The Mission Beach neighborhood is a famous two-mile resort peninsula with the Pacific Ocean on one side and sparkling Mission Bay on the other. At its narrowest point, the neighborhood is only two blocks wide. Popular with young adults and families alike, it’s home to various independent bars, and a vibrant nightlife, plus Ocean Walk boardwalk and iconic Belmont Park – a historic, waterfront amusement park.
Although Pacific Beach beaches and Mission Beach beaches form one continuous beach, Mission Beach is generally considered the beach between Reed Avenue and the jetty. And that area is split into two beaches: Mission Beach and South Mission Beach.
Mission Beach is the social hub where most of the action occurs, while South Mission Beach draws sports enthusiasts and those looking for a more peaceful beach experience, thanks to vacation rentals that line the boardwalk here.
Without further ado, here is your ultimate guide to the beaches of Mission Beach.
How to Get to Mission Beach San Diego
Bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and Mission Bay to the east, Pacific Beach to the north, and Mission Bay’s Entrance Channel to the south, there is one primary freeway that offers access to the Mission Beach neighborhood. That is Interstate 8, which runs east to west.
From I-5 in either direction, take the I-8 exit west. Take the West Mission Bay Drive exit off I-8, and follow West Mission Bay Drive to Mission Boulevard. Belmont Park will be the marker for when you’ve arrived. You’ll see parking lots on both sides of Mission Boulevard.
If you’re traveling from La Jolla, you won’t even need to hop on a freeway. Follow Mission Boulevard, which runs north and south, parallel to the ocean, through the entire Pacific Beach neighborhood to Mission Beach. A left on Santa Clara Place, toward Santa Clara Point on the Mission Bay side, will take you to the first public parking lot. If it’s full, continue south as there are plenty more lots, including near Belmont Park. I’ll address parking in more detail below.
What to Know Before You Go
The Mission Beach neighborhood has narrow residential streets that are almost always occupied or not big enough for street parking. This means that finding street parking can be extremely difficult, although not impossible. If you do manage to snag street parking, make sure you check the signage. The chances are that your prime parking spot is available for a reason. San Diego tow contractors are aggressive and always on the prowl for your mistake – especially in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.
Your best bet to find parking in Mission Beach is to circle the free public parking lots:
- on either side of Belmont Park
- across the street from Belmont Park
- off Santa Clara Place or El Carmel Place, both the north of Belmont Park
- South Mission Beach Park, south of Belmont Park
You can check the parking lot maps and availability on Parkopedia. However, during the summer, availability will change really quickly.
During the summer months, it may make sense to opt for an Uber or Lyft and bypass the parking headache altogether. This is particularly true for holiday weekends and major neighborhood events. If you’re set on driving during peak season, plan to go early in the morning to increase your odds of getting a spot. (During holidays, some residents offer their lawns for parking at highly inflated rates.)
Mission Beach Hours
Mission Beach is a public beach operated by the City of San Diego. It doesn’t actually ever close. In theory, you can use the beach at any hour of the day or night, assuming that you do not sleep overnight on it, which is illegal. That being said. There are Mission Beach hours to pay attention to. Lifeguards patrol the beach between 9 a.m. and dusk. Leashed dogs are allowed on Mission Beach before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. from April 1st to October 31st and between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from November 1st to March 31st.
Mission Beach is one of nine beaches in San Diego that has permanent lifeguards staffed year-round. Additional staff man seasonal lifeguard towers during the summer months for maximum safety. As mentioned above, lifeguards typically work from 9 a.m. to dusk. However, you are encouraged to check with lifeguards each day to get their specific hours of operation.
It’s important to note that any person who disregards the lawful order of a lifeguard can be charged with a misdemeanor. Anyone who intentionally harms them can face felony charges. So, it should go without saying, it’s important to respect those tasked with keeping you safe and follow their directions.
TIPIf you hear lifeguards on their bullhorns but can’t make out what they are saying, get out of the water. They are likely telling you there are rip tides.
Bathrooms and Showers
Various public bathrooms line the beach areas, some with showers. They are pretty well-maintained as far as beach bathrooms go but exercise caution. Do not let kids use them without an adult present.
There are also several restaurants located along the boardwalk and side streets that have bathrooms available. Just be sure to check with them on their bathroom policies, as you may have to make a purchase to use them.
Beach and Boardwalk Accessibility
Ocean Front Walk beach boardwalk and areas adjacent to it are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of complimentary wide-tire beach wheelchairs are available at permanent lifeguard stations for beach access. Just ask a lifeguard to point you in the right direction when you arrive.
