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San Onofre State Beach

Bluffs Beach Trail

From Beach Trail 1 to Beach Trail 6 is 5.6 miles round trip.

San Onofre is a place of steep bluffs overlooking a narrow beach with patches of cobblestone. The beach, named for Egyptian Saint Onuphrius, is a joy to walk. But be aware that some sections are impassable at the highest tides. Check the tide table before you hike this beach!

Aptly named Bluffs Beach, part of San Onofre State Beach, is a three mile long sand strand with a backdrop of magnificent, 100-foot high bluffs. The dramatically eroded sandstone cliffs, a kind of Bryce Canyon by the sea, effectively shield the beach from sight and sound of two parallel transportation corridors—the railroad tracks and Interstate 5.

Unfortunately, something of the peaceful ambiance of the park’s coastline is diminished by the giant twin spheres of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant located just north and Camp Pendleton Marine Base to the south. The nuke and the marines are still very much present, but public access to the splendid beach has loosened up some of late. It’s possible to walk a considerable distance both north and south of the power plant.

South of San Onofre State Beach is Camp Pendleton. The camp’s beaches are officially off-limits, even if the no trespassing sign is removed, as it often is. However, the prevailing sentiment among beach goers is that the military is considerably less proprietary about its surf and turf these days. 

San Onofre State Beach Campground is actually a length of old Coast Highway with some pull-outs. Charmless it is, but it’s popular with surfers and other coastal recreationists who rate beach access over amenities.

And the beach access is first rate. A half-dozen signed trails (Beach Trail 1, Beach Trail 2 . . . ) descend from the bluffs to the beach. The paths vary in length from 0.1 to 0.3 mile.

Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 5, a few miles south of San Clemente, exit on Basilone Road. Head west, then south, following the signs to San Onofre State Beach. Park in the first day-use area near the signed trailhead for Beach Trail 1.

The hike:
I prefer starting with Beach Trail 1 and walking south along the state beach. From the beaches and bluffs, walkers sometimes spot dolphins, harbor seals and migrating California gray whales.

About three miles of beach-walking brings you to the end of state park property and onto Camp Pendleton’s beach. The long sand strand south of the park is popular with nude sunbathers; while it’s by no means a legally clothing-optional beach, be advised that many beach-goers opt for none.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at