Crystal Pier on Pacific Beach, San Diego
Stuart Bak

Things to do in Pacific Beach San Diego

Sandwiched between La Jolla to the north and Mission Beach to the south, Pacific Beach – or P.B. as it's known to locals – is a sun-drenched slice of Californian paradise. Alongside a beautiful sandy beach and fairly calm waters, it boasts some of the best nightlife in the area, with a high density of lively bars and restaurants frequented by the local student‘n’surfer crowd. Dive in to discover our favorite things to do in Pacific Beach San Diego.

Beach Party Atmosphere

Central Pacific Beach’s party vibe is the stuff of legend. During the day, the sunkissed blonde sands are alive with kitesurfers, kids playing volleyball and everything else in between. Firepits glow red in the twilight of balmy summer evenings as revelers soak up the gentle sea breezes and prepare for an evening in the hip bars and restaurants around the broad, palm-lined Garnet and Grand avenues.

Mosey along to the SD Taproom on Garnet to sample a selection of San Diego’s legendary craft beers, from hoppy pale ales to rich chocolate stouts. A bar menu that includes pizza, burgers and giant pretzels will help soak up all that lovely beer. Or hit the Pacific Beach Fish Shop for ocean-fresh tacos brimming over with the grilled fish or crustacean of your choice, plus crab cakes, clam chowder and more.

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The three-mile oceanfront boardwalk stretches all the way south to Mission Beach and Mission Bay, and bustles with cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers and shoppers. Hire a bike to explore this scenic stretch of the California coast, and make a day of it by taking a picnic and meandering south around Mission Bay’s winding shoreline. Or head north into the bluffs of La Jolla, with their spectacular sea views.

Fishermen angle for bass and halibut off Crystal Pier, jockeying for position with selfie-takers. Tread its boards as the sun sets, turning the sky several remarkable shades of orange, pink and purple, for some of the finest photo opportunities in the area.

You needn’t stray too far from the main drag to find a relatively quiet stretch of beach, either: the calm waters and broad sands just north of the pier are a little less lively and especially popular with families as a result. Like Central P.B., North Pacific Beach has designated swimming and surfing areas, and a reassuring lifeguard presence.

Surf’s up! Grab your board and make for Tourmaline Surfing Park. This cute cove where P.B. meets La Jolla is surrounded by cliffs and accessed down a steep, palm-lined road through Tourmaline Canyon. The slow-rolling waves make this beach popular with novice surfers, as well as windsurfers and kiteboarders when the wind is up.

Park Life

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A big favorite with in-the-know locals, Kate Sessions Park is 79 acres of gorgeous greenery set on the verdant slopes of Mount Soledad. Pack a picnic and throw down your blanket on the grassy lawns for fresh sea air, balmy breezes and some absolutely cracking views of Mission Bay, P.B. and San Diego’s famous urban skyline. On clear days you might even glimpse the Coronado Bridge curving across the shimmering blue ocean. There’s a playground as well as plenty of wild trails for walking and biking. As dusk descends, fire up one of the barbecues for a sunset cookout and enjoy that magical moment when the lights come on in downtown San Diego’s distant skyscrapers.

Lying east of the Pacific Beach neighborhood on the other side of Interstate 5, Tecolote Canyon National Park makes for a great day out thanks to its unchallenging walking trails and nature center with information on the canyon’s diverse flora and fauna, including a rainbow of butterflies and wildflowers and the occasional snake. Take the 10-kilometer Tecolote Canyon Trail, which weaves its fairly flat way through the narrow valley, and keep your eyes peeled for the majestic birds that give the canyon its name (tecolote is the Spanish word for owl).

A shorter trail through the Native Plant Garden is ideal for families. Plants are numbered along the trail, and you can learn the names of each both in English and Kumeyaay, the language of San Diego’s original Native American settlers.

Top Nearby Attractions

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North of Pacific Beach, picture-perfect La Jolla boasts wild, pine-scented hills and valleys and a long stretch of alternatingly rocky and sandy coastline that make it great for surfing, swimming, sunbathing and... seal-spotting. A number of colonies of harbor seals call this sunny spot in California their home. Head on up to Children’s Beach, where you’ll find dozens frolicking playfully in the surf and basking on the warm sand. Originally intended as a safe place for kids to swim following the installation of a concrete breakwater in the 1930s, it’s now one of the best seal-spotting destinations on the coast, with the colony estimated to be over 200 strong.

And, if the cute seals have whetted your appetite for marine life, you’re in for an absolute treat at SeaWorld San Diego, just a short distance south of Pacific Beach in Mission Bay. Here’s where you’ll find orca whales and other giants of the deep including beautiful loggerhead turtles, other-worldly Japanese spider crabs and the elusive giant Pacific Octopus, a master of disguise. There are 19 enormous aquariums to explore here, plus stacks of high-octane thrill rides to keep everyone entertained.

You’ll find gentler, more old-fashioned fun at nearby Belmont Park on Mission Beach, where the wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster is a century-old National Historic landmark. Other fun amusement rides in this nostalgia-fueled beachfront theme park include bumper cars, mini golf and a traditional painted carousel.

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