Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a lovely little San Diego beach village neighbored by Encinitas to the north and Solana Beach to the south. The main thoroughfare through the area west of I-5 is, of course, the scenic coast HWY 101, with the business district to the west of the railroad track that runs parallel to it. To the west of HWY 101 are, of course 2 of the best recreational beaches in the area!
The bluffs-lined beach north of the San Elijo Lagoon Channel (where it drains into the ocean) is San Elijo State Beach (pronounced San-è-LI-jo); a thin and long sandy stretch sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and some really steep coastal bluffs. It is a coastal paradise that offers everything from a well maintained campground with full hook up to good stretch of sandy beach for castle-making, good waves area for die hard surfers, a good reef for snorkeling, an awesomely biologically rich tide pool to roam around at low tide, a dog-on-leash area for man’s best friends to snort some sand up their (and their masters’) nose, a well stocked store, friendly staff, plenty of parking, and even free WiFi connection!
Click here for a Youtube slide show of photos from San Elijo State Beach & Campground.
The beach here pretty much disappears at high tide as the ocean continues its ongoing sculpturing of the shoreline (it is made of mineral and organic sediment deposited by the ocean during the last ice age. Not as crumbly as the sandstones of La Jolla to the south, perhaps, but its stability is also threaten by devegetation caused by burrowing rodents and people who keep making their own short cuts up and down the cliffs rather than using the marked paths). At low tide, however, so much of the sea bottom is exposed that you can go out and explore the really spectacular reefs that keep the surf in this part of the shore mild enough for good swimming and snorkeling…. and also keeping sand on San Elijo Beach! The Park Ranger keeps a good tide schedule along with surfing and water condition posted at the Park Office. Be sure to check it out. There is nothing quite like walking out into the dried ocean bed to see the reefs at full moon. It surely ought to make the ‘what to do at least once before you die’ list!
Surfing is particularly good here along the stretches called ‘Pipes‘ (in front of the day use area), San Elijo (in front of the campground), and Cardiff Reef (just south of Lifeguard Tower 7). The beach here is off limit to pets, though dogs are allow on 6 inch leash on the beach to the south of Lifeguard Tower 7 (and on Cardiff Beach).
San Elijo State Beach also offers an excellent campground with 171 sites with basic campsites as well as hook-up ones. Facilities include a well stocked camp store, good restrooms and showers (operated by token. $1 buys you 6 minutes of running shower), a coin laundry, public telephones, free WiFi access (through SBC Freedom Link), and even an outdoor amphitheater. Sites are equipped with a fire grate (no open fire allowed!) and picnic table. There are beach accesses at regular interval via steep wooden staircases. There are lifeguards on duty from 10AM-6PM except for the winter months (roughly November through March) where only roving vehicle patrol serves the area.
Park hours: 8:30AM-10PM. Check in time at 2 PM and check out by 12PM.
Rates: Day use ($10), dump station ($10), Inland campsite ($35), Inland hook-up campsite ($55), Ocean campsite ($50), Ocean hook-up campsite ($65), extra vehicle ($12).
Up to three licensed vehicles and 8 people are allowed per campsite. RV hookup sites are limited to 2 vehicles (a trailer counts as one). You can reserve a campsite here for up to 7 months in advance. Call park office at (760) 753-5379 or (800) 444-7275.
To the south of where the San Elijo Lagoon drains into the roaring Pacific Ocean is Cardiff State Beach, known locally as George’s, a marvelous surfing spot that almost never looks quite the same every time you drop in… You see, there is no reef around to moderate the temperamental ocean here, and so the sand on it sort of comes and goes. Sometimes it’s quite sandy with lots of pebbles. Sometimes (like during El Nino seasons) it’s really nothing but pebbles. The far south end of it is sandier than the rest. Needless to say, this is not an ideal beach for jogging. It attracts good surf and wind, though, kite-surfing is another favorite sport on this stretch of the coast.
Click here to see a Youtube slide show of photos from Cardiff State Beach.
George’s is also famous for its beach front restaurants (too expensive for me). During high surf in El Nino years, the restaurants’ parking lots are favorite places of local tv news crew who love to get splashed by the waves in front of the camera as they cover the not-so-news-but-always-good-for-show story of how The Beach House or The Chart House must now sandbag their properties to avoid getting swallowed by raging Neptune… with perhaps even music from Mozart’s Idomeneo in the background (ok, ok, perhaps not, but it really wouldn’t hurt the drama of the scene in my book). The beachfront restaurants’ parking lots are valet only, though. You can park for free along Hwy 101, and there is a day use area with public restroom at Cardiff Reef at the south end of the beach (where the Hwy starts to go uphill again).
Getting here is quite easy. If you are arriving by car, exit I-5 at Manchester Avenue (west), which will soon warp into San Elijo Avenue. Turn left at Chesterfield Drive, which runs right into the Coast Hwy 101 (at the Magic Carpet Ride statue) after it crosses the railroad track. Turn right here for San Elijo State Beach, or left for Cardiff State Beach. Parking along the Hwy is free. At San Elijo’s Day Use Area to the north, it’ll cost you $10.
The area is also serviced by the Breeze bus #101 which runs up and down the Coast Hwy 101 from Oceanside to UTC Transit Center in La Jolla (at least hourly, sometimes every half hour). The nearest train station is in Encinitas about a mile to the north.
San Elijo State Beach & Cardiff State Beach: Hwy 101, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92001.
Tel (800) 444-7275, (760) 753-5091.