8 Best People Watching Beaches in San Diego

If you’re looking for a laid back beach day activity that still lets you lounge and tan, check out these ideal people watching beaches with plenty of visitors.
Todd Sarouhan
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Watch your Fellow Beachgoers at these Popular San Diego Destinations

While there are countless fun and exciting things to do when you visit San Diego, you can also get a lot of enjoyment out of just watching the people around you.

People watching is often overlooked as an amazing way to spend time while on vacation, but it can offer plenty of memorable experiences and create stories you’ll be telling for years to come. It also provides a unique insight into the local surf culture of San Diego, which you can only truly understand by watching and immersing yourself in one of San Diego’s most notable attractions, its beautiful beaches.

It’s no surprise that many perfect spots for people watching are also some of the best beaches in San Diego, since the beaches that draw the biggest crowds are also likely to have the widest variety of things to see.

Local Tips
Pack Your Supplies
If you’re going to spend a few hours out on the beach, you don’t want to be constantly trekking back to your hotel to refuel and restock supplies, and you definitely don’t want to lose your spot on the beach

In addition to checking out how everyone else enjoys their beach days, consider trying your own hand at some popular beach activities by renting a paddleboard or taking surfing lessons, or just focus on your tan while you observe others.

If you want to explore the rest of San Diego during your trip, the best way to do so is with a Go San Diego Pass, which provides discounts on gear rentals and attraction admission when you buy the pass before your visit. Check out other popular spots like the Museum of Us for a unique peek into anthropology, take the San Diego beach tour to learn about the most popular areas, or go on a whale watching cruise to put your binoculars to good use.

The 8 Best People Watching Beaches

Mission Beach
Aerial Shot of Mission Beach with South Mission in Distance

1) Mission Beach

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is a large, gorgeous beach with plenty of sun and sand. It’s a very popular beach with tourists, which makes it a fun place to people watch.

While you’re sunbathing, feel free to spectate a game of beach volleyball, watch the cyclists and runners that travel up and down the coast, or just see what other beachgoers are up to.

It’s common to see people surfing at Mission Beach, but since the waves are smaller than other surf beaches it can be better suited for beginners, you’re unlikely to see any pros surfing the waves of Mission Beach like you would at more surfing-focused beaches. However, if you’re interested in learning how to surf yourself, it’s the perfect opportunity to sign up for some surf classes or rent a board and try it out in a low-pressure environment.

La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores Boardwalk and Main Lifeguard Tower

2) La Jolla Shores

La Jolla

La Jolla Shores is one of the few beaches in the La Jolla neighborhood that isn’t centered around surfing, though it still makes for a good beginner-friendly surf spot. Instead, this beach is primarily known for its relaxing vibes and calm waters perfect for swimming at any time of day. It also makes for an excellent location for people watching!

All kinds of activities are popular here, including paddleboarding, kayaking, scuba diving, swimming, and running, all of which you can watch from the comfort of your beach chair. The beach also includes a grassy picnic area perfect for families.

Coronado Central Beach
Amazing Sand Castel in Front Hotel Del Coronado

3) Coronado Central Beach

Coronado Island

If you’re looking for a laid-back beach without so much hustle and bustle, be sure to check out Coronado Central Beach on Coronado Island. This stretch of wide, sandy coastline is perfect for a fun family day or a couple’s retreat, and it attracts plenty of interesting visitors.

On any given day, you’re sure to see plenty of beach umbrellas and towels spread across the beach, making this an ideal spot for people watching. You can also enjoy sunbathing or take a dip in the ocean, which is relatively calm and free of strong riptides.

Pacific Beach
Beautiful Spring Day at the Beach in Pacific Beach

4) Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach

Complete with its own extensive boardwalk that draws in plenty of tourists, Pacific Beach is a popular San Diego destination with a more active vibe.

Head to the section of the beach right off the pier for the best opportunities to people watch, as from here you’ll be able to see other beachgoers kiteboarding, fishing, skateboarding, paddleboarding, swimming, and surfing.

Feel free to get in on the action yourself if something appeals to you! With a Go San Diego Pass, it’s easy and cheap to rent a paddleboard or surfboard. The waves at Pacific Beach are gentle enough that the area is suitable for all experience levels, so consider taking a surfing class to brush up on your skills.

Windansea Beach
Lifeguard Keeping Watch at Windansea

5) Windansea Beach

La Jolla

Windansea Beach is one of the best places to watch expert-level surfers at the top of their game in La Jolla. While you may be able to spot a few paddle boarders as well, Windansea is best known as a surfing spot, especially among Southern California locals who love surfing here.

The large and powerful waves at Windansea have made it an ideal spot for various annual surfing competitions, which are especially exciting to watch.

The beach also features the local landmark Surf Shack, an important piece of the San Diego surfing culture. During low tide, you can walk along the shore and check out the sea life inhabiting the beach’s tide pools on the northern end of the beach.

