Top 15 Best Beaches in San Diego for Families

San Diego has some of the best beaches for families in the entire state. No trip to this beautiful coastal city is complete without a beach visit. San Diego boasts over 70 miles of shoreline, so whether you want to build sand castles, snooze under an umbrella, gaze at rocky bluffs, learn to surf, or investigate tide pools, there’s a beach for every type of family here.

A family visit to San Diego’s beaches is also the perfect way to enjoy some quality time outdoors together. They are fun for everyone, they are budget-friendly, and kids can spend hours entertained with just a few shovels. 

In this post, we share what makes San Diego’s best family beaches stand out and the details you need to choose the perfect one for your crew. 

Things are always changing! Make sure to double-check schedule changes and closures before your trip.

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Choosing the Best Beaches in San Diego for Families

San Diego has no shortage of fabulous beaches, each with unique character, history, and amenities. The biggest challenge is picking the best one to complement your family vacation. 

It may seem like all beaches are the same: you’ve got the ocean, some sand, and hopefully a bathroom or two. But San Diego’s many beaches have unique features which appeal to different families. Whether you’re into upscale beach resorts, shell collecting, or snorkeling, San Diego has a beach you’ll love.

Map of Beaches in San Diego

The best beaches in San Diego for families extend past the boundaries of the city. From North County to the Tijuana Border, San Diego County has many wonderful beach options a fairly short drive from each other. 

This post follows the coastline from South to North as we explore the best San Diego beaches for all types of families. You can find the beaches included on the map shown here:

Best San Diego Beach to Build a Sandcastle: Imperial Beach

Sandcastle Building at the Imperial Beach Sun and Sea Festival
The Sun & Sea Festival in Imperial Beach

The southernmost beach town in California, just 5 miles from the Mexican border, Imperial Beach has a chill vibe. Though not far from Coronado, it has a much more relaxed, local feel to it. 

We visited during the annual Sun & Sea Sandcastle Building contest and were so intrigued that we had to return the next day to see what progress had been made. When we arrived on Day 2 the “Kids & Castles” contest was in full swing by Dunes Park. There were some pretty impressive entries in progress! 

Red flags were up during our visit indicating high surf and strong currents, so the junior lifeguards were having fun with a bouncy water slide in the park at Portwood Pier Plaza instead of their usual routine. 

Even though we couldn’t swim or splash, there was plenty of fun to be had getting creative on the sand, watching surfers from the pier, and playing in Dunes Park.


Lifeguards are on duty year-round near the Pier.


Public restrooms are available midway out on the Pier and in Portwood Pier Plaza. 


There are some small public fee-based lots with beach access. If they’re full it’s not hard to find free parking along the nearby residential streets. 


There are plenty of good options near the Pier, including Cow-a-Bunga Ice Cream & Coffee. I wanted to stop at the Mike Hess Brewing Company’s large family-friendly Biergarten a short walk away from the beach, but we didn’t have time. It’s on my list for a future visit!

Best San Diego Beach for Shell Collectors: Silver Strand State Beach

Shells on Silver Strand State Beach
Sand Dollar Shells on Silver Strand State Beach

If you want to find some seashell souvenirs, check out Silver Strand State Beach. Named for the traces of tiny silver seashells that line its sands, it’s the perfect place to search for shells. 

Located along the narrow sand spit that connects Imperial Beach to Coronado, Silver Strand State Beach includes sandy stretches that offer beautiful views of both the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Despite the many recreational opportunities in the northern section of the beach closest to Coronado, the less developed southern section retains a wild feel with 1.5 miles of ocean and a natural preserve. 

Strolling along the beach in the nature preserve, there’s a good chance of finding moon snail shells, cockle shells, and the occasional full sand dollar in the sand. If you’re wading along the shore, be careful not to step on one of the many stingrays who enjoy resting on the sand here.


Lifeguards are on duty year-round. During the busier summer months, extra seasonal lifeguards are added. There are five lifeguard stations on the ocean-facing side of the beach and one station at Crown Cove on the bay side. There are no lifeguards in the less-developed nature preserve. 


