South Carlsbad & San Clemente State Beaches

February 25 – March 4
Almost immediately after changing course for the coast we started looking for open sites at the string of state beach campgrounds that line the southern California coast. We had to get a little creative because while it’s easy to get a site Monday through Thursday, the weekend is a different story. Fortunately, we managed to piece together a few weeks of reservations starting with four nights at South Carlsbad State Beach.

South Carlsbad State Beach
Oceanside living at South Carlsbad State Beach

Perched high on a bluff with the Pacific ocean on one side and the Carlsbad Blvd on the other, this no-frills campground offers spectacular ocean views and easy access to the beach below.

South Carlsbad State Beach
High up on the cliff

The sites here vary in size and configuration with some big enough to fit even a large motorhome in the site sideways for a prime water view, and others only big enough to squeeze in vertically. Some are slopped, some level, some offer a small measure of privacy in the form of hedges, and a handful even have full hookups.

South Carlsbad State Beach
All lined up on the cliff’s edge + a motorhome that parked sideways for maximum ocean viewing

Of course, the real draw here is not the campsites themselves, but that amazing view.

South Carlsbad State Beach South Carlsbad State Beach South Carlsbad State Beach South Carlsbad State Beach
The beach here is rocky in places. In fact, the south end is completely filled with round polished stones. Pretty to look at but hard to walk on.

South Carlsbad State Beach
The rocky south end of the beach

In the other direction, the sand stretches for miles.

South Carlsbad State Beach
The sandy north end

Since we had to check out at noon on a Thursday and Tim has to work until at least 3, we packed up and moved over to a beachside parking area for the afternoon. We scouted this spot throughout the week and were pretty confident we could find an open parking spot around noon. At least this time of year, the parking area doesn’t seem to fill up until the after work and sunset viewing crowd shows up.

South Carlsbad State Beach
Roadside parking is free at the south end of the beach
South Carlsbad State Beach
Sand out the door

From South Carlsbad, we had a short, 40-minute drive north to our next destination, San Clemente State Beach. While this campground only offers a handful of sites with water views, the beach is just a short walk away. And what an amazing beach it is!

San Clemente State Beach
San Clemente State Beach
San Clemente State Beach

Compared to the beach, the campground was just okay. There are two sections, one all pull-thrus with full hook-ups, and the other a “tent area” with no hookups. We would have preferred the no hookups section but couldn’t find an open site over the weekend. The site we did have was not bad, and the full hookups were appreciated, but it was most definitely overpriced at $65/night.

San Clemente State Beach Campground
It appears that we infiltrated some sort of R-Pod Rally
San Clemente State Beach Campground
The slice of water view from our picnic table

It was a short stay with a day of rain making it feel even shorter. As a result, we didn’t do much more than walk on the beach and ride our bikes around town. One day we walked all the way to the town pier for some people and surfer watching.

San Clemente, CA
Watching the surfers from the pier

On the way back we strolled along the beach trail for a bit. This hard packed dirt trail parallels the beach for about 2.5 miles. We saw a handful of people walking, jogging, and biking which planted the idea to take our own bikes on the trail the next day.

San Clemente CA
The beach trail

I guess it must have been the clouds that kept people away on Saturday, because the next day the trail was packed with people, kids in strollers, dogs, and bikes. We did okay until the trail narrows as it neared the center of town. At that point trying to ride through the crowd became downright impossible and we abandoned the trail and oceanfront to ride through town. With a lack of bike lanes and a good amount of Sunday traffic, the ride was a little hairy (bike riding on a road with cars is never my idea of fun) but Tim routed us through a series of alleys, parking lots and side roads all the way to the north end of town where we discovered the very inviting lawn and gardens at the Ole Hanson Beach Club.

Ole Hanson Beach Club - San Clemente, CA
A great spot to enjoy the gardens & ocean view while resting and snacking

We checked out of San Clemente on a Monday. That meant another afternoon in a parking area after check out to finish up the work day. No beachside parking this time so instead we drove over to the day use parking area and hung around for a few hours until it was time to head north to the next beach.

San Clemente State Beach
The San Clemente Visitor Center is located inside an original 1934 ranger’s cottage

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One Response to “South Carlsbad & San Clemente State Beaches”


  1. Jodee Gravel

    While we’ve stayed along the Pacific Coast north of Ventura, this southern area is new as RVers. I love the ocean views available from the state parks. Even at those prices we’ll have to give them a look next time we’re in SoCal! I’ve walked that trail in San Clemente and agree the weekend crowd gets a bit much.Glad you’re able to piece together such beautiful stops without months advance planning – gives me hope :-)


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