Top 7 San Diego Beaches for Kids and Families

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Which San Diego beaches are the best for kids and which should families avoid? As a San Diego native I’ve spent many sunny days on the sand with my children. Get my thoughts on which beaches in San Diego are tops for kids as well as tips for transportation and where to eat. Keep reading to grab my free beach packing list printable!

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Top San Diego Beaches for Kids and Families

San Diego beaches are often considered some of the best in the states. But surprisingly they aren’t all kid-friendly! Some beaches are better for sandcastle making while others are more of a surfer’s haven. Certain beach locations have easy access to the sand and others have a treacherous descent. Many San Diego seaside parks and beaches don’t have restrooms, which isn’t great if you’re traveling with kids. There’s even a beach in San Diego known for nude sunbathing! Make sure to read this West coast guide to the top San Diego beaches for families. 

2020 Responsible Travel Updates

Current guidelines in California and San Diego county require all guests to minimize contact with other beach goers. This includes maintaining a 6′ distance from other families in parking lots, on the sidewalks and while on the sand. Multi-family gatherings are not permitted. Masks and facial coverings are required at all times except when in the water. In addition, facial coverings must be worn by everyone at all restaurants, shops and other establishments (with the exception of babies and toddlers).

Choosing the Best Area to Stay for a San Diego Beach Vacation

If you plan to visit the beach for most of your San Diego vacation, check out a map of the area first. You’ll want to ensure the quickest route to the beaches you most want to visit. Avoiding freeway traffic in SoCal is best. Consider a hotel location that’s within walking distance to the beach. Even better? A location that’s right on the sand!

The Bahia Resort Hotel is within walking distance to Mission Beach and directly next to Mission Bay. It’s also just a short half-mile from SeaWorld San Diego.

Another location in Mission Bay, the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa offers sports equipment rentals on property.

With 4-star luxury, the Pacific Terrace Hotel in Ocean Beach sits just next to the beach with amazingly fast access.

Located on Shelter Island with centralized access to many of the beaches in San Diego, Humphreys Half Moon Inn is a longstanding favorite for families.

Boats in harbor next to Humphreys Half Moon Bay Inn

  • Some San Diego beach hotels may offer sand toy rentals at the front desk. Other hotels may have free bike rentals you can use when heading to the boardwalk. Always ask about the amenities offered.
  • Wondering when to plan your trip? The Pacific Ocean is definitely on the cold side. Water begins to warm up in the summertime but you’ll find peak water temperature in the fall. Fall in San Diego is awesome for family travel, especially when local hotels, restaurants and theme parks participate in the annual October Kids Free in San Diego event.
Kayaking is a popular past time in the Pacific Ocean

Booking a Beach Vacation in San Diego

My travel partners at Get Away Today are ready to help you book your trip to San Diego. These travel professionals are familiar with the area and can make recommendations on the top areas, hotels and attractions your family wants to see. They can work within your budget to find the best rate and location, including room discounts and specials that include free nights. Right now, you can book your San Diego vacation with just $175 down on the Get Away Today layaway plan!

Top San Diego Beaches for Families

From toddlers to teens, there’s a beach in San Diego for everyone. I’ll outline the top 7 beaches in San Diego for families with tips for each. If you are traveling with very young children, take notes as to beach entry access, bathrooms, dining and waves when choosing the optimum location. For additional things to do in the area, read this Southern California family vacation travel planning guide.

Is surprising your kids ever a good idea? These are the tips for how to plan a perfect surprise, what to do if a surprise goes wrong and 16 sweet surprises for kids!

Many of the beaches in San Diego have picnic tables, grassy areas and trees. These are ideal spots for a picnic or a place to eat that’s off the sand. I’d recommend bringing a disposable tablecloth for this use. Keep reading for the free printable beach packing list so you’ll know everything to bring!

As I list each of these San Diego beaches, I’ll work down the coast from North to South. This will give you a better idea of their location within San Diego county.

Carlsbad 

The beaches in Carlsbad boast nearly 7 miles of sand along with other local areas for boating, sailing and fishing. At Agua Hedionda Lagoon families can windsurf as well. Beachfront parking is available along the Coast Highway as well as paid lots for a day-use fee.

South Ponto is ideal for families with its wide sandy beaches, plentiful lifeguard stations, as well as restrooms with showers. Nearby are excellent casual dining options including Pizza Port, Park 101 and Senior Grubby’s Mexican food. LEGOLAND California theme park is also in Carlsbad – the perfect vacation add-on for families! 

Carlsbad beach

Solana Beach

With nearly 2 miles of uninterrupted beachfront, Solana Beach is a haven for families with kids. Fletcher Cove is the main beach here, with sand access via a long concrete ramp. Above, on the bluffs there is a playground and grass areas with tables. Bathrooms are available and lifeguards are posted here year-round.

