When thinking of things to do in Pacific Beach, many people tend to think of hitting up the bars and clubs, partying well into the night.
While, yes, Pacific Beach (or PB as the locals call it) does have a reputation as a party spot – I spent a good part of my 20s doing exactly this (and have had some *ahem* questionable moments) – now that I’m in my mid-30s, that’s not exactly my scene anymore.
When my friends over at Tower23 Hotel invited me over for a little beach getaway, I was pleased to find out that there was so much more that Pacific Beach (or PB as the locals call it) had to offer. Not only did we love this amazing beachfront hotel (we seriously did not want to leave), we had an amazing time (more on that in a bit)!
There are so many awesome things to do in PB, from water activities, enjoying the local food and drink, and just hanging out and relaxing at our amazing hotel (hey, I’m old now, this is what I like to do these days).
It is such an awesome spot for a little Southern California beach getaway (right up there with Catalina Island, Venice Beach, and nearby Carlsbad). We had the best time relaxing, enjoying the beach, watching some amazing sunsets, and just felt rejuvenated when we got home.
Looking for the best things to do in Pacific Beach? Keep on reading, I’ve gotcha!
**Disclosure: Thank you to Tower23 for hosting my stay. As always, all opinions are my own.
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About Pacific Beach
Located in between La Jolla in the north and Mission Beach in the south, Pacific Beach is one of San Diego’s most iconic beach neighborhoods (so it should come as no surprise that most of the best things to do in Pacific Beach are beach related).
Pacific Beach was not always the thriving beach town it is today. Back in the late 1800s, it was home to a landscape of grain fields, as well as an asbestos factory and a race track. A new railway was built to connect it to downtown San Diego, and the area started growing over the years.
The area started becoming a tourist neighborhood and what it is today after the development of the Bahia Resort Hotel in 1953, followed by the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa in 1959.
Today, Pacific Beach is popular with surfers and sunbathers, chasing the sun and waves, as well as coeds and young adults, who come for the lively atmosphere. However, Pacific Beach offers something for everyone.
When to visit Pacific Beach
PB and San Diego enjoy sunshine and mild temperatures year-round, which means that there’s really no bad time to visit and enjoy all of the best things to do in Pacific Beach. The weather is almost perfect pretty much year-round.
Do note that Southern California tends to experience “May Gray” and “June Gloom,” when overcast days are common so avoid those months if you are looking to soak up some sunshine.
Summer tends to be the warmest, but also the most crowded, with flights and accommodation prices being at their highest. The majority of visitors come to San Diego in the months of July and August.
Fall is an excellent time to visit, as the temperatures stay warm well into November, but the crowds dissipate after Labor Day. Spring (particularly in April) is an excellent time to visit as well.
Winters can sometimes have rainy days, but temperatures still stay mild, hovering around the 60s. If you want to avoid crowds and score some flight and hotel deals, it is an excellent time to visit.
Getting there + around
To get to Pacific Beach, you will first need to arrive in San Diego. Luckily, it is located just 8.5 miles (~ 15 minutes) from San Diego International Airport (SAN), which offers flights to many domestic and international destinations.
If you are coming from other destinations in Southern California, you can also take Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, which is an easy, relaxing way to get into San Diego (and avoid alllll that traffic!). The closest station is Old Town, which is about 5 miles away (12 minutes), or you can get off at the main San Diego station downtown, which is 8.5 miles (~15 minutes) away.
Once in San Diego, it is probably easiest to have a car to get around the city, as it is relatively spread out. However, it is not absolutely necessary (overnight parking rates at hotels tend to be pretty expensive). Once in PB, you will most likely be walking or biking (many hotels offer bike rentals) to all the top things to do in Pacific Beach.
For getting around to those nearby attractions, MTS bus lines 9, 27, and 30 all stop in Pacific Beach and you can connect to other points in the city from there. You can also take Uber and Lyft around, however, it does tend to add up so try to plan your stops as efficiently as you can to keep costs down.