Ocean Front Walk
Ocean Front Walk is a two-mile boardwalk running from North Pacific Beach to the jetty at the end of South Mission Beach. The latter is the last stretch of Mission Beach, known for its beach volleyball courts. This paved boardwalk is lined with beachfront homes, bars and restaurants, boutique shops, and, of course, historic Belmont Park.
It is popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists, roller skaters, and skateboarders. Regardless of which activity you prefer, note that the speed limit is 8 mph on the boardwalk. You can rent bikes, skateboards, inline skates, and more at Belmont Park and various beachside shops.
Lifeguards separate water use into swimming and surfing zones to ensure the safety of both types of users. Zones are typically marked by yellow and black checkered flags with signage that either represents surfing or swimming, alerting you to which zone is which. If you are unsure of which zone you’re in, ask the nearest lifeguard.
Any unlawful use of water sports equipment, including surfboards, boogie boards, or boats that endanger another person is strictly prohibited.
Scuba diving is permitted at Mission Beach. However, you have to call the Lifeguard Beach Information Line before diving. You’ll speak with a lifeguard who will advise you of current water conditions and obtain the intended location of your dive. You cannot dive without this step. The phone number is (619) 221-8824. It’s not common to see scuba divers entering the water from Mission Beach or Pacific Beach beaches.
One of the best dive spots off Mission Beach is about a half-mile out from the coast where shipwrecks have been placed to create an artificial reef and a fascinating place to explore.
Fishing is permitted at South Mission Beach from the adjacent jetty along Mission Bay’s Entrance Channel. A fishing license isn’t required because it is a public jetty. However, you must follow catch regulations that are strictly enforced. The only other fishing option is at the other end of the beach in Pacific Beach, where you can pier fish off Crystal Pier.
Fire pits are scattered across Mission Beach beaches and are available during the summer months for bonfires and cookouts on a first, come first-served basis. You can find them near lifeguard towers.
Open fires outside of containers are prohibited, and no beach bonfires can occur between midnight and 5 a.m. The only materials that can be burned are wood, charcoal, and paper products. No burning trash, glass, or other rubbish is allowed.
You can use fuel to get a fire going, but the flames can’t exceed 12-inches above the fire container’s upper edge. Before you leave, you must make sure the fire is completely extinguished, and all coals have to be removed and placed in proper nearby coal containers.
To make things easier, you can have a company set up and take down your fire pit. They’ll also provide chairs and tiki torches.
Leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. from April 1st to October 31st. From November 1st to March 31st, hours are shortened by two hours to between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. These time restrictions don’t apply to service animals. All pet owners are expected to pick up after their dogs.
Like most San Diego beaches, the beaches at Mission Beach and the surrounding areas, including walkways, jetties, park areas, and adjacent parking lots, strictly enforce rules. These include no alcoholic beverages, no smoking, no glass containers, no overnight camping, no littering, no disturbing noise, and no dogs outside of the permitted hours listed above.
Large Group Limitations
Similar to Pacific Beach, all gatherings of 50 or more people will require a permit from the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department. This includes weddings, athletic events, water events, voice or music amplification, and any use of specialized equipment such as a canopy, dunk tank, or inflatable party jump.
The Two Beaches of Mission Beach
There are two primary Pacific Ocean beaches in the San Diego Mission Beach neighborhood, excluding Mission Bay across Mission Boulevard. They are Mission Beach and South Mission Beach.
Here’s where it gets a little confusing. When someone says, “Mission Beach,” they could be referring to any part of Mission Beach or South Mission Beach. They are likely referring to the vast stretch of beach with several bars, restaurants, shops, and the legendary Belmont Park amusement park — where most day tourists go.
When someone says, “South Mission Beach,” they are talking about the beach stretch roughly between Belmont Park and the jetty. This beach is worth distinguishing because it’s a wider beach stretch, quieter, and for reasons that I’ll get into below.
Mission Beach: Waterfront Entertainment Headquarters
Mission Beach shares its name with the neighborhood itself and starts roughly south of Reed Avenue. Spanning just over a mile between Pacific Beach and South Mission Beach, this wide stretch of sandy beach is bound by the Pacific Ocean on one side and Ocean Front Walk boardwalk on the other.
It is an action-packed area that is popular with 20-somethings and families. In the summer, it draws crowds and is one of the most crowded beaches in San Diego.
