8 Sand Free Beach Activities to do in San Diego

With so many miles of coastline, it’s not surprising that San Diego is known for its beaches.  But there’s so much more the coast provides than just surfing or a day on the sand.  If going to the beach isn’t your thing, there are still plenty of activities for you along the San Diego coast.  Check out our list of sand free activities that still allow you to enjoy the sea air, sun and scenery. 


Over 3 miles of paved boardwalk runs along the shores of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach and bicycle rentals are plentiful and affordable.  Grab yourself a beach cruiser bike for the day and enjoy a smooth and easy ride along the shore.  With plenty of shops and restaurants to visit along the way, you can easily make a day out of this activity.


Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve contains over 2,000 acres of seaside land.  Encompassing dramatic cliffs, wildlife and 6 hiking trails, each with varying levels of difficulty, Torrey Pines is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.  Once you’re in the peaceful scenery of the reserve, it’s easy to forget there’s a bustling city nearby.  If you’re looking for a good workout and stunning photos of rugged cliffs and pristine coastline, this is the activity for you.


Many visitors don’t realize that railroad tracks traverse some of the best real estate in San Diego.  For less than $20, you can purchase an all-day Coaster pass, that gives you access to trains, busses and trolleys.  Though The Coaster train was created for daily commuters, it provides views of the coastline and city you can’t get anywhere else.  From Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego, it’s an easy 1 hour ride north to Oceanside, with multiple stops and plenty of ocean views along the way.  Once you’re in Oceanside you can even visit the California Surf Museum to round out your sand free beachy day.


Known as the Big Bay, the San Diego Harbor offers countless activities on and near the water.  From touring the massive USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Ship, to visiting antique boats like the Star of India to strolling the shops of Seaport Village, there’s something for everyone along the Big Bay.  If you’re itching to get out on the water, there’s many harbor boat tours that will give you a different perspective of the bay.  With its close proximity to downtown and the airport, the Big Bay is a convenient attraction with great views of the San Diego skyline.   


Though San Diego is filled with picturesque ocean vistas, few are as breathtaking as Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma or Mount Soledad Veteran’s Memorial in La Jolla.  Both locations are perched on hills well above sea level offering 360 degree views of San Diego and the Pacific Ocean.   From these vantage points, you can see the horizon gently curve along the edge of the earth while you learn about the explorers who settled San Diego and remember the San Diego veterans that served our country.  


While there are many parks in San Diego, the largest being Balboa Park, La Jolla Cove and Scripps Park provide a clean manicured seaside lawn that’s just begging for a picnic.  Only minutes north of Pacific Beach, La Jolla Cove is frequented by swimmers, snorkelers, divers and kayakers enjoying the clear waters and abundant wildlife.  At low tide, you can explore tide pools and sea caves, and at high tide watch the waves crash over the rocks.  Once you’ve finished your picnic, the downtown village of La Jolla is just a few steps away with art galleries, restaurants and shops.


Both blue and grey whales migrate past San Diego throughout the year and there are many whale watching tours that know where to catch a glimpse of these whales on their journey.  Occasionally, you can spot a whale from land, but because the whales tend to pass a few miles off shore, a guided tour via boat is your best bet.  December through April is the season to see grey whales and June through September is when you’re most likely to spot a blue whale. 


Within your first few hours of being in San Diego, you’ll notice that locals like to be outside — a lot.  With hundreds of days of temperate sunshine a year, it’s no surprise that San Diego is home to many patios and outdoor gathering spots.  Find a seat that you like and settle in for some people watching or hanging out with friends.  Even if you’re out and about solo, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.  While many locals can seem to keep to themselves, most are happy to chat for a bit if you say hello.