San Onofre, just south of San Clemente, is a place of steep bluffs overlooking a wide, sandy beach. The beach, named for an Egyptian saint, Onuphrius, is a joy to walk.
The aptly named Bluffs Beach, part of San Onofre State Beach, is a three-mile-long sand strand with a backdrop of magnificent 100-foot-high bluffs. The dramatically eroded sandstone cliffs, a kind of Bryce Canyon by the sea, effectively shield the beach from the sight and sound of two parallel transportation corridors--the railroad tracks and Interstate 5.
Unfortunately, something of the peaceful ambience of the park's coastline is diminished by the giant twin spheres of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station just north and Camp Pendleton Marine base to the south. The power plant and the Marines are still very much present, but public access to the splendid beach has loosened up some. It's possible to walk a considerable distance both north and south of the power plant.
Camp Pendleton's beaches are officially off-limits, even if the "no trespassing" sign has been removed, as it often is. However, the prevailing sentiment among beach-goers is that the military is considerably less proprietary about its surf and turf these days.
San Onofre State Beach Campground is actually a length of old Coast Highway with some pullouts. Charmless it is, but popular with surfers and others who rate beach access over amenities.
And the beach access is first rate. Half a dozen signed trails (Beach Trail 1, Beach Trail 2, etc.) descend from the bluffs to the beach. The paths vary in length from 0.1 to 0.3 mile.
I prefer starting with Beach Trail 1 and walking south along the state beach. About three miles of beach-walking brings you to the end of state park property and onto Camp Pendleton's beach. The long sand strand south of the park is popular with nude sunbathers, although it's by no means a legal clothing-optional beach.
Access: From Interstate 5, a few miles south of San Clemente, exit on Basilone Road. Head west, then south, following the signs to San Onofre State Beach. Park in the first day-use area near the signed trail head for Beach Trail 1.
Beach Bluffs Trail
WHERE: San Onofre State Beach.
DISTANCE: From Beach Trail 1 to Beach Trail 6 is 5.6 miles round trip.
TERRAIN: Sandy beach backed by dramatic bluffs.
HIGHLIGHTS: Excellent beach in shadow of nuclear power plant.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: San Onofre State Beach, Orange Coast District Office, California Deparatment of Parks and Recreation, 3030 Avendina del Presidente, San Clemente, CA 96272; tel; (714) 492-4872 (Campground).