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La Jolla Mom

Del Mar Beaches Guide: Where to Go and What to Expect

Beautiful, relaxed, family-friendly — what to know before you go.

Del Mar beaches are popular choices with not only families looking for some outdoor fun, but also surfers, joggers, sunbathers, tourists, and even dogs. Easy access to them is a reason why people live there — I was a resident before I got married — and why the real estate here commands a high price point.

The guide below provides you with what you need to know about planning a day at the beaches in Del Mar. I’ve included amenities, popular activities, parking instructions, directions, and more so that you can make the most of your day in this very special North County San Diego city.

How to Get to Del Mar, California Beaches

The City of Del Mar is located in between La Jolla to the south and Solana Beach to the north (two other fantastic beach cities). When traveling from the I-5 freeway, you can take any of the three Del Mar exits (Carmel Valley Road, Del Mar Heights, Via de la Valle) and head west toward the Pacific Ocean to find an outstanding beach. Del Mar is only a few miles long so you really can’t exit the freeway in the wrong place. We’ll give you specific directions though underneath each Del Mar beach we like below.

The most important thing to note is that the cross streets that run perpendicular to the beach are numbered. If you’re meeting locals, they might direct you to 15th Street Beach or similar. This just means go to the section of the beach that is at the end of 15th Street.

Three Popular Del Mar Beaches

Each of the Del Mar beaches offers a unique experience. Whether you’re looking for a family-oriented beach day or a prime surfing spot, the below guide points out the highlights.

Torrey Pines State Beach

Crowds enjoy the sand of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
The popular strip of Torrey Pines State Beach.

With plenty of space on the shore, Torrey Pines State Beach is, as its name implies, run by the state and subject to slightly different rules than the city beaches are. It’s located at the base of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve on the very south end of Del Mar and also one of the best San Diego County beaches for families. Kids like to play in the lagoon area where the water from the Los Penasquitos Lagoon meets the Pacific Ocean.

The most popular place to go to the beach here is along the section that hugs Camino Del Mar/North Torrey Pines Road roughly in between Carmel Valley Road and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Lifeguards patrol this section of the beach year-round.

This Del Mar beach is close to the Torrey Pines Gliderport so it’s not uncommon to see hang gliders and paragliders soaring over the beach and ocean here. If you are beachgoing on the south end where there are cliffs, do not set up camp near the cliffs as they are known to crumble. You can take rather long walks and runs here to the south if the tides permit.

In hopes of protecting the surrounding wildlife, no dogs are allowed on the beach.

Popular activities:

  • Swimming and sunbathing
  • Surfing
  • Hikes at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
  • Beach activities, such as frisbee
  • Beach walks

Amenities: The beach has its own restrooms and showers, making it easy to wash off the sand and seawater before heading back home. The facilities are found near Penasquitos Lagoon, with fresh drinking water also available. 

Parking (parking lots are temporarily closed): Parking is available every day and administered by the state-chosen concessionaire, LAZ parking. There are two lots: South Beach Parking and North Beach Parking. Both are subject to demand pricing so expect to pay between $10-25. A light at the top of the kiosk at South Beach Parking will flash when that lot is full. This is your cue to head to North Beach Parking which doesn’t fill up as quickly but definitely can during the summer season. Frequent visitors should consider the California Explorer Day Use Annual Pass which provides unlimited parking here and at other state beaches.

Directions to Torrey Pines State Beach:

From the I-5 South: Exit Carmel Valley Road and head west toward South Camino Del Mar where you will turn left to reach Torrey Pines State Beach South Beach Parking lot (ideal if also visiting the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve). If simply going to the beach, just before you reach South Camino Del Mar, turn left on McGonigle Road to park in the North Beach parking lot.

From the I-5 North: Exit on Genessee Avenue and turn left (west). Stay in the right lanes as Genessee will veer into North Torrey Pines Road. Drive for about 4.5 miles. As you head downhill, you will turn left at the bottom of the grade into the South Beach Parking lot. If the kiosk light indicates that the parking lot is full, keep driving straight to North Beach Parking which you’ll see on the right just after the creek. Around North Beach Parking, North Torrey Pines Road changes name to South Camino Del Mar Road.

Tip: You might get lucky and find a parking spot along Highway 101, where you won’t be required to pay a parking fee but this is very rare.