There are several restrooms on both of the developed sides of Silver Strand State Beach. Most have showers. There are no restrooms in the nature preserve area. 


Owned and managed by the California State Park System, there are four large fee-based day-use parking lots. At the time of writing, parking fees are $12 on weekdays, $15 on weekends, and $20 on holidays. Park in Lot 1, the furthest south, to be closest to the nature preserve. 


Bring a picnic and enjoy lunch at one of the many picnic areas on the bay side of the beach.

Best “You’re Really on Vacation” Beach in San Diego: Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach, one of the best beaches for families in San Diego
Playing in the sand on Coronado Beach

When we visit San Diego, we don’t feel like we’re on vacation until we arrive in Coronado. Though Coronado Beach sits high on our list of the best beaches in San Diego for families, it isn’t even close to a “hidden gem.” It’s touristy and tops several best beaches lists. Yet, despite its popularity, this wide stretch of soft sand never feels overcrowded. 

There’s something about this beach that puts us in relaxed mode. My kids were afraid of the ocean for most of their early childhood, but for some reason, they love chasing the waves here. We’ve spent hours walking up and down the beach, daydreaming while gazing at the beach houses and hotel cottages along Ocean Avenue. The kids love running and rolling up and down the dunes that spell “Coronado.” And though we’ve tried a few of the Hotel del Coronado’s restaurants, our favorite is the Beach + Taco Shack where we can sip our margaritas while the kids play in the sand. 

Coronado Beach has three main sections: North Beach, Central Beach, and South Beach. North Beach includes fire pits and is dog friendly, Central Beach is the main section with a year-round lifeguard and volleyball courts, and South Beach stretches past the Hotel del Coronado. This helpful map of Coronado Beach illustrates the different beach sections. 


Lifeguards are on duty year-round on Coronado Central Beach. More lifeguards are on the beach during the summer months.


There are two standard beach restrooms on North Beach and Central Beach. You can also find restrooms in the areas of the Hotel del Coronado that are open to the public. 


We usually find parking along Orange Avenue and then walk in near the hotel. There’s also a parking garage for Central Beach near the intersection of Orange and Ocean.


There are many delicious options a quick walk from the beach. Our favorite is the Beach + Taco Shack on the sand in front of the Hotel del Coronado. It’s pricey for tacos, but they’re good and it’s a beautiful convenient location if you want to keep playing on the beach. 

Best San Diego Beach for Tidepooling: Point Loma Tide Pools at the Cabrillo National Monument

Tide Pools
Tide Pools by HL Snow (Getty Images via Canva)

The Point Loma Tidepools sit at the base of the Cabrillo National Monument. A part of the National Park System, this is known to be one of the best intertidal areas in California. 

Make sure to add a visit to these tide pools to your itinerary if you’re visiting San Diego in the fall or winter. This is when the tides are at their lowest during park hours. During spring and summer, the tide is usually covering the pools during open hours. Check here for the latest tide schedule or the park website for the current conditions. 

In the high or splash zone, be on the lookout for Rock Shore Crabs, California Mussels, Periwinkle Snails, and more shell-housed creatures. When tides are at their lowest, you can explore the low zone which tide pool favorites like the octopus, sea star, spiny lobster, and urchins call home. 


There are no lifeguards on duty. Swimming, surfing, and diving are prohibited within park boundaries.


Restrooms are available in the Visitor Center.


As you enter the Monument, you’ll pay an entrance fee. At of the time of writing, the fee is $20 per car. Just before the main parking lot, you’ll see signs to turn into the tide pool area. Follow this road down the hill to the tide pool parking lot. If it’s full, the park service will close the road until there’s enough space for more people to visit. Parking at the main visitor lot and walking down is possible but discouraged for safety reasons.


There are no restaurants, concessions, or picnic areas in the park. Despite the lack of picnic facilities, the park has several places where visitors can eat while enjoying seaside views. This is a “pack it in, pack it out” park, which means visitors need to bring their trash out with them for proper disposal.

