By: Frank Sabatini Jr.
The beaches throughout San Diego boast distinct personalities that offer LGBT travelers everything from quietude to high bustle. Whether you prefer throwing down a beach towel in the company of majestic sun-kissed cliffs, sandy moguls or in view of avid surfers tackling dynamic waves, a perfect spot awaits.
Famous among surfers for its big winter swells, Black’s Beach is better known to the rest of the world as San Diego’s nude beach. Although nudism is unlawful in San Diego, it has persisted at Black’s for decades with the only real deterrent being the hike to get there. Hugged by towering cliffs, it is at the beach’s north end where gays and lesbians traditionally frequent.
Black’s Beach resides in the vicinity of the University of California San Diego campus, at the southern end of Torrey Pines State Beach and north of La Jolla Shores. Pricey homes and state-of-the-art medical research labs line the upper bluffs, where pastures and the Black family horse farm once lay, hence the name, Black's Beach.
The sands can be difficult to access due to its isolated location beneath the Torrey Pines bluffs. There are four access routes to Black’s Beach:
The sea cliffs from Torrey Pines State Park and southward to Black's rise precipitously to heights of 300 feet, so caution is urged when visiting the area. Beach trails from both the State Park and the Glider Port are the only maintained routes, but even those are difficult and dangerous. DO NOT attempt to follow any unmarked trails or pioneer new ones. Beachgoers are warned to avoid setting up beach sites too close to the cliffs as landslides can occur. And they are encouraged to be mindful of strong currents and riptides since there are no lifeguards that regularly supervise the beach.
Directions to the Glider Port parking lot trailhead: When traveling either north or south on Interstate 5, take the Genesee Road West exit to Torrey Pines Road, then go south about a quarter mile to Torrey Pines Scenic Drive at The Salk Institute. The road ends at the free parking lot.
Flanked by the Hotel Del Coronado at one end and North Island Naval Air Station at the other, this expansive beach with its curious sand moguls and backdrop of magnificent homes running along Ocean Boulevard is a favorite among LGBT visitors seeking ample wiggle room. Beachgoers can expect generally calm waters and stunning views of the Point Loma peninsula rising from the sea.
Parking is free along Ocean Boulevard and the beach offers lifeguard services from a central tower.
Getting there is easy: Make a left onto Orange Avenue after crossing the Coronado Bridge. Proceed a couple miles to R.H. Dana Place just before the Hotel Del Coronado, and then make a right, as the street leads to Ocean Boulevard.
Located about four miles south of the Hotel Del Coronado (on Highway 75) is the more remote Silver Strand Beach, known historically for its silver shells dotting the sands. The beach extends 2.5 miles and features a campsite, picnic areas, fire rings and a food concession near the lifeguard tower.
Paid parking is available in the sizeable lot at the park’s main entrance, though free if you can seize a space on Coronado Cays Boulevard.
On the bay side of Silver Strand, which is accessible by three underground pedestrian tunnels, visitors will discover nature preserves and a smaller beach set amid grassy picnic areas. And should you want to surprise your significant other with a unique San Diego experience, the nearby Lowes Coronado Bay Resort (http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Coronado-Bay-Resort/experiences/recreation), offers romantic gondola cruises that navigate through the canals of the Coronado Cays. The resort also offers bike and kayak rentals.
People-watching is at a premium on this busy beach, which has been long known for its diverse, carefree culture and excellent surfing conditions. A short break wall runs along the sands, serving as a popular hangout for everyone from guitar players and ex-hippies to youth and international travelers munching on tacos from the nearby eateries.
In close proximity is the Ocean Beach Pier, the longest on the West Coast and a magnet for local fishermen.
Ocean Beach is located where Interstate 8 west ends. Visitors can find free parking at the foot of Newport Avenue, which fills up quickly on weekends, or along the commercial and residential streets that are in short walking distance to the ocean.
With Belmont Park and its historic Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster at the center of Mission Beach, the bustle flows directly into Pacific Beach as you walk north. A well-traversed boardwalk runs the length of both shores, which ties together a multi-generational mix of visitors, not to mention scores of spring breakers earlier in the year.
Numerous party/sports bars fill the streets trailing off both beaches, and while there are no established LGBT businesses in these areas, the vibe is spirited and welcoming as sun worshipers, walkers, skaters and boogie boarders rule the day.
For getting to the long, narrow sandbar this is Mission Beach, take West Mission Bay Drive (off Sea World Drive). Parking is best obtained in the large public lot at Belmont Park, provided you arrive early during peak season.
Pacific Beach can be reached by continuing north on Mission Bay Drive, or by taking the Grand/Garnet Avenue off Interstate 5. Parking here is competitive and it’s found mostly on the residential and commercial streets.
Aside from its luxury shops, fine restaurants and chic hotels, La Jolla boasts some of the most scenic beaches in Southern California that cater to surfers, divers and sunbathers alike.
LGBT visitors and their families take fondly to La Jolla Shores, a wide, mile-long stretch of sand leading to grassy picnic areas in adjacent Kellogg Park. Volleyball games are a common activity at the beach, which is staffed daily by lifeguards and equipped with showers and restrooms. Soft waves on most days make it the ideal spot for beginner surfers. A large parking lot and nearby streets provide easy vehicle access.
A rockier, more dramatic coastline awaits at Windansea Beach, located at the foot of Nautilus Street. A couple of short paths and a staircase lead down to the beach, which is lauded for its private feel, even when flocks arrive on weekends.
La Jolla Cove is an ecological wonderland that ranks as La Jolla’s smallest, most intimate beach. It appeals widely to snorkelers and divers. When the beach fills up with visitors, the grassy lawns of nearby Scripps Park become a relaxing, scenic alternative for lounging. Located along Coast Boulevard, the beach is a 10-minute walk from La Jolla’s village center.
Just south of La Jolla Cove is the must-see Children’s Pool, accessible by a coastal sidewalk and designated originally as a swimming area for kids. But the sea-walled beach today attracts herds of seals that have turned it into a highly photographic natural habitat that remains largely off limits to swimmers.
A plethora of water activities ranging from wakeboarding and kayaking to windsurfing and waterskiing can be enjoyed in what is considered the largest man-made aquatic park in the nation. Replete with open park spaces and 19 beaches of varying sizes, the area offers numerous bayside trails, quiet picnic spots and outlets for renting water-sports equipment.
If you’ve forgotten the joys of flying a kite, this is the place to do it, along East Mission Bay Drive near the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa. Also, at the park’s southern end off Sea World Drive is Fiesta Island, a large undeveloped plot of land where visitors can park directly on the sands to wade in the calm waters or use the fire rings to throw evening bon fires.