Pacific Beach, affectionately dubbed PB by the locals, is one of San Diego’s popular neighborhoods. Although it has a reputation as a party haven for young adults, that’s not a reflection of the entire neighborhood. You’ll see free-spirited twenty-somethings, but there are also families mixed into the local scene.
Basing a San Diego vacation in Pacific Beach is not for everyone. However, this eclectic list of things to do in Pacific Beach San Diego is sure to appeal to nearly every type of visitor. Whether you prefer the beach, the bay, or the inland area, you’ll find something here to enjoy.
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It makes sense that the majority of things to do in Pacific Beach actually involve sand and ocean. Pacific Beach is one of San Diego’s best beaches.
The wide, flat beach is tucked between the Pacific Ocean and a 3.2-mile-long boardwalk lined with beachfront bars, restaurants, and shops (and a handful of homeless/interesting characters).
1. Join the Never-Ending Beach Party
Let’s get the elephant out of the room. The heart of Pacific Beach isn’t for everyone. Crowds often contain young crowds sunbathing, playing beach sports, and bar hopping roughly between Crystal Pier and where the vacation rentals start in Mission Beach.
The spring-break-like vibe is noticeable during weekends, summer, and other holidays but is usually fairly mellow during weekdays outside of summer and cooler weather. On any day, you will see some eclectic characters. (We walk and jog along the boardwalk often.)
2. Relax with the Family on North Pacific Beach
Central Pacific Beach may be party central, but North Pacific Beach is popular with local and vacationing families looking for a wide beach and calm waves.
Situated between the Pacific Ocean shoreline and the bluffs behind it, this family-friendly beach lies to the north roughly between Pacific Terrace Hotel and Law Street, where there is some residential parking.
There are public restrooms at both Law Street and Diamond Street with stairs from the beach (exercise caution and don’t let kids use them unattended).
North Pacific Beach also has both swim and surf areas protected by lifeguards. Like us, many La Jolla families go to the section right at the end of Law Street.
3. Catch a Wave at Tourmaline Beach and Surf Park
Tourmaline Beach is the neighborhood’s northernmost beach and one of San Diego’s most coveted surf spots. If you’re into longboarding, this is your spot. It’s also good for beginners.
You’ll find it off Mission Boulevard (near where it becomes La Jolla Boulevard) at the bottom of Tourmaline Street. It’s not much of a swim beach, but families come here to explore its tide pools at low tide. There’s a small parking lot here and public restrooms.
4. Catch a Fish or Watch a Sunset on Crystal Pier
Crystal Pier, built in 1927, is a Pacific Beach historic landmark and a privately-owned pier that grants public access during the day.
You’ll find it at the end of Garnet Avenue, the main street in Pacific Beach, which is home to loads of casual shops, restaurants, and bars.
Midway down the pier on your right is a good spot to watch surfers. You can whale-watch (January is the best month for spotting gray whales), catch a sunset, or catch a fish at the far end of the pier. There’s a bait shop on Crystal Pier, and you don’t need a fishing license here.
5. Stay Over the Water
The beach end of Crystal Pier is dotted with over-the-water vacation cottages available for rent. It’s one of the most unique accommodations in all of San Diego as they are often directly over the water, depending on the tides.
Yes, you will definitely fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean. Reservations can only be made directly with this family-owned and operated hotel.
6. Bike or Walk on the Oceanfront Boardwalk
Ocean Walk is a premier oceanfront boardwalk along Pacific Beach. The 3.2-mile-long boardwalk begins at Law Street in North Pacific Beach and runs parallel to the shoreline all the way to the South Mission Beach jetty.
This is the perfect place to ride your rented beach cruiser from one end to the other and back, or take a leisurely morning or sunset stroll.
During summer, the boardwalk can be packed with people from late morning to late evening including some occasional buskers like the Bubble Man.
7. Get Your Zen on with Beach Yoga at Palisades Park
While not technically on the beach, enthusiastic yogis meet on weekends at Palisades Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean for some free beachfront yoga. Located at the end of Law Street, you can join the Yoga Meetup at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Bird Rock Yoga also offers Sunset Beach Yoga and Full Moon Yoga, two donation-based vinyasa classes, at the same location. Sunset Yoga runs March through October, Monday through Thursday. Check their calendar for exact dates and times.
8. Learn to Surf at San Diego Surf School
Although San Diego Surf School is located on Cass Street a few blocks from the beach, they set up shop on North Pacific Beach (at the bottom of Law Street) for their lessons and camps.
This is a great spot to learn to surf with calm waters and steady waves. San Diego Surf School offers private and group lessons, surf camps for kids and adults, and surf retreats.