Belmont Park amusement park is the highlight of Mission Beach. It offers a unique collection of carnival rides, including the historic Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, originally built in 1925 but since restored. A half-mile wooden track roller coaster features sharp curves, abrupt dips, and a stomach-sinking, 70-foot drop at an incredibly fast rate of speed.
Other fun attractions include an expansive arcade, a miniature golf course, bumper cars, and rock climbing walls. Admission to the park is free. Amusement rides and activities are paid separately. As the a la carte cost of rides can add up, I advise purchasing an attraction pass. Or, residents can enjoy year-round ride and attraction access with an annual pass, providing further discounts.
Adjacent to the park is various restaurants and shops like the Sun Diego surf apparel store, the Lifeguard Shop, and Mission Beach Rentals @ Belmont that rents beach cruisers and other bikes. The historic Plunge swimming pool here is also open to the public for those who want to take a break from the beach.
Sandwiched between Belmont Park and Mission Beach is Ocean Front Walk boardwalk. Favorite activities on the boardwalk include biking, roller-blading, skateboarding, walking, and jogging. It’s also common to lounge on the seawall people-watching or catching a Pacific sunset.
The beach itself is a gathering place for families and groups of young adults enjoying a day of sunbathing, swimming, surfing, bodysurfing, sand castling, and playing an array of beach games like horseshoes, Frisbee, and paddleball.
When the winds are good, you’ll also spot a few kite surfers zipping along the coast. Sometimes you’ll even see a large group demonstrating the Brazilian martial art of Kapaweda or a group of impressively dressed 80s inspired rollerbladers jamming out to tunes in the parking lot. This is a high-energy beach that is always bustling with activity.
- Belmont Park waterfront amusement park
- Exploring Ocean Front Walk boardwalk – walking, jogging, biking, blading, or skateboarding
- Swimming at The Plunge
- Surfing wave machines at Wave House
- Gathering around beach bonfires
- Playing at the children’s playground
- Playing games and activities on grassy park spaces
- Fishing from the jetty
Amenities: This beach is rife with amenities. They include bathrooms and showers located near permanent lifeguard towers, several grassy areas with picnic facilities on either side of Belmont Park near the parking lots, and a boardwalk that runs the park’s entire length and both beaches.
The street where Mission Bay Drive and Mission Blvd intersect has the most restaurants. Bike rentals and surf shops offering lessons and camps are also located in the area surrounding the park and along the boardwalk. This beach is staffed with lifeguards and features bonfire pits near lifeguard towers.
Parking: A few parking lots surround Belmont Park; they are free and can be used by park visitors or beachgoers. Two large lots are located on either end of the park, and one smaller lot is situated at the back of the amusement park. Directly across Mission Boulevard are two more large parking lots.
South Mission Beach: A Quieter Sand and Sports Hub
Offering a slower pace than that of bustling Mission Beach, South Mission Beach runs from San Fernando Place at the south edge of Belmont Park to the jetty along Mission Bay’s Entrance Channel. Many of San Diego’s beachfront vacation rental homes are located here.
Morning jog at the Mission Beach jetty
One of the widest beaches in San Diego, South Mission Beach is a popular spot for outdoor sports such as sand volleyball with several nets already set up, over-the-line beach softball, and a couple of adjacent basketball courts for a pick-up game.
South Mission Beach Park also features one of the best spots for fishing. You’ll spot people casting from the jetty as they watch the boats passing in and out through Mission Bay’s Entrance Channel. There is even a series of shipwrecks about a half-mile off the coast, creating an artificial reef that’s a fun destination for divers.
South Mission Beach is also frequented by seasoned local surfers who know how to rip. This is not a good spot for novice surfers, as the jetty can make conditions unsafe. Local surfers are also quite protective of this break, so adhere to the lineup if you decide to join in the fun. (There’s good surf over by Santa Clara Street in Mission Beach as well.)
Swimming is also good on South Mission Beach. Just keep an eye on those black and yellow checkered flags that designate swim areas, and watch for frequent rip tides. Sticking closer to shore or swimming near a lifeguard tower is the best bet for weak swimmers.
The Ocean Front Walk boardwalk ends at the jetty, which also marks the end of South Mission Beach, so walking, jogging, bike riding, skateboarding, and rollerblading are popular activities at this beach as well. Several grassy areas and picnic tables, as well as a children’s playground, are located adjacent to this beach.
