7 Water Activities to Do in San Diego for the First-Time Visitor


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San Diego, located on the captivating Southern California coast, is renowned for its stunning beaches and vibrant aquatic scene, making it an ideal destination for first-time visitors seeking water activities to do in San Diego.

In this post, we will guide you through an informative exploration of the top seven water activities that San Diego has to offer.

From the art of catching waves through surfing to the tranquility of kayaking along picturesque shores and the thrill of spotting majestic whales in their natural habitat.

Will provide you with valuable insights and practical tips for each water activity.

Prepare to dive into the world of aquatic exploration and adventure, as we equip you with the knowledge you need to make the most of your visit to this coastal gem.


7 Water Activities to Do in San Diego

Growing up as a San Diego native, my parents had a cherished tradition of taking us kids to the beach for vacation.

It was a budget-friendly option for my mom and well BBQs, and bonfires didn’t cost as much as Disney or extravagant destinations.

To us kids growing up, it taught us to appreciate the ocean’s boundless beauty and to value the irreplaceable time spent together as a family.

As my sister and I got older we began venturing out on our own – exploring most beaches in San Diego.

Out of all these mentioned water activities worth trying in San Diego, we have yet to try kiteboarding.

1. Surfing in San Diego

surfers waiting in the water at Topanga State Beach
Surfers sitting on the ocean at Topanga State Beach.

If you’re fortunate enough to explore the beautiful city of San Diego, I highly recommend indulging in a thrilling surfing class.

Whether you are a seasoned wave rider or a complete novice, this exhilarating experience is an absolute must-try!

Surfing in San Diego offers much more than just an adrenaline rush; it provides an opportunity to connect with nature on a profound level.

As you glide along the glistening water and feel the power of each wave beneath your feet, you’ll be captivated by the sheer beauty of this coastal paradise.

San Diego has an array of different companies that offer surfing class lessons.

Lessons for the most part are usually 90 minutes and prices go for more than $150 per session with the gear included.

Some popular destinations for surfing in San Diego, for example, Oceanside Pier.

The Pier View South Beach is where you will spot many surfers swimming along the Oceanside Pier.

If you plan on visiting we got you covered!

We make a list of the best parking spots to park at Oceanside including free.

In addition, La Jolla Shores is another well-known surfing destination.

Pacific Surf School teaches surfing classes here as well.

Tip: Always remember to respect local surf etiquette, pay attention to beach signage, and stay within your skill level.

Wearing the right gear, including a leash and soft-top surfboard, will enhance your safety while riding the waves of San Diego’s surf culture.

2. Sea Cave Kayaking

kayaking in La Jolla Shores in California
People with kayaking boards and paddles standing in La Jolla Shores in San Diego.

One of our all-time favorite water activities to do in San Diego is to try kayaking as a first visitor.

However, I strongly suggest not just kayaking, but sea cave kayaking!

Sea cave kayaking in San Diego offers an unparalleled adventure, allowing you to explore hidden and mysterious La Jolla caverns that were formed by the dynamic forces of wind and the Pacific Ocean’s waters.

Our very first sea cave kayaking experience that my brother, sister, and I did together was with Bike and Kayak Tours.

While we had previously enjoyed kayaking independently at various San Diego beach destinations, this time, we decided to venture into the world of guided sea cave kayaking.

The experience proved to be nothing short of amazing, and we wholeheartedly recommend it!

There’s nothing quite as unique as having a local native share the region’s history and immerse you in the captivating atmosphere.

We witnessed the incredible sight of sea lions perched on the rocks within the sea caves, making the adventure even more memorable!

Note: About Bike & Kayak Tour

  • Explored 7 Sea Caves found in La Jolla
  • The tour ran for about 2 hours
  • Equipment was provided (paddles, life vest with emergency whistle, and kayak)
  • Usually small groups (only 10 of us total)
  • Cost less than $80 for a double kayak – check the site for current pricing.

3. Snorkeling

Two people in the middle of the image are snorkeling and scuba diving in La Jolla Cove.

If you’re looking for a water activity to try as a first-time visitor in San Diego, you can’t go wrong with snorkeling.

My sister and I have gone snorkeling plenty of times at La Jolla Cove.

This coastal paradise not only offers stunning crystal-clear waters but also boasts an abundant marine ecosystem.

Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove provides a unique opportunity to witness colorful fish, and fascinating rock formations, and even encounter sea lions during their seasonal visits.

It’s an immersive experience that allows you to connect with the natural beauty of San Diego’s coastline and create lasting memories.

There are several places where you can rent out snorkeling gear or take a guided tour.

Tip: This should be a no-brainer, but while visiting beaches, I sometimes encounter tourists who are not respectful to habitat and wildlife!

