Mission Beach is located on a narrow strip of land between the ocean and Mission Bay, only a few blocks wide. It leads from more upscale Pacific Beach to the north to Belmont Park with the famous "Giant Dipper" roller coaster at its south end. It gets funkier the further south you go on the ocean-side boardwalk, though gentrification is slowly creeping through the area. It is a (somewhat) tamer version of the L.A. area's famous Venice Beach. It's population soars in the summer with out-of-town surfer dudes, dudettes, wanna-bes, and "Zoners" (Arizona residents trying to beat the heat), packed like sardines into expensive, often beaten-up (but who cares?) summer rentals.
Pacific Beach (P.B. for short) is one of San Diego's many beach towns, bordered on the south by Mission Beach and Mission Bay, to the north by La Jolla, to the east by I-5, and best of all, to the west by the Pacific Ocean. Dotted with restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as clothing stores, beachwear stores, surfboard, bike and rollerblade rental places, it is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon, of which there are plenty. Many P.B. residents are in their 20s and 30s, as a result of the booming nightlife. P.B. is dominated by Garnet Avenue, a large commercial street that runs from the 5 freeway west to the Pacific Ocean.
Map of Mission Beach-Pacific Beach
From Downtown and areas south get on Interstate 5, referred to as “the 5,” exit onto westbound I-8 and exit at West Mission Bay Drive. Stay on West Mission Bay Drive to get to Mission Beach, or you can access Mission Bay by taking Ingraham Street or Sea World Drive. If you want to get to Pacific Beach, take I-5 to Mission Bay Drive and hang a left on either Grand Avenue or Garnet Avenue and follow them into the heart of Pacific Beach. Be prepared to sit in traffic during rush hour and busy weekends, this is the one of the few entrances to Pacific Beach and it creates an absurd bottleneck.
From La Jolla and areas north you can take the 5, exit at Garnet Avenue and make a right. From coastal La Jolla, it might be faster and definitely more scenic to take the surface streets. Follow La Jolla Blvd. south until it intersects Mission Blvd. and you’re in North Pacific Beach. Make a right on Mission Blvd. and you’ll be driving south, parallel to the beach with the ocean on your right.
From Ocean Beach, take Sunset Cliffs Blvd. to West Mission Bay Drive which will take you through Mission Beach to the west part of Pacific Beach, or to Ingraham Street which will lead you into the central part of Pacific Beach. All the overpasses and underpasses can get confusing. After you go over the dry San Diego River, loop around once for Ingraham or stay right and loop around again for West Mission Bay Drive.
By public transit
The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), San Diego's public transit service, has a few bus routes serving the area: the Route 8/9 loops through Mision Beach and Pacific Beach, connecting to Old Town to the south. Route 27 travels up Garnet Avenue through P.B. to the suburban neighborhoods of Clairemont and Kearny Mesa to the east. Finally, there's the Route 30 which connects to La Jolla to the north and Old Town and Downtown to the south.
Once you're in PB, the best way to get around is by any means other than a car. Beach cruisers are the vehicle of choice in PB. Rent a beach-cruiser or roller skates or buy a skateboard. It's more fun and you don't have to worry about parking. There are many facilities that rent all of these and more by the hour, day and even week. One of them is Cheap Rentals which has a Mission Beach and Pacific Beach location. Another option is to rent a Segway transporter from Segway of Pacific Beach, located approximately one block north of Mission Beach.
Orcas pausing during a Sea World show
Sea World, 500 SeaWorld Drive, +1 800 257-4268, . Hours vary by season and day of week; typically 10AM-5PM in winter, 9AM-11PM in summer. A massive (200 acres) marine animal theme park with rides, lots of sea animals (dolphins, sea otters, arctic creatures, sharks, penguins, rays, manatees, etc.) and of course, shows of killer whales like Shamu. $65 adults, $55 children under age 10, free for children under age 3 (parking $10 for cars, $15 for RVs and campers, and $6 for motorcycles).
Take a walk along the Boardwalk or walk out onto the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach and experience the ocean.
