Surf Beats the Turf on North County Coast

All along the Southern California coast, there is little to match the scenic splendor of North County’s beaches. High bluffs reach up from the sea, offering spectacular viewpoints. The small-town atmosphere that permeates the coastline creates a different blend of beach community.

The beach is Southern California’s version of the neighborhood park, offering the opportunity to swim, snorkel, surf, fish, picnic, play with the family or enjoy a beautiful walk. And each beach in North County has a distinctive personality that makes it more fun for some activities than others.

With that in mind, Focus offers in time for summer this guide to North County’s beaches.



Beginning in north Oceanside is Harbor Beach. This very clean beach is located between two jettys and offers some of the finest surf in the city. The half-mile stretch of sand is guarded by three lifeguard towers. There are snack bars, restrooms and showers. You’ll also find playground equipment, RV camping, fishing, boat launch facilities, and lots of good dining and shopping. The swimming is segregated from surfing to offer protection from the surfboards and there is plenty of off-street parking.

To the south is Oceanside Beach, a 3.7-mile stretch of sand. No dogs or alcohol are allowed on Oceanside beaches. Glass containers are also forbidden. There are fire rings in abundance at the Oceanside beaches.

The Oceanside Pier area offers a snack bar, showers, restrooms, telephones and a large amphitheater which is often the scene of cultural events. Surfing is good, and allowed on either side of the pier. Again, swimmers are segregated from surfers. Lifeguards are on duty full-time, and this is a good family beach with lots of parking.

Moving south is Tyson Street Park, another good family beach. Here you will find showers, restrooms, telephones, swings and a playground for the kids. There is good swimming and surfing, and parking on the street. Lifeguards are on duty.

Wisconsin Street Beach has restrooms, showers and telephones. There is a snack bar, and pay parking off the street. Surfing and swimming are good here, and kept separate. Lifeguards patrol the beach.

Oceanside Boulevard (known as “O.B.”) is very popular with Boogie boarders and swimmers. Surfing is good here, too, and segregated to avoid injury. Parking on the street.

Off Morse Street and South Pacific is Buccaneer Beach. Lifeguards are full-time in the summer. The swimming, Boogie boarding and surfing is excellent here. Swimming areas are segregated and enforced, there is a snack bar, showers, restrooms, telephones, a basketball court, swings and playground for the kids, and a large off-road parking area. A great family beach.



As you enter the town of Carlsbad, you find 4 miles of wide open beaches, but very little sand. The beaches are all cobblestone, and more popular with surfers than swimmers. The ocean bottom drops off drastically from shore.

From I-5, take Tamarack west to Carlsbad State Beach. Here you’ll find the Carlsbad seawall, which stretches half a mile along the beach. It’s a nice place to walk, with a view area at the top. Limited parking on the street. There are fire rings on the beach, but the beach closes at 11 p.m. nightly. No dogs are allowed.

South Carlsbad State Beach, more familiar by its nickname of “Ponto,” is just to the south. There is undeveloped street parking. Again, the cobble beach and rapid drop off make this ideal for surfers, but hazardous to swimmers. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer. Skin divers like to dive close to shore. No dogs are allowed, no fires, no alcohol, or glass containers either. The beach closes at 11 p.m.



High sea bluffs overshadow Grandview Beach in Leucadia. Beach access was destroyed in a bluff slide in 1983, but it remains a popular beach for swimmers and surfers. To enter, you must hike a quarter mile from either Ponto or Beacon’s Beach. There is no lifeguard service, and no facilities. Parking is on the street.

Beacon’s is a famous surf spot that offers free, off street parking, and a trail access to the beach from above. There is a great view point here, and dogs can run loose. Leashes are optional, but dogs must be licensed. From I-5, take Leucadia Blvd. going west to find Beacon’s. Beacon’s is mostly a surfing spot. The beach is narrow or worse, depending on the tide, and there are no facilities. It’s not the best beach spot to take children.

Just off Coast Highway, south of Beacon’s, is South El Portal Street, which leads to Stonesteps, another popular surfing beach. There is public access via stairs from above, but, like Beacon’s, there is great surf, minimal beach area, and no facilities. This is known as a “neighborhood” beach. There is limited street parking (and it does get crowded). No dogs allowed. Lifeguards patrol during the summer.