Tide Beach offers excellent tide pooling though access is only available down a long staircase. Restrooms and showers are open here as well, though lifeguards are only stationed during the summer months. High tide can affect these beaches so check weather ahead of time.

The Naked Cafe is popular for dining, with hearty whole food options. Also in the area, adventurers can hike Annie’s Canyon Trail, a sandstone-walled slot canyon. Free public parking lots and street parking is available in Solana Beach. As always, arrive early to snag a spot. Nearby Del Mar is a great place to stay when looking for additional upscale accommodations.

La Jolla

Located in one of the most impressive areas of San Diego, La Jolla is called “the jewel”. And the beaches here are stunning, with plenty to offer families. Towering sea cliffs and grass lawns at Scripps Park make La Jolla a beautiful spot for anyone wanting a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean. Take a walk along the jetty to watch sunbathing seals at the “Children’s Pool” (no family swimming here, just the seals).

For beach goers, there’s the mile-long La Jolla Shores with sandy beaches, tame waters and lifeguards on duty. Adventurous swimmers can snorkel in La Jolla Cove to spot Garibaldi fish and other marine life. My husband is a fisherman and takes his kayak to launch at the Shores. Kayak rental equipment and tours are offered.

La Jolla Shell beach with boy
La Jolla’s Shell Beach (note the rock piles at the bottom of the stairs)

Shell Beach is a nice secluded spot, with a narrow beach and shade from the cliffs. However the tide has pushed the rocks against the stairway entry so it’s a challenge to walk across them with very young kids.

Street parking is a challenge in La Jolla. You’ll definitely want to arrive early in the morning to secure a parking spot. There are public restrooms off the sand and within walking distance of the beach. 

La Jolla seal watching

Pacific Beach

P.B. is a lively beach city, buzzing both day and night. This happening area attracts many college students so Pacific Beach is best for visiting and not staying at overnight. It’s tightly packed with apartments and condos so it may offer too much activity for families with young kids.

At the shoreline, there’s lots of flat sand and waves for a day of fun. Law Street was my college go-to beach, especially at night when we’d have evening bonfires with friends. Try a hand at ocean fishing off the Crystal Pier (there’s a bait and tackle shop for fishing pole rentals).

The oceanfront walk along Ocean Blvd connects to Mission Beach in the south. Walk Garnet and Grand for tons of shopping and dining. Pacific Beach is almost all street parking, which can be a challenge. You’ll absolutely want to arrive early in the day here.

Mission Beach and Mission Bay

Mission Beach is a local San Diego favorite for family gatherings and long beach days. The waves are strong and the sun is plentiful but it’s a great place for boogie boarding and swimming. Lifeguard presence is high along Mission Beach. It’s highly recommended to arrive early in the day to score parking and the best spot on the sand. Public parking lots are free but the walk to your destination can be long, especially if you show up later in the day.

When kids need a break from the water, walk or bike on the 2-mile long boardwalk. Mission Beach is also home to Belmont Park with a small amusement park, dining and the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster.

For younger kids, the nearby Mission Bay Park offers shorter beaches and more gentle waves. Ventura Cove was a popular spot to take my toddlers as all beaches here have grassy areas and nearby bathrooms with showers.

Ocean Beach

The wide sand beaches in OB include tide pools, volleyball area, grassy park areas and an off-leash dog park. There are public restrooms and showers near the lifeguard station. Parking lots are minimal and most parking is found farther out in the residential neighborhoods (prepare for a walk if you don’t arrive very early in the day).

Kids may enjoy walking along the half mile pier to the cafe there. However the surrounding area is walkable to many popular restaurants including Hodad’s for burgers or the OB Noodle House. Teens will like shopping for souvenirs in the quirky shops. 

Coronado

Cross the Coronado Bay Bridge for a beach with the incomparable view of the famous Hotel Del Coronado. There are flecks of mica in the white sand here so it glints in the sunshine. The wide Central Beach area is best with kids since the lifeguard stations and restrooms are close. Free parking can be found on Ocean Blvd, but naturally those fill early. Aim for residential parking over having to feed the parking meters on some of the busier streets. 

Glorietta Bay is nice for families with younger children as there’s a narrow beach area with tame waters. Grass area, sidewalks, restrooms and a play structure are nearby. And the views here are truly some of the best in San Diego!

The Dunes in Coronado

San Diego Beach Transportation

Using your own vehicle or a rental car in San Diego is ideal. If you plan on visiting various beaches up and down the coast, it’s a necessity. However beach parking can be a challenge. Lots are overflowing with cars on the weekends and during the summer season.