One of the most unique features of South Mission Beach, the dedicated Over-The-Line (OTL) playing area. Created and trademarked by the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC), Over-The-Line is a fast-paced game similar to softball with some slight differences.
It only requires three people per team, and the “field” is made in the sand using rope or lines marked in the sand. You’ll need a softball bat and a rubber softball to play. With a cult following that has only increased over the years, South Mission Beach is the only oceanfront OTL area in the city.
It’s a great place to practice for San Diego’s annual OTL Tournament on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, one of the most significant social events in San Diego.
- Beach Volleyball
- Scuba Diving at the shipwrecks
- Walking, jogging, cycling, skateboarding, and rollerblading along the boardwalk
- Boating and whale watching
- Beach bonfires
- Playing at the children’s playground
Amenities: Bathrooms, showers, and fire pits can be found near the permanent lifeguard towers. Basketball courts, a playground, and picnic areas are located adjacent to the beach. You’ll find Volleyball courts and OTL areas on the sand. The jetty marks the end of the two-mile Ocean Front Walk boardwalk. Ocean Beach is on the other side of the jetty, but you need to drive around to get there (and you can’t walk across to it).
Parking: There is a large parking lot at the end of Ocean Front Walk right off the beach. Additional parking can be found across Mission Boulevard on the Mission Bay side of the neighborhood. Street parking is extremely limited in this area, so your best bet is to park the free parking lots located throughout Mission Beach or grab a ride-share down to this beach section.
FAQs About Mission Beach San Diego
If you’re trying to figure out what the beach is like here and whether it’s a fit for your San Diego vacation or beach day, here are answers to the most frequently asked questions that hit my inbox.
Is Mission Beach good for families?
Yes. South Mission Beach is good for families. This section of the beach is away from the bars in a more residential neighborhood. It’s a big stretch of sand with plenty of space, even on busy days, to lay out a towel and set up your gear without interfering with someone else’s beach space.
This San Diego beach is divided into surfing and swimming. The section near the jetty isn’t safe for swimming through people do surf here, and it’s the location of a permanent lifeguard station.
Is Mission Beach in San Diego safe?
Yes. Mission Beach is considered safe. No matter which San Diego neighborhoods you visit, common-sense precautions are necessary, just like they are in most parts of the world. Lock your car doors, look both ways before you cross the street or boardwalk, don’t walk alone at night, don’t leave valuables unattended, swim where there are lifeguards, etc.
Is Mission Beach in San Diego open?
Yes. Mission Beach, like other City of San Diego beaches, is open. San Diego County regulations require that face coverings be worn when you come into contact with people at a distance of less than 6′ apart with people who are not in your household.
Beach activities like volleyball are permitted with people in the same household. Ocean Front Walk boardwalk is also open. Ocean activities like surfing, swimming, and boogie boarding are permitted.
What is Mission Beach known for?
Mission Beach San Diego is known for its classic Southern California beach boardwalk atmosphere. There are beach bars, casual restaurants, and places for fun beach rentals like bikes and in-line skates, but there is also a quieter section of family-friendly sand, surfing, and volleyball courts on the southern end. People also come to visit Belmont Park, our historic waterfront amusement park.
Is Mission Beach or Pacific Beach better?
Whether Mission Beach or Pacific Beach is better for your vacation or day out depends on what you are looking for. I could get into a lot of detail about this, but here is the gist. If you are looking for a casual beach with a bar scene, stay near Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach to enjoy the bars and restaurants on either side of it and along Garnet Avenue.
If you are a family, stay in a vacation rental along South Mission Beach or at Pacific Terrace Inn in North Pacific Beach, avoiding the aforementioned scene in the middle.
Where is Mission Beach San Diego?
Mission Beach is located south of Pacific Beach and north of Ocean Beach along the coast of San Diego. It’s one of our neighborhoods that is full of vacation rentals, casual eateries, and bars.
If you’re trying to arrive via Uber or rideshare, I would plug in the address for Belmont Park, which is 3146 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109.
What can I do in Mission Beach?
You can spend an entire vacation in the San Diego Mission Beach and Mission Bay neighborhoods between water sports, beach, biking trails, and SeaWorld San Diego. Refer to my lists of things to do in Mission Beach and the best Mission Beach and Mission Bay hotels for more resources.
Mission Beach Vacation Rentals
If you’ve decided that a Mission Beach vacation rental is more appropriate for your situation, I prefer Marriott Homes and Villas because they only list properties with professional management and vet their listings to meet stringent criteria. VRBO seems to offer the most availability, however.