About three miles south of Carlsbad, the California state park known as South Carlsbad State Beach offers a popular bluff-top campground with stairs leading down to the shore. The park contains 220 campsites, two large public use areas, and plenty of hiking trails, along with a recreational beach.
The coastline at South Carlsbad State Beach has been described as a "cobble beach,'' owing to its mixture of smooth stones and fine grains of impure silica. The natural seawall here is made up of cobblestones, which is periodically buried by shifting sands. The composition of the beach at any given time is affected by weather patterns and ocean currents, in addition to dredging work taking place at Agua Hedionda Lagoon nearby.
Despite the lack of pristine conditions, South Carlsbad State Beach remains a good place for swimming and scuba diving as well as board and body surfing. In addition to mobile lifeguards who patrol the shore year-round, the lifeguard towers are staffed daily from 10am to 6pm from April through October.
Because this is a state park, quite a few rules apply to beach use here. No open fires are allowed, other than those built in established fire rings. Alcohol and glass containers are permitted at campsites, but they are not allowed on the beach. Similarly, dogs and other pets may be walked on the parks trails as long as they are on a leash, but they are not permitted at all on the beach. Visitors are strongly encouraged to pack out whatever they pack in order to keep the beach free of trash.
Those wishing to stay overnight must do so at a designated campsite, each of which can accommodate up to eight persons. Park fees are required of campers and users of the two group function areas. Payment is by self-registration at the entrance station on a per-vehicle basis. Check-in time is 2pm and check-out is at noon.
The campsites are designed for many different sizes of campers, trailers, and motor homes. Recreational vehicles up to a maximum length of 35 feet can be accommodated. Parking must be within assigned campsites, not on the roadway or planted areas. A maximum of three licensed vehicles per campsite is allowed, motorcycles included. Hook-ups are not available.
South Carlsbad State Beach has a camp store, open from April through October. Here, visitors may purchase firewood, ice, and groceries. There are also public restroom facilities available at the Ponto Day-Use Area, just south of the main campground.
As part of an initiative to bring Internet access to California's state parks, South Carlsbad State Beach now has Wi-Fi service. Wireless enabled laptop computers and personal digital assistants may be used at the picnic tables, in tents, and in RV spaces located within 150 feet of the campground office.
In 2009, two campground hosts from Cardiff and Carlsbad created a new non-profit group to benefit the local area beaches and campgrounds. Called the "Friends of Cardiff & Carlsbad State Beaches,'' the organization seeks funds for facility improvements and programs for campers and local citizens. One of its first projects is the creation of a new Pelican Point education and events area at South Carlsbad, which should be opening in the near future.
The campground at South Carlsbad State Beach is located at 7201 Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad, California 92008. It is open daily from dawn to sunset for day visitors and campsite entry. To get there by car from San Diego, take Interstate 5 North for about 50 miles and exit at Palomar Airport Road. Follow the road west to Carlsbad Boulevard South and continue 1.6 miles to the entrance. Please note that the campground cannot be accessed from Poinsettia Avenue.