You love the beach. The fresh smell of salt water, the rhythmic sounds of the water crashing against the shore, the early morning sun rays getting you to pump out more Vitamin D3 than you know what to do with; ah, the beach is just downright rejuvenating for your brain.
The problem is that a ton of other people feel the same way. Sometimes, you may just want to find your own piece of sand, or some uncrowded waves to surf with your buds.
Not to fear, we’ve got your back with this break down of the least crowded Surf Spots and Beaches in San Diego.
- Carlsbad - “Turn Arounds” at South Carlsbad State Beach
- South Oceanside – St. Malo Beach
- San Diego - Torrey Pines / Blacks Beach
- Solana Beach – “Rock Piles”
- San Diego – Ocean Beach Sunset Cliffs
#1 “Turn Arounds”
Located in Carlsbad (North County San Diego), this beach is long and open. There’s a few reasons this beach is usually one of the least crowded in San Diego – The main one being that at first glance it looks impossible to get to without walking a mile due to the really steep bluffs.
Little do the tourists know that just south of the end of the guardrail across from the parking lot is a trail head with a relatively steep but easy walk down the bluff onto the beach. Caution: there is just a short steep area at the very bottom where your climb down a rock to get to the beach; but don’t worry, it’s only about 6 feet tall and has steps naturally carved into the side from all the surfers who go there on their lunch break each day (guilty).
Another reason it's empty is due to how you get there - Parking (just above the beach bluffs) can only be accessed by coming south on Carlsbad Blvd. from Canon Rd. If you come from the other direction there’s no quick or easy way to turn around (legally) due to the overpass. Lastly, it’s also not as packed as other beaches since there’s not a lot of houses (i.e. none) that are close to this beach.
So, how’s the surf? Not terrible, but also nothing particularly special. The break is a beach break, with various peaks that A-frame for lefts and rights. Of note, during really low tides the peak just north of the trail in front of the bluff starts to work (it’s a right usually). All the way down south from the stairs beneath the stoplight is usually a temperamental left that sometimes will work. Other than that, it usually works like any other typical beach break (different peaks that depend on tide, swell direction, and recent sandbar formation, etc).
The waves are generally a nice balance of faster beach break and the typical softer waves we see in San Diego; you’ll may see a few long boarders or mid-length riders out there, but it’s probably better for shortboarding overall. There is a nice longboard break just north at Terra Mar, and arguably better shortboard breaks just a mile or two away at the Ponto Jetties (or Tamarack under certain conditions), but if you don’t mind trading off a bit of shape for a lot less people, this is a good choice.
#2 South Oceanside - St. Malo
So, we know that anyone who lives in South O that sees this is going to give us a lot of flak for blowing up their “locals” spot, but I lived there for years and had to say the combination of rideable waves and uncrowded line-ups was at a great ratio, so why not share a little bit of the love with others who want to be as stoked as us?
Holidays can become a little more packed in certain areas of Oceanside since a lot of tourists visit the Pier/Downtown area or even Buccaneer Beach (not a bad choice, since Buccaneer Cafe is a must have); but the spots in the far southern reaches of south oceanside are usually a solid bet for less crowded beaches.
We suggest everything from Cassidy St. south. The farthest beach access south is a really small hidden staircase for public beach access just before the St. Malo community on S. Pacific. It’s easy to miss, as it’s nuzzled between two houses and doesn’t really have any markers besides a trashcan next to the stairs. Drive from Cassidy St. south on South Pacific, and just before the road curves you back towards the train tracks, you should see the stairs on the beach side of the street. The beach here is relatively uncrowded since it's so far from the major tourist spots, but big high tides make it a really small spot of sand, (or none during extreme tidal swings), so it may not always be the best spot if you want a lot of sand space.
The surf is fast beach breaks in most spots, shortboarding recommended, but during smaller waves you can bring out the extra foam and log it. Like most of Oceanside, the surf is best for certain summer south swells. Side note – for some reason I see aquatic wildlife here a lot more often than I usually do elsewhere, dolphins tend to cruise through commonly, and I once saw a whale surface for air only about 100 yards from the line up – absolutely stunning and the craziest experience with wildlife I’ve ever had while in the water.
