San Elijo Stairway and Beach Walk

Stairway Coastal and Beach Walk In San Elijo State Beach and Campground

Looking to maximize your beach time this summer? We’ve got a shore bet! Grab your sunscreen and your tent and head to San Elijo State Beach and Campground near Cardiff in San Diego County. Take in some bluffside bliss and a 1.5-mile coastal stairway and beach walk.

If you’re visiting for the day, park at the State Beach Lot ($10-15 daily) or find a street spot nearby and head for the northernmost lot, where you’ll find a charming wooden staircase scaling the dramatic bluffs. You’ll immediately be treated to classic San Diego coastline views stretching in both directions.

Head south along the cliff walls, looking for resident squirrels and bunnies navigating the ice plant or darting around rocks on the sand. This beach is also a popular surf spot—take time to watch locals ride the waves too. Over the next 0.75-mile sandy stretch, you’ll pass four more staircases—great for getting a leg workout in, or for easy campground access. At the end, you’ll reach a series of small, rocky tidepools and the adjacent Cardiff State Beach, which can be reached, if you don’t mind getting wet. Otherwise turn left and head up the rocks and stairs to reach a large lifeguard tower above the amphitheater.

This is a great spot to take in the panoramic coastal views before exploring one of the coolest campgrounds in all of SoCal. Here, there are 171 sites ($35-50 for the sites without hook-ups). While all of them have incredible beach access, some are perched on the edge of the bluffs for some seriously unparalleled beach campsite views. The sites are also generously large and can fit multiple tents, with room for cars and the cornhole set too. If you’re not spending the night (you really should!), be sure to head back down to the beach at the fourth staircase (you can’t get back to the lot along the bluffs) and return to your first staircase and back to your car. Talk about paradise found!

BONUS LAGOON: San Elijo is also home to a nearby lagoon and ecological reserve; the 979-acre estuary is a great hiking and birdwatching spot and should definitely be enjoyed while you’re there (consider visiting Annie’s Canyon Trail). Beach camping + lagoon hiking = perfect day!

To get to the San Elijo State Beach and Campground, take the I-5 to the Birmingham Dr. exit and head west. After half a mile on Birmingham, take a left on San Elijo Ave. followed by your next right onto Chesterfield Dr. and another immediate right onto the Coast Highway. After 0.4 mile, the entrance to the campground will be on your left. Dog-friendly in campground, but not on the beach!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

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