Belmont Park, 3146 Mission Blvd, +1 858 228-9283, . Open April-December, hours vary by season and day of week; typically 11AM-8PM. A seaside-amusement park located near the southern end of Mission Beach, Belmont Park is a landmark with a number of shops, restaurants, an arcade, and a bunch of rides. The big attraction is the Giant Dipper, a historic roller coaster that is one of the only two remaining oceanfront roller coasters still operating on the west coast. Also popular is The Plunge, a historic indoor heated swimming pool that continues to be the city's largest indoor pool. Among the other rides is a FlowRider (a simulated wave attraction which you can bodyboard on), an antique carousel, bumper cars, slides, pendulum rides, tilt-a-whirl, and a trampoline. General admission free, ride tickets $1 each (rides take anywhere from 2-6 tickets each).
Mission Bay Aquatic Center, 1001 Santa Clara Pl., +1 858 488-1000 (fax: +1 858 488-9625), . The aquatic center rents catamarans and other watercraft, as do several other franchises around the bay. Instructional lessons are available. Be aware that the western half of the bay is "sail only" (powerboats 5 mph no wake) during the daytime.
Mission Bay Park, . Encompassing the entirety of Mission Bay, offering opportunities for sailing, boating, swimming, jet ski, and other water sports. You can also take advantage of the park space surrounding the bay for walking, bicycling, picnicking, etc. There are many miles of hiking, biking, and running trails that have a moderate level of difficulty for runners and an easy level of difficulty for bicyclists. There are marvelous views of the ocean and the bay along with numerous side trips. Starting at the Mission Bay Visitor Information Center (on East Mission Bay Drive near the Clairemont Drive exit from Interstate 5 Freeway) is a good idea, as there is parking (it can be scarce at times and is only limited to just one hour), and runners can can choose a trail to match their fitness level.
Mission Bay Playground, East Mission Bay Drive on Mission Bay, south of Clairemont Drive. There are many playgrounds in the city, but this one is easily one of the best. For starters, it's a huge playground, with several elaborate play structures (one is built to resemble a pirate ship) and lots of elements for kids to explore. The setting is also ideal, located on the edge of Mission Bay and surrounded by expansive lawns perfect for kite-flying and playing sports.
Fiesta Island. This island in the middle of Mission Bay hosts the Fiesta Island Time Trial Series, hosted by the San Diego Bicycle Club. Competitors meet up to see who can ride the quickest 20k or improve the most. Single riders, tandems and teams are all welcome, and the event also hosts triathletes and world class road race athletes. There is always a waiting list for these trials, so early registration is vital if you want to take part in this very exciting aspect of cycling in Mission Bay Park.
The Boardwalk along Mission Beach
Mission Beach, . This beach is one of the calmest, easiest places to ocean swim in San Diego area. You can also go scuba diving (off the shore are several dive wrecks). Or you can bicycle or rollerblade along the boardwalk (several stores nearby rent equipment).
Tourmaline Surfing Park, at the foot of Tourmaline Street in North Pacific Beach. A popular surfing spot for locals.
The area's annual fireworks show on the 4th of July is well-known.
The yearly Over The Line Tournament is over-the-line in more ways than one. OTL is a locally-invented sport with three-player teams using softballs, known for its rowdyness.
The River Clothing, 1020 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 270-3022, . River is fashion for guys and girls inspired by a laidback surf-skate lifestyle, carrying new designers and icons of the genre. The store has been there for over ten years, and is considered a staple of the Pacific Beach community; and sponsor/owner of the infamous John Lennon mural. If you’ve never been there, it is definitely worth checking out.
Most of the restaurants take advantage of San Diego’s signature weather by offering outdoor and sidewalk seating.
There’s practically a Mexican joint on every corner in PB, most of them could be considered holes-in-the-wall but at least they don’t have wheels. None of them are bad, most of them are good and a handful of them are great. Every San Diegan has a place in their heart for their favorite Mexican restaurant. Ask a local and she’ll definitely share with you her opinion.
