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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Hidden beaches of San Diego County

No butts about it, these lesser-known nooks are worth the trip

By Marie Tran-McCaslin
sg-marie Marine Street Beach
- Photo by Marie Tran-McCaslin

I was laying on the beach in Coronado on a gorgeous summer's day. The ocean was calm, the sand was warm and life was good. I was close to the water's edge, and the tide was slowly receding. I awoke from a sun-induced doze to see that a new view had suddenly replaced the idyllic scene.

Butts. Wide derrieres and ugly beach chairs now sat between the ocean and me. As the tide lowered, a family decided to camp out right in front of me. Gee, thanks.

When you live in San Diego, an uncrowded beach on a sunny day is nearly as impossible as wishing for snow at the same time. Thanks to nature and erosion, however, there are some gorgeous nooks carved into the coastline that may not be apparent to the masses. My favorites aren't often directly accessible by bike, but part of being hidden is that they aren't readily reachable. Not only are these beaches awesome, they're close to popular bike paths and fun stops. Whether you're out for a casual ride or for a serious workout, these beaches will make a nice stop on a long ride or a fantastic destination:

Black's Beach is probably the most famous hidden beach in San Diego. To be more accurate, Black's is difficult to access rather than hidden; its fame makes it a poorly kept secret. I came to know it as a freshman at UCSD, when my suitemates gleefully announced they were going to the beach on a weekday morning. When I asked about their trip, the room filled with the shrieks of teenage girls who weren't informed that Black's was, in fact, a nude beach. Well, nude on the state-park (northern) portion of the beach, so watch where you doff your duds. 

The trails down to Black's from the Gliderport and Salk Canyon Road are steep, so bikes will have to be left at the top. It's worth the hike, especially if you love great waves or no tan lines. It's also accessible from the north and south when tides allow. If you're biking, head north on Torrey Pines Road for breathtaking views of Torrey Pines State Beach. At low tide, Black's is reachable from the state beach; be prepared for a long and pretty walk.

If you don't feel like walking down a cliff and getting an eyeful, there's La Jolla's Marine Street Beach. With huge mansions that practically use the beach as their backyards, this coast is quiet. The southern stretch of the beach is accessible by an entrance off of Vista de la Playa, a residential cul-de-sac. Ample parking in a quiet residential neighborhood makes this my favorite beach in San Diego. Without cliff-side trails, bikes can be taken to the beach. There's a wide stretch of white sand and a cliff-side walking trail that leads south of the beach toward Bird Rock. My recommendation? On a morning ride, grab coffee and a pastry at Bird Rock Roasters, then head to the beach for breakfast.

For the adventurous, there's always the beach at the base of the cliffs near the corner of Ladera Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. It's affectionately called Garbage Beach for the stinky kelp that washes up. At the corner of Ladera and Sunset Cliffs is a staircase that heads down the cliff. The bottom of the stairs leads to a moss-covered grotto, which serves as a launch spot for many surfers. When the tide is low, it's possible to cross to the rocks, which lead to the beach. The beach is isolated for good reason; it's difficult to access from the stairs unless the tide is very low. The only other way out is via a rope ladder up a short stretch of cliff that leads to a trail. As precarious as that sounds, I saw someone ascend the rope ladder with a surfboard. Garbage Beach is not for the faint of heart or the out of shape. It's a great stop on the ride out to Cabrillo Monument. Detour through Point Loma Nazarene, park the bike and take a beach excursion on foot. Just remember to take extra care on the cliffs and stick to trails.

In North County, there's Grandview Beach. There's a big, steep staircase that leads down to the beach, which can be washed out at high tide. Big palm trees flank the top of the staircase with the ocean stretching beyond. It's a majestic view, and the beach is great for watching surfers or the sunset. Located at the end of Neptune Avenue, it's in a residential neighborhood in Leucadia. Stopping at Grandview would add to any coastal ride, but, more importantly, it's just north of Elizabethan Desserts in Encinitas. That's always a good stop for a post-ride snack or even a pit stop to refuel—if you consider delicious pies and cupcakes appropriate for working out.

These beaches usually take a little more work to reach than the average beach. Smaller acreage means that tides affect accessibility. Yet, time that would be otherwise spent scouring for parking can be spent on a scenic trip to the coast. Fewer people means that these beaches are meant for walking, so forget staking your claim to a blanket-sized spot and walk along the water. 

The best part? No butts blocking your view.

Write to and Marie blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter at @MeanderingEats.