Ocean Beach Pier & City Beach
North Side of OB Pier

6) Ocean Beach Pier & City Beach

Ocean Beach

Drawing in crowds of locals and tourists alike, Ocean Beach Pier & City Beach, in Ocean Beach, is an ideal spot for people watching thanks to its widespread popularity.

Look to the pier and some sections of the beach to see people fishing, watch surfers ride the waves at multiple beach breaks, and head up to the picnic area just off the beach at lunchtime.

During low tide, it’s common for tide pools to form just south of the pier, so be sure to plan your trip so you get to check out the sea life alongside the beach’s many human visitors.

San Elijo State Beach
Lifeguard Tower at San Elijo State Beach

7) San Elijo State Beach

Cardiff by the Sea

San Elijo State Beach, in Cardiff by the Sea, is long and sandy, which means it’s not uncommon to spot large crowds of tourists enjoying the beautiful shoreline.

In addition to typical beach day activities like swimming and sunbathing, San Elijo allows for fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling, so if you’ve come to people watch, you’re sure to find plenty to keep you entertained.

Many people camp out at the campground overlooking the beach, taking advantage of San Diego’s gorgeous year-round warm weather. If you stick around past sundown, you can catch an incredible view of the sunset over the Pacific and fall asleep to the gentle sound of crashing waves.

Carlsbad City Beach
Beach Umbrellas at Carlsbad City Beach

8) Carlsbad City Beach


With plenty of incredible views and a picturesque wide, sandy beach, it’s no surprise that Carlsbad City Beach, in Carlsbad, is so popular!

The beach is considered part of Carlsbad State Park, so it’s common to see lots of birds native to the area around its borders. If you’re interested in birdwatching alongside people watching, be sure to bring your binoculars!

Other popular activities include sunbathing and scuba diving. There are gentle waves for beginner-friendly surfing, but it is prohibited during the surf fishing season, which lasts from May to October.

Oceanside Pier, Pier View North & Pier View South Beaches
Oceanside Pier

9) Oceanside Pier, Pier View North & Pier View South Beaches


The Oceanside Pier, Pier View North & Pier View South Beaches are a collection of beaches along the Oceanside coast. The Amphitheater just off the pier hosts events year-round, and the fire pits on the beach draw crowds from dawn till dusk.

In addition to being a great place to people watch, there are also plenty of activities to do at these beaches, including kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and biking.

There’s no shortage of things to hold your attention, so this is the perfect beach for people looking to do more than just get a tan on their beach days.

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Coronado - Stand Up Paddle Board Rental
Stand Up Paddle Board Rental
Using your Go Pass, head over to Coronado Island and head out for a 90-minute stand-up paddle board ride. Explore the bay on your ride and take in views of the San Diego skyline, the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, Petco Park and much more.
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Local Tips
What is the cheapest way to buy a Go City San Diego pass?

The cheapest way to purchase a Go City San Diego pass is to combine Go Visit San Diego’s exclusive 5% discount with the Go San Diego passes already great deals!

Simply follow our link & use code GVSD5OFF to purchase your pass and begin saving!

Tips for Enjoying Your Time on San Diego’s Best People Watching Beaches

Minimize inconveniences and maximize fun by following these useful tips to make your beach trip the best it can be.

Stay Near the Beaches

To secure the best spots on popular beaches bright and early, you’ll want to stay at a nearby beach hotel!

Check out our selections for the best beach hotels in San Diego, which includes gems such as the Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton. This waterfront hotel comes complete with amenities to enhance your experience including its own fitness center, yoga classes, in-room coffee, and free WiFi.

Immerse Yourself in Local Culture

Part of people watching is getting a sense of the types of beachgoers you’ll encounter.

For the complete experience, make sure to explore all that San Diego has to offer, even beyond the beaches, and immerse yourself in its laid-back feel.

Learn more about local surfing culture, enjoy the many restaurants and breweries throughout the city, and explore popular attractions like the many Downtown San Diego and Balboa Park museums, all of which can help you feel more connected to the area.

Pack Your Supplies

If you’re going to spend a few hours out on the beach, you don’t want to be constantly trekking back to your hotel to refuel and restock supplies, and you definitely don’t want to lose your spot on the beach.

Make sure to bring all the essentials with you, including sunscreen, bottles of water, beach gear rentals such as snorkels or surfboards, beach towels, chairs, and an umbrella or two.

Also, make sure to check the food and drink rules and learn a little more about each San Diego area beach before you pack your cooler with a picnic lunch. Note that alcohol is not allowed at any San Diego beach.

Featured Hotel
Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton
Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton
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It doesn’t get any more iconic in San Diego than the Hotel Del Coronado. This luxury hotel is what other hotels strive to be. Treat yourself to this experience.
Prices Starting at $374
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