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Trestles: Beach Walking for Families in a Surfer’s Paradise

Trestles: Beach Walking for Families in a Surfer’s Paradise

Trestles or Trestle Beach is a bit of a mystery, unless you’re a surfer. I’m betting the surfers like to keep it that way!

In 2010, back when the trestle was made out of wood, we enjoyed a great off-season family outing here without tromping on anyone’s saltwater turf.  It’s a hike down to the sand on a mostly paved path. Back then it was manageable even for little ones, but now I think it’s more suitable for families with older kids.

Trestles is actually part of San Onofre State Beach. Huell Howser from California’s Gold and KCET (our Southern California local PBS station) filmed some great coverage of the park back in 2007. I highly recommend watching before you go!

How to Get to Trestles

Off Interstate 5 at Cristianitos Road in San Clemente. We exited the freeway at Cristianitos and drove away from the ocean.

We parked alongside the fence on the right.  If you turn left on El Camino Real, then you can park in the designated parking lot on your right with a CA State Parks Pass or by paying the parking fee with the Yodel app.

It’s a pay lot where you pay at a machine. They are serious about checking if you paid, too!  MAP to Trestles Beach in San Onofre State Beach (San Clemente)

This is what the trestle looked like in 2010.

How to Get To the Beach at Trestles

So here’s the hike part!

Option 1: The Route We Used to Take

We used to do this route under I-5 and it felt pretty safe. Fast forward to 2024. Both the parking area at El Camino Real and this section of the trail did not feel as safe (to me!) as almost 10+ years ago.

You park up on Cristianitos or on nearby El Camino Real and walk through the opening in the fence. You’ll go down a trail with great views of the ocean and the San Mateo Creekbed.

It winds under sycamore trees and through scrub brush. We saw lots of bunnies and even a hawk in the tree.

Then you’ll walk UNDER Interstate 5. Next you go up a short hill and end up near the bridge (to your left) and the entrance to the beach park marked by signs (in front of you). 

This gets you to a halfway point on your walk — and there is also a different way to get to this point.

Option 2: A Route You Could Choose to Take Now

This is still not ideal for a family-friendly hike, because you are still parking in the same spot, but instead of going under I-5 you are taking a paved path I warned against in 2010. This is what I said back then: You’ll see a paved road which also hits Cristianitos. I just don’t recommend coming in this way because you have to walk on the overpass OVER Interstate 5 and cross streets to get in this way.

You DO need to cross roads in at least 3 different spots which are pretty dangerous at freeway exits.

But then you arrive at this more trafficked public path instead of the more secluded trail under the bridge.

To get to the beach this way, you will park in that same lot and walk over the bridge towards the beach. There is only sidewalk on one side of the bridge going over I-5. Take the sidewalk and cross the street at the northbound onramp entrance, the southbound offramp exit, and then cross Cristianitos at the crosswalk (basically, follow the surfers towards the beach).

The downside of this route is that a lot of the surfers are now on e-bikes and traveling at high rates of speed. E-bikes alone make it not a very family-friendly walk because, although riders are generally conscientious and aware, there is still a danger of a pedestrian/e-bike collision. Especially with kids who can dart out unexpectedly!

Both of those options are about 1 mile walk for you to get from parking to the beach.

To summarize:

  • Option 1 = not ideal parking + isolated route.
  • Option 2 = same not ideal parking as Option 1 + dangerous street crossings route.

There is an Option 3 which you can combine with Option 2 which improves on the parking situation to make it:

  • Option 3 = nicer fee-based family campground day use parking (extra .5 mile hike from campground) + dangerous street crossings route from Option 2.

Option 3: Park at San Mateo Campground Hike on Panhe Nature Trail

If you head further up Cristianitos, you’ll come to the San Mateo Campground — part of San Onofre State Beach — on your right. It’s named after San Mateo Creek which runs behind the campground. If you have a CA State Parks Pass, you can use it to park in the Day Use parking area here.

Right beyond the parking area, there is a hiking trail to the beach called Panhe Nature Trail which isn’t very well-marked with that information, but this is what the trail entrance looks like:

Again, the downsides are that it makes for a longer hike, it’s quite hilly at the start, there is a potential for rattlesnakes, and it would be VERY HOT on a hot day. But we attempted it in the evening when there was a marine layer and it was quite pleasant. It’s a basic trek up a hill from the campground and down to the beach where you’ll either travel with — or pass — other campers and surfers.

The views are gorgeous. You’ll get to see both down to the creek and out to the ocean.

You’ll still have to navigate Option 2 even when you park at the campground, so it’s really a better hike for older kids who are up for a 2-3 mile total hike while picking weather that doesn’t put you in danger of heat exhaustion.

