The sand, the sparkling salt water, the smell of sunscreen, the sound of laughter — it’s safe to say that one of the things people love most about San Diego is the beaches. Whether you’re looking to book nearby kid-friendly hotels, learn how to surf, or simply enjoy a nice day out on the sand my list of best beaches in San Diego for families will help you decide which to visit.
Our San Diego beaches are spread across a stunning 70 miles of coastline. As a resident, I have my favorite spots and they’re listed at the top, but I also know what visiting families are looking for and which beaches have the best amenities.
See also: Best Things to Do in San Diego with Kids
1. La Jolla Shores Beach
La Jolla Shores Beach is my favorite beach in San Diego in addition to one of the best beaches in California for families. Sure, I live in La Jolla but this gorgeous sandy beach provides access to water sports, a small playground, relatively clean (for a beach) bathrooms and showers, and designated surfing and swimming areas. A permanent lifeguard station monitors the beach during the day and it’s a great place to learn how to surf.
The waves break gently near the southern end which is why kayak, snorkeling and scuba tours launch from here. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park out in the water between La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove is extraordinarily rich in marine life for California. Leopard sharks aggregate in the warmer water near the shore in the late summer to give birth. They’re harmless and swim around you, which is fun for all ages to see.
Two casual yet family-friendly beachfront hotels (La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and La Jolla Shores Hotel) are located here and the La Jolla Shores business district with several shops and restaurants a few blocks away. A huge grassy area and playground that are part of Kellogg Park, offer additional seaside fun for families.
2. Coronado Central Beach
Voted #1 Beach in America by Stephen Leatherman (Dr. Beach) himself, Coronado Central Beach is surrounded by the breathtaking Hotel del Coronado and 1.5 miles of majestic shoreline with plenty of sand to lay your towel on. Deposits of mica over time have left the sands with an iconic gold shine, perfect for your next sandcastle building contest.
It’s one of the best kid-friendly beaches in San Diego because you can take surfing lessons, visit tide pools when winter low tides occur during daylight and have all you need to enjoy a stereotypical Southern California beach day. People book into Coronado Island hotels because they want access to this Coronado beach. Even if you’re not staying at Hotel del Coronado, you can take advantage of beach rentals at Del Beach, subject to availability.
Tip: Look out for sandcastle creations by the famous Sandcastle Man near Hotel del Coronado that appear at random.
3. Moonlight Beach
Whether you’ve got your sights set on the ocean or want to take the kids to the grassy park and play area, Moonlight Beach in Encinitas has something for everyone to enjoy. It’s a favorite of North County San Diego hotel concierges and the beach is staffed with year-round lifeguards.
The natural slope of the beach is very gradual, making it easier for kids to play at the shoreline (under supervision, of course). The swimming-only zone helps keep everyone safer by the shore, while the rest of the ocean is open for surfers and water sports. Enjoy family-friendly amenities like an on-site snack bar, bathrooms, showers, picnic areas, beach volleyball, and convenient gear rentals.
4. Silver Strand State Beach
With beaches on both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and four huge paid parking lots, Silver Strand State Beach is one of the best family beaches in San Diego and the beach used by guests of Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The resort operates seasonal chair, umbrella, and other beach rentals that the public can take advantage of for a small fee (which overnight resort guests do not have to pay).
The California Department of Parks and Recreation also offers neat programming at this beach such as nature walks and the ability for kids to earn a Junior Ranger badge. Dates and times can be checked online.
If you’re feeling adventurous, bring a tent and spend a night listening to the waves and gazing at the stars (fees, reservations, and restrictions apply). The bay area waters are warm and calm, making it a great venue for people of all ages.
5. Del Mar City Beach
Powerhouse Park overlooks this shimmering stretch of the shore, along with restaurants, shops, and plenty of grassy areas for a picnic. Public restrooms can be found in the towering lifeguard building, and other public services are available closer to the park.
The sunrise and sunset are equally magical at this family favorite San Diego haven, so come early and stick around to enjoy nature’s show. Parking is challenging during warm weather days so be sure to arrive early. You can walk from the heart of the Del Mar Village, where some of the best shops and restaurants are located, a few blocks to the end of 15th Street to enter the beach.
Guests of L’Auberge Del Mar have a private path that leads across the street to this beach. Those using the beach valet at Fairmont Grand Del Mar will be set up with chairs, umbrellas, and bottled water at 18th Street. You can read more in my guide to Del Mar beaches.
6. Torrey Pines State Beach
Lose yourself in the rich red hues of the bluffs as you take a stroll along the shores of Torrey Pines State Beach. It’s adjacent to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, a popular place for family hikes, and located in between Del Mar and La Jolla. Enjoy building sandcastles on the shore or a beachside picnic with the whole family.
Come at sunrise, stay for the sunset, and don’t forget to get an Annual Pass for boatloads of fun all throughout the year as you’ll need a day pass to park otherwise.
