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Best Places to Enjoy the Water in San Diego

From dipping your toe to full immersion

Whether you want to glide over the sparkling water, hang ten down a crashing wave or slip through a kelp forest, San Diego has just the right place for the water adventure of your choosing.

No visit to San Diego would be complete without getting on, into or under the water at some point. Whatever your skill or interest, San Diego has more than 70 miles of awe-inspiring coastline offering endless water fun. From Oceanside to the Silver Strand, here are some of the top places to let loose on the open water.

2 surfers walking along LaJolla Shores  | San Diego CA

LA JOLLA

From Torrey Pines State Beach in the north to historic Windansea in the south, La Jolla is considered by many to be the most beautiful shoreline in San Diego, and the 6000-acre La Jolla Ecological Reserve between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores is its crowning jewel. With abundant sea life and picturesque cliffs dotted with sea caves, these protected waters are the hotbed for many of La Jolla’s ocean adventures.

  • Surfing: This stretch of coastline offers all levels and types of surfing from world-class reef breaks to classic beach breaks. Beginners will feel more comfortable in the sandy beach break at La Jolla Shores and expert surfers can join the lineup at the famous reef break of Windansea or the ocean canyon break at Black’s.
  • Kayaking, snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding: Many tour/rental companies are congregated along Avenida de la Playa, and use La Jolla Shores as their launch point for exploring the cliffs, sea caves and marine life within the La Jolla Ecological Reserve
  • Scuba diving: The grass parks at La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove are a convenient place to stage equipment before exploring the kelp forests and teaming sea life in the underwater Ecological Reserve, the reefs along most of La Jolla’s coastline or the 600-acre Wreck Alley featuring the 366-foot HMCS Yukon with its maze of tunnels and passageways.
  • Swimming: There is no better place to swim in San Diego than the La Jolla Ecological Reserve. Protected from motorboats and fishermen, this area attracts strong swimmers who want to challenge themselves with distances up to three miles. Swimmers have to look out for kayakers, snorkelers and paddlers, but otherwise the setting is sublime.
  • Bodyboarding and bodysurfing: Just south of La Jolla Cove, Boomer Beach is designated a body-surfing-only break, but is recommended for the experienced because of the rocks that dot the reef. Marine Street, just north of Windansea, is more consistent but you’ll share the waves with board riders. The inside shore-break at Windansea is expert level, but great for tube riding.
  • Families: With gentle waves on a sandy bottom beach, its grass lawns, restrooms, showers, lifeguard tower and larger-than-normal parking lot, La Jolla Shores is a favorite of families with children.
Kid doing a back flip in to the water at Mission Bay  | San Diego CA

MISSION BAY & BEACHES

Mission Bay

With a narrow channel access to the ocean, Mission Bay has 27 miles of shoreline created by the nooks and crannies of its islands, channels, bays and spits. Offering an abundance of water activities, it is a hub for calmer activities such as sailing and stand-up paddle boarding but also faster endeavors like wakeboarding and water skiing, as well as over-the-top thrills such as jetpacking and flyboarding.

  • Sailing, paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, kitesurfing, jetpacking, flyboarding and hoverboarding: The Santa Clara Point in the west end of the bay is ground zero for rentals and lessons
  • Wakeboarding, waterskiing, waverunning and jet skiing: These engine-powered activities are more prevalent in the east end of the bay
  • Sport fishing: Quivira Basin at the south end of the bay is one of the main sport fishing landings in San Diego, where you can book half-day, full-day or multi-day trips
  • Families: Its 19 sandy beaches, seasonal lifeguards, calm waters and water sport opportunities draws families with children of all ages
  • Boat Cruise: Tour the bay aboard a turn-of-the-century, Mississippi-style sternwheeler with the Bahia Belle Cruises.

The Beaches

Mission Beach is a spit of land that has the ocean on one side and Mission Bay on the other. Pacific Beach, known as P.B. to locals, is just north of Mission Beach and includes the famous longboard break at Tourmaline Surf Park. Ocean Beach, called O.B. locally, is just south of the Mission Bay channel. Even further south is Sunset Cliffs that has a few secluded beaches for surfing and sunbathing but is more known for its locals-only reef break.

