Pacific Beach is one of San Diego’s prime ocean locations. Along with Mission Beach and Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach is closest to the urban center of the city. As such, it is a busy place. We actually divide Pacific Beach into 3 areas with the busiest being what we call Pacific Beach South.
Location: From end of Garnet Street at Crystal Pier to Pacific Beach Drive
Beach Type: Party beach scene with boardwalk
Access: flat beach next to boardwalk
Parking: Hard to find free street parking, expensive lots ($5-10 an hour)
Facilities: Restrooms/changing facilities
Good For: Swimming, Surfing, Family Day at the Beach, Boardwalk, Nearby Restaurants and Bars
Not Good For: Crowds, Parking
The Pacific Beach neighborhood is noted for its nightlife and younger crowds. It is the 11th largest of the 125 neighborhoods of the city of San Diego with a population of about 30,000. However, the 3 miles of wide beachfront starting at Mission Beach means tourists and inland San Diego restaurants pack this area.
Many of our favorite places to eat are in Pacific Beach. There is also the boardwalk that has many great drinking spots to watch the beach action and catch a sunset. In terms of going to the actual beach, we almost never come to Pacific Beach South. Instead, we usually head south to Mission Beach or to North Pacific Beach.
The main issue with Pacific Beach South is parking. Mission Beach can get crowded, but they have quite a few free parking lots. North Pacific Beach it is fairly easy to find free street parking. However, the area between Garnet St and Pacific Beach Dr has limited free parking. The small paid lots charge $5 to $10 an hour.
If you don’t mind walking several blocks you can usually find free parking a few blocks inland. This is a flat beach area with relatively calm surf so once you make it to the actual beach there is plenty of room to layout.
There is also a wide boardwalk that runs from Pacific Beach to Mission Beach. This place is great for biking, walking, scooters etc. For those 21 and over bars like Lahaina’s are great to grab a beer and people watch. Since 2008 alcohol has been banned on San Diego beaches, so these beachfront bars are the next best thing.
Overall, the central and southern area of Pacific Beach is a great party section, especially for 20-somethings. The actual beach is nice for families, but there are several other options to consider. If you like the boardwalk you can get much of the same by heading two miles south to Mission Beach with the Belmont Park Amusement area. For a more quiet area you can head a mile north to Law Street and Pacific Beach North. There are not really any bars or restaurants here, but usually you can find free parking.
The area we call Pacific Beach South ends at Crystal Pier. North of the pier the crowds start to thin out. Crystal Pier actually has small cottages for vacation rental. The hero of Don Winslow’s mystery novels that take place in this area actually stays on Crystal Pier. Pedestrians are free to walk on the pier (but no bikes or skateboards).
Finally, it should be noted that Pacific Beach has access to the massive Mission Bay Park which has all kinds of water-based activities, including calm bayside beaches. In short, the Pacific Beach area defines the stereotype of the Southern California beach scene. We come here all the time, but usually not to go to the actual beach.