The real draw of San Diego—for visitors and locals alike—are the miles of pristine beaches. These are among the best for children:
La Jolla Cove is a picturesque, crescent-shaped beach protected by tall, wave-sculpted cliffs. The water is clear enough for snorkeling (look for the state fish, the bright orange Garibaldi) and calm enough for young swimmers. The expansive stretch of La Jolla Shores has some of the mildest waves in the city, and thus is also great for swimming. It’s a favorite for beginning surfers and kayakers as well; numerous organizations offer lessons here.
Coronado Beach boasts the widest expanse of sand in the city, as well as glassy waves and views that can stretch all the way to Mexico on a clear day. Public facilities are particularly well-kept at this beach, and the adjacent Hotel del Coronado offers plenty of snacking options. Silver Strand Beach (south of the Del) is the only beach in town where sea shells can be found regularly (for best results, come in the morning at low tide). The water gets deep very gradually and waves are usually gentle, so it’s an ideal swimming beach for young children.
Mission Bay is a 4,000-acre natural tidelands area that was dredged decades ago to create an inland bay. Today the park offers numerous recreational activities, including a flat bike path that follows the waterline through tall palm trees and past a half dozen playgrounds. The expansive grass lawns are ideal for picnicking and flying kites, and the calm waters of Mission Bay are perfect for water toys, which are available for rent at several spots along the bay.
If it’s action you crave, Mission Beach is your place. This extremely crowded two-mile-long beach draws surfers, beach volleyball players, and sun-worshippers alike—and in droves. In addition to white sand and gnarly waves, there is a nostalgic boardwalk that is immensely popular with rollerbladers. Families will likely prefer the calmer southern portion of the beach. Adjacent to the shores is Belmont Park (858.488.1549), a small amusement park featuring a white-washed wooden rollercoaster known as the Giant Dipper, an 80-year-old, teeth-jarring attraction that offers prime views of the ocean (if you dare open your eyes).
Torrey Pines State Beach and Natural Reserve is home to one of the quietest, least crowded beaches in the city, and the sand stretches for miles in either direction. The beach is part of a larger nature preserve, the bulk of which lies at the top of the cliffs overlooking the shores. Here miles of trails wind through the native chaparral and the rare Torrey pines (which grow only one other place in the world), and throughout there are jaw-dropping views of the Pacific.