arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin
Discover

Cardiff-by-the-Sea

Family fun, sublime surfing and a local, laid-back vibe

A vibrant stretch of beaches in North County, Cardiff is a popular beach that feels like San Diego.

The coastline is renowned for wide open sandy beaches, gorgeous cliffs and great surfing. There’s even camping, in a spectacular oceanfront setting—a favorite spot for many San Diego locals and visitors (who book well in advance!).

Cardiff starts at the river mouth, flanked by San Elijo State Beach and Cardiff State Beach, and extends north to Swami’s Point in Encinitas. At extreme low tide, the reef reveals itself with tide pools, where plants and sea creatures reveal themselves for an up-close look. Cardiff is also home to the Cardiff Kook—a surfer statue that’s often criticized, and sometimes revered, as a parody of California’s iconic sport.

Where to go

  • Cardiff State Beach and its two reefs create excellent breaks for surfing, while its kelp beds are well-suited for diving.
  • San Elijo, the beach in front of the campground, is open for day use and is ideal for families.
  • Pipes is a fun peaky surf break north of the campground, popular with swimmers, sunbathers and surfers alike.
  • Cardiff Reef is a quaint beach park and surf spot on the south end of the campground where the cliffs end.
  • George's is just south of the San Elijo Lagoon river mouth and is the area’s “Restaurant Row,” located right above the beach on Highway 101.

Parking

  • You can park at any of the designated lots, but be sure to purchase a parking pass, available at the ranger station at Cardiff State Beach camping grounds.
  • Street parking along Highway101 is free but can be a busy stretch of Interstate.

Bathrooms & Showers

  • Public restrooms and showers are available at Cardiff State Beach and two other locations north of the river mouth.

Lifeguards

  • Lifeguard stands are staffed seasonally depending on weather conditions and the number of beach patrons. During spring and summer months, lifeguards are active and available.

Popular Activities

  • Surfing, paddle boarding, boogie boarding.
  • Body surfing and swimming allowed in designated areas.
  • Snorkeling and scuba diving.
  • Spear fishing.

Directions to San Elijo State Beach

  • From the I-5 freeway, exit Birmingham Dr. west to San Elijo Ave. and turn left. Take a right onto Chesterfield Dr. and another right onto South Coast Highway 101. Follow South Coast Highway a short distance, and you will see the entrance to San Elijo State Beach.

What to Love

  • There can be strong currents and rip tides, especially around the river mouth.
  • Big waves are possible during swells.
  • Use caution when walking on bluffs and cliffs, which can be unstable.
  • Alcohol and smoking are prohibited on beaches.

What to Know

  • Tide pools during extreme low tides at Swamis.
  • Red tides during warm summer months.
  • Surf competitions and festivals at Cardiff State Beach.

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Deals just for you

Activity

Save $136 or more at 4 Famous Theme Parks

Southern California CityPASS
Valid: Jan 1 - ongoing

Save $136 or more with Southern California CityPASS - an admission card that gives you 1-day admission to SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California, PLUS a 3-day Park Hopper® ticket to Disneyland® Park and Disney California Adventure® Park.

Team Building

Humpday Special, all San Diegans save 10% off entire purchase!

Adventure RIB Rides
Valid: May 15 - ongoing

Spend your humpdays the right way by exploring off the San Diego Coastline! Enjoy a memorable experience with friends and family with Adventure RIB Whale Watching aboard an Authentic Navy SEAL RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat)!

Promotional Gifts

Receive a FREE Tote Bag With Purchase of Ticket!

San Diego Beer, Wine & Spirits Tours
Valid: Oct 20, 2016 - ongoing

Book a Chauffeured Distillery Tour and receive a FREE canvas tote bag! Book your tour today by calling 858-551-5115. We are open every day from 9am-9pm (PST).

 

 

Related Articles and Features

La Jolla

La Jolla Reefs

Postcard Perfection.

Along LaJolla's rocky points and reefs in the space of a few short miles, you'll encounter peaceful bays and pounding surf, offshore kelp and near shore tide pools, sea caves and seal rookeries, sparkling azure water and gleaming white beaches.

Discover
Mission Bay

Mission Bay Bike Path

San Diego's Water Wonderland Offers 12 Miles of Biking Bliss

Find where to go, what to love, what to know about these 12 miles of flat, scenic bike paths passing by all of Mission Bay’s public parks and following a portion of the San Diego River.

Discover
Family

Family Friendly & Teen Beach Scenes

70 miles of coastline to explore

San Diego's 70 miles of coastline offer families a variety of beaches that are perfect for swimming, surfing, sandcastle building, and any other family beach activity.

Discover
Parks & Gardens

San Diego Dog Beaches and Off Leash Dog Parks

Places to play fetch or doggy-paddle

Find dog-friendly beaches and off leash dog parks in San Diego that are great for your dog to perfect its doggy-paddle, play fetch, or have a snore-fest on the warm sand.

Discover

What's Nearby

Beaches Region

Areas of Interest

Where to Stay

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up

Visitor planning guide

For the ultimate guide to planning your San Diego vacation, view and download the San Diego Visitor Planning Guide, packed with useful information that will help you plan the perfect San Diego getaway.

Download

Partners

Explore

Plan

Stay

Follow Us

Language:

English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China Deutschland Great Britain Japan Mexico Korea USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Croatian Czech Danish Deutsch Estonian Filipino Finnish Francais Galician Greek Haitian-Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Nederlands Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Swahili Swedish Telugu Thai Turkish Ukranian Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish