Until recently, one of the oldest state beaches in the California system had a lot of problems. For example, rising water levels had significantly eroded the beach. But then officials invested a considerable amount of time and money into building up the sand. Now, San Elijo State Beach is spacious and tranquil. Large, smooth boulders dot the area, giving this state beach an added dimension that some others lack.
But don't let that tranquility fool you. San Elijo State Beach is famous throughout SoCal for its surfing prowess. Hopefully, this guide can point you to some of the best surfing spots, as well as some of the best fishing spots. Once you park your camper by the beach you can go fishing, swimming, snorkeling, and so much more.
The people here are great too. While there are lots of activities to do, most of the visitors are campers. That may be because many of the RV campsites are almost literally at the water’s edge. All the sites are level, and most people love listening to the gentle crash of the waves late at night. So, San Elijo State Beach is not just a good place to park your RV; it’s also a good place to make a friend.
From San Diego, take the Pacific Coast Highway north past Del Mar and the San Elijo Lagoon. San Elijo State Beach is a few blocks north of Glen Park. You can also take the San Diego Freeway north from San Diego. Each route has some pros and cons for RVers. The Pacific Coast Highway is scenic and straight, but it is a bit narrow in places. On the other hand, the San Diego Freeway is quite wide all the way, but then again, you don't see anything on the interstate except the interstate.
While you are in town, visit the Torrey Pines State Reserve, which is just about eight miles to the south. This largely untouched paradise has the country’s rarest pine tree and pueblo structures. A bit over two miles north you can visit Moonlight State Beach, which features tennis courts and volleyball as well as fishing, surfing, and swimming.
Ample parking is available near the North Day Use Area and around the RV campsite. If you are setting up camp at the campground you must be parked at your assigned campsites and not along the roadway. While day-use parking is available for RVs and trailers, it will likely fill up quickly during the peak season.
This beach is primarily a camping beach, and it’s easy to see why. This 156-site campground is on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. Typically, long staircases connect the bluffs with the beach. There are three groups of sites that extend from the North Day Use Area all the way to the south edge of the park.
All the sites are firm and level. About half the sites have electricity and water hookups. Some premium sites even offer full hookups. The sites can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 25 feet long in those with full hookups and 35 feet long for those without hookups.
Amenities include a very nice general store that’s usually open between March and December, a Bull Taco restaurant, several restrooms, shower areas, and an RV dump station to empty your black water tank. Laundry facilities are available at the camp store. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. Some campers complain about the trains which pass through the area and others don’t mind at all. On the plus side, the campsites are pet-friendly. Keep in mind that pets are not allowed on the beach. Generator use is permitted during the day, and sites are limited to eight people at each site.
Make your reservations early, because sites fill up fast, especially during the surf season. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance.
The cliffs are about eight stories tall near the Cardiff State Beach and San Elijo State Beach line. A wooden staircase goes from the top of the bluffs to the sand below. There’s also an ADA-accessible ramp. The ocean here is good for swimming and surfing. You can also find a serene meditation area at the top of the bluffs. Indian guru Paramahansa Yogananda founded the 17-acre Self-Realization Fellowship Hermitage Grounds here in 1937. Make sure you pack your camera in the RV before leaving so you can share the beauty with those who could not make the trip.
Everyone likes hunting for buried treasure. To launch your adventure, all you need is a GPS-enabled device and a bit of geocache swag. Look for the small boxes and bins that are buried under the sand or concealed among the rocks. Replace the existing prize, which is usually something like a pencil eraser, with a new one, sign the register, and move on to the next spot. Geocaching is an interactive way to explore the park with the whole family during your RV vacation.
The river’s mouth is a good place to find guitarfish, croakers, and even small sharks. The rocky area around the south lifeguard tower is a good spot as well. Most surf-fishers have good luck with Carolina rigs and sandworms. Kayak fishing is a bit challenging as the bluffs overlooking the beach make launching difficult. Try launching at either the extreme north or extreme south end. Early spring is the best fishing time. Afterward, the water fills with swimmers.
If you have a drone, pack it in the motorhome before heading to the beach because San Elijo has no qualms about you flying them around. In fact, you can catch some awesome aerial video or photos of sharks and other aquatic critters with your drone. Make sure you are prepared to swim out after your drone in case of a malfunction though. You can also use it to take selfies while you are in the water, fishing, boating, or whatever else you may be doing. Some important FAA rules to follow include flying below 400 feet, keeping your drone in sight, and staying clear of airports, stadiums, and private property.
If you are in the mood for catching waves, make sure you bring your surfboard in your camper when heading to San Elijo State Beach because it has been named one of the best surfing beaches on the west coast. Pipe’s is also the primary surfing spot along here. Surfing conditions are usually good this time of year, because of the east-northeast wind and the west-southwest swells. Furthermore, the kelp bed grooms the waves and the cliffs shield surfers against the wind. Lots of waves and lots of different-sized breaks. Watch out for the rocks.
Early and late summer are the best times to explore the kelp patties and reef systems that are not far from the water’s edge. The cliff-like nature of this beach also means that there are some cool underwater caves to see. If snorkeling is your thing, there are a number of companies that offer equipment and guided tours. Or you can explore places like Pipe’s on your own. This spot is at the north end of San Elijo State Beach, and it features sand channels and a shallow reef.
San Elijo State Beach is roughly two miles long, making it one of the largest state beaches in this neck of the woods. Once you set up your RV camp, one of the first things you'll want to do is jump into the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean. There is a large lifeguard tower, so swimmers can feel safe in the water. Watch out for riptides and larger-than-normal waves. Keep in mind that from November to March there are no lifeguards on duty.
Yes, it is a beach, but it also has some fabulous hiking to enjoy. The San Elijo State Beach Trail is just over one mile long and is located right by the Cardiff By the Sea area. The views are second to none so you should bring a good camera to take some shots. You can post them on your favorite social media site for everyone else to see as well. This is an easy trek along the beach where you can see the local wildlife such as seagulls and other water birds along the shoreline.