San Onofre Beach Trails

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Heading south on the San Onofre coastline
Geology on the San Onofre coastline (note the “rock window” high on the bluffs)

San Onofre Beach Trails

    • Location: North San Diego County, south of the San Onofre power plant.  From Orange County, take I-5 south to Basilone Road.  Head straight onto Old Highway 101 and go southeast for a total of 3 miles to the entrance gate.  Day parking is $15 per vehicle.  Continue past the gate and park in first lot near the restrooms and the sign for Beach Trail 1.  From San Diego, take I-5 to Basilone Road.  Turn left, cross over the freeway and turn left on Old Highway 101, and follow it 3 miles to the state beach entrance.
    • Agency: San Onofre State Beach
    • Distance: 4.1 miles
    • Elevation gain: 200 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
    • Best season: Year round (best during low tide)
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
    • USGS topo map: San Onofre Bluffs
    • More information:  here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6

San Onofre is best known as a camping destination (and for its nuclear power plant), but the beach also provides some nice hiking opportunities. While the day use fee of $15 may seem a little high, with over six miles of trails, panoramic ocean views and interesting geology, it’s easy to get your money’s worth here, especially if you carpool with several friends.

There are six trails, numbered from one to six, that lead from the parking lot and upper level of the park to the beach. You can create a loop out of any two of the numbered trails, or you can do an out-and-back hike along the beach. The route described here, using trails one and four, is a good workout that can be done in a couple of hours, taking in some of the park’s best scenery.

From the parking lot, head downhill on Beach Trail 1. Soon you arrive at the coastline, where you’ll head south (left) along the rocky shoreline. The combination of the Cristianitos Fault running through the beach and the typical effect of wind and ocean on the rocks makes for some scenic, gnarled bluffs rising above the beach. Your route continues along the shoreline, crossing two secluded beaches before arriving at Trail 4 (two miles in.) Note that trails are not marked at the lower end.

Near the top of Trail 4, you can stop at a bench and enjoy the view of the coastline before completing the loop. To be sure, the return trip isn’t as scenic as the stretch along the beach–and the noise from nearby I-5 is hard to ignore–but if your feet are tired from walking across the rocks, it is a nice alternative to retracing your steps.

Just before the parking lot, head left on a dirt trail. The trail dips down to the parking area several times, and you’ll continue northwest back toward the starting point, passing by a few campsites, as well as the tops of Trails 2 and 3, before returning to your car at the top of Trail 1.

Note that while this trail is technically in San Diego County, it’s more easily accessible to Orange County residents, and has thus been included in that location category.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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