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McGrath State Beach

McGrath Beach Trail
From State Beach to McGrath Lake is 4 miles round trip; to Oxnard Shores
is 8 miles round trip; to Channel Islands Harbor is 12 miles round trip

McGrath State Beach and McGrath Lake were named for the McGrath family which had extensive coastal land holdings in the Ventura coastal area dating from 1874. Located on the western city limits of Oxnard, the two mile long state beach extends south from the Santa Clara River.

A small lake in the southern portion of the park helps to attract more than two hundred species of birds, including black-shouldered kites, northern harriers, owls and herons. Such rare birds as ospreys, white wagtails, black skimmers and peregrine falcons have been sighted here. The lake, which is partially on private property, was damaged by a 1993 oil spill caused by a ruptured pipeline.

The Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve on the northern boundary of the park offers a haven for birds and habitat for weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, opossum, squirrels and mice, plus tortoises and gopher snakes.

Near the state beach entry kiosk, a small visitor center features exhibits about the area’s plants and wildlife.

This walk takes you on a nature trail through the Santa Clara River Estuary, visits McGrath Lake and travels miles of sandy beach to Channel Islands Harbor.

Directions to trailhead: To reach McGrath State Beach, visitors southbound on Highway 101 take the Seaward Avenue offramp to Harbor Boulevard, turn south on Harbor and travel four miles to the park. Northbound visitors exit Highway 101 on Victoria Avenue, turn left at the light to Olivas Park Drive, then right to Harbor Boulevard. Turn left on Harbor and proceed 0.75 mile to the park. The signed nature trail leaves from the day use parking lot. Signposts along the nature trail are keyed to a pamphlet, available at the entry kiosk.

The hike: From the parking lot, follow the nature trail through the estuary. The riverbank is a mass of lush vegetation: willow, silverweed and yerba mansa. In 1980, the Santa Clara River area was declared a natural preserve, primarily to protect the habitat of two endangered birds—the California least tern and Belding’s Savannah Sparrow.

When you reach nature trail signpost 11, join a nearby trail that leads atop an old levee, first along the river, then down-coast along the periphery of the state beach campground. This trail joins a dirt road and continues down coast, but the far more aesthetic route is along water’s edge, so trudge over the low dunes and walk along the shoreline.

Along the beach, visitors enjoy sunbathing or surf fishing for bass, corbina, or perch. In two miles, if you head inland a short ways, you’ll spot McGrath Lake, tucked away behind some dunes.

As you continue south, more sandy beach and dunes follow. You pass a huge, old Edison power plant, and arrive at Oxnard Shores, a development famous for getting clobbered by heavy surf at high tide. The beach is flat and at one time was eroding at the phenomenal rate of ten feet a year. Homes were built right on the shoreline, and many have been heavily damaged. New homes are built on pilings, so the waves crash under rather than through them.

Past Oxnard Shores, a mile of beach walking brings you to historic Hollywood Beach. The Sheik, starring that great silent movie idol Rudolph Valentino, was filmed on the desert-like sands here. Real estate promoters of the time attempted to capitalize on Oxnard Beach’s instant fame and renamed it Hollywood Beach. They laid out subdivisions called Hollywood-by-the-Sea and Silver Strand, suggesting to their customers that the area was really a movie colony and might become a future Hollywood, but it never became a mecca for the stars or their fans.

This walk ends another mile down-coast at the entrance to Channel Islands Harbor.

© 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