Thousand Steps Sea Cave

Thousand Steps Beach and Sea Cave

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  • Location: Coast Highway and 9th Avenue, Laguna Beach. The intersection is approximately 3.6 miles north of Dana Point, 4 miles south of downtown Laguna Beach and 14 miles south of Newport Beach. Note that parking is available only on the northbound side of P.C.H. Limited parking may be available on 9th Ave. but be careful of posted restrictions. OCTA bus route 1 has a stop a short distance from the top of the stairs.
  • Agency: City of Laguna Beach (the city does not take any responsibility for injuries incurred climbing to the cave, and neither does this website). The cave may be shut down if conditions are hazardous, although some lifeguards are known to be liberal about letting people explore the cave at their own risk. Keep in mind that some parts of the beach past the caves are private property.
  • Distance: 1 mile or more
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour or more
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: Year-round during low tide (click here)
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: Faucet at the bottom of the stairs
  • Restrooms: At the bottom of the stairs
  • Camping/backpacking: None (nearest is at Crystal Cove State Park)
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here; Yelp page here
  • Rating: 5

Updated August 2018

The cave at the south end of Thousand Steps Beach is not as famous as the caves of Dana Point or Corona Del Mar – but it’s still a favorite for those in the know. The short journey to the cave packs in more adventure per foot than many longer hikes.

Part of the reason for Thousand Steps Beach’s relatively light visitation is the staircase that gives the spot its name. The name is generous – there are only 223 steps – but when you’re climbing up them, it may seem like a thousand. Thankfully they are heavily shaded, making the trip up a little less odious.

Begin by going down the stairs (exercise caution – the stairs are steep and narrow) to the beach. Once you reach the beach, simply head left (south) and walk across the sand for about 1/3 of a mile to the cave entrance. If tides are low, which are the ideal conditions for exploring the cave, especially if this is your first visit to a sea cave, you should have no problem walking along the smooth sand by the ocean. Several tidepools and rock formations along the way invite exploration; you can see anemones, crabs and other marine life.

The entrance to the cave is guarded by several large tidepools and rocks lined with slippery green moss. With care, you can make your way across the rocks and into the cave. If the tide is above 0, expect to get your feet wet; if it is above one meter, it could present a challenge. The cave is about one hundred feet long with large entrances on both sides.

Beyond the south portal is a large man-made pool that fills with sea water; this is a popular relaxation spot and a good turnaround point. If you decide to continue, make sure you allow enough time to get back before the tides get higher – and remember that you have 223 steps to climb as well.

Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Top of the stairs
Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Tide pools near the cave entrance
Thousand Steps Beach Laguna Beach, CA
Moss on rocks near the cave entrance
Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Tide pools and surf
Thousand Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Tide pool detail
Thousand Steps Sea Cave, Laguna Beach
Surf and rocks outside the west entrance
Thousand Steps Beach Sea Cave, Laguna Beach, CA
Inside the cave
Thousand Steps Beach Sea Cave, Laguna Beach
Pool on the south side of the cave

Text and photography copyright 2018 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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