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How to Get to San Diego County Beaches Using Public Transit

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The MTS Green Line trolley in downtown San Diego. | Photo: Loco Steve/Flickr/Creative Commons License

San Diego's rugged and dramatic beaches are a major draw for visitors and residents alike. Its public transit system, however, takes a little work. The county's train system is great for someone visiting or traveling the coast, but what if you're a bit more inland and don't have a car? In that case, getting to the beach can be something of a challenge.

It can be difficult to navigate, but not impossible -- and with some patience and perseverance, you can get to the beach and back with time to spare. It helps to know where you're going, though. Below are some options current as of spring 2015. Have some other tips? Please share them below in the comments!

Central San Diego County Beaches

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit system's "Bus to Beach" routes make it fairly simple to find your way to the county's array of beaches.

The 30 bus will take you from Old Town or downtown San Diego to a short and lovely walk from the cove and surrounding beaches. Coming from the south? That same 30 bus will take you from University Towne Center, going in the opposite direction, southwest to La Jolla.

If you want to party in San Diego's famous Pacific Beach (PB, as natives call it) or Mission Beach, the 8 bus will take you from Old Town, where there's a trolley stop, all the way until you see the ocean. Funky, patchouli-scented Ocean Beach is accessible through the 35 and the 923. The 923 will also take you further south, to underrated Imperial Beach, just north of the Mexico border. If you're feeling a little more low key, you can head to refined Coronado on the 901.

If you're in Kearny Mesa, the 27 will take you and your bicycle to Pacific Beach and back.

Each bus route runs every 30 minutes on weekdays, every 60-90 minutes on Saturdays, and on Sundays you're on your own, so plan accordingly.

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East County

If you're heading west from further inland, you'll probably want to hop on one of San Diego's famous trolley lines. These "moving landmarks" crisscross the area around San Diego State University and east San Diego County. Unfortunately, they're just a means to an end: no trolley line goes all the way out to the water. Best to take a line (green from Santee, blue from San Ysidro, and orange from La Mesa) to Santa Fe Depot or Fifth Avenue Station in downtown San Diego, and catch the bus of your choice from there.

South County

South of the 8, the public transit system directly to the beach is something of a wasteland. It's best to go north to downtown San Diego and catch the bus of your choice from there. While there are many beautiful and interesting places to explore in San Diego's South County, you probably won't be able to head directly west without first going north.

However, you're likely on or near the Blue Line trolley, which means it's a direct ride and a free transfer from the Fifth Avenue Station in downtown.

North County

North San Diego County transit is its own animal, and one that I'd frankly like to see replicated all over the place. If you're stuck somewhere like Ramona or Vista and just want to get to the surf, Breeze is the way to go. They'll even get you into San Clemente, if that's where you need to be. Breeze integrates seamlessly with the Sprinter, a train that runs from Escondido straight to Oceanside every 30 minutes until 9 p.m. during the week, later on Fridays and Saturdays, and until 6 p.m. on Sundays. The rail system opened in 2008, and is probably one of the most underutilized transit systems in the county -- but that's going to change, because an expansion of the rail system is in the works.

The Coast

That brings us to the best and most beautiful part of San Diego transit, the coastal rail system. Of course, you have to get to the coast first, but once you're there you can catch a train to anywhere you like on the water. You can catch the Coaster at numerous stations between downtown San Diego and Oceanside, though a end-to-end round trip ticket with those beautiful views is going to cost you $11, more than double the bus fare.

There's also Amtrak's Surfliner and Metrolink, both which are explained more in depth here.

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