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Beachy Keen

Our San Diego beach guide takes you on a tour of the coast, north to south, to sample the county's finest collections of sand and surf


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Pacific Beach, Mission Beach & Mission Bay

Our very own version of MTV’s Spring Break! P.B. and Mission Beach are brimming with bronzed bodies boasting six-pack abs and teeny bikinis who spend their time sunning, swimming, flirting, playing horseshoes and/or riding down Garnet on a beach cruiser with a surfboard under one arm and a booze-filled Snapple bottle in the other. The boardwalk scene is priceless, with fire-jugglers, skateboarders and random costumed Rollerbladers clogging the narrow walk from Crystal Pier to the South Mission Jetty, where the competition on the beach volleyball courts can get pretty heated. The boardwalk flips around and encircles Mission Bay, giving joggers 3.5 more-or-less unobstructed miles of pavement to pound from West Mission Bay Drive to Crown Point Shores. Extra: There’s hardly a more quintessential scene than the Wave House, right on the boardwalk in Mission Beach. The bar’s got a wave simulator machine and recently started presenting live music at adjacent Sound Wave (the venue formerly known as Canes).

Viva S’mores

The fire pits on Mission Bay, La Jolla Shores and Ocean Beach will live to see another summer, despite having city funding cut two years ago.

In 2008, after the city incited public outcry when it trimmed the fire pits’ $120,500 annual maintenance cost from its budget, an anonymous donor stepped in with enough money to fund the fire pits through June 30, 2010. The city had set up a fund for donations from the public, but by mid-May less than $3,000 had been raised, again prompting outside donors to help.

The San Diego Foundation put up the bulk of the cash—$90,000—needed to maintain San Diego’s 186 concrete fire pits for another year, via its Mission Bay Park Endowment Fund. La Jolla Community Foundation contributed $4,700, while Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and Sherri Lightner donated a combined $23,000 from their offices’ infrastructure funds. The remainder represents the donations collected through the city’s Save the Fire Pit Fund ($2,896).

At a press conference on Mission Bay in mid-May, Mayor Jerry Sanders noted that many of the contributions to the Save the Fire Pit Fund were in amounts as small as $5 and $10, adding, “Five dollars isn’t a lot, but if everyone who claims to love the fire pits had contributed $5, our fund might be overflowing today.”

Lightner stresses that the work is not over. She encourages San Diegans to step forward to sponsor a fire pit and ensure their continued presence on local beaches. It costs $650 to maintain each pit for a year.

La Jolla Community Foundation chair Phyllis Pfeiffer, for her part, is just happy to help carry on a longstanding beach tradition. “We are saving s’mores for San Diego!” she says.

To donate to the Save the Fire Pit Fund, visit the city’s Philanthropy Center at ­ sandiego.gov/philanthropycenter/opportunities/firepit.shtml.

Floatopia [flow-TOW-pee-uh], n. A waterborne party on Mission Bay wherein large numbers of people come equipped with booze and rafts, inner tubes, pool noodles and other buoyant devices, creating a “floating utopia.” The event, inspired by a ritual begun by Santa Barbara college students, exploits a loophole in the city’s alcohol-on-the-beach ban, which makes drinking in the water legal as long as one’s feet aren’t touching the sand. Organized on Face­book, Floatopia San Diego has attracted anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand revelers. Don’t be surprised to see more of these “flotillas” over the summer.

Ocean Beach & Sunset Cliffs

Dog owners, skater kids and hippie holdovers flock to O.B., home to a wide, flat beach and one of the longest concrete piers on the West Coast, which is a magnet for fishermen. Dog Beach, on the north end, is a 24-hour leash-free area. If you want a more social scene, head back toward the foot of main-drag Newport Avenue. Sunset Cliffs is south of the village along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, with walking paths at the top of the bluffs, several small and hard-to-get-to beaches below and advanced-level surf breaks just offshore. As the name implies, the gorgeous sunsets make it a great pop-the-question spot, too. Extra: At night—or during the day—buy your friends a round in one of the many dive bars on Newport, where the drinks are cheap and strong.

Coronado & Silver Strand

Except for its unfortunate lack of parking, Coronado is one of the county’s best ­beaches—and if you believe the Travel Channel, maybe one of the best in the country, too. The super-wide, super-flat beach is a hit with families, guests of the Hotel del Coronado and anyone with a dog (the northern end is a leash-free dog beach). Exercise fiends get their rocks off a little farther south at Silver Strand State Beach, a remote stretch between Coronado and Imperial Beach with a long, flat paved path ideal for bicyclists and joggers. Extra: Get in touch with your inner Marilyn Monroe—who shot Some Like It Hot at the Del—and break for lunch or a sunset cocktail at the historic hotel.

Imperial Beach

Possibly the most underrated beach in the county, I.B.’s got it all: ample, affordable parking; wide and flat swaths of soft, never-ending sand; gentle but surfable waves; a grassy area with picnic tables and playground; volleyball and basketball courts; bathrooms and showers; jetties and a long wooden pier for fishing; and tremendous views extending, on a clear day, from Point Loma and downtown to the border and Mexico’s Coronado Islands. Plus, it’s rarely crowded, except for big festival days like next month’s U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.

Extra: Get a scoop of peanut-butter-brownie ice cream at Cow-A-Bunga at the foot of the pier.

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