The popular family beach in Encinitas is Moonlight Beach. There are moderate sand levels, helped by sand-replacement efforts over the years. There are public restrooms, showers, a snack bar, volleyball, fire rings, and lots of free public parking. Lifeguards patrol during the summer and there is parking for the disabled. Because of a rapid drop-off of ocean bottom, rocks, and rip currents, this beach can be dangerous for swimmers. But the view from Moonlight Beach is fabulous.


Taking D Street from Coast Highway leads to D Street Beach. There is a nice viewpoint, and street parking only. Lifeguards patrol during the summer, and there is very little beach area. With no facilities, D Street Beach is a better beach for surfers than swimmers.

One of the big landmarks along the Encinitas coast is the SRF Temple (Spiritual Regeneration Fellowship) which perches atop the cliffs overlooking Cardiff-by-the-Sea, like a large East Indian temple. Below is one of the best surf spots on the coast, named appropriately enough, Swami’s, after SRF founder, Swami Paramahansa Yogananda. Don’t try to surf here if you are a beginner. The paddle is long and hard, waves big, and crowds mean. Ten surfers on a wave is not uncommon at Swami’s. The beach access is closed from June 1-Sept. 30 for repairs (this year only), but you can walk in from adjacent beaches to the south. This is an underwater preserve. Divers can take fish but no shellfish, starfish, or other mementos from the sea. Sand is minimal.

From I-5, take Chesterfield west to San Elijo State Beach. There is excellent surfing and swimming here. Overnight camping is allowed. Facilities include showers, restrooms, telephones, handicapped parking and fire rings. There is a market, viewpoint, small museum, and interpretive programs on nature. This is a great family beach, there is moderate sand (depending on tidal conditions) and lifeguards patrol during the summer. The charge is $13 per night for camping and reservations are necessary six weeks in advance for summer camping (for information call Mistix Ticket Agency, at 1-800-444-7275).

Cardiff State Beach is a wonderful place for the entire family. Located a mile south of Swami’s, it offers good swimming conditions, surfing and surf fishing. Lifeguards are on duty here, and the summer charge is $4 per car. There is plenty of parking, and facilities include restrooms, showers, telephones, and parking for the disabled. Dogs are allowed on a leash only. The beach has lots of sand, but watch for rip currents.


South Cardiff State Beach has moderately sandy beaches, good swimming, surfing and fishing. Lifeguards are on duty in the summer. Facilities include outhouses and parking for the disabled. Dogs are allowed on a leash only.


From Coast Highway, head west on Solana Vista Drive to find Tide Beach Park in Solana Beach. Stairs lead to the beach from above. There is plenty of sand, and fire rings dot the beach (fires must be out by 10 p.m.). Alcohol is allowed on the beach from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., but no glass containers are permitted. Lifeguards are on duty and there is street parking only. Skin diving near shore is excellent. This is a good beach for surfing as well as swimming. Swimmers are segregated. Facilities include showers and a viewpoint. No dogs allowed.

Fletcher Cove is located on Lomas Santa Fe Drive, a mile from I-5. This is a good family beach and offers showers, restrooms, fire rings, and lifeguard service. No dogs are allowed. Alcohol is permitted from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. only. Lots of picnicking, volleyball and sand can be found at Fletcher Cove. Swimming and skin diving are good, as is surfing. Fishing is allowed outside the posted swimming areas. This beach is close to downtown restaurants and shops. There is an excellent junior lifeguard program held each year at Fletcher Cove. For more information on the program, call 755-2945.


Half a mile south of Fletcher Cove is Seascape Surf Beach Park, on South Sierra Avenue. There is lots of sand here, good swimming, skin diving, surfing and plenty of family fun. Fishing is allowed outside the swimming areas. There is free parking across the street from the stairway beach access, and lifeguards are on duty. Alcohol is allowed on the beach between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., and volleyball is very popular on the beach.