Best San Diego Beaches for Amusement Park Fun: Mission Beach and South Mission Beach

Beach Front View of Belmont Park
Belmont Park is sandwiched between Mission Beach and Mission Bay (photo by Belmont Park)

Known for a party atmosphere, the scene at Mission Beach may not be ideal for some families. So why include it on a list of the best beaches in San Diego for families? It’s home to Belmont Park.

Like the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, Belmont Park is home to a Giant Dipper roller coaster. Built in 1925, San Diego’s version is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Besides taking a spin on this classic roller coaster, you can pay as you go for more rides, grab a hot dog on a stick and other treats, play mini golf, and pick up souvenirs. 

If you want to stay awhile on the beach itself, consider heading about a mile down the cement boardwalk to South Mission Beach. Surrounded by vacation rentals, this area is more family-friendly. It has beach bathrooms and a permanent lifeguard stand.


Lifeguards are staffed year-round on both Mission Beach and South Mission Beach.


Both Mission Beach and South Mission Beach have public bathrooms. You’ll find restrooms at Belmont Park as well.


Belmont Park and South Mission Beach offer free parking, but lots fill up fast. Arrive early if you plan to drive and park here. If you want both beach time and ride time, it might be worthwhile to park at South Mission Beach, walk or bike north to Belmont Park, then head back to South Mission Beach to get beach gear from the car. 


You’ll find all kinds of amusement park favorites at Belmont Park. 

Best San Diego Beaches for Little Ones: Mission Bay

Aerial View of Mission Bay
Aerial View of Mission Bay by Art Wager (Getty Images Signature via Canva)

Mission Bay is a unique man-made saltwater bay located just south of Pacific Beach and inland from all the action at Mission Beach. It is part of the Mission Bay aquatic park, the largest of its kind in the US. 

Kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, jet skiing, sailing, cycling, jogging, roller skating, skateboarding, kite-flying, and sunbathing are all popular things to do here. The protected bay is a great spot for younger kids to wade and splash in the water away from the ocean waves and rip currents. 

The following are good places to start in Mission Bay with kids:

Tecolote Shores and Leisure Lagoon

Known for grassy parks, bike paths, and playgrounds, this is a great spot for families with young children. Though you can wade into the water, the playgrounds and park area are the big draws at Tecolote Shores. To swim, head just north to Leisure Lagoon, separated from Tecolote Shores by the Mission Bay Resort. The swimming area at Leisure Lagoon is sectioned off so there are no other water activities here. Families enjoy swimming out to the small Leisure Island where you can play and look back to the shoreline.

Santa Clara Point

If you want to join a class or rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, start your visit at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center on Santa Clara Point. This is a wonderful way to start your San Diego aquatic adventures with reasonably priced rentals and knowledgeable staff.

Ski Beach

Located on Vacation Isle in the middle of Mission Bay, Ski Beach is popular for family gatherings, picnics, and sunset bonfires. It has wide walking paths and playgrounds but is not the best for swimming given the boat traffic that launches there. The Model Yacht pond is about a 10-minute walk away if you want to check out some fun remote control boating action.


Lifeguard staffing on Mission Bay is seasonal. Lifeguards usually begin staffing most of the beaches starting in mid-Spring and continuing on weekends until the summer. Most beaches have lifeguards on duty throughout the summer through October. No lifeguards are on duty in Mission Bay between November and mid-spring. 

The beaches with the most consistent lifeguard protections in Mission Bay are Bonita Cove, Leisure Lagoon, and DeAnza Cove. More guards are added in Sail Bay, Crown Point, Ventura Cove, Tecolote Shores, and Fiesta Island’s Enchanted Cove over the summer.


There are restrooms located throughout Mission Bay. This map reflects how much is going on in the area (it’s a lot!). It is a helpful reference when looking for services.


Free parking can be found throughout Mission Bay, especially near the swimming beaches. That being said, the area gets a ton of traffic, especially on summer weekends. Areas near I-5 are less congested and more popular with locals. Crown Point is said to have the largest parking lot with the best chances of finding a spot.