Where to stay in Pacific Beach
My boyfriend and I stayed at the beautiful Tower23 Hotel and loved our stay so much! Tower23 is San Diego’s only luxury lifestyle hotel on the beach and you really cannot beat its beachfront location (seriously, you’ll only be a few steps from the sand)!
Staying here was like staying at a stylish beach resort, and we loved every minute of it (seriously, I contemplated just moving in here). It was such a perfect spot for a relaxing beach getaway – I’m usually the kind of person who is constantly on the go during trips, but this time I just wanted to spend lots of time enjoying the hotel!
The property has a minimal yet playful vibe, with a modern design with touches of beach decor mixed in. Our suite was super spacious and had the most comfortable bed (seriously had the best nights of sleep here!), an amazing jacuzzi tub (with water pouring down from the ceiling – definitely spent a bit of time relaxing in here!), and a rain shower (my fave!).
Some of the amenities included are complimentary beach cruiser rentals (perfect for exploring some of the best things to do in Pacific Beach), beach chair and umbrella rentals, and plush robes (in the prettiest blue color – I loved relaxing in them, and enjoying my room service breakfast in them!).
My favorite part of the hotel was the beautiful outdoor deck, which has spectacular views overlooking the Pacific Ocean, as well as lounge chairs and a fire pit. We loved spending a bit of time here each evening to watch the sunset, while sipping on a delicious cocktail from JRDN, the on-site bar and restaurant (but more on that later!).
It’s the sister hotel of Bellanca Hotel, where we stayed on our last Catalina Island weekend getaway and I love that it featured many of the elements and amenities we loved!
Things to Do in Pacific Beach
Hit the beach
This is a beach neighborhood after all – so clearly, one of the best things to do in Pacific Beach is to spend some time hanging out on it!
Pacific Beach stretches over three miles, from Crystal Pier to Pacific Beach Drive. On any given day, you’ll find plenty of people hanging out on the sand here, laying out and soaking up the Southern California sun.
Grab a beach chair or blanket (some hotels and vacation rentals will let you borrow one, including Tower23) and enjoy one of San Diego’s most quintessential experiences.
If you want a bit more peace and quiet, head up to North Pacific Beach, which is the stretch of sand north of Crystal Pier. It’s also a great beach for families, as it has calmer waves and lifeguards.
North of that is Tourmaline Beach and Surf Park which is a popular spot for surfers.
Stroll the historic Crystal Pier
The historic Crystal Pier is the most iconic landmark in Pacific Beach. The wooden pier has stood on the beach since 1927 and has a fascinating history.
Back in the day, the pier also had an amusement park and a grand ballroom, where elegant couples danced the night away. What remains from those days are the 1930s beach cottages built right onto the pier, which have now been renovated and are part of the Crystal Pier Hotel.
Today, it still remains a public fishing pier during the day. Taking a stroll on the pier is one of the best things to do in Pacific Beach – you’ll find sweeping views of the city, beach, and water. It’s also an awesome spot to watch the surfers catching the waves down below.
Walk or bike along the boardwalk
Much like the iconic boardwalk in Venice Beach (but perhaps a bit less crazy), there’s always something going on on the Pacific Beach boardwalk.
One of the most fun things to do in PB is to spend an afternoon going for a walk or bike ride on the 3.5 mile boardwalk. Some hotels will rent you a beach cruiser, but there are also plenty of bike shops offering rentals as well.
You’ll find the boardwalk dotted with plenty of beachside restaurants, local cafes, and lively bars that make perfect stops if you want to stop for a break, a bite to eat, or a cold beverage. The boardwalk is lined with a variety of surf and souvenir shops, as well as street vendors that are fun to check out as well.
Do some beach yoga
Say “omm” and get your yoga on at the beach – it doesn’t get more San Diego than this! While I haven’t personally done this yet, doing yoga on the beach in PB is one of the favorite activities of one of my good friends who lives in San Diego.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9am, and Saturdays and Sundays at 10am, a donation-based yoga class is held at Pacific Palisades Park, which is located at the end of Law Street. The beachfront park has spectacular ocean views, which makes the perfect setting for practicing some yoga!