The last beach in Solana Beach is Del Mar Shores. Access from I-5 is on Via de la Valle to Border Avenue. Go right on South Sierra to beach access. There is free parking, and lots of sand. Volleyball is popular here, and swimming, fishing and surfing are good. This is a nice family beach with lifeguards.


A day at the Beach at Del Mar always seems to extend to a stroll past its interesting little shops and restaurants.


There are plenty of beach access points in this city. But be forewarned, there are no fires allowed on the beaches of Del Mar, no glass, and no camping. Dogs are not allowed on most of the centrally located beaches.

From 15th Street to 26th Street no beach games are allowed except volleyball. This generally refers to paddle ball, football and flying discs.

The San Dieguito River Mouth is the northernmost Del Mar beach. Lifeguards patrol here, and there is lots of sand. There are also dangerous rip currents, which require that swimmers only enter the water when lifeguards are present. Surfing is good on the north side of the beach, where reefs produce good waves. There are no facilities, and dogs are allowed only on a leash. This is one of the few beaches you can bring horses to. Parking is available on the street.

29th Street is a popular beach for launching catamarans. There is lots of sand but no facilities. Parking is on the street, and scarce (be mindful of parking ordinances). Swimming is allowed only when lifeguards are present. Access is by wooden stairs from the street end. Swimmers are segregated from surfers.


27th and 26th streets are accessible from wood stairs at the street end. There is lots of sand, but no facilities. Swimming and surfing are separated, and lifeguards patrol from peripheral areas. This beach has limited on-street parking.

25th Street is similar to the other numbered beach access areas, but has a lifeguard tower. No surfing is allowed in the summer. Swimming is good, and restrooms, showers and telephones are available. There is on-street parking, a handicapped parking area, and wheelchair ramp. Boogie boarding is very popular. This is a nice place to take your family.

24th-21st streets are accessible from the street end. There are sandy beaches here but no facilities. Surfing is not permitted in the summer; however they are terrific areas for swimming and Boogie boarding. Volleyball nets are up and lifeguards patrol the beaches.

20th-18th streets are similar in that they have sandy beaches, good swimming and Boogie boarding, but no surfing. All access is from the street end. Volleyball is popular here too. The lifeguard headquarters is located at 17th Street. There are showers, restrooms, telephones, off-street (but metered) parking and good swimming and Boogie boarding. No surfing in summer.


Just west of the Del Mar train depot is the 15th Street Beach Area. Although there is no swimming allowed here, surfers, sailors and diving are plentiful and spear and surf fishing are allowed. There is plenty of sand and a playground. There are no lifeguards on duty, and no showers or restrooms. Parking is on street and dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes only. For a break from the beach, take a stroll down Stratford Lane. This is a beautiful part of town, and located between the beach and downtown Del Mar.

Although Del Mar has 2 1/2 miles of beaches, swimming is not recommended south of 15th Street. Access to these beaches is over the train tracks, and down a tricky bluff. Surfers frequently use these areas, because the ocean has a reef bottom, which generates high swells and rip currents. The reef can also be harmful to feet and legs. Lifeguards patrol sporadically by vehicle from the beach, tide permitting.

The Torrey Pines State Beach is a beautiful wilderness that leads right down to the beach. Take Carmel Valley Road west to Coast Highway, and just before the Coast turnoff is a major parking area. Left, down the hill to the beaches you will find wonderful beaches and more parking along the roadside. The nearby State Reserve offers a trail you can hike, from the beach upwards into the wilderness. There are restrooms, showers, and lifeguards full-time during the summer. With lots of sand, and nice swimming this beach offers a great combination of trees, bluffs and beaches.



La Jolla Shores Drive next to Salk Institute on North Torrey Pines Road. If time allows, a trip to the hang glider port near the Salk Institute on North Torrey Pines Road is a must for first time La Jolla visitors. Below, is the notorious Black’s Beach. Although bathing in the nude is now illegal at Black’s Beach, it remains common. Go at your own risk. There are dangerous rip currents, hazardous cliffs, no facilities, and no lifeguards. The curious are always being rescued from the cliffs above Black’s Beach. A paved road goes down to the beach at Black Gold Road, but there is very limited, two-hour parking at best. It’s hardly worth the effort, mainly used by experienced surfers.

