You might be the most dedicated and conscientious of communication scholars, but if you’re coming to San Diego for this year’s 67th Annual ICA Conference, chances are you’re not planning to spend your whole trip indoors. Why would you, in a city that has some of the world’s greatest beaches?
There are those who see the beach as a roughly monochromatic thing—one beach is as good as another, they’re all the same anyway. The San Diego coastline proves that presumption wrong. These beaches vary greatly: Some are better for riding the waves, others for riding the dunes. Some are more romantic, others ideal for family picnics and dog walks. And some are inside the city limits, others just outside. This article will take you on a brief tour of some of the most popular and acclaimed beaches in the San Diego area.
Closest to the Hilton San Diego Bayfront—a 10- to 15-minute walk—is Coronado Beach, which is across the bay (and the famous Coronado Bridge) in the town of Coronado. Film lovers may recognize it from the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot (ditto the adjacent luxury Hotel Del Coronado, and the posh mansions that also line the beach); visitors will immediately recognize it from the word CORONADO, which rises out of the sand at its streetside edge. But Coronado Beach would be visually distinctive even without these icons; it sparkles—literally. Flecks of the mineral mica are part of the sand on the 1.5-mile expanse, giving it a silvery, shimmery quality. The beach itself is very flat, making it a popular spot for long walks and for beachcombing. It’s also popular with surfers. In addition, at low tide, there are tide pools to explore. For all these reasons, in 2012 Coronado Beach was ranked as the best in the United States.
Mission Beach lies north of Coronado Beach, past San Diego Bay. The contrast is stark: This is perhaps the most active beach in San Diego County. A two-mile-long boardwalk populates the edge of the beach featuring eateries, shops, equipment rental stalls, an arcade, and bars aplenty. (This last also makes Mission Bay one of the most popular nightlife scenes in San Diego, especially with people in their 20s. Student members, take note.) Sports are extremely widespread at Mission Beach, with not only surfing but bicycling, skateboarding, softball, and volleyball taking place at various points. However, the real hub of Mission Beach is Belmont Park, a historic amusement park whose most famous attractions are The Plunge, an indoor swimming pool, and the Giant Dipper, a 70-foot wooden rollercoaster that’s been restored to its original 1925 design.
Pacific Beach, directly adjacent to Mission Beach, is also a heavy nightlife district—although the young people who have long frequented “PB” have frequently been priced out and replaced by a more established, more affluent population. Still, there are plenty of restaurants and bars in the area, and at night it’s a favorite site for bonfires and parties. Two prominent landmarks at Pacific Beach are Crystal Pier, a large public pier that’s attached to a hotel, and, at the north end of the beach, the Tourmaline Surfing Park, whose slow waves make it an ideal spot for beginning surfers and longboarders.
The expanse of sandy beach ends at Tourmaline—it’s cut off by the rocky promontory at La Jolla. But after a lengthy stretch, the cliffs peel away from the shoreline just enough to reveal Windansea Beach, a legendary surfing beach. It also attracts swimmers and bodyboarders at its south end, and its numerous tide pools make it a popular family attraction as well.
Separated from Windansea by another cliff, Marine Street Beach is of a very different nature. Its wave currents are very choppy, making it a poor choice for surfing and for swimming. For this reason—and because of fiercely protective neighbors—Marine Street Beach is known as a locals-only beach. (There’s even a prominent graffiti scrawl of “LOCALS ONLY” on a center wall.) It’s obviously a little daunting (and is intended to be) for visitors…but to the intrepid, that simply means there aren’t a lot of tourist families to fight for space on the sand.
Children’s Pool Beach is neither a pool, nor specifically designated for children…although it started out that way in the 1930s, when the construction of a sea wall made it a safe spot for kids to play and swim. But most of the walled area has filled with sand…and, now, with seals. The sea animals began occupying the Children’s Pool in the mid 1990s, eventually forcing the state to close the beach to swimming. Instead, though, the seals themselves became its draw for both locals and tourists. These days there are approximately 200 seals and sea lions, parents and their young, using the beach. (Since 2013 the state of California has employed barrier rope to separate them from human visitors; the bipeds among us can also use an elevated walkway that rests on the small cliff known as Seal Rock.)
A short distance from Children’s Pool is the very small and secluded La Jolla Cove. The waters are tame, so no surfers to speak of, but the rich marine life at the cove makes it a destination for snorkelers and scuba divers who want to catch a glimpse at some of the protected sea animals who live there. (Most common and best known of these is the brilliant orange Garibaldi fish.) Kayaking is also a big pastime at La Jolla Cove, because of the seven sea caves nearby that beg to be explored. (They are also, depending on the tide, accessible on foot.) Note that the protected status of the animals at the cove means that even collecting seashells there is prohibited by law.
On the other side of the cove, however, is La Jolla Shores, a one-mile stretch of beach that is among the most beloved and popular in all of southern California. It hosts just about every activity one associates with the beach: kayaking (it’s the only boat launch within San Diego city limits), stand-up paddling, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving, surfing, picnicking, bonfires. It is anchored by the Scripps Institution of Oceonography Pier and abuts the famous San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, an ecological reserve and sea life refuge that contains two artificial reefs.
A little farther north, and the community of La Jolla is behind us.
The northernmost beach inside the city limits is Torrey Pines State Beach, another of the prides of southern California. Swimmers and visitors with children tend toward the lagoon on the south side of the beach; to the north is the favorite spot for surfing and bodyboarding. This is a rocky, hilly beach. But in the case of Torrey Pines, that’s actually one of its advantages. It’s a favorite spot for hiking; there is a large expanse of high sand dunes, for those who like to hit the shores in a dune buggy; and, at the top of the cliff that embraces the beach, Torrey Pines has a hang glider port that is a gateway to the best possible views of San Diego.
As mentioned above, this is the northern limit of the beaches in San Diego city. Just outside is Del Mar, a seaside village with two miles of coastline. The two primary beaches in Del Mar are Del Mar City Beach and Dog Beach. The former is essentially divided in two: its southern half is lined with bluffs—but low, navigable ones, with trails to the water and a jogging path along the top. The bluffs ease off at the northern end, providing easy access from the village to the beach; good surfing and swimming can be found there, as well as two coastal parks (Powerhouse and Seagrove) that provide great picnic and sunbathing spots. A small wedge between the bluffs and the highway, Dog Beach isn’t a good spot for swimming or surfing; the currents are unpredictable, the waters fairly shallow. It is, however, a prime spot for volleyball, horseshoes, and beachcombing—and as the name implies, for dogs.
There are many more beaches as you travel further up the coast in San Diego County—far too many to detail in a single Newsletter article. But trips to the shores at Solana Beach, at Encinitas, and at Carlsbad are all as rewarding for beach lovers as the ones within the city of San Diego.
One important note, however: the waters of Southern California are often chilly, even in summer hovering somewhere around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius). Even the beaches here listed as good for swimming may really be more like quick dips for some would-be swimmers.