The class is the perfect opportunity to meet other local yogis, as well as take part in a class that is invigorating, challenging, and fun for all levels.
More information about the classes can be found here.
Catch some waves
You’ll find plenty of surfers in the water near the main beach and pier, as well as surf school and rental spots lining the boardwalk and the surrounding streets. PB is popular with surfers of all levels for its chill vibe.
One popular spot for surfing is Tourmaline Surf Park (because I mean, duh, “surf” is in the name). You’ll find plenty of surfers in the water here, as well as people watching them doing their thing. This is also known as an ideal surf break for beginners and longboarders for its steady yet mellow waves.
If you want to learn to surf, PB is the perfect place to do it! There are plenty of surf schools in the area offering lessons and rentals, and the waves here are ideal for beginners. San Diego Surf School comes highly recommended.
Wine & dine in style (right on the beach)
If you want to enjoy an amazing meal while taking in stunning views of the water, then look no further than JRDN Restaurant. Located inside the Tower23 Hotel, JRDN is a favorite of many locals as well as visitors!
I tend to be skeptical of beachfront restaurants like this because many of them end up being mediocre (it’s almost like they don’t have to try because they have the view to make up for it), but JRDN was absolutely phenomenal!
Helmed by Executive Chef Stephen Gage, the award-winning JRDN offers modern California cuisine with a twist, with a special emphasis on seafood forward dishes. The seasonally-focused menu also features ingredients sourced from local purveyors.
Whether you’re looking to dine for a special occasion, want to enjoy brunch with an ocean view, or watch the sunset with some delicious cocktails and appetizers during happy hour, JRDN will not disappoint!
We enjoyed dinner at JRDN during our getaway, and it was one of the highlights of our weekend! We loved the selection of fun, creative sushi rolls, including the lobster roll, which featured spicy lobster, avocado, yamagobo, spicy mayo, ponzu, all rolled up then deep fried in a tempura batter.
Another highlight was ahi tuna nachos, which was a favorite of ours from the Naughty Fox on Catalina Island (one of their sister restaurants). We loved the fun twist here, using fried wontons as chips and topped with fresh ahi poke, avocado, sriracha aioli, and mango (which adds the perfect balance of sweet to spicy).
We also found ourselves stopping in multiple times throughout our stay to try their fun, creative cocktails, such as the chili mango margarita and boardwalk spritz (their take on an Aperol spritz)!
Explore Mission Bay
Just a bit inland from the boardwalk is Mission Bay, a 4600 acre aquatic playground that is the largest of its kind in the world.
Mission Bay offers much calmer waters than the nearby Pacific Ocean, and is ideal for a variety of water sports and activities. Water sports enthusiasts will find plenty of things to do here, from kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, water skiing, kite surfing, and much more. Rentals, as well as lessons, are offered at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center.
There is also a trail that hugs the waterfront, perfect for walking, running, biking, or rollerblading. We found that it has a much more peaceful vibe here than the boardwalk, so it is an ideal place to go if you’re looking to escape the madness for a bit.
You’ll also find picnic areas, fire pits for bonfires, a playground, grassy areas, and volleyball courts in Mission Bay.
In addition, you’ll find one of the most fun things to do in PB here in the Bahia Belle, a converted Mississippi-style riverboat in which you can take a moonlit cruise around the bay while enjoying live music. Cruises depart nightly at 9pm and have a cash bar selling beer, wine, cocktails, and light snacks.
Grab a coffee
A perfect way to start your day full of the best Pacific Beach activities is to grab a cup of coffee to fuel your adventures.
A local favorite is Kono’s Cafe, which is located on the boardwalk right across from Crystal Pier. The beachfront cafe is a Pacific Beach icon, and you’ll usually find a long line of people (don’t worry, it moves fast) waiting for a strong cup of coffee and one of their legendary breakfast burritos.