La Jolla Shores is a pleasant beach protected by the wind and with lots of sand and sunbathers. It’s a very clean beach, and a nice place to bring the kids. There is lots of free, off street parking, shower and restroom facilities, and year-long lifeguards. Swimming is segregated. The surfing at La Jolla Shores is excellent. It is also a good place to learn the art of surfing.

Another popular sport at La Jolla Shores is scuba diving. The water depth goes from 20 feet to 3,000 feet in the La Jolla submarine canyon, just offshore. This is a marine preserve. No spearfishing, fishing or taking of shells or sea life is allowed. There are fire rings on the beach. Dogs are not allowed between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and must be on a leash. No glass containers.

Farther down the coast, the La Jolla Cove is heaven to snorkel or scuba divers. Also a marine preserve, it is popular with long distance swimmers and divers. The kelp beds sit just 100 yards offshore. It is very calm during the summer. There is limited parking on the street. Showers and restrooms adorn the large park area. The beach is very small, 170 yards from end to end, and 40 yards wide, depending on the tide. There is no surfing or Boogie boarding allowed.


A favorite trick in the cove is to take a frozen bag of green peas when you go snorkeling. The fish are very friendly and will eat out of your hand. You’ll be astonished at how large the bright orange Garibaldis are. They are the state fish and protected from harm by law. The sand is coarse and white, and the beach is surrounded by high cliffs. This is a great little beach.

Start Early, Watch Your Step

Advice from the lifeguards on using any North County beach:

* Leave home early--VERY early--if you’re more interested in looking at the surf than at the bumper of the car in front of you. Not to mention the challenge of finding legal parking.


* Call 755-2971 for surf and weather reports before packing up the family for a day at the beach. Nothing is more irritating than to be smoldering in Escondido from the heat, only to get to the beach and find it overcast.

* Pick up a tide book at virtually any local diving, surfing or fishing shop. They’re free, and offer information for the year, on high and low tides, sunset and sunrise times, grunion runs and more.

* If you’re planning to swim, use a beach in a guarded area. Surf and swimming conditions can change hourly. Check with the lifeguards before going into the ocean. The green, yellow and red flags usually flown by lifeguard stands warn swimmers of water conditions. Green means safe, yellow means use caution, red means dangerous waters.

* Watch out for stingrays in areas with warm water, sandy beach bottoms and swimmers. Each year, thousands of stingray wounds are recorded at San Diego beaches. If you step on one, contact the nearest lifeguard. But plenty of hot water helps dilute the poison, which is not unlike a bee sting. To avoid stingrays, shuffle your feet when walking in the surf. The pain goes away in a couple of hours, but tetanus shots may be required. See your doctor if pain persists.


Guidelines for the Dogs

The rules on dogs vary wildly at North County beaches. These are places where dogs are welcome to at least some extent:

* Beacon’s, Encinitas. Dogs allowed to run free. Only requirement is that they be licensed.

* Cardiff State Beach, Encinitas. Dogs allowed on leash only.


* South Cardiff State Beach, Encinitas. Dogs allowed on leash only.

* San Dieguito River mouth, Del Mar. Dogs allowed on leash, must be licensed. By the way, horses are allowed here, too.

* 15th Street, Del Mar. Dogs allowed on 6-foot leashes.

* La Jolla Shores, La Jolla. Dogs allowed only on leashes and only from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.


Finding That Perfect Wave

Most experienced surfers already have a favorite spot along the shore, but if you’re relatively new to the sport or the county, here’s the rundown on the best of North County:

* Swami’s, Encinitas. For experienced surfers only. Long way to paddle to the breakers, big waves with one peak. Waves are crowded with surfers. The best way to reach it is from the south, along the beaches of Cardiff.

* Black’s Beach, La Jolla. One of the great spots, with deep water almost all the way to shore. Wave has a very sheer drop to it. Crowded. Access to the beach is very dangerous down the cliff. Safer is taking the paved road at Black Gold Road, but parking is limited and only available for two hours.


