The three miles of sandy beach extending from La Jolla to the north to the channel where Mission Bay drains into the ocean to the south is Pacific Beach, locally known as PB, San Diego’s own surfing Mecca. The southern part of it that lies between the open ocean and Mission Bay (the large rectangular manmade recreational bay where Sea World is) is called Mission Beach.
The entire length of the beach is serviced by a small concrete boardwalk (in the northern part, the boardwalk is up at the top of the cliffs, though). There are lifeguards on duty through out the beach from 9AM-dusk. The area is dominated by Crystal Pier, one of the longest wooden piers on the Pacific Coast that houses hotel bungalows, shops, and restaurants on its sturdy planks. It is publicly accessible and is a local favorite fishing spot.
The northern part of the beach (north of the pier) is sandwiched in between 50+ foot drop offs and the open Pacific Ocean. Anchoring its northern end is Tourmaline Surfing Park which boasts one of the finest surf in the area. There is a small parking lot there along with public restrooms with showers there and at the foot of Diamond and Law Streets further south. This beach is serviced along Mission Blvd by MTS bus #30 (Downtown San Diego to UTC Transit Center via La Jolla). You can also get to Garnet Ave and Grand Ave (the two major east-west thoroughfares in the area) on bus #27, 8, and 9. The later two buses loop around Mission Bay in opposite directions, so they are also the bus to get on if you are going to Mission Beach further to the south).
Continuing down for two miles south of Crystal Pier (where Garnet Avenue runs literally into the ocean) is the stretch of Pacific Beach that is known as ‘The Strand’. Here, the beach becomes more accessible and its boardwalk lines with restaurants, surf shops, and residential bungalows. This is probably the busiest beach in San Diego area aside from Coronado. Great people watching opportunity along with surfing, beach volleyball, cycling and skating (there is an 8 mph speed limit, though). Do be aware of your surrounding when walking along the boardwalk since you can’t always hear skaters or cyclists riding up from behind you and collisions happen rather frequently.
Pacific Beach has separate areas for swimming and for surfing. Snorkeling and scuba diving aren’t good here due to heavy surf (if those are the activities you have in mind, you’ll do better further north in La Jolla). If you plan on swimming here, though, be aware of rip currents (if you get into one, swim with it and ease yourself off diagonally). There are beach fire containers available and lifeguards on duty from 9AM to dusk.
Mission Beach to the south is anchored at the foot of Ventura St by Belmont Park, a historic open amusement park famous for the Giant Dipper, its wooden rollercoaster (opened on 4th of July 1925, it is the oldest coaster on the US West Coast). There are many good restaurants around and the public restrooms are located by the lifeguard station near Belmont Park. The beach is party-friendly and the surf gentle (better swimming here than surfing, actually). At its far south end you can watch boats sailing in and out of the channel that connects Mission Beach to the Pacific Ocean. The bay itself is only 2 short blocks east of Mission Blvd… there are places where you can stand on that street and see both bodies of water!
Arrive here by car only if you must, though. There is just no place to park… The area is well serviced by MTS buses #8 and 9, however. They run loop around the Bay going in different direction.