San Diego is packed with so many great beaches, top eateries, landmarks, clubs, and entertainment venues that choosing the right neighborhood to visit can feel impossible. The trick is to consider which areas have the most attractions that appeal to you, and then focus your search in that region.
The 8th biggest city in the USA really has it all! Are you a foodie? Love carnivals? Want to learn to surf during your vacation? From live music to world class surfing, great food, plus Mexico right next door, this epic beach area is the perfect vacation spot. Try new cuisines, pick up surfing, go shopping for cool bohemian souvenirs all on a trip that you will remember for a lifetime.
Out-of-towners may think all of SD’s beaches might be pretty similar to one another, but the truth is, each neighborhood has its own perks and charms. VacationRenter is here to break down a San Diego Neighborhood Guide and it’s best beaches!
Mission Beach is a unique stretch of land between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay. Popular with young couples and 20-something-age tourists, the atmosphere here is vibrant and energetic. If you’re looking for nightlife, bars and a club scene, renting a house, or hotel room in Mission Beach might be perfect for you. By day you can surf, swim, scuba dive, sport fish or visit Belmont Park for a spin on the roller coaster.
Favorite thing to do in Mission Beach: We love recommending spending the morning on the sand, catching some sun and taking a dip in the water. Once the early afternoon rolls around, try spending a few hours at Baja Beach Cafe for wonderful views, great food, and really tasty (and strong) drinks! The whole day can be enjoyed within a quarter mile radius while vacationing in Mission Beach.
Pro Tip: Check out our guid dedicated just to this classic SoCal beach town. It’s got all of the tips and tricks you’ll need for a great trip!
As we mentioned earlier, not all of these epic San Diego beaches are the same. Hoping over the San Diego River Channel from Mission Beach to Ocean Beach is something magical. We of course love MB but the fact is, OB just has itself a certain bohemian charm that can only be found in the 92107 area code. Calling the community of Ocean Beach a relaxed place, with a chill hippy vibe to it may be an understatement. This place is the real deal, a town crafted on surfing and rock and roll, filled with awesome food, views, and kind hippy locals. Speaking of food, this just might be the best place in all of San Diego to eat, thanks to a huge variety of top-quality restaurants, bakeries and cafés. If you’re in the mood for Italian, American grill, Mediterranean, Mexican, seafood or Chinese, you’re in luck. For a nice lunch, check out some of the art galleries-cum-cafés along Newport Avenue.
A stay in Ocean Beach will likely be one of the most memorable vacations of your life, thanks to the epic nightlife, awesome live music, and pretty much the most authentic SoCal Beach vibe on the whole west coast. Catch Grateful Dead music every Monday at Winstons Beach Club and make sure to plan on staying on Wednesday for the OB Farmers Market and beach Drum Circle. This town has towns of events and there is never a dull and boring moment here.
Favorite thing to do in Ocean Beach: Since OB is one of our favorite places to visit not only while in California, but in the whole USA, we decided to include two of our favorite things to do.
- Walk the Ocean Beach Pier and grab breakfast at the WOW cafe. Enjoy your pancakes with an epic panoramic view, take in the sites, and the overall vibe. The Pier is one of the longest concrete water structures on the west coast and hosts many daily visitors. Fishing is permitted, for those who love to catch their own dinner.
- Catch a ray at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. This is an OB classic. The cliffs reach an ocean side height of up to 80 feet and they are the last place to see the sun go down before it sets over the beach horizon. The views are absolutely unbeatable. During the summer, there are commonly late night parties featuring fire spinners and DJs, making for a wild night of dancing.
Pro Tip: Similar to Mission Beach, we love Ocean Beach so much that we wrote another guide dedicated just to this hippy filled SoCal beach town. Another pro tip is to check out The Black and grab all your cool souvenirs at this cool shop.
