Central San Diego's best beach scene is concentrated in a narrow strip of land between the ocean and Mission Bay. There's great people-watching along the Ocean Front Walk, the boardwalk running from South Mission Beach Jetty to the Pacific Beach pier. It’s crowded with joggers, in-line skaters and cyclists any time of the year. On warm summer weekends, the beaches are packed with oiled bodies frolicking in sand and sea.
While there’s lots to do here, perhaps the best use of your time is to walk along the boardwalk, then spread a blanket in the sand, or kick back over cocktails and take in the scenery.
A block off Mission Beach, Mission Blvd (the main north–south road) is lined with surf, smoke and swimwear shops. Cheap Rentals loans bikes, skates and surfboards.
In Pacific Beach to the north, activity extends inland, particularly along Garnet (pronounced gar-net) Ave, lined with bars, restaurants and shops, mostly targeted at a 20-something crowd. At the ocean end of Garnet Ave, Crystal Pier is a mellow place to fish or gaze out to sea.
At peak times these beaches can get supercrowded: get there before noon if you hope to find parking.