Bare Back Grill, 4640 Mission Blvd., ☎ (858) 274-7117, . Enjoy burgers made with organic New Zealand beef.
The Broken Yolk Café, 1851 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 270-9655. Daily 6AM-3PM. As you can guess, the Broken Yoke specializes in eggs and omelettes but they also serve the regular breakfast fare of pancakes and French toast. It’s great for sitting down and recapping the previous night’s events. If you’re hungry enough, you can try their 12 egg omelette, loaded with all sorts of goodies to make it hard to finish. If you do, it’ll only cost you $2 and your name will be forever engraved on the wall.
Café 976, 976 Felspar Street, +1 858 272-0976, . A café and restaurant with a large selection of coffee drinks, breakfast pastries and whole entrees. Located one block away from busy Garnet Ave., this Café 976 offers peace and quiet within the confines of its garden patio. Guests sitting outside are surrounded in all three dimensions by plants and trees. Free WiFi internet access for customers.
Cotija’s, 1092 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 273-1241. No frills or gimmicks, just delicious Mexican food. Located in a strip mall next to barber shop, the painted windows lure you in off the street with 99 cent fish tacos and bean and rice burritos. For a little more you can order a quesadilla (but don’t let the name fool you, quesadillas at Cotija’s are like burritos with cheese). Also tasty are the multiple breakfast burritos, one of which has hash browns — and they’re not limited to breakfast. For true San Diego flavor, try the Shrimp Burrito (also available in the fiery but amazing "Diablo" version). The line to order crowds the dining area as the bars close but there’s nothing like a gut brick to put you to sleep after a long night on the town. And be sure to bring cash because they don’t take plastic.
The Fishery, 5040 Cass Street, +1 858 272-9985, . The retailer Pacific Shellfish Seafood Company was founded in 1979 but their attached restaurant debuted in 1998. With many different species of seasonal fresh fish in their cooler, you’ll be able to find something to tickle your taste buds from a simple tuna melt to a wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Since it’s a market too, you can verify that all the fish are fresh. And just in case you didn’t know what your particular entree looked like before it was caught, there are taxidermied models on the wall, displaying the fish in their full glory.
Fred’s, 1165 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 483-8226. More of a food place for people who like to drink. It addition to the regular Mexican fare of tacos, burritos, fajitas and enchiladas they offer burgers and salads. The portions are big and the atmosphere is fun. The 5th of every month is celebrated as “Cinco de Fred’s” and every Tuesday is “Kiss My Taco Tuesday”. Both events feature drink and food specials. If you’re in town long enough and daring, you can join Fred’s Tequila Club by taking shots of 50 different tequilas. 10 shots gets your name on the wall, 15 gets your picture on the wall and 50 gets you airfare to Cabo or Vegas. Ask the waitresses for more details.
The French Gourmet, 960 Turquoise Street, +1 858 488-1725, . Has been serving delicious pastries and desserts to San Diego since 1979. You can stop in and try one of their many desserts or you can sit down for a whole meal. Their main entrées are just as tantalizing as the desserts. The breakfast menu includes omelettes, crepes and French toast and is served on weekends from 8am-2:45pm and on weekdays 10am-2:45pm. Lunch is served until 3pm and dinner is served everyday except Sunday and Monday. They are also a full service catering and wedding cake company.
Karinya Thai Cuisine, 4475 Mission Blvd., +1 858 270-5050, . M-Sa 11:30AM-3PM, Su 1PM-4PM (lunch); M-Su 5PM-10PM (dinner). Tasty Thai food, very vegetarian-friendly. Lunch is $7.50 and includes soup, tempura vegetables, and an entree. Good amount of food for the price.
Kono’s 704 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 483-1669. Open 7AM-3PM. Located across the entrance to Crystal Pier, this eatery has the best budget breakfast in town. A sign on the wall boasts how many days have passed since they last raised their prices; a figure which is easily over 365. On weekends the line outside gets so long you’d think it was nightclub, but the food is well worth the wait. They specialize in big breakfasts and breakfast burritos.