All instructors are Lifeguard and CPR certified. Many local kids (like mine) attend these camps, and they can typically get you up on a (foam) board on the first day.
9. Dine in Style at the Beach
JRDN Restaurant is a beachfront, indoor/outdoor restaurant located along the beach boardwalk in Tower23 Hotel. You’ll find California cuisine with Japanese and Baja influences.
The fresh menu includes seafood platters, steaks, sushi, and nigiri at this sleek and modern restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Their glassed-in sushi station lets you watch as chefs prepare sashimi, sushi, and raw bar dishes.
Complement your meal with sake, Japanese beers, or craft cocktails. JRDN is family-friendly and open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
10. Eat the Best Breakfast in Pacific Beach
Kono’s Surf Club Café has been serving San Diego locals and visitors since 1991 and has become a neighborhood icon.
This surf-themed, oceanfront café is located directly across the boardwalk from Crystal Pier. Known for its big breakfasts, low prices, and long lines out the door, breakfast is served all day.
Consistently appearing at the top of “Best Breakfast” lists, their giant breakfast burritos are legendary. The family-friendly restaurant even lets you split a breakfast with an extra plate for $1.
11. Grab a Beer on a Beachfront or Rooftop Bar
There is no shortage of places to have a beer or cocktail in Pacific Beach, that’s for sure. But finding a beachfront rooftop bar narrows the choices considerably.
That’s when you go where the locals go, and they flock to PB Shore Club for the best ocean views, two full bars, and friendly service. The bar has 21 TVs showing your favorite sports, 20 tap beers, great grub, and phenomenal sunsets. Their famous fish tacos, fresh ceviche, and tri-tip sandwiches are all good bets.
You can also try Waterbar, which is a bit more upscale. It’s not an open-air rooftop but it’s on the boardwalk with usually big open windows. I’ve been and like it.
12. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Technically, the Baked Bear isn’t beachside, but if you walk the short block up Garnet from Crystal Pier and turn left on Mission Boulevard, it’s a few doors down on your left.
This made-to-order ice cream sandwich shop is well worth the slight detour from the beach. My daughter and her friends always make a stop here before going home from the beach.
Build your own ice cream sandwich from a Brownie Sandwich with Mint Chip Ice Cream to a Funfetti Cookie Sandwich with Cookies and Cream. They also sell ice cream by the pint and cookies by the dozen. (We also like sandwiches from Board and Brew next door.)
13. Wrap Yourself in Oceanfront Luxury
If you’re into ocean views and swanky vibes, you’ll find them both at Tower23 Hotel. This luxury boutique hotel has a prime beachfront location near Crystal Pier. Designed with the epicurean traveler in mind, Tower23 caters to well-heeled business professionals and families.
In-room spa services, extraordinary views, and a private second-floor Tower Deck set the hotel apart from neighboring hotels. JRDN, the hotel’s signature restaurant, serves Japanese and Baja-inspired cuisine featuring seafood, steaks, and sushi.
Experience the PB Side of Mission Bay Park
Pacific Beach is blessed with a Pacific Ocean beach and a bay beach, thanks to nearby Mission Bay.
14. Play Beach Volleyball at the Bay
Sail Bay is a part of Mission Bay that is nestled along the beach from Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa, wrapping its way past Fanuel park and east into the neighborhood to Crown Point. Its perimeter is wrapped in a continuous sandy beach with a paved walkway called Bayside Walk.
On Sail Bay’s northern end, you’ll find everyone’s go-to spot for bayside volleyball. Whether to play or watch, show up any weekday evening before sunset to join the fun. Or, gather your own group together anytime for a beach volleyball match of your own.
15. Release Your Inner Angler at Fisherman’s Channel
Located at the tip of Crown Point beneath the Ingraham Street Bridge, anglers can enjoy prime shore fishing in Fishermen’s Channel.
It’s a great spot to catch spotted bay bass, corvine, and halibut. Leopard sharks, bat rays, barred sand bass, and calico bass can also grab your line. Halibut are particularly abundant here. Add live bait like anchovies to your baitfish imitators and you’ve got a good chance of bringing home a halibut for dinner.
16. Picnic Bayside with the Family
Fanuel Street Park is located along Sail Bay, a popular section of Mission Bay Park, which is the biggest man-made aquatic park in the country. The park has an expansive grassy area, regularly used by the community for neighborhood cookouts.
There’s playground equipment right on the beach to entertain the little ones, and a seasonal lifeguard protected swim area. The water is calm and shallow, making it a good swim choice for families. There are also public restrooms.
17. Go to the Best Pacific Beach Spa
The Catamaran Spa is a waterfront, full-service spa located at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa on Sail Bay in Pacific Beach. Spa treatments here are influenced by the healing traditions of Asia and the South Pacific.
