Trestles Beach attracts surfers from all over the world to experience the perfect wave. Trestles are named after the railroad bridge over San Mateo Creek near the entrance to the beach. The 3½-mile-long beach consists of five separate surf breaks: Cotton, Uppers, Middles, Lowers, and Church.
To get to Trestles, you will have to walk about a mile from the parking lot down a winding paved trail. The path and the beach are posted with no dogs, so you will have to leave your four-legged friend home on this trek.
Once you arrive at the beach, you will enjoy some of the last undeveloped coastal areas in Southern California. San Mateo Creek Lagoon is directly on the beach, and during winter rains, sand and rocks are washed down the creek and out to sea, helping to create the surf break.
Along the bluff overlooking the beach, there are several trails where you can take in beautiful views of the coast to San Onofre State Beach.
If you are going for a hike, then you will probably have the trail along the bluff to yourself with the occasional runner or mountain bike rider to say hello. San Mateo Creek flows into a small freshwater lagoon at Trestles, where you might spot a few birds.
You don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy Trestles Beach, but you do have to make the extra effort to visit this world-famous beach.
Trestles Beach has a reputation as a locals-only beach. Some surfers are very territorial, but for the most part, everyone is amiable. Several surfing contests are held here during the year, and there is usually a shuttle bus to take you to the grandstands.
The main trail ends at the train trestle, and from there, you walk along the beach to your destination. Another option to reach some of the best surfing spots is to take the old Pacific Coast Highway trail (closed to vehicles) to the lookout point. Then follow the dirt road down to the beach.
Surfers are quite innovative, carrying their boards on bikes with racks or skateboards for a quick trip down to the beach. The most popular mode of transport to Trestles is by fat-tired E-bikes. On a big surf day, the Trestles can attract a large crowd, and surfers will have to share the waves with hundreds of others at the best breaks.
Why are the waves so good at Trestles? During a heavy rainstorm, the lagoon empties into the sea. Sediment flow from the creek creates sandbars. Below the surface, there are many cobblestones. The tide and the angle of the swell all affect the quality of waves.
Portable bathrooms are available at the beach entrance near the trestle, but anything else you need will have to be carried in.
The hike or ride down the trail is defiantly worth the trip, and you will be rewarded by one of the last unspoiled (except for the train track) stretches of accessible Southern California coast.
History of Trestles Beach
The original 1946 wooden Trestle bridge pictured above has been replaced with a seven million dollars concrete structure. The new bridge will save about 250,000 dollars a year in upkeep. The bridge is still a trestle, just not made of wood.
Trestles still is a secluded surfing spot, but a little bit of Southern California surfing history was lost with the wooden bridge’s replacement. One highlight of the new concrete bridge is the letters TRESTLES built into the new structure.
Trestles Trivia: Trestles was mentioned in the 1963 “Surfin USA” song. The Marine Corps still uses Middles for practicing amphibious landings.
Trestles Beach was nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the rise of Surf Culture. However, because about 2.5 miles of the designated area lies on Camp Pendleton property, the Navy opposed the designation. Up until 1971, the Marines patrolled Trestles Beach and chased off or even arrested surfers for trespassing.
The beach at Trestles is a bit sparse and difficult to access but yields a fantastic experience for those willing to traverse its rocky shoreline. Trestles are located at the north end of San Diego County. Most people think it is an Orange County Beach.
Trestles Beach Directions – Parking
Exit 405 freeway at Christainitos Road at the south end of San Clemente. The trail to Trestles beach is located just off Christainitos Road across the parking areas’ freeway bridge. There are a (parking fee required) parking lot and some free street parking. The parking lot fills up fast, so arrive early on weekends. Walk across the freeway bridge, turn left down the trail, and then right to the beach.
There is no overnight camping at San Onofre Beach, but there is a state campground along the bluff south of Trestles (old PCH) and an inland campground, San Mateo. San Mateo Campground connects to Trestles Beach via a trail. San Onofre State Beach. San Clemente State Beach is adjacent to Trestles.
Trestles Beach Trail Video
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