Generally speaking, Mission Bay is a great spot to grill or bring a picnic. Though you may catch vendors near your chosen beach, most restaurants are either on the borders near Mission Beach or Pacific Beach or in hotels and resorts throughout the park. Paradise Point Resort’s Barefoot Bar & Grill is a fun waterfront option just a short walk from Ski Beach. 

Best San Diego Beach for Marine Wildlife Lovers: La Jolla Cove Beach

La Jolla Cove (photo by

This one is a no-brainer for a list of the best beaches in San Diego for families. Anyone who loves marine wildlife, and stunning beaches, will want to make time to visit La Jolla Cove. There isn’t a lot of sand here to stretch out on, so check tide levels before you go. But what it lacks in beach space it makes up for in beauty and opportunities to see San Diego’s spectacular marine wildlife up close. If your family enjoys snorkeling or scuba diving, don’t miss a chance to dip into the impossibly blue La Jolla Cove waters.

Water visibility here sometimes exceeds 30 feet, meaning you might be able to see through to the sea floor. The beach and its waters lie within the protected underwater park ecological reserve, so whether you’re swimming, snorkeling, or diving, you’re likely to spy a garibaldi or two (California’s state fish) in addition to the resident sea lions. Visitors share stories of finding octopi, stingrays, swell sharks, sea slugs, and more. You never know what you might encounter. 

Boogie boards, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, and kayaks aren’t allowed here due to the protected status of the reserve. If water sports are more your speed, head north to the larger La Jolla Shores Beach instead.


Lifeguards are staffed year-round at the permanent lifeguard station on La Jolla Cove.


Showers and public restrooms are located on the bluffs above the beach.


La Jolla Cove is located close to the Village of La Jolla, which means parking can be tough to find. If you want to snag a free parking spot along Coast Blvd, arrive before 8 am and plan to be back out by 11 am. For more flexibility, you can find paid garages nearby.


Not surprisingly, given the beauty of this section of the coast, you can find a selection of nice restaurants a quick walk away from La Jolla Cove. For a sweet treat, head to Bobboi Gelato, for a caffeine refuel and some lemonade stop by Goldfish Point Cafe, and head to the ocean terrace at George’s at the Cove when you want splurge-worthy panoramic views.

Best San Diego Beach for Adventure-Loving Families: La Jolla Shores Beach

La Jolla Shores is a great beach for adventurous families in San Diego
Kayakers heading to the La Jolla Sea Caves

Sandwiched between two of San Diego’s favorite photo spots, La Jolla Cove and the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, La Jolla Shores is a mile-long stretch of sand enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. You’ll find people of all ages splashing in the waves, picnicking, sunbathing, and people-watching. 

Protected by La Jolla Bay, La Jolla Shores’s summer waves are among the most gentle of all San Diego beaches. There’s a good chance you’ll spot a children’s surf school and kids splashing along the coast. The southern end of La Jolla Shores Beach is a popular spot for scuba lessons and launching kayaks to explore the famous La Jolla Sea Caves. 

Just east of the beach is a long stretch of grassy parkland. At the southern end, Kellogg Park has a playground in case your kiddos get tired of playing in the sand. 

When we visited, we strolled in after lunch at Caroline’s Seaside Cafe near the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. It’s not a bad walk, and the Aquarium’s beachside programs would make a great complement to any La Jolla Shores visit.

Whether you feel like exploring the area’s exciting activities or enjoying a lazy day on the sand, La Jolla Shores offers families plenty of options for San Diego beach fun.


Lifeguards are staffed year-round at the permanent lifeguard station on La Jolla Shores.


Bathrooms and showers are located near the Kellogg Park parking lot in the middle of the beach.


There is a large parking lot in the middle of Kellogg Park, the grassy area behind the beach. As you might expect, it fills up fast. You may need to circle for parking in the neighborhoods surrounding the area. 


