San Onofre State Beach

Sunset at San Onofre beach in California.
••• Sunset at San Onofre Beach. Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

San Onofre State Beach is the northernmost beach in San Diego County, closer to the town of San Clemente than it is to the city of San Diego. It's located just north of the Camp Pendleton military base.

San Onofre is one of California's oldest surfing spots. It goes back to the 1940s when surfers using redwood boards first visited San Onofre. Some people say it has one of the premiere surf breaks in the United States: Trestles.

The closed San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is nearby and is being decommissioned. It's unsightly, but most visitors just choose to ignore it. 

What Happened to San Onofre Nude Beach?

Before 2010, San Onofre Beach was a busy nude beach. Just barely inside the northern boundary of San Diego County, it was the closest nude beach to Los Angeles and Orange County. In the summer, hundreds of people went to San Onofre.

Since then, park rangers stepped up enforcement of state park regulations and issued citations for nudity at San Onofre, which virtually shut it down. The Friends of San Onofre have worked to get it re-opened for clothing-optional recreation, but so far they haven't had any luck.

Meanwhile, the nearest nude beach to San Onofre is in Blacks Beach in San Diego County.

What is There to Do at San Onofre State Beach?

For "textile" visitors (ones who keep their clothing on), San Onofre is best known for surfing, especially longboard surfing.

Here's what one visitor had to say about it on Yelp: "The swell that rolls in to San Clemente is some of the best in California.  The waves are soft and forgiving and the rides are long.  You will glide to shore on the lip of a wave for a good minute!  Talk about a serious stoke session! San Onofre has given me some of the best California memories.

 As I was sitting on my board yesterday waiting for a set to roll through, all I kept thinking was how we truly live in paradise."

However, others report that some of the regular surfers can be aggressive, making it hard for newcomers to join them. 

The beach is rocky, which makes it less attractive for swimming.

A lot of people take their dogs to the beach, and some visitors complain about wet dogs and wet dog smell. Dog lovers say Trail #1 and Trail #6 are best with dogs.

Camping at San Onofre State Beach

You can also go camping at San Onofre. You can bring trailers, campers, and motorhomes up to 36 feet long. Even though the campground is at the state beach, don't expect to be pitching your tent or setting up your RV next to the sand. The campsites are on top of a bluff, and you'll have to walk down to the sand from there.

The San Onofre Bluffs camping area is next to those beautiful sandstone bluffs. All campsites include a fire pit and picnic table. The campground offers cold outdoor showers and chemical toilets. No RV hookups are available, but there is an RV dump station. 

The San Mateo Campground is a little inland from the beach at 830 Cristianitos, San Clemente, CA. It's a 1.5-mile walk from there to “Trestles Beach,” the world-class surfing site.

All campsites include a fire pit and picnic table. RV Hookup sites are available with electricity and water.

San Onofre is crazy popular, and camping reservations fill up way ahead of time. Your best bet is to make reservations seven months ahead, which is the earliest time allowed. Learn about how to make California state park reservations. To be ready in time to snag a spot before they're all gone, pick your target sites before the reservation window opens by checking the campground map ahead of time.

What You Need to Know Before You Go to San Onofre Beach

  • Parking is limited, and it fills up on a busy day. Some visitors report being disappointed and leaving, just because they got tired of circling the lot, looking for a spot.
  • There is a state park entrance fee, or you can show your state parks pass.
  • You'll find toilets, outdoor sinks, and showers at each trailhead at the top of the bluffs. 
  • Camp Pendleton borders the beach, and it's best not to trespass on their property because the citations for it are a hassle.
  • The nearest store is five miles away in San Clemente.

How to Get to San Onofre Beach

San Onofre State Beach
5200 S. Pacific Coast Hwy
San Clemente, CA
State Park Website