Down by the Boardwalk, down by the sea, in the coastal communities of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, you'll find the stereotypical California Dream alive and well. What started in the early 1900's as a seasonal summer vacation resort, has grown into one of San Diego's hippest year-round residential neighborhoods and party hotspots.
The same carnival atmosphere that arose from the old Belmont Park amusement center has spawned the three-ring circus of Mission Blvd. and the Mission Beach Boardwalk. Here you'll find everything from taco stands to tattoo parlors, roller coasters to roller skates, sailboats to sushi bars.
For the young and young at heart, Mission Beach is the place to see and be seen in San Diego. By day, a never-ending parade of skateboards and bikes moves up and down the boardwalk between Belmont Park and Crystal Pier, while surfers and sunbathers crowd the shoreline. At night, Garnet Avenue comes alive with a procession of diners and dancers, and restless college students migrating from one party to the next.
The most fascinating thing about the beach community is its diversity. Carefree young renters living in harmony with responsible adult homeowners; manicured suburban lawns and trashed studio apartments; tattooed skaters and three-piece-suiters. Just remember: beach culture is multi-culture, and despite these seemingly cliquish extremes, there's an unspoken tolerance here at the beach that translates into a welcoming atmosphere for visitors.
If your mission in Mission Beach is a day at the beach, by all means head straight for the sand. It's all one, big, happy place, but there are definitely spots with more or less action. The best way to find the level that's right for you, is to take a trip down the Boardwalk and scope it out. There are any number of beachfront bars up and down the Boardwalk where you can take in the scene without ever getting your feet wet. Or, cruise the boulevard and explore the sights along Mission, Grand and Garnet. There are endless possibilities for dining and shopping, drinking and dancing.
There are excellent public facilities and parking lots throughout the beach and bay area, and comprehensive lifeguard supervision in season, but weather and location have an exponential effect on the crowds. At the height of summer, down around the Roller Coaster, everything reaches critical mass. Parking is scarce, towels claim the beach, and the water is a writhing mass of biceps and bikinis. But as you travel farther up or down the coast, or if you visit in the off-season, things become dramatically mellower. If you want action, you're sure to find it at the beach, but you can also find peace and quiet at one of many public parks along the bay.
Similarly, while P.B. and M.B. are known for their bustling bars and naughty nightclubs, there are just as many romantic retreats and family-friendly restaurants throughout the area, just outside the perimeter of the Mission Blvd./Garnet Avenue hot zone.
The range of merchandise to be found in the neighborhood is as varied as its inhabitants. Traditional trinkets, sea shells and souvenir curios are offered by street vendors up and down the Boardwalk. Along Mission Blvd. you'll find surf and skate shops selling So Cal street clothes and hardcore beachwear, while Garnet Avenue has trendy re-sale boutiques, pawn shops and thrift stores. From psychedelic posters to bell-bottom jeans, if you're in the market for anything rare or retro, you'll find it in Pacific Beach. Aside from the unique assortment of oddities to be found here, P.B. is also popular for practical services like car repairs, hardware stores, office supplies and the like.
For the most part, accommodations at the beach are spare - simple, inexpensive motor lodges that offer little more than a bed for the night. But after all, you are at the beach, and there's a lot to be said for being within walking distance of scores of shops and restaurants.
For your amusement, take a ride on the Big Dipper Roller Coaster, or ride the wild surf in the artificial wave pool at Belmont Park. You can rent bikes, blades and boogieboards at Hamel's or any number of shops by the Boardwalk. From surf contests to street fairs, baseball tournaments to boat races, there's always something happening on the weekend.
No other neighborhood embodies our fun-loving, fair-weather spirit like Mission Beach. Whether you've come to play or you're here to stay, you're sure to enjoy San Diego's beach and bay.
From the North: Take the 5 freeway south and exit at Balboa/Garnet. Turn right on Garnet and continue west to Mission Blvd.
From the South: Head north on the 5 freeway and exit at Grand/Garnet. Turn left on Grand and continue west to Mission Blvd