San Onofre Beach Trail 4 is one of six trails leading down to the beach from the bluffs at San Onofre State Beach. Dogs are allowed on Trail 1 and Trail 6 (but not in between).
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this California State Park. You can find my post on San Onofre State Beach Family Hikes at Trails which gives more general information about the park and our family hikes on Trail 5 and Trail 6.
Location of San Onofre State Beach
Exit Interstate 5 south of San Clemente at the Basilone/San Onofre exit and drive toward the beach. The frontage road will take you past on-street parking for surf spots and turn-offs for Edison and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).
Keep driving south parallel to I-5. There’s a small kiosk where you’ll need to pay your hefty but worthwhile $15 day use fee. I highly recommend getting an annual pass. You’ll want to visit again! MAP TO SAN ONOFRE STATE BEACH
Once you get inside the park, you’ll have to drive VERY slowly through the campground while watching the signs to get to the parking area for Beach Trail 4. Trail is on your right. Parking is on your left.
San Onofre State Beach Trail 4
The walk down to the beach is surprisingly short, but feels long because it’s a big hill down. The trail is flat for about 5 minutes until you reach the edge of the bluff.
Once you start hiking, it’s not long before you come upon a turn in the trail and a small inlet on the left with a bench and viewing area. Can you see it in my photo above?
You can step off the trail to get to a lone bench. Just watch the kids here at the edges. These bluffs can be quite unstable.
But the view hints at what’s to come!
The bench marks the end of the flat part of the trail before heading down to the beach.
On sunny days, it feels hot once you start down the hill. There isn’t much shade and the sea breeze disappears a little.
Still, it’s not that challenging. I think it’s more a matter of me thinking about what it’s going to take to get myself up the hill once we’re done at the beach.
But it’s not long before you hit some pockets of shade and the path gets less steep right before you hit the beach.
At every point, views of the ocean and the bluffs behind you make it one of the most scenic areas in South Orange County.
Having visited on foggy days before, I was surprised to see the beach was fairly empty even in the middle of the summer with the campgrounds above filled up with campers.
But the sound of the waves is awesome as it bounces off the bluffs and roars in your ears. It’s only you and the birds. And we even saw dolphins in the surf on our trip!
- You could do this with a jogger stroller, but it would be a beast to get back up the hill. A sling or baby backpack would be a better choice.
- NO restrooms on the beach. The ones at the top of the bluff can be locked during the off-season or busy during camping season. Some spots have portable toilets at the top of the trail rather than restroom buildings.
- Great for a family trip or group play date, but felt like it would be isolated for a mom alone during the off-season. Definitely a good idea to use the buddy system or go with your family.
- Parking could be impacted on busy camping weekends and during the summer.
- I’d recommend closed-toe shoes for the hiking. The kids can take them off at the beach.
- The short walk/hike has hills and it feels like a long way up on your way back.
- Not a great swimming beach for kids. No lifeguards at the end of Trail 4 on the day we went.
- PAY parking – park on the left for day use.
- If you’re coming from Orange County, don’t miss the exit. You’ll have to drive through Camp Pendleton and all the way to Las Pulgas before you can turn around!!!
- Trail conditions can change based on weather and washed out trails – make sure you ask about closed trails at the ranger station when you enter. It’s hard to tell from the top of the bluff.
- Finally, there can be rattlesnakes on the trail and even rattlesnakes on the beach – so just make sure you stay aware of your surroundings.
The view on the way up the trail is almost as beautiful as the view on the way down. Check out these breathtaking bluffs!
- Make sure no one needs to use the restroom, before you start on the trail.
- Bring snacks, water, hand wipes — and even baby powder and towels to remove sand from feet before heading back uphill.
- $15 day use fee for parking.
- Leave a change of clothes in the car in case the kids get wet or sandy or dirty.
- Wear lots of sunscreen and have fun.
- Read my more complete post about San Onofre State Beach and hiking Trail 5 and Trail 6.
- Official San Onofre State Beach info
- The San Onofre Foundation has some great hiking and cultural info about the beach.