The best places to watch San Diego sunsets

Sprawling sandy beaches facing the Pacific Ocean make San Diego one of the best cities in the United States for west coast sunset seekers. With over 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is home to countless sublime sunset views, plus just as many unique ways to experience them. While summer evenings display enchanting hues of pink and purple, it’s the fall and winter that produce the most amazing sunsets in San Diego. After watching the San Diego sun melt over the horizon, you’ll feel yourself refreshed, relaxed and renewed.

The San Diego sunset inspires awe from just about anywhere in the city, but some viewpoints are truly mind-blowing, situated on cliff edges, beachfronts, restaurant patios, cruises and hot air balloons. Narrowing down our list of the best San Diego sunsets has proved to be one of our most challenging tasks yet, but after much deliberation, we’ve arrived at the 12 discussed below. Read our San Diego travel guide for more insider tips, hotel recommendations, travel advice, must-see attractions and activities.

We plan your perfect escape

You earned your vacation. Take the stress and uncertainty out of planning it by letting us provide travel expertise and up-to-date destination intel from local insiders.

Plan my trip

Sunset Cliffs, San Diego | Photo: Garrett Patz

1. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Of all the stunning San Diego sunset spots, this place certainly competes for the title of best, and its name reflects its biggest appeal. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a sight to behold at any time of the day, but it’s best seen illuminated by shades of pink and purple as the sun begins to dip below the horizon.

Located to the south of Ocean Beach and Ocean Beach Pier, Sunset Cliffs boasts one of San Diego’s most rugged coastlines, where the crashing of waves over thousands of years has carved enchanting arches and grottos into the eroding cliff faces. Today, the surf that tumbles towards the Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and Ocean Beach provides a platform for surfers to carve up the Pacific Ocean.

From Ocean Beach Pier and the park’s well-groomed trails, you’ll share the San Diego sunset view with beachgoers, runners, photographers and yogis, though you can (as many do) find cliff-edge vantage points for a bit of off-trail seclusion – just remember to keep your wits about you, and avoid waiting around into the night.

During December and January, San Diego sunsets can be as early as 16:45. By March, the sunset in San Diego show takes the later slot of 17:50, moving up to 20:00 in early July when daylight savings kicks in. September and October see the San Diego sunset display fall back to 19:00 and 18:00, respectively. Another clock change in November brings the showtime down to 17:00.

The Sunset Cliffs Boulevard features parking with prime San Diego sunset views, but spaces can fill up quickly – it’s worth arriving well before sunset.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park | Photo: Jesse Weatherholt

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Crystal Pier provides a vantage point to take in the view of the adjacent Pacific Beach and soak up the vibrant atmosphere during the golden hour

2. Crystal Pier

One of the best places to watch the sun sink in San Diego – Crystal Pier is as romantic as it sounds, located on the Mission Beach Boardwalk that links Mission Beach to the Pacific Beach, overlooked by quaint white cottages, delightful shops and a hotel.

In addition to boasting some of the best sunsets in Southern California, Crystal Pier provides a vantage point to take in the view of the adjacent Pacific Beach and soak up the vibrant atmosphere during the golden hour. You can also watch surfers riding the waves from this Pacific Beach landmark while the sun disappears.

Originally built in the 1920s, Crystal Pier is a stone’s throw from a historic amusement park – another Pacific Beach landmark – making it appeal just as much to history buffs and thrill seekers as beachgoers. You can indulge in the history of Pacific Beach, Crystal Pier and its nearby attractions by staying in one of its postcard-perfect cottages.

Crystal Pier | Photo: KC Welch

3. Sunset Point Park

You may not be surprised to learn that Sunset Point Park’s main draw is its stunning sunsets, which you can appreciate while cosying up beside a fire on the beach or eating a picnic in the large grassy park. The park’s sandy shoreline offers visitors a secluded spot from which to watch the sunset and accompanying multi-coloured light show, and there are plenty of nearby attractions that cater to guests looking for a more energetic San Diego atmosphere.

Just across the street from Sunset Point Park is the Mission Beach Boardwalk, home to eclectic shops, beachside bars, restaurants with terraces, and the historic Belmont Amusement Park. Additional activities include the likes bumper cars and miniature golf. After sunset, an hour or two of sipping cocktails at Wavehouse always goes down a treat.

If you’d like to watch the sunset in San Diego while on the move, we recommend riding a rental bike or scooter along the three-mile sandy stretch of Mission Beach. The more amphibious nature lovers can rent kayaks and sail around Mission Bay.