Another favorite is Better Buzz Coffee, which has several locations throughout San Diego, and is known for their fun, Instagrammable cafes serving an array of delicious specialty coffee drinks. The mint iced coffee here is a favorite!
Finally, head to Woody’s on the boardwalk for a laid-back atmosphere and ample people watching opportunities.
Check out the street art
If you know me, you know that I love checking out the street art in the cities I visit, so it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite things to do in Pacific Beach was to discover all the murals all around town.
You’ll find tons of colorful murals around town, whether on walking down the boardwalk or while strolling Garnett Ave.
Many of these pieces are commissioned by Beautiful PB, an organization that seeks to support community efforts to improve the neighborhood for both residents and visitors. One of the initiatives started by the organization is Art in Place, which seeks to integrate art into the community. You can see a map of all of the works here.
Watch the sunset
One of my favorite things to do in Pacific Beach was just to relax and take in the sunset – seriously, the sunsets here were just on another level!
It was so magical to watch the colors of the sky transform from blue to a spectacular shade of orange over the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Crystal Pier is an ideal place to take in the sunset, as well as anywhere overlooking it as it makes for a postcard-perfect view!
You can also take in the sunset while enjoying a cocktail at one of the many bars on the boardwalk, or while eating a sunset dinner at one of the beachfront restaurants (highly recommend making a reservation around sunset time at JRDN, as mentioned above in this guide of things to do in PB!).
Enjoy the green spaces
Pacific Beach may be known for its beaches, but you’ll find a number of green spaces throughout the area as well.
Perched on top of one of PB’s inland neighborhoods is Kate Sessions Park, which offers scenic views of the Pacific Ocean, Mission Bay, and the San Diego skyline. It is an ideal spot to go for a sunset picnic.
You’ll find plenty of grassy areas, perfect for flying a kite, tossing a Frisbee, or letting the dogs run around.
Hit the beach bars
You’ll find no shortage of beachfront bars lining the iconic boardwalk in PB, as well as a number of nearby establishments with a rooftop overlooking the beach.
Grabbing a drink while taking in some ocean views is one of the top things to do in PB, and you’ll find a bar to suit anyone’s tastes and preferences, whether you’re looking for a raunchy dive bar, classy rooftop lounges, and everything in between.
Some recommended spots include:
- JRDN Restaurant: This classy beachfront restaurant has a beautiful bar area as well, which is partially outdoors with beautiful ocean views. You’ll find creative cocktails with a twist here.
- Lahaina Beach Lounge: This casual, cash-only bar is a favorite on the boardwalk and has a spacious patio.
- PB Shore Club: This local favorite has a rooftop where “sunsets [are] served daily,” according to their slogan. Find beers on tap, alcoholic slushies, plenty of TVs, and more.
- Baja Beach Cafe: This popular spot is located on the boardwalk and boasts a 2-for-1 happy hour special, which takes place both from 4-8pm Mondays-Fridays and then 10:30pm-12:30am every day.
- Waterbar: If you’re looking for a more classy, upscale vibe, Waterbar is your spot. They have an outdoor space downstairs on the boardwalk, as well as an upstairs bar area with wide open windows overlooking all the action.
- PB Ale House: Known for its rooftop space, you’ll find a number of craft beers brewed in-house, as well as seasonal cocktails, and Taco Tuesday and Hoppy Hour specials.
Grab some fish tacos at Oscar’s
San Diego has no shortage of amazing fish tacos (it’s basically the unofficial dish here), but you’ll find one of the best at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood in Pacific Beach.
You can’t go wrong with the crispy fish tacos here, which are a local favorite.
The best part? Come for happy hour Monday-Friday from 2:30-4:30pm when the fish tacos are only $1 each! Seriously the best deal in town.
Enjoy the nightlife
This is an area known for its nightlife after all, so obviously hitting up the bars and clubs is one of the most popular things to do in Pacific Beach.
PB definitely turns into one giant party soon after dinner service ends, especially on the weekends. The crowd here tends to skew younger and more casual than other nightlife spots in San Diego (i.e. in Gaslamp).
