5 Reasons San Diego is California’s Best Beach Town

Where to go in San Diego
iStock/ianmcdonnell

Ever want to get away where you can enjoy an endless coastline by day and immerse yourself in a chic city vibe by night? Well, say hello to San Diego. 

Spectacular beaches, mouthwatering cuisine, marine preserves, art, culture, and an eclectic nightlife, San Diego has it all. Here are five reasons why San Diego just may be California’s best beach town.

1. The Best Mexican Food, North of the Border

Where to eat in San Diego
Bracero Cocina

Less than an hour drive from the Mexico border, San Diego has some seriously delicious Mexican restaurants. Bracero Cocina de Raiz, a sexy downtown hotspot with sweeping city views, celebrates its culinary heritage with a fresh modern twist. Think fresh masa, a (sustainably caught) raw fish bar for tiraditos and ceviche, albacore served two ways with a lime salsa verde and acorn squash in mole negro. Most plates are meant to share. But with flavors so bright and fresh, you might have to negotiate who gets the last bite. A word to the wise, when the waiter says the salsa is hot, believe it. One drop can make you cry. To cool down the heat the ever-popular Javier Wallbanger is the perfect libation.

Where to eat in San Diego
Puesto, La Jolla

Then there’s Puesto in La Jolla where Chef Luisteen, a self-proclaimed “tacoteur” has reimagined the traditional Mexico City-style taco to make your taste buds sing. At this taco lover’s dream, all salsas and tortillas are made from scratch, proteins are sustainable including slow-cooked guisados, and Taco Tuesdays are elevated to an entirely new level. Puesto has a curated tequila program that will take conventional tequila permanently off your palate. Add in housemade aguas frescas and wines from Valle de Guadalupe region of Baja and you won’t go thirsty.

For more casual beach dining, Pacific Beach Fish Shop serves their award-winning TKO taco with grilled mahi-mahi topped with house made tropical mango salsa. Mix and match (sustainably caught) fish with different marinades to create your own taco masterpiece.

2. The Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa

Best beach towns in California

Ever wanted to be completely surrounded by views of water? Well, you can at the Catamaran Hotel and Spa, especially when you request a bay view room. A beloved San Diego favorite, it’s a staycation hotspot for locals. A California Green Lodging Program member, the hotel keeps its operations green so that the ocean and sky stay blue. A tropical Polynesian-themed hideaway in Pacific Beach, the Catamaran is pure bliss that puts an all-day smile on your face. Think palm trees, tiki torches, koi ponds, waterfalls, waterfront fine dining, sunset concerts, luaus, a bay view jacuzzi, and fire pits.

Where to stay in Mission Beach

Mission Bay is the Catamaran’s backyard and the Pacific Ocean is across the street. Surf in the ocean or sail and paddleboard in the bay. Or rent a bike and cruise the boardwalk. It’s all at your fingertips. Then at sunset, soak in a bay view hot tub. Or rub elbows with locals at Moray’s Bar and enjoy a refreshing libation as the sun drops amongst tiki torches and fire pits. For dinner, mosey on over to Oceana Coastal Kitchen for delicious California cuisine. If the waterfront dining doesn’t already hook you, its seasonal menu with fresh seafood from the Baja and the Pacific will. Don’t forget the spa with holistic rituals and energy treatments such as Shiatsu and The Ancient Ocean Ritual. That after-spa feeling and bay views are what vacation dreams are made of.

3. La Jolla, Sea Bluffs and Sea Lions

Best beach towns
La Valencia Hotel

There’s so much to do in La Jolla, you might never want to leave. La Valencia Hotel’s ocean-front terrace restaurant, THE MED, is the perfect place to start. It’s an authentic taste of San Diego’s old world Spanish charm. The restaurant boasts a sumptuous sustainable seafood menu and an extraordinary wine list. Don’t miss the roasted cauliflower, daily crudo, or the giant locally sourced Mediterranean mussels. Count La Valencia in for nightlife, too. Live music and bespoke (plant-based) dinners are just a few events that keep the hotel on the pulse of La Jolla’s nightlife scene.

Next, you’ll want to walk over to La Jolla’s children’s pool on the bluffs overlooking the azure ocean. Where you’ll see naturally comical sea lions frolicking in the water and napping on the rocks. If you’re feeling adventurous, get in the water with Everyday Calfornia’s kayak and snorkel tours that will take you through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve where you’ll see the stunning coastline from the water, dolphins cruising by, and bright orange garibaldi swimming through the sea grass. Then, catch a wave back to shore.

Where to stay in La Jolla
The Empress Hotel

When booking a room, stay in the pet-friendly boutique Empress Hotel. Centrally located, it’s just a block from La Jolla’s sandy bluffs and a few minutes walk from quaint coffee shops, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and a plethora of excellent restaurants. Recently renovated, the Empress has a sophisticated ocean theme and offers an app for an effortless stay. Ask for the jacuzzi suite and enjoy soaking in the tub with an ocean view.

Although not on the water, lunch at The Farmer and the Seahorse is not to be missed. Under the helm of award-winning chef Brian Malarkey, it’s an eccentric whimsical space that offers not only a culinary adventure but also a lifestyle experience. You’ll be invited to a pickup game of bean bag toss in an adjacent colorful garden. Inside is just as eccentric with a silver Airstream trailer casually parked amongst the tables. Try the local’s favorite butternut squash lasagna with ricotta, kale, and mushrooms. It’s worth coming back for.

4. L’ Auberge Del Mar, Casual Coastal Chic

Where to stay in Del Mar

If you’re not already staying at the historic L’ Auberge del Mar, treat yourself to eco-luxury at one of the “Best Luxury Resorts” on the Condé Nast Gold List. Committed to being clean and green, its spa exclusively uses Osea organic products. And its restaurants Coastline and KITCHEN 1540 share a vertical, hydroponic garden showcasing herbs and flowers used in the menu and cocktails. While Coastline is ocean-front casual al fresco dining, KITCHEN 1540 exudes an elegant artsy vide. Relax in the open-air lobby lounge or walk up to the upper deck where a charming row of white wooden rocking chairs await to relax into while you watch the sunset.

Where to stay in Del Mar

A day spent in Del Mar is a day well spent indeed. With Del Mar Village just across the street from the hotel, you’ll always get a bird’s eye view of Del Mar’s gorgeous coastline. Take a walk along the Scripps Bluff Preserve with an infinity view of the Pacific and inland lagoons and see the sky speckled with hot air balloons. It doesn’t get much better than this.

5. Get Wet with Surf Diva

Best beach towns

Who is the best surfer in the water? According to Surf Diva, it’s whoever is having the most fun! Owned and operated by twin sisters Izzy and Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva has been sharing the stoke of learning to surf for over 20-years. Based in La Jolla Shores, you can book a private lesson with an encouraging and enthusiastic surf instructor who will do everything in their power to ensure you stand up the first time. The occasional beginner’s face plant is well worth the high of gliding with the wave. While Surf Diva began as an all-women surf school, they quickly became a La Jolla institution and now offer all levels of surf lessons to everyone. And actively support charities focused on education and female action sports services.

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Donna Sozio

Author, journalist and publishing consultant, Donna Sozio has been featured in 200+ media outlets including the Tyra Banks Show, Early Show, Fox News, Good Day LA, Seventeen Magazine, Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, Lavalife.com, EcoSalon.com, OrganicAuthority.com and many more. Her books The Man Whisperer (Adams Media) and Never Trust a Man in Alligator Loafers (Kensington) were Amazon.com bestsellers, had TV/Film options and were translated into German, Portuguese and Czech.