  • Surfing: Pacific, Mission and Ocean Beach all provide good conditions for surfing year-round; check for designated surfing areas in the summer months. Longboarders will especially appreciate the slower waves at Tourmaline Surf Park.
  • Bodyboarding and bodysurfing: The break just south of Dog Beach in O.B. is a great option during the winter months
  • Kitesurfers and windsurfers: Good winds around Tourmaline Surf Park and heading south make this a popular spot for those with more experience
  • Families: Bathrooms, summer lifeguards and a long stretch of sand make Pacific Beach a good option for families

Cabrillo Monument in San Diego CA

POINT LOMA PENINSULA

The hilly peninsula of Point Loma protects the waters of San Diego Bay and those surrounding Harbor Island and Shelter Island, principal areas for boating and fishing excursions. Home to two military bases, a national cemetery, a national monument and a university, the peninsula offers limited ocean access but presents incredible views of San Diego’s skyline.

  • Tide pooling: Accessible only from the Cabrillo National Monument, the tide pools of Point Loma are a wonderful way for people of all ages to enjoy the ocean
  • Jetpacking, flyboarding and hoverboarding: Companies around Shelter and Harbor Islands will quickly have you flying over, through and under the water
  • Stand-up paddling: Launch from Shelter Island and enjoy views of the city skyline
  • Boating: Sport fishing charters, dinner cruises, whale watching tours, and sail and power boats adventures can be booked at Shelter or Harbor Island
  • Scuba diving: Thick kelp forests, large rock formations and ancient sea cliffs off the coast of Point Loma are rich in sea life and best accessed from a dive boat
Coronado Beach

CORONADO

At the eastern edge of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Island and its beaches are linked to the mainland by the beautiful arch of the Coronado Bridge. With its wide sandy beaches stretching from the leash-free area for dogs at North Beach, south along Central Beach and its iconic Hotel del Coronado, to the 7-mile long isthmus the Silver Strand State Beach, Coronado has most of what water lovers would want.

  • Families with young children: The long, wide, soft-sand of Central Beach is a quintessential family beach with mellow waves and plenty of room for exploring
  • Kitesurfing: South of Coronado Island, high winds along the 7-mile, low, sandy isthmus provide ideal conditions for those with experience. Kitesurfing is allowed in two areas around Silver Strand State Beach: Parking Lot 1 in the south and north of the Natural Preserve.
  • Windsurfing: High winds and great views are found near the Coronado Ferry Landing
  • SUP surfing: Long rides can be savored at Coronado Shores beach just south of the Hotel Del Coronado
  • Stand-up paddling: Launching from Tidelands Park on the east side of the island, you can paddle in the shadow of the Coronado Bridge
2 surfers against a sunset sky  | North Coastal San Diego CA

NORTH COUNTY COASTAL

The towns all along San Diego’s North Coast from Del Mar to Oceanside proudly embody the SoCal surf spirit, with woodies cruising Historic Highway 101, menus filled with beach-centric names and surfboards in nearly every garage.

  • Surfing: There are great breaks to surf all along the 20 miles of coastline in North County, including the world-famous point break of Trestles north of Oceanside and Swami’s in Encinitas when it’s firing. For beginners, the beach break of Oceanside is a great spot to catch a wave.
  • Bodysurfing: Test your skills against the waves in Oceanside that host the annual World Bodysurfing Championships
  • SUP surfing and stand-up paddling: You can’t go wrong at Del Mar North Beach (also called Dog Beach) or Cardiff Reef
  • Wakeboarding, waverunning, jet skiing and more: A wide range of water equipment can be rented and enjoyed at the Carlsbad Lagoon and Oceanside Harbor
  • Tide Pools: It’s a steep walk down--and back up—the cliff at Swami’s Beach in Encinitas, but the array of purple urchins, sea anemones and tiny crabs is worth it
  • Families:  Amenities such as bathrooms, lifeguards in summer, a kids park and umbrella covered tables make Moonlight Beach in Encinitas a top-choice with families.
  • Sport fishing, sailing and boating: A wide selection of rentals are available at Oceanside Harbor
Sailing on San Diego Bay

SAN DIEGO BAY

Considered to be one of the best natural harbors on the west coast of North America, San Diego Bay is surrounded by the cities of San Diego, Coronado, National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach.

  • Boating: Take your pick from San Diego Bay expeditions, whale watching tours, catamaran excursions, America’s Cup sailings, multi-day cruises or more, departing regularly from the Embarcadero
  • Ferry and water taxi: Travel the scenic way to Coronado Island from the Embarcadero
  • Windsurfing: Best sites are near the Coronado Ferry Landing and where J Street meets the water in Chula Vista

 

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