Imagine going to the beach on a bright sunny morning. The air is fresh and salty, a cool breeze rides in on the ocean surf and flicks at the edges of your towel. You feel free of the usual confines and stresses of life. Just a few yards away, on the other side of a long fence, someone else is doing the exact same thing. They’re sitting on their own towel, under their own umbrella, feeling the same freedom and enjoyment that only a morning at the beach can give. You look over at each other and smile, exchange a few words, then move toward the fence in conversation. That is Imperial Beach. Where else can beach-goers a share a morning chat across the U.S./Mexican border?
Imperial Beach is just five miles north of Tijuana, and a great place to spend the day in a neighborhood rich with rich history. There are roughly four miles of oceanfront shoreline in Imperial Beach with the Imperial Beach Pier almost smack dab in the middle. Known for having the second best surf in the city, thanks to the Boca Rio beach break, it has an extensive surf history that is proudly showcased at Pier Plaza. Surfboard benches display plaques that tell the unique story of how the large waves here impacted surfing from 1937 to the 1950s.
Imperial Beach is a family-friendly surf town with plenty of recreational activities to keep you entertained all day long. Its connection to Coronado via the Silver Strand allows visitors an even broader array of things to do and sites to see. Even though this beach is quite expansive, many refer to it as a beach hideaway where you can get away from the hustle and traffic common to most large beaches. This atmosphere makes it perfect for families just trying to have a low-key day swimming and building sandcastles. For the young adults heading to Imperial Beach, there are ample opportunities for fun, like beach volleyball and horseshoes.
Imperial Beach offers experienced surfers a place to enjoy some epic waves. In fact, it was recently named one of the best surf spots in San Diego by San Diego Magazine. Visitors can also enjoy fishing at the Imperial Beach Pier, which also offers stunning views of Coronado Island and beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. For those who want to enjoy a nice bike ride, take the paved paths that go from Imperial Beach to Coronado where you can enjoy the ocean breeze and scenic views of San Diego Bay, Silver Strand State Beach, and the salt flats.
Near to the Beach
Imperial Beach might be a mostly beach town where most of the action takes place in ocean or on the sand, but it does have quite a few other hidden gems. It’s most known for having over 300 species of birds making it a prime locale for bird watchers. For those who love to watch movies in style be sure to check out the South Bay Drive In, where you can watch the latest movies with an ocean view.
Surfing enthusiasts be sure to head over to the Surfboard Museum where you can learn about some of San Diego’s famous local surfboard shapers and designers while checking out a wide range of amazing surfboards. The Portwood Pier Plaza right by Imperial Beach is a great spot to just chill out and take in the park’s beauty and history with colorful public art on display; enjoy a meal at one of their picnic tables. Dunes Park is adjacent to the beach on the north end. The park is equipped for basketball, volleyball, horseshoes, and picnics. There is a grassy area and a children’s play structure, plus water fountains, bathrooms, and showers.
Two of the top restaurants in this area are Marisa’s Mexican Seafood Grill, a great spot for authentic Mexican seafood, and Harney’s Sushi where guest can dine on unique rolls and sip on crafty signature drink specials. For a delicious treat at the end of your beach day head to Cowabunga, a great home-made ice cream shop that doesn’t close until the sun sets. Get your favorite flavor in one of their daily made waffle cones for an extra bonus of deliciousness.
You have a lot of choices for overnight accommodations in Imperial Beach if you want to stay longer or make a daytrip to Tijuana, Mexico. If you’re looking for something with an ocean view, check out the Sand Castle Inn. It is just steps from the Pacific Ocean and minutes from Downtown, Mexico, and Coronado. Guests can enjoy simple and relaxed rooms with friendly staff to manage all their needs.
Imperial Beach Essentials
To get to the heart of Imperial Beach where the Imperial Beach Pier and Portwood Pier Plaza are located, take Interstate 5 south to the Palm Avenue exit and go west on Palm. Make a left on 3rd Street and a right on Evergreen Avenue. The plaza and pier are straight ahead.
When visiting Imperial Beach you’ll find plenty of parking lots scattered throughout the area as well as plenty of street parking. Both bathrooms and showers are located around the Imperial Beach Pier. This beach is one of the few in San Diego that has lifeguards year round, and their hours are from 7 a.m. to dusk. For those who are novice swimmers, set up close to the lifeguard towers.
There is no alcohol permitted on the beach at any time and fires can only be started in the fire rings provided by the city. Dogs are not allowed on the beach from Palm Avenue to Imperial Beach Boulevard and must be leashed in other beach areas. You cannot swim, wade, or otherwise approach the pier within 20 feet while in the water. There is a seafood restaurant on the pier, but there are a number of pier rules to consider such as no bikes or surfboards on the pier. If you’re fishing from the pier, note the designated fishing areas, and there is no overhead casting.
Tip: Beach waters next to the border with Mexico have large and hazardous surf that can be unsuitable for swimming. At times, especially after winter rains, the water along the border may be contaminated due to the Tijuana River.
Imperial Beach – It’s a Wrap
If you’re familiar with the annual U.S. Open Sand Castle Building Contest, you’ll know it was an Imperial Beach tradition for 31 years. The contest was accompanied by a street fair, parade, and fireworks. The competition has been moved to the San Diego Harbor waterfront as of 2011. Imperial Beach is still host to the annual Imperial Beach Surftown Triathalon and Duathalon, which take place at the pier.
Imperial Beach is a family oriented neighborhood that caters to the beach life. It’s an ideal place for people looking to have a relaxing day enjoying what the ocean has to offer. With its close proximity to Mexico, it’s a great jumping off point for a visit south of the border. Mexican and seafood restaurants dominate the food scene in Imperial Beach. You’ll find a wide array of recreational activities centered on beach and water recreation, and the rich and interesting surf and beach history is a bonus. Make Imperial Beach part of your vacation plans the next time you visit San Diego.