Just north of San Mateo Point, San Clemente State Beach is a mile-long beach within the southern limits of San Clemente, California. Perhaps the most popular state beach in California, it offers dramatic vistas and quintessential beach conditions that are endemic to many of Orange County’s beaches. Situated at the base of steep sandstone bluffs, beachgoers will find a family-friendly beach with opportunities for whale watching, surfing, fishing, swimming, and more. Within the park is San Clemente State Beach Campground, one of the finest campgrounds on the coast with close access to the beach and stunning overlook vistas.
San Clemente State Beach is one of the busiest state beaches in California, especially in the summer, and for good reason. Like many beaches in San Clemente, the climate provides an incomparable backdrop for beach activities. The surf conditions at San Clemente State Beach can’t approach those at nearby Lower Trestles—just on the other side of San Clemente Point, less than a mile away—but when the conditions are right at this fickle break, the surfing is excellent. On occasion, the beach’s sandbars can produce shallow, shifting peaks. During sub-par conditions, fishers will find an opportunity to cast their lines for the bass, croaker, corvina, and barred perch swim that these waters. In the spring, grunion come ashore at high tide to lay their eggs; they can be caught by hand. Whale watchers may catch a glimpse of California gray whales in the winter and spring, and on rare occasions, perhaps semi-annually, orcas may be sighted.
The steep bluffs enclosing San Clemente State Beach are marine terraces that formed under the ocean 30,000 years ago, ringed over time by the changes in the ocean and gradual erosion. They host a coastal sage scrub habitat that includes Monterey cypress, acacia, and sycamore. Wild hyacinths, scarlet pimpernel, mariposa lilies, and California poppies dot the scrub with color. A stand of sycamores on the park’s east side host migratory monarch butterflies every year, and the park is home to avian visitors like mourning doves (with their distinctive mournful coo), northern mockingbirds, great horned owls, and even feral flocks of green Amazon parrots.
San Clemente State Beach is ADA accessible, and beach wheelchairs may be available. High tide may consume the beach, so visitors should time their visit accordingly.