Mr. Frosty, 1470 Garnet Avenue, ☎ (858) 274-9977, . Sun-Thurs 10:30-9:00, Fri. & Sat. 10:30-10. A Pacific Beach institution, Mr. Frostie's has been selling soft serve ice cream since 1949. The simple, no frills menu also includes sandwiches and hot dogs, but it's the dipped ice cream cones, milkshakes, sundaes, and banana splits that will make this place outlast any trendy yogurt shop.
Pop's Jersey Style Steaks, 1730 Garnet Ave, +1 858 483-2600. The place in San Diego to get a Philly Cheesesteak, owned and operated by Pop's a local from New Jersey, him and his family are usually in the store, they do offer a military discount as well.
Rafaela’s Italian Restaurant, 5119 Cass Street, +1 858 272-0466. At first glance you might not notice this place. It’s located on a residential block and used to be a house. Just look for the white Christmas lights and all the plastic patio furniture set up in the front yard. The menu has a selection of salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas. The wine list, however, leaves something to be desired. In fact, there is no wine list. But there’s also no corkage fee—Rafaela’s is BYOB, making it more affordable and more popular amongst the locals. If you’d like wine with your dinner, make sure to stop by a liquor store on your way. Due to its precarious location, the kitchen is only open from 5-9pm, daily, so get there early.
Rubio’s, 910 Grand Avenue, +1 858 272-2801, . Now a minor fast food restaurant chain in the western United States, but what’s significant about the one in PB is that it was the first. In 1983, founder Ralph Rubio capitalized on the unique flavor of Baja California taco stands by replicating one in San Diego (accommodating, of course, for local health codes). The beer-battered fish tacos, the carnitas and carne asada tacos were an immediate hit.
Sugar and Scribe Bakery, 1420 Garnet Ave. San Diego, CA 92109, ☎ 858-274-1733, . M-T10 am – 5:30 pm , Fr- Sat. 10-6:30, Sun 11-4. A newcomer to Pacific Beach, Sugar and Scribe Bakery is quickly making its home here, with sweets so good that dentists recommend them. They carry a varied selection of cakes, pies, and breads, including Irish soda bread. The pies are made with Irish-style pie crust and are most definitely worth a try. The proprietor uses traditional recipes passed down through her family, and if she's not too busy you may get some family history with your cake. The coffee is pretty good too. They update Twitter and Facebook regularly with daily specials.
Entertainment is the business in Pacific Beach. Youngsters all over San Diego who aren’t fortunate enough to live in Pacific Beach come here day and night to enjoy themselves. The nightlife is the second biggest attraction next to the beach. The weekend nights are always busier than weeknights but the most loyal patrons will begin their weekend celebrations on Thursday. Most of the bars are located on the west end of Garnet Avenue which gets the most foot traffic at night. For a more laid-back environment, try one of the bars that isn’t on Garnet, like Froggy’s or the Australian Pub.
The crowd is typically young and single and consists of college students and working professionals. Most bars don’t have dress codes and sandals are seen on men as frequently as they are seen on women. Men usually wear designer (sometimes ripped) jeans and either a t-shirt or an untucked button-down dress shirt. Women usually wear tank tops with jeans or miniskirts. A general rule of thumb is that if you’d wear it to the beach, then you’d most likely get away with wearing it at a bar in PB.
Bar West, 959 Hornblend Street, +1 619 544-4847, . For a taste of downtown without leaving the beach, this club offers amenities like bottle service, VIP booths, high-end cuisine and local DJs. They will even valet your beach cruiser.
Cass St. Bar and Grill, 4612 Cass Street, +1 858 270-1320. This comfortable, laid-back bar with deep sea fishing themed decor has a good crowd at practically any time of the day, night or week. It's a beer and wine bar, so be advised any cocktails drinks actually use an weak asian vodka called Han Vodka, but the twelve or so beers on tap and various other bottled beers are enough to keep most customers happy. The profusion of TV screens make it a popular daytime sports bar, the pool tables and shuffle board table keep it popular at night. The menu has some great seafood and burgers, served until about 10pm, and has great breakfast options too. This bar has a much more neighborly feel compared to the meat-market atmosphere of some of the more popular Garnet Street bars.
