San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff-by-the-Sea is one of the best campgrounds in Southern California. However, it is also a nice beach area, surrounded by bluffs and with access to the San Elijo Lagoon. This is our guide to the beach area of San Elijo State Beach.
Beach Type: Bluffside state beach with camping
Access: Down staircases of various lengths
Parking: North end has day use parking at $10-20 per vehicle. Main parking lot is for campers only
Facilities: Many restrooms and showers in the campground
Good For: Laying out in the Sun, scenery, swimming, surfing, family day at the beach, lagoon exploring, kayaking, paddleboard
Not Good For: ease of access. North end is mainly for surfers, south end is more for families
San Elijo State Beach extends for nearly a mile along the Pacific Ocean. The campgrounds sit on a bluff overlooking the ocean. This requires walking down staircases to reach the beach. On the southern end of the campground the bluffs are not as high so the walk to the beach is shorter. Note that until mid-2019 much of the southern end of the campground is closed for construction of a new lifeguard headquarters.
The actual beach at San Elijo State Beach can be divided into two separate areas. To the south the bluffs are not as high and the beach ends at the entrance to San Elijo Lagoon. This is an extremely popular area where the surf is calmer and you can paddleboard and kayak in the lagoon. The more adventurous can go offshore to explore Cardiff Reef.
Parking on the south end is limited to a few spots along Highway 101. There is also the option to park across the street on San Elijo Avenue and its side streets. Just don’t park in the Seaside Market parking lot. There is an entrance to the beach area right by the famed Cardiff Kook at the corner of Highway 101 and Chesterfield (see our guide to Cardiff-by-the-Sea for more info).
There is full day parking on the north end of San Elijo State Beach, but this is a much different beach area. The north end of San Elijo State Beach is much more secluded. This is home to the famous Pipes surfing spot. The staircases here are longer, as much as four stories high. The northern end is home to a day use parking lot. Like most state beaches the parking cost is $10 to $20 a day. This parking lot is mainly for surfers that want to hit Pipes. Families are probably better off down the road at Cardiff Reef or Seaside Beach.
For more on the campgrounds go here. For an overview of the Cardiff-by-the-Sea area go here.