It’s a park. It’s a beach. It’s a campground. It’s all of the above and much more.
San Clemente State Beach is one of the rare places where everything aligns perfectly to make your visit unforgettable. You will want to come back again and again.
The “State Beach” offers campsites atop the bluffs with breathtaking views of the ocean. The camp has around 160 campsites which are divided into groups, RV, and tent areas. The campground is beautifully laid out with paved roads connecting the various areas. Each campsite has a fire ring, picnic table, shade ramada, and shade trees - with drinking and washing water nearby. Bathrooms – with hot showers - are never too far.
Tip: This park is extremely popular. You will need to make reservations many months ahead of time. Go to ReserveAmerica’s website and book your camp sites up to a year in advance.
If you are not planning to stay overnight, you can still enjoy this great beach/park for a day. A picnic area located in the day-use section offers a great view of the beach.
Whether you are camping or just visiting for the day you can enjoy a lot of activities for all ages.
First and foremost you have to spend some time at the beach. To get to the beach, you have to climb down a steep paved ramp. But before you start down the ramp, pay a visit to the lifeguard headquarters area. Behind the building, you will step onto a terrace that offers an amazing view of the beach and the ocean. On clear days you can see Catalina Island in the distance. After taking in the view and snapping memorable photos, start down the ramp. Once you reach the bottom of the ramp, you will pass under the railroad bridge to enter the world of sand and surf. Experienced surfers can enjoy the large breakers while younger children can enjoy surfing and body surfing closer to the beach.
While enjoying what the beach has to offer, watch a few trains zip by going between Orange and San Diego counties.
Beyond the railroad tracks and hugging the bluffs you will see a long hiking trail. This trail actually starts from the San Clemente Metrolink station and heads south. But you can start your hike right from the state beach and head south to Trestle beach and San Mateo Creek. The creek marks the border between Orange and San Diego counties. You can turn back at this point, or you can keep going until you reach San Onofre state beach.
Back at the campground, the family can ride bikes around the paved roads, play games, go on easy hikes around the camp (Butterfly Trail), play soccer, climb trees and pilot remote control cars. During the summer, park staff conducts campfire programs, junior ranger programs, and interpretive hikes.
For the more adventurous, take a long bike ride from San Clemente state beach to San Onofre State Beach. Start by exiting the park from a pedestrian and bike entrance opposite Avenida San Luis Rey street. This side gate is also close to the “Butterfly Trail” trailhead. Turn right on Avenida Del Presidente and keep going on the bike trail until you hit the end of the road – as it connects to Cristianitos Road. You will see a paved trail running parallel to the 5 freeway. This is the beginning of the old highway 101 – which is not in use. Before you reach the San Mateo Creek Bridge you have to make a choice. You can turn right and follow the side road to Trestle beach or you can continue on old highway 101. The Trestle beach route is more scenic, but the 101 route is faster. Either way, you can keep going until you arrive at San Onofre State Beach. This was the end of the road for my family and me. We explored a little around San Onofre and then headed back to our campsite.
Tip: If you did not bring your bikes with you, you can rent from the “San Clemente Cyclery” at 2801 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672 - (949) 492-8890.
If you like to take another hiking or biking trip, start from the bottom of the cliffs and head north this time. You walk or ride all the way to the Amtrak station passing through several great beaches and the San Clemente Pier. At the pier, you can have a snack or lunch at the restaurants and buy souvenirs at the various shops.
Back at the campsite, if you discover that you forgot to bring some supplies, don’t panic. You can go to the camp store and buy firewood and other minor supplies. If you need more, stores and restaurants are not far away. Follow El Camino Real heading north to find places like 7-11, Ralphs, and Rite-Aid.
Please remember that quiet time is from 10 PM to 6 AM. Some camper, especially the young ones will be asleep by 10 PM. So avoid any source of the noise. The rangers will enforce this rule.
For more information, see the official website at www.parks.ca.gov.