If you want to sleep next to the ocean in Southern California, look no further than San Onofre State Beach. I recently planned a San Onofre bluffs camping trip and it was incredible. Read on for all the details to help you plan an awesome beach camping trip!
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San Onofre State Park (technically a state beach) is one of the most popular California State Parks/Beaches, and with good reason! Located almost smack in between San Diego and Los Angeles, San Onofre offers beautiful beaches, stunning coastal bluffs, and awesome camping spots.
One of the coolest parts about San Onofre is that you can camp on top of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. If you’ve always wanted to camp by the ocean, the San Onofre Bluffs campground is the perfect place to do this. Plus, since the campground is in Southern California, you’re almost guaranteed perfect weather year round. How cool is that?
While you’re not camping on the beach, the ocean is a short half a mile or so hike down the cliffs. If you choose the right camping spot, you’ll get ocean views right from your campsite!
San Onofre State Beach is popular with surfers, fishermen, and beachgoers – like a lot of Southern California beaches, it’s stunning. It’s easily become one of my favorite spots for camping near San Diego and Los Angeles, and I think it’ll be one of yours too!
You should know that there’s actually two campgrounds at San Onofre State Park: the San Mateo campground and the San Onofre Bluffs campground. The Bluffs campground will put you way closer to the water than the San Mateo campground, and is the only campground in the park that will give you ocean views.
San Onofre State Beach is broken up into 3 main parts: the Bluffs campground (with it’s own day use areas, camping, and beach area), the San Mateo campground (about 1.5 mile inland), and the San Onofre Surf Beach (separated from the Bluffs area by the (inactive) nuclear power plant). This San Onofre blog post will focus on the Bluffs beach).
I’ve included a full review of the San Onofre Campground (Bluffs) below, as well as all the information you need to know for the San Onofre Bluffs campground when planning your trip.
Fun Fact: San Onofre is one of the surf spots mentioned in the song “Surfin’ U.S.A” by The Beach Boys.
San Onofre State Beach Basic Information
Below is the most important info you need to know when planning your San Onofre State Beach camping trip.
Location: San Onofre State Beach is located in San Diego County, right outside of the town of San Clemente, California. The Bluffs campground is located about an hour and a half drive south of Los Angeles and about an hour north of San Diego. There’s a border patrol checkpoint on the way to the park from San Diego. The Bluffs campground sits right across from this Border Patrol checkpoint, but you don’t have to cross is when coming from Los Angeles or Orange County.
Entrance fee: You can visit San Onofre for the day without camping, there’s day use parking, picnic tables, and beaches for you to enjoy. There’s a $15 day per vehicle day use fee, which doesn’t apply when you’re camping at the Bluffs Campground.
Camping fee: there’s a $40 camping fee per night, plus a $7.99 reservation fee for the Bluffs and San Mateo campgrounds.
Amenities: At the Bluffs campground area you’ll find day use picnic tables, restrooms, cold showers, and sinks. Each campsite comes with a fire ring, picnic table and parking spot. RVs are allowed, up to 25’ in length. There’s no RV hookups!
Weather: The weather in Southern California tends to be pretty mild most of the year, with temperatures rarely climbing over 85 degrees fahrenheit. The weather tends to get cooler near the coast, but temperatures rarely drop below 50 degrees fahrenheit, even in the winter. For camping, a lightweight sleeping bag usually suffices.
Bluffs Campground Review
Finding San Onofre Bluffs campgrounds reviews can be a challenge, so I’ve put together a comprehensive review of the campsite, including recommended spots if you’re planning to visit. There’s many pros that make this campsite worth visiting and staying at, but there are a couple of negatives that you should be aware of. Overall, I think this is an affordable spot to camp near the water, and would recommend.
One of the biggest selling points for the Bluffs campground at San Onofre State Beach is how close it puts you to the ocean. In fact, if you choose the right spot you’ll even get a good view of the ocean from your campsite! For beach access, you’ll want to take one of the 6 trails down to the water – it’s about a half mile hike from the top of the trail to the water. The trails are spread throughout the campground, but explore the different trails, they all offer different views of the coast.
The beach at San Onofre Bluffs is pretty secluded, and it’s fairly easy to find a stretch of sand all to yourself. Camping at the Bluffs campground will give you access to the beach in the early morning and evening, which is perfect for watching the sunrise/sunset.
Note: not all trails are created equal! Trail 3 is closest to campsites 1-20, and has some pretty drops. It’s doable, but not very fun. The best trail in my opinion is Trail 6, near the end of the campground. It’s a gentler slope down the cliffs and much easier!
- Each campsite comes with a fire ring and a picnic table;
- There’s restrooms, sinks, and cold showers near each campsite. Note that the showers are your usual beach showers, they offer no privacy at all;
- Some campsites have large, long parking spots in front (for RVs). Check the Reserve California website for details on your specific site;
- Campsites 1-20, 99-119, and 146-174 (the first and last couple of sites in the campground) have ocean views, the middle campsites have shrubs obstructing the views.
Some of the more annoying things about staying at the Bluffs campground aren’t huge deal breakers (for me), but are things I wished I knew before I visited so I could plan accordingly. Here are the “bad” that you should be aware of:
- Small campsites: not a huge dealbreaker, but if you have more than 4-5 people, it’s probably worth getting 2 campsites side by side instead of one. The campsites are a small patch of dirt in front of the paved parking spots. You can comfortably fit one tent, maybe two small tents, but not much more.
- The spots are very close together with no dividers or privacy. When your campsite neighbors decide to show up at 10pm and set up in the dark, you’ll definitely see and hear them.
- There’s no shade at the campsites, so come prepared.
- The campground is right next to the freeway and the train tracks. Because of this, you’ll hear noise and (and it won’t get completely dark) while you’re here. I didn’t find this a huge deal, but light sleepers might have trouble falling asleep here.