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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.

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Getting There

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. Remember that 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.

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Silver Strand State Beach
5000 Highway 75
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 435-5184

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

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Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Ave.
Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 435-6611
While Imperial Beach is largely a residential community absent of glamorous tourist destinations and hotel options, if you head just three miles north to the delightful community of Coronado Island, Hotel Del Coronado awaits! The famed San Diego resort is a luxury hotel that offers something special for everyone. Dine at great restaurants, experience outdoor activities and beachside fun and more!

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Tijuana Estuary Visitor Center
301 Caspian Way
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
(619) 575-3613
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

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The Tin Fish
On the Imperial Beach Pier
2 Elder Avenue
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
(619) 628-8414

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.

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SEA180° Coastal Tavern
Pier South Resort
800 Seacoast Dr
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
b/t Date Ave & Daisy Ave
(619) 631-4949

Located in the Pier South Resort, SEA 180 offers creative cuisine and oceanfront dining in Imperial Beach with a menu full of tasty options. Breakfast items include bacon and egg dishes, French toast, and more, while sandwiches, seafood, tacos, French dip sandwiches and more are also on offer. Cocktails, beer and wine complete the beautiful seaside setting!