On the southern end of the beach, La Jolla Shores is just a few blocks from local shops and restaurants on Avenida de la Playa. You’ll find a range of options like Dough Momma Pizzeria and the Brick & Bell Cafe. Half a mile north, near the Aquarium, our casual lunch at Caroline’s Seaside Cafe was made even better by gorgeous views out onto the ocean from the outdoor terrace.

Best San Diego Beach for a Hike: Torrey Pines State Beach

Looking out to the shore from the Torrey Pines Reserve
Beautiful Ocean Views from the Torrey Pines Natural Reserve

One of Southern California’s wildest beaches stretches below Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. I found the reserve to be at turns stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking, given that a shocking number of the famous trees were dying. Despite the tragic changes to this natural wonder, I don’t hesitate to include it on a list of the best beaches in San Diego for families. 

If you’d like to visit both the Reserve and the beach in one day, start at the South Beach and Reserve entrance. You can access the beach and the road to the most popular Reserve trails directly from the parking lot area. A possible option with older kids is to start by exploring the Reserve and then hike back down to the beach via the challenging Beach Trail near the Visitor Center on the mesa. 

The red-hued bluffs at this stretch of beach are a part of its natural beauty, but be sure to keep your distance from the cliff bottoms. Rock slides and cliff collapses are known to occur without notice. Time your beach visit with low tide to allow more sand space between the ocean and the cliffs (always keep at least 10 feet distance). 

For a more traditional beach experience, the northern stretch of Torrey Pines State Beach offers a popular spot for swimming, splashing, playing on the sand, and wading in the lagoon. The brochure map shows the space between the two. 


Lifeguards are staffed year-round at the permanent lifeguard station on the north end of Torrey Pines State Beach. There is not a permanent lifeguard station below the bluffs at Torrey Pines, though lifeguards and park rangers sporadically patrol the beaches. Patrols increase in the summer months.


Bathroom and shower facilities are located at the beach entrances on both the North and South Ends of Torrey Pines State Beach. 


The beach is managed by the California State Park System, which offers fee-based day-use parking. Fees paid at the South Beach kiosk are valid for both the South Beach parking lot and the parking lots in the Reserve at the top of the mesa where the most popular trails are. 

At the time of writing, the day use fee to park at the southern entrance to Torrey Pines is $15 – $25 per car (depending on demand). Parking fees at the North Beach lot are $10-$25 per vehicle (depending on demand). Parking fees are waived with your California Parks Pass. 

The reserve is the busiest between 10 am and 1 pm, so try not to arrive during that window if you want a parking spot. As always, arrive early for your best chance.


Picnicking is your best food option near Torrey Pines State Beach, though there are some good options on Carmel Valley Road. These are more easily accessed from North Beach.

Best San Diego Beach for a Classic SoCal Beach Day: Del Mar City Beach at Powerhouse Park

View onto Del Mar City Beach from Powerhouse Park, one of the best beaches in San Diego for families.
Del Mar City Beach from Powerhouse Park by Zemina Zaferakis

Some argue that the northern stretch of Del Mar City Beach between Powerhouse Park and the mouth of the San Dieguito River is not only the best in San Diego County but the overall best beach in California for families. It’s known for its fun vibrant atmosphere and plenty of options for play. 

Del Mar is an upscale seaside community just north of La Jolla with two miles of beautiful coastline. It offers family and dog-friendly beaches that are perfect for kicking off your flip-flops and playing or soaking in a stunning sunset. 

The beach in front of Powerhouse Park offers good swimming and surf that doesn’t get too rough. Powerhouse Park has a lovely grass lawn, a walking path, picnic tables, and a tot lot for younger kids. During the summer months, you can rent surfboards, bodyboards, stand-up paddleboards, and wetsuits nearby.


The main lifeguard tower is located on 17th Street. Lifeguards are on duty year-round, with longer hours during the summer months, shorter hours in the winter, and variable hours in the spring and fall.


Restrooms and showers are available at the lifeguard tower building on 17th Street. Near the community center, there is a single bathroom and shower.