* La Jolla Shores, La Jolla. Excellent place to learn the art of surfing, with gentle breaks and several peaks.

* Harbor Beach, Oceanside. Jetties create a refracting element that causes waves to wrap around the jetties, causing a nice peak.

* South Carlsbad State Beach, Carlsbad. The cobble beach and rapid drop-off make this ideal for surfers, but hazardous to swimmers. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer.

* Beacon’s, Encinitas. A famous surf spot with a reef break. Offers free, off-street parking and a trail to the beach from above.


* Stonesteps, Encinitas. Very popular with great surf but minimal beach area. Easy access by steps.

* South of 15th Street, Del Mar. Access to these beaches is over the train tracks and down a tricky bluff. Surfers frequently use these areas because the ocean has a reef bottom, which generates high swells and rip currents, and because those same conditions make it unpopular with swimmers.

A Child’s Place in the Sun

Young children don’t tolerate long hikes, can’t wait too long to go to the bathroom and get tired after a while splashing in shallow surf. Therefore, the best family beaches tend to have convenient parking, restrooms and playgrounds or other activities of interest to children. A beach with lifeguards and segregated surfing also is a good idea for safety.


* Harbor Beach, Oceanside. Restrooms, showers, playground equipment, snack bars for the youngsters’ inevitable afternoon munchies attack. Plenty of off-street parking. Three lifeguard towers and segregated surfing add to the safety factor.

* Oceanside Pier: Restrooms, snack bar, lots of parking. Lifeguards on duty full time and segregated surfing for added safety.

* Tysen Street Park, Oceanside. Restrooms, swings and a playground for the kids. Parking on the street. Lifeguards on duty.

* Buccaneer Beach, Oceanside. Restrooms, snack bar, basketball court, swings and playground. Large off-road parking area. Good boogie-boarding. Swimming areas segregated from surfing; lifeguards full time in summer.


* Moonlight Beach, Encinitas. Restrooms, snack bar, volleyball, fire rings and lots of free public parking. Lifeguards patrol during the summer. But be wary of the water: There are rip currents and a rapid drop-off of the ocean bottom.

* San Elijo State Beach, Encinitas. Restrooms, fire rings, market, small museum, interpretive programs on nature. Overnight camping allowed. Lifeguards patrol during summer.

* Cardiff State Beach, Encinitas. Restrooms, plenty of parking. Lifeguards on duty. Watch for dangerous currents.

* Fletcher Cove, Solana Beach. Restrooms, fire rings and lifeguard service. Lots of picnicking, volleyball and sand. Near restaurants. Has junior lifeguard program.


* Del Mar Shores, Solana Beach. Free parking, lots of sand and volleyball. Lifeguards.

* 25th Street, Del Mar. Restrooms, on-street parking, lifeguard tower. No surfing in summer adds to safety. But you have to go down to 15th Street for a playground.

* Torrey Pines State Beach, Del Mar. Restrooms, sandy beaches, lots of parking, nice swimming conditions. Lifeguards full time during the summer. Interesting nature hikes for the family.

* La Jolla Shores, La Jolla. Restrooms, yearlong lifeguards, segregated surfing, lots of sand.



1. Harbor Beach

2. Oceanside Beach

3. Oceanside Pier


4. Tyson Street Park

5. Wisconsin Street Beach

6. Oceanside Boulevard

7. Buccaneer Beach


8. Carlsbad State Beach

9. South Carlsbad State Beach

10. Grandview Beach

11. Beacon’s


12. Stonesteps

13. Moonlight Beach

14. D Street Beach

15. Swami’s


16. San Elijo State Beach

17. Cardiff State Beach

18. South Cardiff State Beach

19. Tide Beach Park


20. Fletcher Cove

21. Seascape Surf Beach Park

22. Del Mar Shores

23. San Dieguito River Mouth


24. 29th Street

25. 27th and 26th Street

26. 25th Street

27. 24th and 21st Street


28. 20th and 18th Street

29. 17th Street

30. 15th Street Beach Area

31. Torrey Pines State Beach


32. Black’s Beach

33. La Jolla Shores

34. La Jolla Cove