A Guide To San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State Beach
Anne Marie
Anne Marie 
| 5 min read

When you picture a Southern California beach in your mind, an image close to San Elijo State Beach probably pops up. This gorgeous stretch of sand is framed by bluffs on one side and the pristine Pacific Ocean on the other. The spacious beach is dotted with interesting boulders, and there is tons of space to stretch out your beach towel. San Elijo’s beauty is not the only thing that attracts visitors. It is also home to one of the area’s most popular campgrounds. Dozens of campsites right on the beach allow you to wake up to the sound of the ocean waves and be in the water in no time flat. The beach’s beauty, its campground, and its ideal surfing conditions make it a must-see attraction if you’re in the San Diego area! For all the details on what to do and how to camp, here’s a guide to San Elijo State Beach that you can check out.

1. Things to do

Dusk Surfing at San Elijo State Beach
Source: Photo by user Bjorn used under CC BY-SA 2.0

San Elijo has so much more to offer than simply the sun and the sand! This gorgeous spot is most popular for its large campsite, which makes the area feel like one big summer camp. Prepare to meet new friends as you explore the beach. Take a dip in the waves, get a tan on the beach, or toss a beachball around. At low tide, be sure to explore the tide pools to see what sea creatures and plants have been unearthed. In addition to these typical beach activities, try out one of these highlights while you’re at San Elijo.

Snorkeling and scuba diving

Though San Elijo is beautiful from above, beneath the water is a whole different world! Close to the water’s edge are kelp patties and reef systems teeming with underwater plants and animals. The best way to see them is by bringing or renting snorkeling gear. Many shops offer rentals, and you can even book a snorkeling guide to point out all the details. San Elijo Beach is also on the edge of an underwater cliff, which has created lots of cool caves and tunnels. The best way to explore these is by scuba diving. Be sure to look into the local scuba schools and guides to explore this amazing feature safely!


San Elijo is one of the most popular surfing beaches in the area. The winter months, in particular, are a great time to surf, with the wind and swells combining to make many different-sized waves and keep things interesting! Under the water, the kelp beds and cliff actually aid surfers by protecting them from the wind. This is also a great spot to learn how to surf if you’re new to the sport, as there are plenty of gentle waves too.


Another popular activity at San Elijo State Beach is fishing! The beach sits alongside a river running into the sea. This intersection is a great spot to catch croakers, guitarfish, and small sharks. At the south end of the beach is a lifeguard tower, which is also a fruitful place to cast your line. If you prefer surf fishing, expect to catch sandworms or Carolina rigs. The best time to fish at San Elijo is in early spring—before the swimmers return and crowd the water.


San Elijo has a huge campground, so you can stay for cheap just steps from the beach! Some of the campsites even face the ocean, so you can wake up with the sun and surf. There are 157 campsites in total, including spots for RVs, tents, and PWD-accessible sites. You can bring up to eight people to each campsite and your furry friends too, as long as they stay on a leash. Fires are permitted in designated fire rings, and you can grab everything you need for grilling at the campsite’s convenience store or by walking into town.

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2. What to eat

Cardiff Beach looking south
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Bovlb used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

If you’re camping at San Elijo, you can cook your meal over a campfire, and if you’re just here for the day, there are plenty of picnic tables where you can set up a spread. However, another great thing about this beach is that it’s just steps from Cardiff, a cute seaside town with lots of great places to dine! Here are some nearby picks.

Fish 101

If the smell of saltwater and the sight of fishermen casting their lines have you craving seafood, head to Fish 101. This casual spot is a pescetarian’s dream, serving up tons of fish dishes. Choose from tacos or burritos stuffed with fish or shrimp, tuna poke bowls, oysters, calamari, and the classic fish and chips!

Best Pizza and Brew

Pizza is always a crowdpleaser, so bring your crew to Best Pizza and Brew for some slices and pints! You can order whole pizzas or just slices if people want to get other things on the menu, like salads and sandwiches. The joint also has an amazing Wednesday evening deal on beers. Each pint is only 4 USD! Indeed there is no better way to refuel after a day at the beach.

Urban Plates

Those with a refined palate will appreciate the big-city flavors at Urban Plates. This restaurant has a chef-inspired menu that will make you feel sophisticated after a day on the sand or a night in a tent. The place offers plates of different meats and seafood with your choice of two sides, as well as salads, sandwiches, and plant-based bowls.

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3. Travel tips

Source: Photo by user chrisinphilly5448 used under CC BY-SA 2.0
Booking a campsite

Campsites are not available to book until six months before your planned arrival date. The campsite is extremely popular, especially during the surfing season, so be sure to book in advance. If you are looking to rent an RV, check out these vendors who are approved to set up RVs at the campground: Albert’s RV, Luv2Camp, RV Rentals San Diego, and Travel Time RV Rentals. Keep in mind that check-in is at 2pm and early check-in is not available.


There are several wheelchair-accessible campsites at San Elijo. The beach is accessible by stairway or ramp, and there are stairs and a ramp to the lookout on top of the bluffs too.

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4. How to get there

Source: Photo by user chrisinphilly5448 used under CC BY-SA 2.0
By car

San Elijo State Beach is located right along Pacific Coast Highway 101. If coming from San Diego to the south, the entrance is about ¾ mile (1.2 km) past the entrance to San Elijo Lagoon, a few blocks north of Glen Park. Pacific Coast Highway is a beautiful drive, but narrow and windy in some spots, so San Diego Freeway is another option. The address of the campsite is 2050 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff, CA 92007 for your GPS.

COASTER commuter train

Another option is to hop on the COASTER commuter train, which runs between San Diego and Oceanside daily. Unfortunately, there is no train stop in Cardiff, but there is a stop in Encinitas, the next town over. From Encinitas, you could walk for half an hour to San Elijo or call a rideshare driver for a quick six-minute trip.

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San Elijo State Beach information

San elijo kids
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Steve Holden used under CC BY-SA 2.0

San Elijo State Beach

Address: 2050 S Coast Hwy 101, Cardiff, CA 92007

Official website: San Elijo State Beach

Department of tourism: Visit California

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Anne-Marie, a publishing professional by day, harbors a fervent desire to explore the world whenever she can. Though she hasn't discovered the entire globe yet, her eagerness to learn and write...Read more

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