You’ll find plenty of nightlife options on Garnett Ave. and along the boardwalk (especially at the beachfront bars I mentioned above).
Some other notable spots you may want to check out (with perhaps an, ahem, classier vibe because I’m old and that’s how I roll now):
- The Duck Dive: It’s a more modern, classier take on a dive bar with the atmosphere of a casual beach lounge with an elevated drinking experience. They do tableside s’mores as well!
- The Flamingo Deck: This whimsical flamingo-themed bar combines a beach resort feel with that of a lounge atmosphere. It does tend to turn into a clubbier vibe as the night goes on.
- The Grass Skirt: This elevated tiki bar is hidden inside Good Time Poke, and combines traditional tiki elements with seductive details. You’ll find a menu of tropical drinks here (there’s even a secret menu!), as well as 150 varieties of rum.
Things to Do Near Pacific Beach
The best thing about staying in Pacific Beach is that there are not only tons of fun things to do there, but there’s lots to do nearby as well! You are conveniently located minutes away from some of the top things to do in San Diego.
Here are some of the nearby areas to check out nearby Pacific Beach:
Located directly north of Pacific Beach, La Jolla is often referred to as “the jewel of the sea,” thanks to its spectacular coastline and upscale village atmosphere.
You’ll find plenty of beautiful beaches as well as beach activities in La Jolla. One of my favorite activities here is to head to the La Jolla Cove, a small deep water bay surrounded by cliffs. The cove is surrounded by sea caves, which you can kayak to for a fun adventure.
Just next to the La Jolla Cove is the Children’s Pool, a small cove protected by a concrete breakwater wall. Here, you will find a population of seals and sea lions sunbathing on the beach, amusing the many spectators with their various antics.
If you are looking to go for a walk along the bluffs, head to Torrey Pines State Park, where you will find a network of trails fortified with 300-foot cliffs. You can also head to the neighboring Torrey Pines Gliderport, where you can watch the paragliders, as well as hike down to Black’s Beach. Another option for a coastal walk is the Scripps Coastal Meander.
Once home to San Diego’s population of Italian immigrants, Little Italy has flourished into one of the city’s liveliest neighborhoods. The pedestrian-friendly area is home to cozy cafes, trendy restaurants, hip bars, galleries, boutiques, and more.
Eating and drinking is what you do in Little Italy, and you’ll find plenty to satisfy your tastes. You can even take a food tour to sample some of the best of what the neighborhood has to offer (and to get an insight into the history and cultural significance of it).
One of my all-time favorite San Diego restaurants is Monello, an authentic modern Italian restaurant that is known for their cheese wheel pasta, in which the pasta is heated, melted and tossed inside a giant cheese wheel. It is absolutely DELICIOUS, and I order it every time I’m there!
Little Italy is also home to one of San Diego’s trendiest brunch spots at Morning Glory. The decor here is flamboyant, extravagant, and very PINK – it’s a total vibe here! But the food lives up to the hype here. Some favorites are the fluffy souffle pancakes, as well as the breakfast carbonara. Do expect a wait here, especially on the weekends.
Fancy a drink? You’ll find some of the city’s best cocktails at Craft & Commerce. There is also a tiki-themed speakeasy hidden behind it as well. Another hotspot in Little Italy is Wolfie’s, which features a rotating carousel in the center of the bar (similar to the Carousel Bar in New Orleans).
Finally, if you find yourself in Little Italy on a Saturday or Wednesday, absolutely do not miss the farmers market! It spans an entire six blocks, and you’ll find vendors selling anything and everything from fresh produce, olive oil, baked goods, kombucha, body products, handcrafted wooden cutting boards, and much more.
One of North America’s most iconic urban parks, Balboa Park spans 1200 acres and is a cultural oasis that boasts 17 museums, numerous gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo (which is a must-visit).
Balboa Park has a storied history dating back 150 years, which is reflected in its architecture, cultural events, and exhibits.