#3 Torrey Pines/ Blacks
Torrey pines? We know, it’s a relatively popular spot being a state park and all; but if you park in the Torrey Pines State Beach parking lot and walk south for a while towards the bluffs, it gets relatively empty quickly. Plus, it’s an absolutely beautiful beach. If you walk really far south, be careful of the rising tide, some spots may look easy to get around during low tide, but may not be possible if the tides come up while you’re there.
You can also try out Blacks Beach. You can get there by parking at the Torrey Pines Glider Port parking and walking from there, but be careful, it’s definitely not the mellowest of treks down and many people have gotten hurt or rescued from the bluffs. The Beach is really secluded, so it really doesn’t pull in as much beachgoers as it should for how beautiful it is (but it does tend to pull in quite a few really good surfers).
The surf at Torrey pines is pretty nice, but beware of bluff erosion as well as the usual unseen water hazards (rocks/ reefs) beneath some of the breaks – you should never really surf alone. The surf at Blacks is famously good, but probably shouldn’t make the list as an “uncrowded” surf break. The special underwater topography of this spot really pulls in the swell – expect surf here to be at least 1-2’ bigger than other spots on most days; sometimes much, much larger than other spots.
#4 "Rock Piles"
Nestled at the far south end of Solana Beach between Fletcher Cove and Del Mar Dog beach, this place is nice because unlike the other 4 beaches on this list, it has a lifeguard tower which should be a “must have” for a lot of people (rip currents are a serious danger for anyone not familiar with the ocean).
Another bonus is there’s usually a fair amount of free parking nearby. There are two parking lots on S. Sierra Ave. on each side of Del Mar Shores Terrace. Park there, walk up towards the cul-de-sac, and there will be a walkway on the north side of the road. This takes you up a few stairs behind the condos, and then down a large set of stairs to the beach – somewhat of a mountain of stairs, but nothing too terrible.
Lastly, dogs are allowed on this beach (most of it), as long as they’re on leash. Just south is dog beach for leash free fun! If you want less people and no dogs allowed, everything from the stairs north are more secluded areas of beach (there's also another public staircase a little farther north).
The surf here isn’t too bad, but it’s nothing to write home about. There’s a couple A-frames just off from the lifeguard tower, but they tend to be the typical softer waves we often see in San Diego. Of course, you can still find some really great lines every now and then, and on rare occasions the inside forms up quite nice. Good for either a shortboard or longboard, and from my experience, the empty line-ups more than makes up for the average level of wave quality.
#5- Ocean Beach Sunset Cliffs
So let’s just give the forewarning that OB can get crazy packed during the holidays, and traffic can be straight terrible to get into and out of OB.
That being said, OB is amazing. It has stunning bluff top views, cool tide pools, great surf, and a waffle ice cream sandwich that you absolutely MUST try. Plus, all the random people I meet in OB are great human beings and super friendly, it’s a great spot!
So besides the obvious Ocean Beach main beach with pier, jetties and dog beach which are usually super crowded, the Sunset cliffs are a good spot to go, with really sweeping views.
Take Sunset Cliffs Blvd., then either stay on it, or head west towards the beach if you want to see the pier and main beach first, and then keep heading south and there will be several public beach access points along the bluffs that will get you down to the relatively secluded beaches, surf spots, and tide pools. The parking can be a little challenging to find at times, which is why the beaches are usually relatively empty once you start moving from the stairs. Note- these beaches aren't too big, and many have no sand beaches and just lot of rocks on them, but they are usually pretty empty and beautiful places to visit or surf.
If you go all the way south on Sunset Cliffs Blvd. There’s a parking lot off of Ladera St. where you can get out and walk trails that are on top of the bluffs, and it’s a great spot to watch the sunset, but there’s no beach access from there.
The surf at the Cliffs is generally great, so on good days many spots won't qualify as "uncrowded" line-ups. But most days, there's a few good reefs and various breaks to work, usually well worth the voyage to get there.
So there we have it, our take on the top 5 least crowded beaches and surf breaks in San Diego. Check them out, and don’t forget all your beach and surf accessories when you go :)
By: ~ Dustin Relethford
Looking for more info on San Diego beaches? Drop us a line about what you’d like to see in our next blog!
Looking for info on where to travel for surf outside of the US? Check out our blog on top central America Surf destinations here!