Parking is, you guessed it, a challenge on good beach days. Consider rideshare if you can. You can also try your luck with street parking and meters, or pay to park at the nearby L’Auberge Del Mar hotel. At the time of writing, the cost to park at the hotel is $3 per hour. If you don’t mind a bit of a walk, the Del Mar Civic Center garage off 11th street offers free parking and is about a 0.5 mile from the Park. 


Powerhouse Park and the Del Mar City Beach are steps from the village’s downtown, which offers a wide range of food choices. Near the lifeguard tower off 17th Street, you’ll also find good options including Jake’s Del Mar and the Del Mar Snack Shack

Best San Diego Beach for a Surf Lesson: Moonlight Beach

Sunset at Moonlight Beach, Encinitas
Moonlight Beach at Sunset by Dougberry (Getty Images Signature via Canva)

Though Moonlight Beach plays host to surf competitions every year, it’s also one of the most welcoming surf breaks in the area. It’s the go-to spot for local school surf teams and is ideal for beginner and intermediate surfers. If you’re thinking of trying out surfing while in San Diego, this is a good place to learn

Besides the breaks, Moonlight Beach is also known for having the most amenities of the North County Beaches. Rent beach gear and boards, play tennis, and catch a beach volleyball game on its popular courts. There’s a grassy area with a nice playground which makes it easy for kids to run back and forth between the waves and the slides. 

The beach also has dedicated swimming zones with a gradual sandy slope, which makes it easier to get out in the water. That being said, this spot has inconsistent surf levels so make sure to get a sense of the conditions before letting little ones hop in. 

Another thing that families love about Moonlight beach is its easy street-level access. Once you find a parking spot, you can head directly onto the sand. There are no cliffs or dunes to navigate here. If you need a break from the beach, it’s an easy walk from Moonlight Beach into downtown Encinitas.

Wondering about the name? In the early 1900s, residents came here for midnight picnics. If you want to capture some of that evening magic, snag one of the beach’s fire rings, enjoy s’mores along with a gorgeous sunset, and feel why Moonlight Beach belongs on a list of the best beaches in San Diego for families.


The lifeguard headquarters for the City of Encinitas is located at Moonlight Beach. There are lifeguards on duty year-round.


You’ll find restrooms near the large picnic area and snack bar. 


Moonlight Beach is a state park, but it is managed and operated by the City of Encinitas. Like other state parks, there is a fee-based parking lot. The entrance is on C Street. Unlike most California State Parks, Moonlight Beach doesn’t accept the Annual California Parks Pass. 

Like other popular San Diego beaches, the lot will fill up on a good beach day. Other street parking can be found in the area, though you have to walk a bit if you arrive at a peak time. 


Not only is Moonlight Beach an easy walk to downtown restaurants and coffee shops, but Beach Wolf offers concessions right on the beach. 

Best San Diego Beach for Camping: South Carlsbad State Beach

Stairway leading down to Carlsbad State Beach from the Campground
Stairway leading down to South Carlsbad State Beach by Sherry Smith (Getty Images Pro via Canva)

South Carlsbad State Beach stretches just over 3 miles from La Costa Avenue, the city’s border with Encinitas, to Palomar Airport Road, near the famous Flower Fields. The popular South Carlsbad State Beach Campground is located on top of the bluff that follows the beach down the coast. Stairways lead from the campground to the beach below. There is no day-use parking in the campground area, only pull-off sections from Highway 101, so campers get to enjoy this lovely sandy beach with fewer crowds than neighboring sections to the north and south. 

The southern end of South Carlsbad State Beach is known as South Ponto Beach. Located on a large jetty that protects the Batiquitos Lagoon Marine Preserve from the ocean, this is a popular spot with families thanks to it being one of the widest beaches in a fairly undeveloped area. More easily accessed via a day-use lot and walking trails, this section can get quite crowded in the summer.

Camping at South Carlsbad State Beach means easy access to some of the best beaches in San Diego for families. Campers also enjoy The Camp Store, which serves pizza, wine, and beer overlooking the ocean in addition to the standard general store for supplies, firewood, and beach rentals. Local bands frequently play live music at this venue, and it’s become a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. 