Mission Beach, San Diego | Photo: Matthew Hamilton

Pacific Beach | Photo: KC Welch

4. Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach is as impressive to see as it is fun to say. Throughout the day, the sea belongs to the surfers of San Diego and Southern California, who ride surf breaks that complement the area’s dramatic natural allure. During the brightest hours of the day, Windansea Beach’s rock shelves and bluffs look breath-taking, especially when wildflowers add dashes of colour to the expansive scenery in May. But at sunset, the unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean from Windansea are unbeatable, and the cliff-bashing waves add nature-made music to the scene.

As it’s a mecca for experienced surfers, Windansea Beach isn’t our top destination in San Diego for swimming, but its many coastal trails that diverge from the crowds will leave a lasting impression. You can spend the night in hotels and Airbnb’s in the La Jolla neighbourhood, which we prize for its high concentration of trendy drinking and dining options.

Street parking can be scarce near this San Diego beach, so we recommend arriving early with a fully charged camera.

San Diego, US | Photo: Frank Mckenna

Mr. Hudson highlight image

You can capture epic photos of the San Diego seascape merging with the colourful sky beyond the horizon, dotted with surfer silhouettes in the foreground

5. Oceanside Pier

Stretching almost 2,000 feet in length, the Oceanside Pier – a high wooden structure that’s a hotspot for local fishers – is an ideal place to watch the sunset and get a glimpse into the local heritage. At 125 years old, this pier appeals as much to history buffs as San Diego sunset seekers.

As the sun sinks behind the Pacific Ocean, you can capture epic photos of the San Diego seascape merging with the colourful sky beyond the horizon, dotted with surfer silhouettes in the foreground.

Either before or after watching the San Diego sunset, you can grab a bite at one of the top eateries in South Oceanside, all of which are within walking distance of the pier.

Oceanside Pier | Photo: Tyler Whitehead

6. Coronado Beach

On the west coast of Coronado Island, you’ll find the gorgeous Coronado Beach, home to white sands and tide pools between majestic dunes. The sand’s high mica content (a natural glitter-like substance) causes the beach to ‘shimmer’ under the San Diego sunset – a gift for the senses after a beachside cocktail or two. Adding to the breath-taking view are Point Loma and the Downtown San Diego skyline in the distance. It’s an ideal spot to bring the family or watch the sunset with your better half.

While Coronado Beach is one of the best places in San Diego to simply watch the sunset, we recommend spending the night here in the historical, red-roofed Hotel Del Coronado, which serves delicious tacos and inventive drinks at the Hotel Del Coronado Beach & Taco Shack. If you’d prefer a San Diego sunset view away from the sand, grab a table at the Babcock & Story Bar, and don’t forget to browse the flowers along Orange Avenue.

You can also simply soak up the San Diego sunset while driving across Coronado Bridge, though taking the ferry to the Coronado Ferry Landing makes for a more enlightening journey. You can expect to see reflections of red and pink bouncing off the water’s surface, backdropped by a rugged coastline with beautiful beach destinations.

Coronado Beach | Photo: Alejandro Luengo

7. Mount Soledad

At 823-feet tall, the peak of Mount Soledad is the highest coastal point from which to watch San Diego sunsets. While watching the sun go down, you can admire miles of coastline, the San Diego skyline, and a blaze of reds and pinks dancing on the endless Pacific Ocean. As far as places to watch San Diego sunsets go, they don’t come much better than this.

Situated less than a mile from the sandy beach in the La Jolla neighbourhood of San Diego, the Mount Soledad National Veterans Memorial and its once-controversial giant white cross sit on the summit Mount Soledad, with stairs and an adjacent park that provide optimal seating to watch the sunset over San Diego. The emotional atmosphere and high vantage point easily make Mount Soledad one of the best places to watch the sunset in the city.

8. La Jolla Cove

A playground for sea lions, pelicans and seals, La Jolla Cove in San Diego is, seemingly, a popular sunset hangout spot for surfers, sightseers and seafaring visitors alike. Walk along the trails in between La Jolla Cove, and you’ll see one of the most photographed beaches in San Diego bordered by stunning sandstone cliffs.

Some of the best places to watch the famous Diego sunsets are the cove’s green huts and belvederes, which offer a cosy place to rest your legs after a stroll along the sand. At the cove’s restaurants, you can dig into local fare while watching San Diego sunsets from a patio overlooking the Pacific. But if you’d rather absorb the cove’s natural surroundings, you can watch the sun go down from a ledge while the waves crash into the cliffs below. Romance with a dash of excitement is around every turn at La Jolla Cove in San Diego.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego | Photo: Patrick Fore

La Jolla| Photo: Kevin Young

9. Torrey Pines State Reserve

The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve occupies one of the wildest stretches of land within the city limits of San Diego, where the locals come to leave the urban jungle behind and enjoy an unobstructed sunset view from a 350-feet-high cliff edge.

