If you’re looking for a laid-back, carefree Southern California beach hideaway and want to steer clear of the typical beach-town hustle and traffic, discover San Diego’s most relaxed beach city, Imperial Beach. As the most southwesterly city in the U.S., Imperial Beach is nestled between the cultural flair of Mexico border city, Tijuana, and the popular charm of nearby Coronado Island. Recently named one of San Diego County’s best surf spots by San Diego Magazine, the Boca Rio beach break rivals the famed Black’s Beach in La Jolla. The city uniquely connects to nearby Coronado Island by way of the Silver Strand, a narrow seven-mile isthmus offering extensive beaches and recreational variety doubled by the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. Whether it’s enjoying some of San Diego’s best beaches and natural reserves, camping along Silver Strand or taking advantage of nearby Coronado Island, this last untouched beach town will not disappoint.
If you’re heading from Orange County, drive south on the I-5 for about 100 miles, roughly an hour and 40 minutes. Take exit 5A for CA-75/Palm Avenue and make a right. Keep in mind, you will pass Downtown San Diego and Coronado Island as you head south to Imperial Beach. Both locations are within three miles of each other and a mere 10 minutes from Imperial Beach.
Silver Strand State Beach
5000 Highway 75
Coronado, CA 92118
Pricing: from $33
If you’re moved by the idea of a seaside adventure far removed from civilization, consider renting an Airstream or RV, and camp out along the oceanfront refuge of Silver Strand State Beach. Deserted beaches, fantastic shell collecting and cozy campfires make this the perfect place to unwind. Named for the silvery oyster shells that cover the beach and glisten in the sun, Silver Strand customers tend to be repeat. Check out Coronado Cays Park just down the road for more open beaches away from the campsite and the perfect escape for a day picnic. Keep in mind — the park only accommodates enclosed vehicle campers as no tent camping is allowed. Four-legged friends are welcome but must always be kept on a leash.
Related: Best Campgrounds in Los Angeles
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA 92118
Pricing: from $285
While Imperial Beach is largely a residential community absent of glamorous tourist destinations and hotel options, head just three miles north to the delightful community of Coronado Island for a variety of hotels, restaurants and shopping. Don’t miss the chance to revel and indulge in the perfect mix of history, grandeur and allure at one of the world’s most iconic hotels, Hotel Del Coronado. Listed in Patricia Schultz’s famous book, “1000 Place to See Before You Die,” this hotel has been the vacation spot for celebrities and more than 14 presidents while also famous as the filming location for the Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like it Hot.” Check out its newest addition, the Beach Village at The Del for oceanfront villas and cottages on San Diego’s stunning Coronado Beach. While rates can be steep in the summer, dwelling within a nationally registered historic landmark in a seaside haven is highly worthwhile.
Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center
301 Caspian Way
Imperial Beach, California 91932
For a fun, free, educational and recreational opportunity uncovering the region’s heart and soul, take advantage of what is known as the best birding refuge in coastal Southern California. Home to more than 370 species of birds, bring your binoculars for a free bird walk on Sundays and the first and fourth Saturday of the month. Head to the center for a list of other activities, or rent a horse from a neighboring stable and bird watch on four legs. See what the rich biological diversity here is all about.
Related: Best Hiking Trails in Orange County
The Tin Fish
On the Imperial Beach Pier
2 Elder Avenue
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
Ask San Diegans where the best fish tacos can be found, and undoubtedly, they will point to The Tin Fish. The Tin Fish is a San Diego staple in both Downtown’s Gaslamp District and Imperial Beach. While most are familiar with the downtown location, the Imperial Beach Pier location was the original, first to open in 2000. Enjoy the drama of the waves bashing below the pier as you walk toward a dining experience destined to indulge even the pickiest eaters.
710 Seacoast Drive
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
(619) 628- 0777
Another Imperial Beach staple for 10 years, Woodies Cantina serves up a straightforward menu overlooking the beach featuring the best cuisine influenced from California, Mexico and Mediterranean cultures. With items ranging from a Greek Salad with Homemade Tzatziki Sauce, Greek Pizza, Lobster Bisque Soup and Shrimp Scampi, there’s something to suit the likes of every family member or friend. Open until 10 p.m., Woodies is the perfect stop for a late dinner after a day at the beach. Serving an extensive collection of wine, beer and cocktails, take advantage of a nightcap before calling final quits.
Jessica Blotter has over 10 years experience in the advertising industry and is Founder of Publicly Loved, a Los Angeles media agency at the heart of brands, causes and events. As a published travel writer, she has written for CBS Local, LA Examiner, 944 Magazine and Fairways and Greens Magazine. Her passion for charitable endeavors has led her to volunteer and fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity, Much Love Animal Rescue, and Toys for Tots. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.