Moondoggies, 832 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 483-6550, . Next door to PB Bar and Grill (which could easily be confused as PB Bar and Grill) is this restaurant. The line is usually shorter and the clientele and the fare are almost identical. There’s a large outdoor patio on the street where you can watch people coming and going through half-inch thick glass. Thursday nights are $2 you-call-its and there’s a $5 cover. All other nights are free.
Pacific Beach Bar and Grill, 860 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 272-4745, . Referred to locally as PB Bar and Grill, it's the biggest and frequently voted the best bar in Pacific Beach. It’s only a block away from the beach. It’s divided into three sections, the first being an inside section with a jukebox and two pool tables. The next is a canopy-covered outside section that’s just as big as the inside. This area is good for lounging or smoking a cigarette. Behind the patio is the third section: a dance floor where the DJ spins hip hop and dance music. A separate door with the façade Club Tremors can take you directly to this area from outside the bar. If you arrive after 10, there’s usually a line to get in. And don’t forget the “Grill” part of PB Bar and Grill; they serve up some great grilled American dishes and appetizers. Inquire about their happy hour specials and nightly drink specials. Tuesdays are “Taco Tuesdays” and Thursdays are $2 you-call-it’s.
Sinbad’s, 1050 Garnet Avenue, +1 858 866-6006, . For an alternative to drinking, why not try smoking? Although they serve beer, the specialty at is hookah smoking. Their menu includes 30 different flavors of premium hookah tobacco. Relax on the front porch with a hookah and watch all the passer-bys. Since it’s not technically a bar, you only have to be 18 to enjoy a toke. It’s also open after all the bars close on weekends –till 4am.
Crystal Pier, Pacific Beach
Rooms can get pricey in the area during the summer months of June-September and they’re always cheaper during the winter months. They also have a tendency to fill up, so make sure you call ahead of time to make reservations. A general rule of thumb is that the closer to the beach your room is, the more expensive it’s going to be. Mission Bay is home to several luxurious full-service resorts which are spread over acres of reclaimed land, while accommodations in Pacific Beach are motels and a couple of hostels. A few vacation rental places are based along the beach. For cheaper options, look outside of the area, like Hotel Circle in Mission Valley.
Banana Bungalow, 707 Reed Avenue, +1 858 273-3060, . A small chain of tropical hostels.
Best Western Blue Sea Lodge, 707 Pacific Beach Drive, +1 800 258-3732, . A beachfront Pacific Beach hotel with oceanview rooms.
Best Western Mission Bay, 2575 Clairemont Drive, ☎ 800-457-8080, . A kid friendly hotel nearby.
The Crystal Pier Hotel & Cottages, 4500 Ocean Blvd, +1 858 748-5894. The closest that you can get to staying on the beach. Built on the historic pier, these rooms offer amazing views and soothing ocean sounds to put you to sleep at night. With a room, you can actually drive out on the pier and park in front of your quarters.
The Inn at Mission Bay Sea World, 4545 Mission Bay Drive, ☎ (858) 483-4222, . Offers high-speed Internet and a free breakfast buffet.
The Pacific View Motel, 610 Emerald Street, +1 858 483-6117, . It's located at the end of Emerald street right above the north end of Pacific Beach. Rooms are reasonably priced and include kitchenettes.
Surfer Beach Hotel, 711 Pacific Beach Dr., ☎ 866-251-2764, . Right on the Pacific Ocean and features a retro boutique-style décor, a popular onsite restaurant, and private guestroom balconies.
There are lifeguard towers  all along the beach that are manned from 9am till dusk during the summer months. The main lifeguard tower is manned year round and is located on the beach at the foot of Grand Avenue. They can administer first aid and contact the police and fire department if need be.
The west end of Garnet Avenue can be a rowdy place in the wee hours, generally populated by the 21 to 30 age group. Alcohol-fueled behavior can lead to rude and occasionally aggressive activities.
Ocean Beach is south of Mission Beach, across the dry San Diego River.
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