San Diego Trail Tramps

San Onofre State Beach Campout & Hike

Date:  August 15-16, 2015, Time: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

San Onofre State Beach is three miles south of San Clemente off I-5 on Basilone Road. It offers 3.5 miles of wide, sandy beach and two campgrounds. It's located 16 miles north of Oceanside in the NW corner of San Diego County. San Onofre State Beach includes San Onofre Surf Beach - a day use facility, San Mateo campground and day use facility (off Christianitos Road), and a Nature Trail . The San Onofre State Beach Bluffs Campground is along Old Highway 101 adjacent to the sandstone bluffs.

Head north on I-5 towards Oceanside. San Onofre State Beach/Bluffs Campground is about 16 miles north of Oceanside, on I-5, adjacent to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. Take the Basilone Road turnoff (Exit 71) just past the nuclear power plant.  Turn left and follow the road and signs to the campground, about 2 miles south.  Pay the $15/vehicle day use fee at the gate and then drive on in along the 3 mile campground to the campsites we’re at (BF087 & BF090, reserved for Sat. 15 Aug.). There’s plenty of day use parking all the way south at the end of the campground road, near beach trail #6.

Hike Description:
Our August event is a campout on Saturday the 15th and hike on Sunday, the 16th, at the San Onofre State Beach/Bluffs Campground, part of the three miles of campsites running along the abandoned stretch of coastal highway above the beach and parallel to I-5.  It's a great spot for surfers and campers who don't mind recreating close to a nuclear power plant. In addition, it's proximity to the railroad tracks and the I-5 freeway traffic can be noisy at times. There's nothing fancy about San Onofre Bluffs Campground, whose 221 sites don't receive much in the way of shade. The main day-use beach at San Onofre is Surf Beach, a popular spot for surfing north of Bluffs Beach off Basilone Road. It is just south of the U.S. Marine Corps' private recreational facility and Trestles beach to the north.

Some of the campsites at the bluffs campground can accommodate up to three vehicles with a $15 fee per vehicle, including a motorhome up to 30’ for $35. There are no electrical or water hookups, but there are multiple restrooms.  There's also a walk-in camping area called Echo Arch Walk-In Camp. There are 22 walk-in campsites at Echo Arch at San Onofre State Beach. Each site can accommodate up to eight people. No water is available; you must pack in bottled water. Campfires are permitted. Reservations are recommended; There is a nightly camping fee and pets are not permitted.

Each campsite has a picnic table, a firepit (you supply your own wood for campfires) and certain sites have some room for 1-3 tents, depending on the site size and tent size.  There is a 8 person limit per campsite. Check-in time is officially at 2 pm, but can be as early as 8-9 am, depending on availability of sites, and checkout time is noon on the day you depart.  Sites may be reserved ahead of time, but you don’t always get/pick an assigned site number until you arrive. Contact: San Onofre State Beach, 3030 Avenida Del Presidente, San Clemente, CA 92672; (949) 492-4872 (for a recorded message) OR: The CA State Park Reservation number is 1-800-444-7275 ("Reserve America") (Good luck getting through!). You can also make reservations online at

There is a 2nd campground about 2-3 miles north on the east side of I-5, called San Mateo Campground, with 161 sites (69 with electrical and water hookups). A paved 1.5-mile trail leads from this campground to Trestle's, a famous surfing beach to which diehards willingly trek with boards on head because of the outstanding wave action. The trail may be considered as an alternate hiking trail for our group. This campground is more developed (built in 1995) and has beautiful campsites nestled in the landscaped trees and shrubs, however it fills up fast, sometimes weeks/months in advance, due to it’s popularity.

With no specific hiking trails at the Bluffs Campground, this will be more of a combination hike/beach-time day. The beach at the south end of San Onofre, known as Bluffs Beach (shown above), can be accessed via six numbered trails that descend steeply to it.  Our goal on Sunday will be to hike down one trail, hike along the beach and stop for lunch and swim time, then hike back up a different trail.  The “clothing optional” part of the beach is at the far south end, near trail #6. (When you reach the beach, head south.) It’s in the area where the Camp Pendleton boundary starts.  Much like Black’s Beach, beach umbrellas, surf and boogie boards are popular. The beach is fairly wide and sandy, however there are cobblestones where the surf hits the sand in some areas. Be aware, to, that there are rattlesnakes in the area between the parking lots and the beach below.  So, staying on the well traveled trails and keeping alert is your best bet.

There is a $15/vehicle day use fee which is good at either campground and at the San Onofre Surf Beach, from 6 am to 10 pm.