It boils my blood to witness people disrespect marine wildlife for no reason!

For instance, in La Jolla Cove this girl was caught throwing rocks at a sea lion who was sleeping!

Please refrain from touching anything, maintain a respectful distance from sea lions, and show utmost respect for marine wildlife while snorkeling.

Together, we can ensure these beautiful creatures thrive in their natural habitat!

4. Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) Yoga

water activities to do in san diego as first-time visitor sup yoga
Female doing SUP Yoga during sunset at the beach by Photo by Photo by kike vega.

Paddleboarding is quite a popular water activity sport in San Diego, so it should come as no surprise that SUP Yoga is worth experiencing, especially for first-time visitors.

I’m not talking about going extreme and doing headstands on paddleboards (if you can do this, props to you).

However, for those looking to try a relaxing water activity on the ocean, SUP Yoga offers a perfect blend of tranquility and balance.

This unique practice involves performing yoga poses while gently gliding on the paddleboard, which adds an element of core strength and stability to your practice.

Imagine meditating and performing your favorite yoga poses surrounded by the soothing sound of ocean waves, with the gentle rocking of the board providing a natural and calming rhythm.

It’s a truly serene experience that allows you to connect with both nature and yourself.

One favorite memory I remember when first trying this activity was just sitting on my paddleboard and watching the sunset from the ocean.

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a complete beginner, SUP Yoga is accessible and enjoyable for all levels of practitioners.

So, if you’re seeking a peaceful yet invigorating water activity, SUP Yoga in the beautiful waters of San Diego is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Note: SUP Yoga Things to Know

  • You can rent paddleboard equipment if planning on doing it alone, places like Bike and Kayak Tours offer rentals.
  • Several companies offer classes such as SunChaser SUP, and Wellness Lounge (I attended a meetup event).
  • Always wear a life jacket – no matter what people say

5. Whale Watching

There’s nothing more mesmerizing than getting lucky and seeing whales splash in the ocean during a whale-watching expedition in San Diego.

This is one of my favorite water activities to do in San Diego I highly recommend it to first-time visitors who simply want to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature.

I also say this for people who hate the sand and refuse to lay foot on a beach (my friend is one of these people -he lives 15 minutes away from the beach but refuses to ever visit it).

For those seeking a truly enchanting ocean experience, whale watching is a perfect choice.

Now, we’re not talking about daring feats or acrobatics (although witnessing whales breach the surface is a showstopper in its own right).

Instead, it’s all about the serenity and awe that come with observing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Tip: Prepare for the journey by bringing essentials like sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and a light jacket.

The Pacific Ocean breeze can be cool, even on sunny days.

Furthermore, if you’re a person with long hair, consider bringing a hair tie to keep your hair under control during the excursion (I had on a clip that day and it was annoying with my hair flying all over the place during the ride).

6. Kite Boarding

water activities to do in san diego for first time visitors kiteboarding
Person kiteboarding in the water by Israel Gil.

I will admit I have yet to try this exhilarating water activity, but it’s high on my bucket list for 2024, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Kiteboarding is a thrilling adventure that beckons first-time visitors seeking a daring and unforgettable experience in San Diego.

For those wondering what kiteboarding is let me explain.

Kiteboarding, also known as kitesurfing, is an adventurous water sport that combines elements of surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, and paragliding.

At its core, it involves harnessing the power of the wind using a specialized kite, which is connected to the rider via a harness.

The kite generates the necessary propulsion as riders stand on a board, akin to a surfboard or wakeboard, to glide across the water’s surface.

By skillfully controlling the kite’s angle and tension through a bar attached to its lines, riders can manipulate their speed, and direction, and even perform tricks.

Kiteboarding relies on consistent coastal winds, making San Diego an ideal location for enthusiasts to enjoy this thrilling sport in various water conditions, from calm waters to challenging waves.

There are a few places that offer kiteboarding classes like Manta Water Sports.

7. Ferry Ride

Sunset at Ferry Coronado Landing Center.

Another water activity that offers a laid-back yet captivating experience worth mentioning is taking the Coronado Ferry Landing in San Diego.

While San Diego boasts a plethora of thrilling water sports, the Coronado Ferry Landing provides a refreshing change of pace for those seeking a more relaxed aquatic adventure.

This scenic ferry ride not only offers a convenient mode of transportation between downtown San Diego and the charming Coronado Island but also serves as a delightful excursion in its own right.

As a first-time visitor, you’ll appreciate the leisurely journey across San Diego Bay, with breathtaking views of the city’s skyline, the iconic Coronado Bridge, and the majestic Pacific Ocean stretching beyond the horizon.