The campground has 223 sites, with 138 of them overlooking the ocean. If you want to camp at one of the best beaches in San Diego for families, prepare for careful planning. Reservations can be made on Reserve California six months in advance. 


Lifeguard towers are staffed during the summer months with extra mobile lifeguards patrolling the beach. During the spring and fall, staffing is limited. There are no lifeguards in the winter. Make sure to check ocean conditions before swimming or wading.


South Ponto beach has public restrooms and showers. North Ponto beach has a public restroom but no showers.


South of the campground, parking can be found in pull-off sections of Highway 101 in front of the beach. Closer to South Ponto beach is a fee-based lot. At the time of writing, the fee is $15 per car during the summer season. 


Though The Camp Store and the restaurants and coffee shops at Alila Marea Beach Resort are open to the public, your best bet is to bring a picnic. 

Before visiting some of the best beaches in San Diego for families, you’ll want to be aware of the weather, water conditions, and things to pack for the perfect beach day.

Weather and Water in San Diego

Though the weather in San Diego is mild year-round, the best time to plan a trip is in the late summer to early fall. But even on the hottest days, this is a city where you’ll want to make sure to bring along some layers for foggy mornings and cooler evenings. Believe it or not, you can still get a sunburn in the fog, so slather on the sunscreen even when it’s overcast.

Water temperatures at San Diego beaches vary based on several factors. In general, temperatures range from the low 50s in winter to the low 70s in the summer. Wear a wetsuit when diving or surfing. They are available for rent wherever you’re renting your gear.

Be Aware of the Water Conditions

Most of the family beaches recommended above have regular lifeguards, but it’s good practice to note the water conditions even if there is a lifeguard on duty. Wading and playing in the surf seem like they would be safe activities, but keep an eye out for warnings about things like rip currents, large surf, pounding breaks, and sudden drop-offs.

What to Pack vs. What to Rent

A day at the beach could mean a whole extra suitcase! If you’re trying to pack light, choose a beach with convenient amenities and rentals so you don’t have to bring as much with you when you go. Check to see what services your hotel offers as well. Some things you’ll want to consider packing for a beach day are below (though it’s not uncommon to see my kiddos in their regular street clothes, splashing on the shore!). 

Towel, Beach Mat, Blanket, or All of the Above

Towels and blankets can add a lot of bulk to your baggage. Consider thin, light-weight microfiber towels that are great for traveling. This one by Touchat easily rolls or folds into a small bag. Turkish Beach Towels are also versatile and lightweight. We usually bring our favorite Boden towel beach cover-ups for the boys, which work as both a towel and a sweater for cooler beach mornings or evenings.

Umbrella or Pop-Up Tent

It doesn’t seem that long ago that a day at the beach meant baking in the sun, with skin glistening under our SPF 4 suntan oil. These days, we’ve all wisened up a bit. If you’re not going to a posh beach with umbrella service, consider stashing a pop-up tent canopy in your luggage. The Sumerice family beach tent is 3 pounds and can fit in a travel bag.

Drinks and Snacks

For a picnic, an insulated soft cooler carried like a tote bag works well. It can also roll up and fit in a travel bag when empty. 

I usually dip into our camp equipment for beach outings on the road. We purchased the Camp Chef Sherpa Camp Table and Organizer after borrowing a similar set from a friend. Even when not camping, I’ve become completely dependent on these bags for organizing our food when traveling. For a beach day, I use the insulated blue bag and throw in a small Freeze Pak. The bags are soft and roll up to fit in our luggage when empty.

Beach Chairs

If bringing beach chairs on your trip seems like a giant pain, consider packing these AirWedge inflatable chairs. They’re a super simple solution to beach travel. They weigh less than a pound and fit in your trusty tote bag.

Beach Toys

My kids love their beach toys, but if we’re on the road and don’t want to take a whole bag of toys, they are usually happy with a shovel, some dump trucks, and a ball game. The waves and the sand are built-in entertainment!

Road Trip Planning Basics

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