Del Mar City Beach

Aerial view of Del Mar City Beach.
View of Main Beach to North Beach.

Del Mar City Beach starts at the end of Torrey Pines State Beach and runs a few miles to the border of Solana Beach. The San Diego County beach is divided into South, Main, and North.

South Beach is a quieter section accessed mostly by residents and surfers. There is a reef bottom here and surfers flock to 11th Street and 15th Street sections. We’ll focus here on the Main Beach.

The Main Beach of Del Mar City Beach is the most popular for beachgoing and starts just after the 15th Street surf break. The sand is gorgeous and wide. I love going to the beach here. The main lifeguard tower is at 17th Street which is also where the bathrooms and showers are located.

If you are a guest of Fairmont Grand Del Mar, my favorite family luxury hotels, their Grand Beach Service will set you up with umbrellas, chairs, and water at 18th Street — if this gives you any indication of what the most desirable part of this beach is.

There are also two adjacent coastal Del Mar parks on Main Beach: Powerhouse Park and Seagrove Park. Powerhouse Park has a large grassy area that is an ideal place for a picnic and a playground for kids. Seagrove Park is a quieter but picturesque grass park to the south of 15th Street that is popular for events such as weddings. People who want to take in sunsets or go to the beach without getting sandy often take in the panoramic views from these parks.

Popular activities:

  • Beach walking
  • Picnics
  • Whale watching
  • Swimming and sunbathing
  • Surfing

Amenities: Restrooms and shower facilities are found next to the lifeguard tower at 17th Street. During the summer months, water equipment rental stores are open.

Parking: Del Mar City Beach has limited parking. Spaces are metered along Coast Boulevard which runs parallel to this beach, so get there early. You can pay to park at L’Auberge Del Mar hotel and drive around some residential areas. Parking is difficult so you may want to consider taking a rideshare.

Directions: Exit I-5 on Del Mar Heights Road and go west until it intersects with Camino del Mar (if you were to keep going straight on Del Mar Heights Road, it would turn into 4th Street on the other side of Camino del Mar). Turn right on Camino del Mar. Turn left on 15th Street. Turn right on Coast Boulevard and start looking for parking.

Surfing: Most people surf the break at 15th Street.

Del Mar North Beach (Dog Beach)

Dogs play in the water at at Dog Beach Del Mar by the River Mouth.

While still a part of Del Mar City Beach, North Beach deserves its own mention because it’s popular with locals and tourists.

If you’re a dog owner, you’ll be happy to know that North Beach has been nicknamed Dog Beach Del Mar. It’s one of the most dog-friendly beaches in San Diego County and dogs can be spotted here nearly every hour of the day.

During the winter months, dogs can run freely on this beach all the way from 29th Street north to the border of Solana Beach. The busy warmer months require dogs to be on a leash and for off-leash for limited hours. Off-leash is permitted from dawn until 8 a.m. and on a leash from 8 a.m. to dawn. You should check the City of Del Mar rules for bringing your dog to the beach before you go.

North Beach Del Mar is also a favorite among surfers, with the reef providing the ideal break. The San Dieguito River meets the oceanfront here which is why this beach area is also called the River Mouth. It is also across from the Del Mar Racetrack.

For beautiful views that overlook North Beach, it’s worth exploring the trail on the north end that will lead you to James Scripps Bluff Preserve’s lookbook.

Popular activities:

  • Volleyball
  • Fishing
  • Dog walking
  • Walking trails
  • Picnics
  • Surfing and swimming

Amenities: The beach has volleyball court facilities, trails, and a beach overlook. You’d use the restrooms and showers at 17th Street lifeguard station.

Parking: During the summer periods the beach can get pretty crowded, making it difficult to come across parking spots. Parking can be found either at 29th Street or Camino del Mar, right behind the beach. It costs $3 per hour or $15 for the entire day.

Directions: Exit I-5 on Via de la Valle and head west until you reach Camino del Mar/Highway 101 (the streets join here). You will see North Beach on the left. Turn left on Camino del Mar and find street parking here.

The Bottom Line

What I like most about going to Del Mar beaches is the relaxed vibe. Even when they’re busy, I feel like I am in a special place — a Southern California gem that’s close to my home that I was lucky enough to call home for six years.

Where do you like to go to the beach in Del Mar?

See also:

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