It’s a chance to savor the refreshing sea breeze, take in the maritime ambiance, and capture postcard-worthy photographs.

Once you arrive at Coronado Island, you can explore its picturesque streets, pristine beaches, and vibrant local culture.

Whether you’re a solo traveler, a couple seeking a romantic outing, or a family looking for a tranquil day trip, the Coronado Ferry Landing offers a serene and memorable introduction to San Diego’s waterfront charm.

So, don’t miss the opportunity to embark on this leisurely water activity that perfectly complements the city’s more adventurous options, making your visit to San Diego truly well-rounded.

10 Tips for First-Time Water Activity Visitors in San Diego

My sister with her dog walking along the Coronado Ferry Landing plaza.

Safety First: Protect yourself from harm by wearing the right gear and listening to the experts.

Drink Up: The sun is hot, so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and healthy.

Sunscreen, Shades, and Hat: The sun can also damage your skin and eyes, so apply sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and put on a hat.

Weather Watch: Check the weather and tide before you go, so you don’t get caught in a storm or a rip current.

Know Your Abilities: Don’t overestimate your skills or fitness, and choose activities that suit your level and condition.

Be Kind to the Sea: When you explore the underwater world, keep a safe distance from the marine life and don’t touch or bother them.

Follow the Rules: Learn and follow the local laws and guidelines for your water activity to avoid fines or penalties.

Pack Light: Bring only what you need for your water adventure, and leave your valuables at home or in a secure place.

Stick to the Zone: Stay within the marked swimming or watercraft areas for your safety and the safety of others.

Ask the Pros: Get tips and suggestions from the local water lovers or instructors to make the most of your experience and find hidden spots.


people on the beach near Oceanside Pier practicing sustainable tips for the beach
People on the beach near Oceanside Pier.

Water activities to do in San Diego for couples?

If you’re traveling as a couple to San Diego as a couple these are some water activities worth mentioning, excluding the previously mentioned:

Jet Skiing: Feel the exhilaration of jet skiing together along San Diego’s coastline, taking turns conquering the waves.

Dinner Cruise: Delight in a romantic dinner cruise, featuring gourmet cuisine and live music, all while soaking in the bay’s breathtaking views.

Parasailing: Soar above the water while parasailing, sharing the thrill of stunning vistas and the sensation of flight.

Couples’ Scuba Diving: Obtain certification or participate in a guided dive together to explore San Diego’s underwater treasures.

Couples’ Beach Day: Relish a day of relaxation on one of San Diego’s pristine beaches, swimming, building sandcastles, or indulging in a beachfront picnic.

Romantic Beach Stroll: Savor a leisurely walk by the water’s edge, hand in hand, perhaps during a captivating sunset for added romance.

Couples’ Spa Day: After your aquatic adventures, unwind with a couples’ spa treatment at a beachfront resort.

What water activities to do in San Diego as a family?

San Diego offers a wide range of family-friendly water activities for you to enjoy together. Here are some fantastic options:

Beach Days: Spend quality time at one of San Diego’s family-friendly beaches like Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores, or Mission Beach, where you can swim, build sandcastles, and play beach games.

Boogie Boarding: Rent or bring boogie boards and ride the waves at family-friendly beaches.

Tide Pooling: Explore tide pools at places like Cabrillo National Monument or Point Loma, where kids can discover fascinating marine life.

SeaWorld: Visit SeaWorld San Diego for a day of aquatic entertainment, including marine animal shows, rides, and interactive exhibits.

Aquatica San Diego: Enjoy a day of water park fun at Aquatica San Diego, featuring waterslides, lazy rivers, and family-friendly attractions.

Birch Aquarium: Explore Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which offers educational exhibits and family programs.

These family-oriented water activities provide opportunities for bonding, learning, and creating lasting memories in San Diego’s beautiful aquatic environment.


People walking along Swami’s Beach.

As you can see there are plenty of water activities for first-time visitors in San Diego to try.

Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline rush with surfing and kiteboarding or prefer more tranquil experiences like sea cave kayaking and SUP Yoga, San Diego offers a diverse range of aquatic adventures.

As well, as whale watching to the serenity of the Coronado Ferry Landing, the city’s natural beauty and maritime allure are always present, inviting you to immerse yourself in its magic.

As you plan your visit, remember that San Diego’s waters hold a world of unforgettable experiences.


Jess & Jeanette

Jess and Jeanette, two sisters who founded Unseen Beaches, were inspired by their family’s beach vacations while growing up.

Their passion lies in guiding you toward the most remarkable beach destinations across the U.S., while also protecting and preserving these beautiful coastal treasures! 🌊❤️

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