Coastal Vote: a Beach-Lover's Guide to San Diego, California

Enjoy coastal vibes at the Mission Beach in San Diego, California
Enjoy coastal vibes at the Mission Beach in San Diego, California | © mauritius images GmbH / Alamy
Photo of Doug ONeill
9 September 2021

Learn to surf, stay in a beachside hotel and feast on fresh seafood in this Golden State city, where the Pacific Ocean is always in reach.

Water truly is the life source of San Diego. Not only does the Southern California city boast 70mi (112km) of coastline and 31 surf-friendly beaches, but the biggest employer in San Diego is the United States Navy. The city is also home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, one of the largest oceanographic museums in the United States, home to everything from seahorses to leopard sharks. Plus, Michelin regularly honors the top restaurants in San Diego for their fresh ocean-inspired dishes and sushi. Here’s how to soak up the sea in this SoCal surfside city.

La Jolla Shores Hotel

Budget Hotel
4.3/5 (906 Reviews)
La Jolla Shores Hotel_bf8e14b1
Courtesy of La Jolla Shores Hotel / Expedia
Price Drop
Now from $235 per night

The Marine Room at the elegant La Jolla Shores Hotel served its first meal in 1946 to guests who fancied nature’s soundtrack while they ate – namely, the pounding high-tide surf. Today’s patrons still get to enjoy crashing waves and stellar sunsets when they book the High Tide Dinner – a menu that features dishes such as Georges Bank diver scallops, Oregon steelhead crudo (raw fish dressed in oils and citrus) and Baja California sea bass.

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Hotel del Coronado

3.6/5 (1140 Reviews)
Hotel del Coronado_b7d84aaa
Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado / Expedia
The Victorian-style, white wooden Hotel del Coronado has maintained an oceanfront presence on Central Beach since 1888. Guests keep coming back for the Del spa, two outdoor pools, a chandelier-lit ballroom, verdant gardens and a rooftop hot tub – in addition to the hotel’s oceanfront rooms with marble bathrooms and a color palette of ocean blues and seafoam, sunshine gold and driftwood. When you do leave your room, don’t miss the fish tacos at the hotel’s Beach & Taco Shack.
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Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Map View
Magnificent view of Torrey Pines State Reserve - Seashore cliff in San Diego, California, United States of America. Panorama. Pacific Ocean. Horizon.
© Woohyeok Choi / Alamy Stock Photo
This wild stretch of 1,750 acres (708ha) of unspoiled land lies within the San Diego city limits. For starters, you get to ramble among 3,000 Torrey pines. Indeed, this is one of the very few places where you get to see the rarest pine tree in America. The reserve is also home to salt marshes and waterfowl refuges. But the pièce de resistance for many visitors is the hiking trail along the sandstone cliffs that give you amazing views of the coastline.

La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak Tour

Sports Center
Map View
Panoramic view of kayaking and snorkeling near La Jolla Cove. R3WKFC
© Danita Delimont / Alamy

Embark on a 90-minute paddling excursion through the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve. The 5,390 acres (2,400ha) nature park encompasses the ocean bottom and tidelands with four distinct habitats: rocky reef, kelp beds, sand flats and a submarine canyon. Kayakers should keep their eyes peeled for sharks, whales, sea lions and other wildlife en route to the seven sea caves in the area. There’s also a sunset kayak tour on offer.

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  • The Plunge San Diego at Fit Mission Beach

    Swimming Pool
    Map View
    Belmont Park on Mission Beach in San Diego, California, United States of America, USA
    © : Peter Schickert / Alamy
    When this Spanish Renaissance-style plunge pool was built in 1925, it was the largest saltwater pool in the world and held 355,000 gallons (1,343,821 liters) of water. The pool was converted to freshwater in 1940 and, then, became the largest heated pool in SoCal. Contemporary features, such as ceiling windows and a retractable roof, entice swimmers year-round. The Plunge is adjacent to Belmont Park, a historic amusement park in San Diego, with beachside roller coasters and rides.

    Pacific Surf School

    Sports Center
    Map View
    An American professional surfer man wearing a wet suit in the Pacific beach in San Diego, Southern California, in the United Sta
    © f8grapher / Alamy

    Inspired by the pro surfers riding huge waves at the Black Beach in San Diego? Consider signing up for a beginner lesson or two. Pacific Surf School offers 90-minute surf lessons for beginners, covering the basics of surfing, ocean awareness, water safety, riding skills and in-water etiquette. Wannabe surfers have their choice of locations to learn: Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach or La Jolla.

    Whale Watching Tours

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    Map View
    Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Fluke in La Jolla, San Diego, California
    © Donny Kim / Alamy

    Naturalists from the San Diego Natural History Museum provide commentary during this four-hour excursion. Whale sightings depend on the season. Gray whales can be observed as they migrate through winter into spring from Alaska to calving lagoons in Baja California and back. Also frequently spotted are minke whales, fin whales and large pods of dolphins. In summer, blue whales and humpbacks routinely feed near the San Diego coast. Guests meet at Pier One, 1800 North Harbor Drive.

    San Diego Sailing Tours

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    Map View
    San Diego waterfront with Coronado Bay Bridge on  background
    © Hanna Tor / Alamy

    If large group outings aren’t your thing, consider a quiet sail from Harbor Island with a small group (no more than six) to explore San Diego Bay on a restored yacht. Take in the views of the city’s skyline, the tree-lined beach haven of Coronado Island (really a peninsula), Point Loma (where the first Europeans came ashore in what is present-day California) and other landmarks as you enjoy a glass of wine or craft beer.

    These recommendations were updated on September 9, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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