Both Option 1 and Option 2 get you to this point near the bridge where you can head towards the beach. This is what it looks like when you get down the trail from Cristianitos in Option 2 (and you will take a right to get to the beach). If you go over that bridge in front of you, you’ve gone too far. But it is fun to peek over that bridge into the creek below.

Once you turn right, it’s a straight shot on a paved road to the trestle and beach.

There are no restrooms along the way, except for the portable toilets by the railroad tracks.

Go UNDER the bridge to reach the beach and a place to watch the surfers.


You can stand in the sand with one foot in Orange County and the other foot in San Diego County on the beach!

It’s a nature-filled walk to the beach and San Mateo Creek and wetlands make this a rich spot for wildlife and bird sightings.

Absolutely no dogs allowed on the beach — mostly because there are birds nesting on the beach. Signs are posted everywhere.

It’s entertaining for the kids to watch the trains go by (when they are running between San Clemente and Oceanside).

Off-season it was pretty quiet on the beach. Great views of Dana Point Headlands and the San Clemente coastline looking north. See the infamous San Onofre power plant and views of north San Diego to the south.

We liked walking over the concrete bridge and looking down into the creek.

If you’re lucky, you can see some world class surfing. In fact, type in “Trestles” on YouTube and you’ll see some fun surfing videos.

There’s still evidence of the fight to “Save Trestles” from a proposed tollroad.  Trestles is known as the “Yosemite of Surfing.”

Be Aware:

  • Use the restroom before you leave home! There’s a portable toilet, but it is far down the trail near the railroad tracks. Better to go before you get here.
  • E-bikes are definitely a consideration here. You will get passed multiple times by riders on e-bikes with surfboards loaded as side cargo so they are somewhat wide, even though the trail is wide. The intersection of the beach trail where it goes up the hill to Cristianitos can be dicey because bikes are merging in from other surf spots down the coast.
  • Can feel pretty isolated. I don’t think I’d do this walk on my own with the kids. Although, I did see a mom with her toddler there. I’d recommend it more for a family or group outing.
  • If you’re not ready for a decent walk, then don’t pick this beach! San Clemente State Beach (where Calafia dead ends into the beach) is a better pick.
  • You are NOT allowed to cross OVER the railroad track — there’s plenty of room to cross under the trestle (bridge).
  • You will need to pay for parking in the state parks lot and I can see it being busy during high surf, surf competitions, and the summer months.


  • I originally wrote this as a family walk for younger kids. Now I feel like the distance and conditions to get there are better for older kids.
  • NO playground – except for the big sandbox called a beach.
  • Water and snacks are a good idea for those children who need it.
  • There’s a portable toilet when you reach the trestle, but I’d recommend using the restroom before you leave home.
  • Not necessarily stroller friendly (unless you have a jogger stroller) — better for older kids.
  • I wrote a post called Quiet Trestles Beach with some photos from when you actually get to the beach. So pretty!
  • Official information about San Onofre State Beach
  • Official brochure and trail map for San Onofre State Beach with trail maps for the trails discussed in this post.
Beach Play

Originally posted in March 2010.

Ryan Anderson

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

I really like the pictures you have included. I love that more people are experiencing Trestles I just pray that the toll road never gets approved. I would hate to see one of my favorite surf spots destroyed.


Thursday 6th of June 2013

Ahh, Trestles! I've hiked from San Mateo Campground to the beach more times than I can count, many times by myself and never had any problems (but best to always hike with others anyway, safety in numbers). Btw, that is a nice campground (tent sites numbered in the very low 100's are my favorite). And yes, Save Trestles (again) is back on, public meeting Surfrider is trying to whip up supporters to attend on June 19th, 2013 (info on Thanks for the nice post & good info, reminds me I need to pay a visit again, it's been awhile :)


Monday 27th of August 2012

Do you know the distance from the pier to trestles?


Tuesday 21st of June 2011

Hi Michelle, your website and helpful hints were great. Our family and another family friends for ours did this hike with our kids and it was great!


Tuesday 8th of February 2011

Thanks for all your tips and advice on going to Trestles! We planned a homeschool adventure club outing to Trestles and made the trek last Friday. Your advice, tips, and trail map were very helpful! As of then (Feb. 2011) there is construction going on at the train track and the trestles. We shared the road with trucks and bull dozers and had to weave through fences to access the trail under the trestles. Extra caution with young kids is needed, but the construction workers were careful around our group. One porta potty was available near the trestles but was quite stinky. So, if anyone heads this way soon, be aware of the construction. It did not negatively affect our visit because the beach, the trail and the views were incredibly beautiful despite the work being done.


Tuesday 8th of February 2011

I appreciate your comment and insight so much! The only way to keep all the posts current is for nice people like you to add your personal experience and let everyone know what's going on. I'm sure many other families will appreciate the time you took to add your detailed comment.

Hopefully the next family that visits will update us on how things change in the coming months.

Comments are closed.