In 1971 California State Governor Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing this beach, and since then it has gone on to become one of the most frequently visited beaches in California. Today 2.5 million people visit San Onofre State Beach annually. This location is also sacred to the Acjachemen Indians, who have more than 8,000 years of history with the land. Back then it was called Panhe, and it contained both a burial site and a village. In the 18th century, Catholic missionaries arrived here and performed California’s first recorded baptism.
Visitors from out of town frequent the San Mateo Campground. Both locals and tourists love lounging on the beach and staying overnight at the base of the San Onofre Bluffs. The campground boasts cold showers, picnic tables, fire pits, a dump station for RVs, and chemical toilets. Perhaps the most beloved part of the beach is the San Onofre Surf Beach. It is known worldwide as a prime surfing location. The three main surf breaks are called “Dogpatch,” “Old Man’s,” and “The Point.”
Surfing in this area began in the 1920s. There were just a handful of surfers at that time, but within a decade people began flooding in from near and far. Visitors were so excited about the sport that they spent night after night sleeping on the beach so that they could head out again first thing in the morning. These enthusiasts affectionately referred to San Onofre State Beach as “Nofre.” In the 1940s, nearly all of the surfers left to fight in World War II. The beach itself was used by the military as a base, and therefore it was closed to the public. After the war ended people began sneaking onto the beach to surf, and this was generally accepted by military personnel. By 1951 the beach had changed hands, and it now belonged to the San Onofre Surfing Club. Today the State of California works with the San Onofre Surfing Club to maintain the beach.