Aside from the zoo, some highlights include the Botanical Building and Lily Pond, which is one of the most photographed structures in the city, as well as the California Tower at the Museum of Us, one of the most iconic sights in the park. From the top, you can also get a bird’s eye view of the park from 200 feet above.
Another favorite is the Spanish Village Art Center, which houses the studios of over 200 local artists and is decorated with colorfully painted tiles on the floor.
Also check out some of the park’s gardens, including the Japanese Friendship Garden, which is especially stunning in the spring when the delicate cherry blossoms bloom. Nearby is also the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, home to the largest outdoor organ in the world, housed in an ornate vaulted structure.
Located just across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado Island boasts picture-perfect beaches, charming streets, as well as the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.
The hotel is listed as a National Historic Landmark and has a fascinating history, hosting former presidents, celebrities, royalty, socialites, and even ghosts. Paying a visit here is a must, if only to take in the grand Victorian architecture. I suggest stopping for a drink and enjoying the ocean views from the Sun Deck here.
Coronado is known for its beaches, and you’ll find one of the best on the island in front of the iconic hotel. You’ll find soft, white sand, and calm waves here.
During the holidays, the hotel also hosts an outdoor ice skating rink, and skating here is a magical experience, especially at sunset!
Located north of Balboa Park, North Park has a hipster, eclectic vibe with a mostly local crowd. You’ll find plenty of cute cafes, unique boutiques, diverse restaurants, and some really fun, Instagrammable murals (kinda like the 12 South neighborhood in Nashville).
I love the eclectic shops and colorful street art here! One of my all-time favorite stores is Pigment, which features a well-curated selection of plants, clothing, accessories, home decor, and gifts. I can never walk out of here without buying at least something (often walking out with multiple new plant babies).
Right across the street is Verbatim Books, San Diego’s largest bookstore, selling an eclectic array of secondhand and antiquarian books here, as well as zines and other publications from smaller publishers. The highlight here is the unique and photogenic displays here (similar to the Last Bookstore in LA) – even my boyfriend found inspiration here!
Another shop to check out is Artelexia, which sells a curated collection of Mexican themed gifts, art, home decor, and more. They also host events and workshops here. There are also two vibrant murals here – one outside, and a Frida Kahlo themed one inside the store.
If you love beer, then you’ll love North Park – the intersection of University Avenue and 30th Street, considered to be the “best beer neighborhood in the nation.” Some spots to check out are North Park Beer Co. and Mike Hess Brewing. This tour takes you around to some of the top breweries in the neighborhood, as well as gives an overview of the local brewing styles and processes.
Also do not miss the Bottlecraft, which sells a curated selection of craft beer, wine, and spirits from the best local and international producers (they serve a selection of beer on tap as well). It is a fun shop to check out to find unique beers, wines, and spirits!
Located on a peninsula surrounded by the San Diego Bay to the east and Pacific Ocean to the west, Point Loma boasts spectacular coastal views as well as fascinating history.
There aren’t actually any beaches in Point Loma, but you’ll find breathtaking views of the waves crashing against the dramatic cliffs. One of the best places to do so is at Sunset Cliffs, which as its name suggests, is also one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset.
If you’re up for an adventure and the tide is low (I’m talking negative tide), there is also a secret sea cave here. I haven’t been yet, but my friend recently trekked to it and said it was one of the coolest things she’s ever seen!
At the tip of the peninsula is the Cabrillo National Monument, which has exhibits about California history and is home to the Point Loma Lighthouse. You’ll find some amazing coastal views here as well. During low tide, the area is also one of the best places in San Diego for tide pooling.
If visiting Pacific Beach in the spring, then you must also head north to visit the flower fields of Carlsbad.
The fields boast 70 million (!!!) ranunculus flowers blooming across 50 acres, in a spectacular rainbow of vibrant colors. Seriously, there is no sight quite like it, and it is one of my favorite springtime activities.
The Flower Fields of Carlsbad are open every year from the first week of March until Mother’s Day. Peak bloom usually happens at the end of March to early April – this is when you can see the largest amount of flowers being in bloom simultaneously across the fields!
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