Several walking trails from the summit provide picturesque panoramas of San Diego and its surrounding scenic nature. One of our favourites is Razor Point Trail, which you can follow down to Black’s Beach. Be sure to check the tides and visibility in San Diego before taking on the walk, and expect a few steep but manageable climbs along the route. We recommend setting aside time for breaks while hiking – you’ll want to make the most of your precious moments with these stunning views.

If you’d pass up a hike for an adrenaline rush in a heartbeat, you might consider paragliding or hang gliding over the beaches of La Jolla and Torrey Pines with the never-ending Pacific Ocean stretching out to the horizon. Torrey Pines Gilderport operates 25-minute tandem flights with certified pilots until 17:00. Those who’d prefer to watch the San Diego sunset with their feet on the ground can perch on the mountain summit for free.

Torrey Pines State Reserve | Photo: James Mccullough

10. Jake’s Del Mar

For a date night at sunset in San Diego, you’ll struggle to find a better beachside diner than Jake’s del Mar, which perfectly captures the old Der Mar spirit in a spectacular setting. From this restaurant on the sand, you can take in views of the sun dipping below the horizon of the Pacific through floor-to-ceiling windows. An evening meal here makes for an unforgettable gastronomic experience – reserving a table in advance comes highly recommended.

Just next door to Jake’s Del Mar sits the Poseidon Restaurant, which is a little more casual yet no less satisfying. Couples in arms and families alike frequent Poseidon for its mouth-watering Mexican, Mediterranean and Pacific Rim seafood dishes, not to mention its waterfront sunset views and superb service.

Photo: Bobby Stevenson

La Jolla | Photo: Dan Cutler

11. Mister A’s Restaurant

Not many venues in the city centre of San Diego can beat the view from the coast at sunset, but Mister A’s Restaurant may be an exception. Situated on the 12th-floor of a Downtown San Diego high-rise, this diner offers spectacular views of the sunset behind landmarks including Coronado, Balboa Park, San Diego Bay, Point Loma, San Diego Airport, and the San Diego Zoo. At sunset, the silhouette of San Diego’s skyline looks strikingly impressive.

Mister A’s is San Diego’s home of casual elegance – gone are the days when shirts and ties were required to dine in style. With regards to cuisine, Mister A’s is all about modern American fine dining, so it’s worth reserving a table in advance.

If you’re just stopping by Mister A’s Restaurant to soak up the San Diego sunset, you can sip cocktails at the bar or on the patio without a reservation. The extended happy hour runs from 14:30 to 18:00 on Sunday through to Thursday.

San Diego | Photo: Brady Cook

Photo: Lital Levy

12. San Diego sunsets from the sea

If the view of the San Diego sunset over the Pacific Ocean is unbeatable, then one of the best places to watch the sunset has to be on board a cruise, particularly if it’s fitted with bars, delicious dining options, and entertainment aplenty.

Some of our favourite San Diego sunset boat tours are operated by Flagship Cruises, which have been dazzling San Diegans and visitors since 1915. During a two-hour tour, you’ll see the San Diego skyline, the U.S. Navy Fleet, Coronado Bridge and Coronado Island under the red and pink streaks of the sunset-illuminated sky.

Adventurous sunset seekers often choose to rent a boat in areas such as Mission Bay and San Diego Bay. With so many sailing schools dotted along the coast, San Diego is the perfect place for beginner seafarers to learn the ropes.

If you fancy a workout while watching the San Diego sunset, you can try out stand-up paddle boarding across some of the city’s calmer bays and waterways.

You can enjoy the San Diego sunset from the ocean for under USD 5 if you jump on the ferry from the Convention Center or the Broadway Pier to the Coronado Ferry Landing (or vice versa), which means the need to stick to a budget is no excuse to avoid setting sail. The ferry ride lasts about 15 minutes – more than enough time to snap the perfect shots of San Diego’s radiantly hued sky.

Photo: Frank Mckenna

Need help squeezing some San Diego sunsets into your trip?

Our trip curation experts can help you make the most of your days and nights in San Diego, whether you want to experience the best of the city’s nightlife or watch the sunset from a hot air balloon. Simply tell us when you want to travel, your travel preferences and desired budget, and we’ll put together a personalised travel itinerary. Sound like an interesting idea? Contact us for more information.

Subscribe to our newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.