San Diego Section 4

South Carlsbad State Beach Campground to San Elijo State Beach

San Diego Section 4

South Carlsbad State Beach Campground to San Elijo State Beach

Depending on your timing, this can be a pleasant excursion on beaches at the base of sandstone cliffs, or an urban walk along streets, or a combination of both. The beach floods at high tide in part because of human intervention in natural processes. A combination of two factors-the Oceanside Marina to the north blocking the natural flow of sand, and seawalls built on the beach creating a scouring effect-rob the beach of sand and the public of their right of access. However, low tide allows acceSS to the beach for the entire route. You have several chances to exit the beach and return. Part of the high tide route takes you on Old Highway 101 through Leucadia. It still retains some funky charm from the time this was the main route on the coast, being displaced by Interstate 5 in the 1960s.

Our route starts at Carlsbad State Beach at the bottom of the stairs that descend from near the campground entrance station. (You can instead walk through the campground and hit the beach at the south end). Walk south along the tideline of the beach. At first the beach is tucked at the base of 40-foot-tall bluffs, but by ⅛ miles where you cross the creek flowing from Canyon de las Encinas you can see and hear busy Carlson Blvd. along the top of the campground above the beach. By ¼ mile the beach loses most of the traffic noise as you walk the tideline beneath 60-foot bluffs. Pass the end of the campground by one mile and continue along the beach. The bluffs are lower beyond 1¼ miles, about 40 feet, then drop to only 20 feet by 2 miles where you approach Batiquitos Lagoon.

You reach the mouth of Batiquitos Lagoon beyond 2⅛ miles. When there's a sandbar closing the mouth, simply follow it across. If the mouth is open or deep, you must take the nearby highway bridge across it and return to the beach. Beyond the lagoon the bluffs again rise to 60 feet. Continue along Ponto Beach at the base of these sedimentary cliffs. Around 3 miles it becomes Grandview Beach. Continue along the tideline, passing a palm-lined stairway from the main parking area at 3⅛ miles. By 3½ miles the bluffs on your left rise 80 feet.

The beach changes names again before 4 miles, then six more times in the 3 miles ahead. Continue along narrow Beacon's Beach where stairs descend from the small park above. By 4¼ miles you continue along Encinitas Beach, then it becomes Stone Steps Beach around 4⅝ miles where you pass a lifeguard tower and a stone stairway of 97 steps. Continue along the shore to Moonlight Beach around 5 miles. This popular broad beach, recently replenished with sand, has serious volleyball action and a last food stand. If the tide is high or rising, you can't make it around Swami's Point ahead. The detour takes D Street to Old Highway 101/First Street, following the latter to San Elijo State Beach at section's end.

If the tide is low enough, continue along the beach, passing the small coves of Boneyard Beach at the base of 100-foot cliffs from 5⅜ miles. At 5⅝ miles you begin to round Swami's Point, only passable at lower tides. The point gets its name from the Self Realization Fellowship Retreat and Hermitage on the point. Built in 1936 for spiritual teacher Paramahansa Yogananda, the center houses monastics at the Hermitage. They care for the grounds and conduct classes and retreats on the teachings of Paramahansaji. The peaceful, magnificent Meditation Gardens, open to the public, contain the steps to the Golden Lotus temple which slipped off the cliff in 1942 due to erosion. Riprap at the base of the cliffs now protects the grounds from further damage.

As you round the point, walking on slippery rocks at times, watch for embedded shell fossils. Pass a large private stairway from the center above. At 6⅛ miles you reach Swami's Beach and the stairs to public Swami's Park on the bluff. You can climb the steps and proceed on the sidewalk to the San Elijo campground gate or follow the CCT along the narrow path at the top edge of the steep cobble beach. By 6⅝ miles you continue along San Elijo State Beach, soon encountering sand again. This section ends at the stairway at 7 miles. Near the top of the stairs you'll find the entrance station to San Elijo State Beach campground.

ALTERNATE ROUTE: If the tide is high, follow Old Highway 101 the entire way (also called Carlson Blvd. and First Street) , or you may be able to make your way on and off portions using the various beach accesses depending on tide conditions. Along the way you'll pass the part of Leucadia that feels like the 1950s. Visit Moonlight Beach at the end of B Street. Also visit the wonderful Meditation Gardens at the Sell Realization Hermitage (locally known as Swami's).

SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: From South Carlsbad State Beach Campground, walk down the beach to Batiquitos Lagoon and return, 4¼ miles round trip. During a receding or low tide, walk south from Ponto Beach as far as time and tides allow, leaving low tide enough for the return trip-if you go all the way to Boneyard Beach, its about 6 miles round trip. Or walk the beach north from the San Elijo Campground as far as Swami's Park and return, 1¾ miles round trip.

Distance: 7 miles (11.3 kilometers).

Open to: Hikers. Bicyclists on streets.

Surface: Beach, sidewalks.

Access point: South Carlsbad State Beach Campground.

How to get there: Take the Palomar Airport Road/Carlsbad Blvd. exit off Interstate 5 and head west then south about .5 mile to the clearly signed Carlsbad State Beach entrance. You can also take the Poinsettia Lane exit of Interstate 5, go .75 mile west to Carlsbad Blvd. then go north one mile to the entrance.

Other access: Ponto Beach, Grandview Beach, Beacon's Beach, Stone Steps Beach, Moonlight Beach, Swami's Park.

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation gain/loss: Negligible.

Cautions: Many of the beaches are flooded at high tide. Use caution on slippery tidal rocks and cobbles.

Further information: South Carlsbad State Beach and Ponto Beach (760)438-3143, for Beacon's Beach, Stone Steps Beach, Moonlight Beach, Swami's Park, call Encinitas Community Services (760)633-2880.

Facilities: Restrooms, water, picnic tables at both ends and several points along route.

Campgrounds: South Carlsbad State Beach Campground has 222 sites. San Elijo State Beach has 171 sites.

Lodging: Carlsbad, Leucadia, Encinitas and Cardiff-by-the-Sea have a variety of facilities.

Points of Interest

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