7. La Jolla Cove Beach (for the Sea Lions)
La Jolla Cove is a hot spot for sunbathing La Jolla sea lions, as they can often be found lounging in the sand just a few feet from the stairway or on the bluffs near the boardwalk. It is important to respect their personal space, so be sure not to use flash photography and enjoy this natural splendor from a distance. You can walk down the boardwalk to Children’s Pool Beach to look at the harbor seals who live over there.
You can also go to the beach at La Jolla Cove but I hesitate to recommend that people drive out of their way specifically for a beach day here. The patch of sand is not huge and does get crowded in the summer, though there is a permanent lifeguard station here. If you can snag a spot for your towel, it is one of the best family beaches in San Diego because there are often no waves here.
8. South Ponto Beach
A beautiful beach in a relatively undeveloped area, South Ponto Beach is a Carlsbad beach that is home to some dunes that make parts of the beach feel secluded. The sunset over South Ponto is one you won’t want to miss, so grab a free parking spot by the southern edge of the beach and come experience a natural work of art over the shoreline.
The extra-wide stretch of sand is perfect for building sandcastles or enjoying a little sunbathing, so it’s popular for beachgoers of all ages. It’s one of the only San Diego beaches in the area with public restrooms and showers. Bring your own net to play some volleyball.
9. Mission Beach
If you’re wondering where to go to the beach in Mission Beach, there are two options — Mission Beach and South Mission Beach. South Mission Beach is the most family-friendly as it is in front of single-family and condominium homes that are mostly vacation rentals. It’s also where the beach volleyball courts, bathrooms and permanent lifeguard station are all located.
The scene at Mission Beach a little bit further north can be a party one but the kids will want to go there to see Belmont Park. It’s our seaside amusement park with a historic roller coaster, bumper cars, an arcade, mini-golf and more that is free to walk around (buy a wristband for rides).
You can rent bikes or pack roller skates to cruise down the Ocean Front Walk, the beach boardwalk. You can also learn how to surf at Mission Beach.
10. Mission Bay
The ultimate aquatic wonderland for both kids and grownups, Mission Bay is one beach you don’t want to miss. This man-made park spans 4,600 acres and is surrounded by 27 miles of glistening shoreline, where islets, inlets, and waterways are just waiting to be explored.
You can jump right into jet skiing, wakeboarding, kite surfing, and more. Lay down a few towels for a family party on Ski Beach, win a game of volleyball at Crown Point, or enjoy nightly live music at Sail Bay. Many family resorts, like San Diego Mission Bay Resort and The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa are located on Mission Bay beaches and provide their own access to water sports rentals.
11. Pier View North/South in Oceanside
The best of both worlds can be found at Pier View North and Pier View South Beaches in Oceanside. With a quieter atmosphere, plenty of sand and space, and fun activities at the Oceanside Beach Community Center, Pier View North is more relaxed and suitable for anyone looking to unwind and enjoy the serenity of nature.
On the other side, the Pier Amphitheater makes Pier View South the most popular and exciting beach in Oceanside. Both are close to shops and facilities, so both sides of Pier View are great family-friendly choices. So, basically, head to Oceanside Pier and pick either beach.
12. Tamarack Beach
Find Tamarack Beach in between the jetties south of Tamarack Avenue to Frazee Beach. It’s part of Carlsbad State Beach and popular with families.
The Carlsbad Seawall separates the beach from the highway and is a great 4-mile walkway for getting in a jog or a tandem bike ride, while the gleaming blue waters are a playground for kayakers, surfers, sunbathers, and swimmers of all ages. The top of the seawall is considered one of the most romantic places to catch a view of a sunset, and there’s never a shortage of friends to be made with the many locals and tourists who frequent the beach. Restrooms and rinsing fountains are available by the parking lot for your convenience.
13. Cardiff State Beach
Enjoy easy access parking, join the locals to search for sea cucumbers and starfish at the sparkling tide pools in the winter, and take a stroll around the corner to check out the gorgeous San Elijo Lagoon.
You can get to Cardiff Beach right from Highway 101, so it’s easy to load up the family for a day on the sand, swimming, and surfing. You can camp at adjacent San Elijo State Beach.
14. Ocean Beach Dog Beach
Dog Beach in Ocean Beach was one of the first beaches in the country to do away with leash regulations. Beachgoers and dogs from all walks of life are welcome here though any pets brought to the beach must be vaccinated.
Bring your furry best friend and enjoy playing fetch or meandering along the coast with other pet owners. There’s a lush, grassy area on the other side of the parking lot that’s a great place for picnicking, and some excellent local bites are only a few blocks away.
If you’re looking for even more options for Fido, check my list of dog-friendly beaches in San Diego.
15. Tide Beach Park
Tucked away in a cove below gorgeous, towering bluffs, Tide Beach Park is a hidden gem in Solana Beach. Free street parking is located right near the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Solana Vista Drive where you would access this family-friendly San Diego beach. It’s a good San Diego tide pooling option for people staying in Del Mar hotels or Encinitas hotels.
The tide pools at the north end of the cove are some of the best in San Diego, especially for starfish hunting during winter months when low tide happens during daylight. The sights, glistening sand, and ocean breeze make this spot a great beach for kids in San Diego. Lifeguards are on duty only during the summer months and there are no restrooms.