Some San Diego beaches only have residential street parking. This can mean a long walk (while lugging all your beach supplies!) Having a Folding Outdoor Utility Wagon is a lifesaver, for lugging all the things you’ll need for a day at the beach in just one trip from the car to the sand.

Check with your hotel to see if they offer a shuttle service to the beaches. Ride share services like Lyft or Uber are another option when getting to and from hotels to the beach. Always verify if they have an appropriately sized car seat if you didn’t bring one on your trip. In the state of California, car seats are mandatory for all children 7 years and younger.

More Beach Tips for Families with Children

  • Not all beaches and parks in San Diego have restrooms. And some are cleaner than others. Bring and wear sandals into the bathrooms. Some beach restrooms are equipped with outdoor showers for rinsing off hair and feet.
  • Beach safety is a huge concern. Read these tips for keeping kids safe on vacation, including what happened when we lost my son at the beach. I’ll never take a beach trip again without putting Quick Stick Write-on! Child ID Tattoos on my young kids! 
  • The loud waves, hot sun and noisy crowds can be frightening to very young children and babies. Choose the bay or locations that offer grassy places for toddlers to walk off the sand.
  • Looking for more outdoor things to do in San Diego with kids? Check out these ideas including free outdoor entertainment for families.

What to Wear for a Day at the Beach

Just like any beach location, swim suits are ideal for kids. You’ll likely see a lot of beach goers just wearing shorts and tees but swimsuits will dry faster and offer more SPF protection. You’ll want to have 2 suits for each person on a San Diego beach vacation. Rinse and wash daily to remove dirt and sand, then hang to dry. 

Rash guards offer additional sun protection with long sleeves, minimizing how much sunscreen you’ll need to reapply. I recommend Primary for their wide range of kid’s swimsuits, including coordinating rash guards and cover ups. Use code AFF20PCT off your first order for a 20% off discount!

My daughter in her favorite rainbow striped bathing suit from Primary

Wide brimmed sun hats are great, if you can get your kids to wear them. Be sure to check morning temperatures as it can be downright chilly in the morning at the beaches. Wear a swim cover-up to the water or bring a sweatshirt. Water temperatures in the winter and spring can be extremely cold. If you plan on a beach visit during these months, be prepared to rent a wet suit for any lengthy swimming or surfing in the ocean.

While flip-flops are easy to wear on the beach, it’s actually better to go with a sturdier water-resistant shoe with the addition of durable traction. This is especially important when walking across rocks, hiking beach trails and exploring the tide pools. I highly recommend pedipeds for young kids as their shoes offer stability and grip for slippery rock walking. The pediped Flex Canyon is a great water resistant trail sandal, shown on my son in this photo.

Great travel products and accessories can make your vacation so much better! Check out these family vacation must-haves for your next trip.

Beaches in San Diego to Avoid With Kids?

Now that you know which are the top beaches in San Diego to visit with family, which beach areas are best to avoid? I’m offering a few suggestions on why you should steer clear of these San Diego beaches when you have little ones.

Stay away from beaches without a lifeguard on duty – While many San Diego beaches offer year-round lifeguards, some do not. Even experienced swimmers can be at risk of the undertow and jelly fish stings. If you have especially inexperienced swimmers in your group, keep them in an appropriately sized life jacket and familiarize yourself with lifeguard station locations.

Avoid beaches with steep drops and cliffs – Signs will be posted to avoid these areas, but even so you’ll often see beach-goers climbing down steep dirt trails or cliff-sides to get to the water. Only visit beaches that offer a safe and accessible way to reach the water and keep away from cliffs. Never, ever attempt a cliff descent yourself, as many have lost their lives.

Keeping away from surfers – While surfing is an awesome past time in San Diego, the heavier waves and surfboards in the water might not be ideal for young children. These are the beaches that offer surfing, if you plan to avoid these areas:

  • Tamarack – Carlsbad
  • Leucadia – near Encinitas
  • Swami’s – Encinitas
  • Tourmaline – Pacific Beach
  • Trestles and Old Man’s – San Onofre
  • Seaside – Solana Beach
  • Windandsea – La Jolla
Beaches that offer grassy areas for kids to play off the sand are perfect!

Clothing Optional? – While it is illegal to be naked in public, Black’s Beach is still known as San Diego’s nude beach. The path onto the beach is challenging enough to deter most families with kids but good to be aware of anyway!


Must Have Beach Packing List

Naturally sandals, sunscreen and towels are on the list. But what else should you bring with you for a day on the beach? Print out this handy BEACH PACKING CHECKLIST PRINTABLE with all the must-have items for a day at the beach with kids.


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