave. and Solana Vista Dr.
302 Solana Vista Dr.
Best Kept Secret: Ponto Beach
North county folks know how to keep a secret and one of them is just how awesome Carlsbad's Ponto Beach is. This small, beautiful beach is a favorite among locals for surfing and quality family time. The flat shoreline makes it easy to keep an eye on the kids while they play in the sand.
Good to Know: There's street parking as well as a pay-to-park lot, and the restrooms are clean and easily accessible, making this slice of paradise worth the drive north.
6039 Carlsbad Blvd.