The community of Pacific Beach is home to some of the city’s best tiki and dive bars. Located just north of Mission Beach, PB is known as the more action packed San Diego beach town. Absolutely loaded with restaurants, shops, and local establishments, this busy area is 100% San Diego. Enjoy a day filled with sun, sand, and waves before enjoying a night packed with DJs, live music, and epic nightlife. This part of San Diego is both beautiful and affordable, with plenty of private vacation home rentals and resort hotels to choose from.
Favorite thing to do in Pacific Beach: There is no better way to get some people watching, exercise, and sunshine, while taking in the PB vibe than renting a bicycle for a leisurely ride down Grand Ave, the main drag in the area. Pass by shops, scout out a restaurant for dinner, take in the sites and make your way down to the ocean.
Pro Tip: Make sure to grab a bite and brew at Iron Pig Alehouse! The craft style BBQ is out of this world. We are huge fans of the Baby Back Ribs and love finishing off a meal with a slice of Key Lime Pie.
Downtown and Gaslamp Quarter
For people whose vacations don’t hinge on there being a beach just a few steps or blocks away, San Diego’s Downtown and Gaslamp Quarter offer more theaters, music venues, comedy clubs and hot dining options than any other part of the city. Visitors who are looking for as much California culture as possible enjoy staying in this neighborhood. Though San Diego is of course a major city, the downtown area is a surprisingly relaxed place, while having amazing attractions left and right!
Favorite thing to do in the Gaslamp: If you are in town during baseball season, make sure to head down to Petco Park for a ball game. The Padres have a great following and spending an afternoon filled with baseball is always a great time.
Pro Tip: Grab a delicious breakfast at Brian’s 24! The crafty breakfast spot serves up classic foods like Chicken and Waffles and Berry Stuffed French Toast!
The Village of La Jolla has the atmosphere of a smaller city, but still offers easy access to downtown. This area makes a great option for families. The waters around La Jolla Children’s Pool are calm, so kids can splash around and snorkel. Hike down to Black’s Beach for some great surf at San Diego’s only clothing optional beach. Try some of the upscale dining establishments and enjoy the epic views of the coast.
If you’d prefer to get away from the busy atmosphere of the rest of SD, spend the dat Torrey Pines. This area has hiking trails in Torrey Pines State Reserve, a must visit. You can also easily head south to the beaches around La Jolla or take the highway into the city for more sightseeing opportunities.
Favorite thing to do in La Jolla: If you want to see a variety of local fish and other coastal wildlife, check out La Jolla Cove and La Jolla tide pools. Make sure not to disturb the many Sea Lions that call this beach home.
Pro Tip: La Jolla, pronounced La-Hoy-Yah is home to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters one of the most iconic SD coffee spots. The sustainable establishment is well known across the city and makes a great cup of brew. The coffee joint also has an online store, once you get home from your trip, try ordering some!
Homes and businesses in soft pastel colors line streets that are filled with bohemian shops and restaurants. Access to both Moonlight State Beach and Swami’s State Beach make Encinitas a favorite vacation spot for visitors who love catching a few waves or checking out the surfers while experiencing some of the laid-back atmosphere that makes this area of California an ideal vacation spot. Encinitas offers guests private villas with ocean views, cute single-story cottages and condos designed to make the most of the incredible California sunsets.
Favorite thing to do in Encinitas: If you are a fan of skateboarding, make sure to check out the Encinitas Skate Park! With tons of ramps, rails, and trick boxes, this extreme sports park is free to visit and hosts some of SoCal’s best talent. Even if you don’t skate, a visit to this attraction is a place that will surely impress you as a spectator.
Pro Tip: No trip to Encinitas is complete without a stop at Poki Poki. If you love raw fish, this place is for you.
It’s SoCal Beach Time!
San Diego truly has it all. Now that you have an idea of the top coastal locations and neighborhoods in town, you’ll be able to pick which area is best for you. Being a CA based company, there is nothing the VacationRenter staff loves more than taking a trip to sunny San Diego. Take it from us, the beach vibe is the best vibe.