Expect everything from body wraps to massages to facials imbued with both marine- and botanical-based products. A private outdoor whirlpool adds another layer of relaxation with tranquil views of Mission Bay. The spa hosts open-air yoga classes seasonally.
18. Devour One of San Diego’s Best Burgers
At Rocky’s Crown Pub, the burgers are so sensational that the entire menu is comprised of four versions of their legendary burgers – with or without cheese, and one-third pound or one-half pound. The only other menu item is fries. You know they have to be good.
Located in the Crown Point area of Pacific Beach, you’ll find this pub with its famous burgers and craft beers at the corner of Ingraham Street and La Playa Avenue. (This pub is 21 and up, but you can get burgers to go.)
19. Sleep and Play in Polynesian Style
Located on Sail Bay, Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa offers vacationers a waterfront, 1950s Polynesian experience. This unique resort hotel has tons of amenities I love, like their famous bayside luaus and movie nights, complimentary sternwheeler cruises of the bay, bird shows, tropical gardens, and koi ponds, and kids’ arcade.
The resort has two great restaurants, one with an 800-gallon jellyfish tank in the middle, a coffee shop, pool bar, and grill, and a beach snack shack. It offers the most activities out of any resort on Mission Bay in addition to easy access to both the ocean beach a few short blocks away and the bay beach.
Don’t Overlook PB’s Inland Neighborhood
You can find plenty of things to do in Pacific Beach off of the sand.
20. Enjoy the Best Views of Mission Bay
Perched high above the Pacific Beach neighborhood where Lamont Street becomes Soledad Road, you’ll find sprawling Kate Sessions Park. Views of Mission Bay, the San Diego skyline, and the Pacific Ocean are enviably picturesque from this vantage point. On a clear day, you can even see the Coronado Bridge.
Kate Sessions Park is a local favorite for watching the setting sun, or admiring the nighttime city lights. An expansive grassy slope is perfect for Frisbee tossing, ball playing, and kite flying. The park is equipped with barbecues, picnic tables, play equipment for kids, and restrooms.
On any given day there will be lots of dogs on leash and off (even though off-leash is technically not permitted).
21. Become a Supersleuth and Impress Your Friends
Quicksand Escape Games is an escape room venue on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. Participants are locked in a room and given 60 minutes to figure out how to escape.
It’s the perfect challenge for coworkers, friends, or family. You uncover clues and solve puzzles to make your escape before time is up. There are three themed escape rooms to choose from – The Speakeasy, The Diner, and Chinatown. The difficulty level varies in each room.
22. Channel Your Inner Paul Bunyan
Thanks to Bad Axe Throwing, you don’t have to move to Minnesota to be like Paul Bunyan. Break out your checkered flannel shirt and head to popular Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. You can hone your axe throwing skills anytime at this fun venue. During normal times, no reservations are required.
You’ll quickly learn how to throw an axe from expert coaches. This stress-relieving experience brings the upper-Midwest backyard activity to an urban setting. Forget darts and bowling; axe throwing is the new urban adventure.
23. Discover New Views of San Diego by Bike
Electric bike tours offer a great way to experience San Diego because they make pedaling easy (if you like). You can even stop and smell the roses if you wish.
Discover how the two neighborhoods connect and learn more about the area from your knowledgeable tour guide. Tours are also a great way to meet new people.
YOU’LL START IN LA JOLLAYou’ll meet the tour and grab your bike in La Jolla, the north adjacent neighborhood to Pacific Beach. I have tons of advice for things to do, restaurants, and shopping if you want to spend some time before our after your tour in my town.
24. Shop for Worldly Treasures at Pangaea Outpost
Named after the prehistoric supercontinent, Pangaea, this eclectic store is a shopper’s paradise. Located on Garnet Avenue, one block from Crystal Pier, the unique store offers shoppers an unforgettable experience. You’ll see everything from clothing to stuffed zebras to crystals among the store’s vast collection of treasures.
Over 70 local artisans are represented at Pangaea Outpost, and the store sells exotic imports from across the globe. Even if you aren’t buying, this is an experience you won’t want to miss.
25. Grab Soft Serve from a Classic Spot
Mr. Frostie on Garnet Avenue has been a local favorite since 1949. Go for a classic soft serve dipped cone or frozen banana, though they also offer hot dogs, banana splits and other nostalgic fare to eat at the handful of picnic tables outside or take with you.
Bonus: Go Bowling with Cocktails
Right before the world went pear-shaped, Break Point opened on Garnet Avenue. It’s a beautiful, more upscale bar, restaurant, and bowling alley. It’s meant to be family-friendly so when things get back to normal, we’ll give it a whirl and let you know what we think.
What are your favorite things to do in Pacific Beach, San Diego?