I will be flying into San Diego next week and I'm looking for a nice hotel on the beach for a few days. Some hotel websites I've seen look nice but look like they're in a marina or bay so I wondered if there would be any waves. I love the ocean and would love a beach with waves. Any suggestions? I won't be renting a car so a hotel with a shuttle would be nice but not required. Thanks in advance for your help!
Grew up in SD, so I'll give you my take. Might be a challenge without a car, but if you're comfortable with uber or cabs, you can make it work.
The Hotel Del Coronado is the crown jewel of SD-area beach hotels. If you can get a room there and afford it, it might be just what you're looking for in a hotel right on the beach. It's technically not in SD, and you'll need to cross the bridge or take a ferry back over to the city, but it's an amazing historical hotel that even has a beach-side ice skating rink during the holidays!
A little further north is the Mission Beach/Pacific Beach area. There are lots of hotels at all price points either on the boardwalk or within walking distance. I would advise against any of the hotels in the Marina Village/Quivera basin, as those are on a marina and pretty far from the beach. Also would stay away from the Belmont Park area, as it's pretty touristy and crowded.
There are many hotels around Mission Bay, but the "beaches" are on the bay, not the ocean, so you won't have waves there. Those can be very nice and a bit more peaceful, but for most, you'd need to ride a bike or uber to get to the ocean beaches. On the northwest portion of Mission Bay, there are hotels that are on the bay, but within walking distance to the beach. Could be the best of both worlds. A friend of mine just stayed in a hotel just north of Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach and loved it. Right on the boardwalk, and less than $100 a night. Can't recall the name, but may be worth a look. And if you don't mind sleeping OVER the waves, there is a hotel and cottages on Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach.
Farther north, you get to La Jolla. These will be the most expensive places, and only one (La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club) is right on the beach, but staying in this area gives you the best access to both the most beautiful stretch of coast in SD and lots of great restaurants, shopping, people watching, etc. that makes La Jolla so interesting. But stay away from that high-rise Hilton at La Jolla Shores. It's not close to the beach and the traffic around there is awful.
Hope that helps!
If you're staying in San Diego for leisure, having a car will really enhance your trip. The interesting sites are spread out (there is no single center), and a car really comes in handy (plus it's fun to drive around in SoCal, except for traffic of course). As far as the hotel goes, pull up a Google map of San Diego and you can see where the hotels on the beach are sited. Many are not facing the water but are more inland - the street view will make that obvious.