Pacific Beach (or as the locals call it, PB) is a San Diego neighborhood that has become a hotspot for surfers, young professionals, and college students with young families and empty nesters sprinkled in.
You won’t find a lot of high-end options when it comes to dining or accommodations, but you will find beachy energy and lots of good vibes. This is where you want to be if you’re dreaming of eating in flip-flop-friendly restaurants during the day, spending long hours strolling up and down the boardwalk, and partying at night (as well as during the day).
That said, Pacific Beach can suit families who are okay with this environment. It’s not really a good spot for luxury travelers though. Below, you’ll find my best advice about how to enjoy Pacific Beach attractions, where to go in Pacific Beach, and where to stay during your visit to this California beach town.
More About Pacific Beach in San Diego
Yes, there’s a bit of a party scene here. This neighborhood borders La Jolla so we do spend quite a bit of time in PB.
Is It Kid-Friendly?
Great family days out in Pacific Beach are possible with a few caveats. My daughter and her friends like going to the (usually) quieter section of beach at Law Street in residential North PB.
Teens and tweens like the Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville duo a block off the beach. In this complex is a make-your-own ice cream sandwich shop called Baked Bear and one of my favorite sandwich shops, Board and Brew.
All ages can learn how to surf at Law Street Beach through summer camps and lessons provided by San Diego Surf School. You can use a kids’ scooter, rollerskate, and bike on the boardwalk, too.
The Catamaran is a great three-star resort with lots of on-property activities and a bay beach that is a block from the ocean beach.
That being said, unless you’re used to the eclectic vibe of Pacific Beach, it may not be right for visiting families. Some love it and some stay clear of it, citing too much of a Venice Beach or Jersey Shore vibe (their words, not mine).
The Best Hotels in Pacific Beach
The best Pacific Beach hotels are probably the ones closest to the boardwalk, like the Tommy Bahama-style Pacific Terrace Hotel, which has comfortable rooms with patios or balconies, and extras like beach chairs and umbrellas, boogie boards, s’mores, and in-room spa treatments. The pool area has a great view of both the boardwalk and the ocean.
The family-friendly Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa is steps from the ocean and the bay, so you get the best of both worlds. It has the most activities for kids and families of any hotel or resort in the area, along with a full-service spa and a great restaurant. One of the most fun things about staying at this hotel has to be the resident macaws. Visit these colorful and chatty permanent guests in the luscious garden.
The most upscale hotel in the area, if that’s what you’re looking for, is probably Tower 23 San Diego Hotel. It’s a small oceanfront hotel with beautiful views of Crystal Pier that mostly caters to adult travelers with in-room spa services and its modern JRDN restaurant. Kids are still warmly welcomed.
The Most Popular Attractions in Pacific Beach
There are a lot of reasons visitors flock to Pacific Beach with the PB beaches a big draw especially if you surf or would like to learn how. A lot of the surf shops offer lessons for beginners, and you can rent stand up paddle boards (SUPs), too.
If you want to learn to surf, check out San Diego Surf School in North PB, which has group lessons for all ages at Law Street beach. Most of its students stand up on a board after just one lesson.
Not looking to get wet? Pacific Beach is home to Crystal Pier, where you can walk or fish, and Garnet Avenue has lots of great restaurants, boutiques, and vintage clothing shops. And of course, there are lots of stores selling everything you need to embrace the area’s signature aesthetic, from sunglasses and swimsuits to wetsuits and flip-flops.
Biking is a pleasant way to see the neighborhood. Pacific Beach is flat and has lots of bike rental shops along with great bicycle paths. The Ocean Front Walk is one of our favorites, and we also like the Mission Bay Bike Path — a 12-mile stretch that will take you past (or through) ten public parks and two nature reserves which means there will be plenty of opportunities for picnicking and wading in the ocean during your ride.
Or stroll along Ocean Front Walk (the boardwalk), where you’ll see street musicians, jugglers, and talented rollerbladers. People watching is definitely the thing to do here, and the atmosphere is full of energy. Some people consider visiting this hotspot one of the quintessential things to do in California. You could also hit PB’s much-loved shopping district with its young-at-heart boutiques, stores, and even stalls catering to everyone from surfing and water sports enthusiasts to skateboarders to fashionistas and fans of organic everything.
You should also check out PB’s great parks. Kate Sessions Park has beautiful views of the city as it sits high and summer concerts are offered here in August. Fanuel Park borders the bay and has a fantastic path for runners, bikers, and walkers. Both have very nice playgrounds.
Need to Know
You’ll have plenty of bars and casual restaurants within walking distance of most PB hotels. You can take Uber everywhere else.