Sunset Cliffs is known as a beautiful drive and a great clifftop walk. It is not known as much for its beach activity. However, it does have two interesting beach areas for the more adventurous. This is our overview of Rope Beach, also known as Garbage Beach.
Location: Sunset Cliffs Natural Park at intersection of Sunset Cliffs Blvd and Ladera St
Beach Type: Isolated and Scenic
Access: Short, steep climb down the cliffs
Parking: Free street parking
Good For: Tide Pools, Surfing
Not Good For: Families looking for a traditional beach day, people not in shape, swimming
Rope Beach (a name I prefer over Garbage Beach) is located at the end of our Sunset Cliffs walk at the intersection with Ladera St. Right at Ladera St you will see a staircase that has been blocked off for a long time. You want to walk about a hundred yards south to the “rope” trail.
The beach is accessed from inside the heart of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. In March 2018 this area started to undergo massive reconstruction, but as of July 2018 this construction had not impacted access to the beach.
The access to the beach is via a fairly steep, but not too difficult trail right in the middle of the park (look for lots of bulldozers). Look for a sign warning “DANGER UNSTABLE CLIFFS STAY BACK.” This is the start of the trail down. It means ignoring the warning sign.
The trail is easy to see and on a busy day there should be quite a few people using it. It is called Rope Beach because the last part involves repelling down a rope to the beach. This is not nearly as scary as it sounds. We have seen many small kids do it.
Of course, this is not the best beach to bring a family for a day of swimming. There are no facilities and it can be a pain to haul down your gear. On top of that, the surf is rough and rocky and there are no lifeguards. This tends to attract more a young adult audience looking to get off the beaten track.
On the plus side, this is a great scenic beach that is usually not very crowded. There are also great opportunities to explore tide pools along the rocks. It is best to try and go at low tides. See the tide chart here.
There is almost always plenty of free parking along Sunset Cliffs Blvd and its side street. Of course, current construction may impact that. Parking was more limited on our last visit but we still had no problem.
On a final note, this is a premium local surfers spot. While it is a good surfing area, it is only for advanced surfers. Locals can and will pick fights with outsiders they feel don’t belong. For a good novel on that issue see Don Winslow’s The Gentlemen’s Hour (which takes places a few miles north in Pacific Beach/ La Jolla).