The year was 1989, and I was a senior at the University of San Diego. My friends and I had decided to move off campus, and we selected Pacific Beach as our temporary home. This beachside neighborhood of San Diego was loaded with bars and restaurants, many of them patronized by college students from the area’s three universities. It was funky, affordable, and not too far from campus. Fast-forward 32 years, and Pacific Beach (or PB as the locals call it) still has its quirky charms. It’s not as upscale as its northern neighbor, La Jolla, and it’s a bit more sedate than Mission Beach, the neighborhood at its south end.
My husband, Jason, and I were invited to visit Pacific Beach by the Ocean Park Inn, which gave us a chance to stroll down memory lane while discovering all that this fun neighborhood has to offer today. From our home base right on the boardwalk, we were able to walk or bike anywhere we wanted to go.
This trip was paid for by the Ocean Park Inn, but all opinions are my own.
Things To Do In Pacific Beach
Let’s just get this out of the way: Pacific Beach is a noisy and boisterous neighborhood full of packed bars and colorful characters. If you come expecting a party atmosphere, you’ll have a great time. There are plenty of things to do here, mostly outside, and often with crowds. Enjoy the people-watching along with the sunshine and the scent of salty ocean air.
Roll Along The Boardwalk
We set aside our first morning in Pacific Beach for a bike ride. Jason and I love to explore destinations by bicycle, especially when there are miles of paved, scenic paths. While we typically rent beach cruisers, this time we opted for electric bikes at Ray’s Rentals. Now that we’ve discovered how much fun electric bikes are, we may never ride cruisers again!
We began by riding north toward La Jolla, but once that path veered off the beach and onto the street, we decided to turn around and go south instead. The oceanfront boardwalk runs 3 miles through both Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. It can be crowded, especially on weekends, but that’s part of the fun. Along the way we saw surfers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and runners. At the end of the boardwalk, we headed east to Mission Bay and then circled back to the beach. If you’re feeling really adventurous, Mission Bay offers a 12-mile scenic bike path.
Walk Along The Sand
Even though I live in a beach town, I never get tired of walking along the sand. So after returning our electric bikes, we decided to take a stroll until we were hungry for lunch. While the boardwalk in Pacific Beach is always bustling, the sandy area next to the water is much quieter. We saw a few kids splashing in the water or digging in the sand along with several people walking their dogs. We even saw land windsurfers speeding along the sand. As Pacific Beach becomes Mission Beach, the number of people increases, as does the number of restaurants and shops along the boardwalk. So we decided this would be a good spot to stop for lunch.
Stroll Crystal Pier
Just a short walk from our hotel was Crystal Pier, which was opened to the public on the Fourth of July in 1927. Originally this family-owned pier housed an amusement park and ballroom, but today it’s home to the Crystal Pier Hotel. Stroll past the hotel, and you’ll enjoy lovely views of the shoreline. In the water, you’ll see bobbing surfers waiting for the next wave.
If you want to try your hand at fishing, there’s a bait-and-tackle shop offering pole rentals and a fish-cleaning station. No fishing license is required.
Since the pier is privately owned, the hours are limited. It’s currently open to the public from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Enjoy Yoga With An Ocean View
I can’t imagine a better place to practice yoga than a park with an ocean view, and that’s just what is offered several times a week in Pacific Beach. We rode past a yoga class in session during our bike ride, and I was amazed at how popular it was. If I had known about it prior to our trip, I would have brought my mat and practiced.
Most of the classes take place at Pacific Palisades Park, which is located in North Pacific Beach. Bird Rock Yoga offers sunset classes there Monday through Thursday. There’s no need to register in advance, but do arrive early to get a spot. Or stop by on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. for oceanfront yoga led by local instructor Steve Hubbard. Donations are suggested for all classes.
Picnic In The Park
If you want to spend some time in a quieter setting while also enjoying beautiful views, then head up to Kate Sessions Park. This 79-acre park, perched high atop Lamont Street on the border between Pacific Beach and La Jolla, is named for noted local horticulturist Kate Sessions. The park has two areas: one large grassy slope perfect for picnicking and playing, and a section of natural habitat ideal for hiking or exploring nature. From this vantage point you can see Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It was raining when we visited the park, so we didn’t stay long, but I’m told the views at sunset are stunning.
Best Restaurants In Pacific Beach
Two days in Pacific Beach didn’t give us enough time to fully explore the dining scene; however, the restaurants we patronized were really good. And despite Pacific Beach’s small size, it manages to pack in a large number of highly reviewed restaurants, so clearly we’ll need to return.
Probably the best-known restaurant in Pacific Beach is Kono’s Cafe, famous for its large, tasty, and affordable breakfast burritos. Its location at the foot of Crystal Pier is ideal and easy to find. Grab breakfast and sit on the beach, watching the surfers patiently waiting for the next wave.
Waterbar, located across the street from our hotel, probably has the best view of any of the restaurants in the area. Its second-story location and oversize windows allow diners to look down on the boardwalk while also having an expansive view of the ocean. Jason and I enjoyed several delicious dishes, including clam chowder, ceviche, and a crab roll. And don’t forget to order one of their craft cocktails!
Coffee lovers will not want to miss Better Buzz Coffee, a San Diego chain featuring unique coffee beverages and breakfast items. Jason and I both ordered the Best Drink Ever, coffee blended with vanilla powder.
For dinner on our first night, we ventured out to Mission Hills, a charming neighborhood of San Diego located about 15 minutes inland from Pacific Beach. Here we had an excellent dinner at Cardellino, part of the Trust Restaurant Group. The cuisine was Italian, featuring pizzas and pastas. We started with the Prosciutto San Daniele served with a warm baguette, marinated mozzarella, and pickled vegetables. Then we enjoyed bucatini alla porcini, a savory pasta dish featuring foraged mushrooms. Cardellino is also open for breakfast and makes all of its own pastries in house.
The next night we decided to check out a Spanish restaurant, Costa Brava. The menu included a large selection of tapas as well as a few entrees like paella. We opted to order several of our favorite tapas, including tortilla espanola, sardines in olive oil, and pan tomaca. It can be hard to find good Spanish wines in California, so I also appreciated their wine list featuring several classic Spanish white and red wines by the glass.
Best Hotels In Pacific Beach
There are many hotels to choose from in the area. We stayed for two nights at the Ocean Park Inn, conveniently located on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. This property has recently undergone a major remodel, and the bright and airy rooms perfectly complement the beachfront setting. From our balcony, we could look down and watch all the activity taking place on the boardwalk. In the morning, when the boardwalk was quiet, we could hear the waves crashing on the sand. If you don’t feel like swimming in the ocean or lounging on the sand, the hotel offers a pool instead. The location is ideal for walking to a large number of restaurants and shops. And if you’re traveling with the grandkids, larger rooms with kitchenettes are available.
Another beachfront accommodation option is the Pacific Terrace Hotel, located a bit north of Crystal Pier and offering large rooms with ocean-view balconies. For something more budget friendly, try a stay at La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham, which includes a buffet breakfast each morning.
One of the best things about visiting a big city like San Diego is exploring the neighborhoods. While cities become famous for their major attractions, local life happens in the neighborhoods. And each neighborhood has its own character. Pacific Beach remains an unfussy part of the city that attracts college students, surfers, and sunbathers. Many of the restaurants and shops are locally owned and patronized. If you’re looking for a fun and lively outdoor-focused destination, Pacific Beach delivers.