Exploring Trestles Beach Trail

Trestles Beach is a collection of surf breaks located at the northern border of San Onofre State Beach. Saying that this beach is world famous is an understatement! In fact, the Hurley Pro is held here!

I went over this area a bit in a previous post on San Onofre State Beach, but today I would like to concentrate on the Beach Trail leading to Trestles Beach.

The Beach Trail going east also becomes the Panhe Nature trail, which I have also written about if you are interested.

Recently, I have been teaching myself about all of the Southern California native plant species, so today I would like to point out a few to you if you do not mind. It helps me!

Once we arrive at Trestles, I will also be showcasing the San Mateo Creek/ Lagoon which ends at the beach as well as checking out the surfers and the dunes.

Ok, let’s go! There is so much to see!

#Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Get Off On Cristiantos Road

3929 S El Camino Real. San Clemente

First off, there is a Trestles Parking Area right next to a Carl’s Jr where you can pay by the hour. It is also important to mention, that when available, there is parking off of the street as well.

Trestles Beach Parking Lot Sign

Once you have parked, cross the street where you see an opening in a fence and follow the path west.

The Beach Trail to Trestles

Beginning Trestles Beach Trail

Trail going down workers cleaning

Here we come upon a group of workers clearing out the trash and old vegetation; compliments of the Califonia Fire Department.

Unique Ecosystems

Coastal Sage Scrub Beach Trail Trestles

Looking southeast, into the San Mateo Canyon,  we have an excellent example of Southern California’s unique ecosystems of coyote bush scrub, willow woodland,  and sycamore/cottonwood woodland taking advantage of the San Mateo Creek water.

There is a natural underground water system within this canyon which may explain why there is a significant amount of trees present.

Under Freeway surfers walking
Underneath Interstate 5 Freeway

Trestles Beach Trail Under freeway three surfers walking

Poison Hemlock Trestles Beach Trail
Poison Hemlock looks just like the Wild Carrot
Tree Tobacco Beach Trail Trestles
Tree Tobacco Plant

The Tree Tobacco Plant is a non-native species from South America. Native Americans would smoke the plant along with other tobacco species plants, and it was used in hunting rituals. It was also utilized as an anti-inflammatory agent;  helping with cuts, sores, bruises, sore throats and swollen glands.

Trestles Wetland Reserve Sign Beach Trail Entrance

We are now entering the Trestles Wetlands Natural Preserve. There are no paths within the Preserve except around its outer edges. We will be able to see part of the wetlands once we arrive at the San Mateo Lagoon.

Natural Reserve, Natural Preserve? What Is The Difference?

While researching my website, I have encountered many beaches which are considered a Natural Reserve as well as some stating to be a Natural Preserve. So what is the difference?

Well, both are similar in that a piece of land is put aside to protect flora and fauna as well as geological formations. The only difference between the two is that in a Natural Preserve, the public is not allowed to enter. On the other hand, a Natural Reserve provides for limited human contact.

So, this is the reason for the fence that you see while walking on the Beach Trail.

I hope that this has cleared up any confusion.

Let’s get back on the trail!


Coastal Sage Scrub Beach Trail Trestles

Look closely at the photo above, and you can see a few red leaves which are poison oak.

Do you also see the chain linked fence where the overgrowth of the plants is pushing the fence forward? I love how all the vegetation here is so old!

California Sycamore Tree On Trestles Beach Trail
California Sycamore

Plants sticking out on Trestles Beach Trail

Extra Things To Look For

Beach Trail Graffiti Trestles

When looking down while walking, you can not help but see an array of graffiti on the pathway.

Beach Trail Graffiti Trestles Beach Trail

Animal Habitat Trestles Beach Trail
Animal Habitat

The denseness of the vegetation makes for excellent animal habitat.

Trestles Danger Sign on Beach Trail

Here is a welcome reminder to be extra cautious in the water due to underwater obstructions as well as a friendly reminder that there are great white sharks in the water offshore here!

Trestles Beach Trail Near End


Trestles Train Track End of Beach Trail

If you look closely, you will see that word Trestles is spelled out on the concrete pillars.

Trestles Beach Sand Dunes

San Mateo Creek

San Mateo Lagoon Beach Trail Trestles

Now we have finally come to the end of the San Mateo Creek, formally called the San Mateo Lagoon which is 6 acres in size.

The lagoon is closed off to any ocean interaction by a sand berm, but all of that changes when there is a powerful storm.  There is an underground water supply as well that feeds this lagoon.

Steelhead Sign Trestles Beach

Amtrac Train San Mateo Lagoon Trestles
Amtrac going over the San Mateo Lagoon
San Mateo Lagoon Trestles Beach Trail
California Bulrush and Cattails

Trestles Beach Trail Near San Mateo Lagoon

As we turn away from the lagoon, let us now go and check the beach out!

Trail on Beach Trestles

In this direction, we come upon another non-native species, the Hottentot-fig from South Africa.

Hottentot-fig Next To Trail Trestles Beach

Initially, this species was introduced in late 1800’s as a bluff stabilizer, but the fact is,  it is a destabilizer which also competes with native species.

Trestles Beach Sand Dune South View
Looking South

East view lagoon Trestles Beach

We come now to the back of the San Mateo Creek/ Lagoon to give you an idea how it is cut off from the Pacific Ocean.

I would love to come here during a storm to see how it looks when the Ocean breaches the sand barrier, that would indeed be a sight to behold!

San Mateo Lagoon bulrush goldenbush hottentot-fig
Bulrush in water and Goldenrod on shore

Let’s now turn around and check out the Ocean!

Lowers at Trestles

Lowers Trestles Beach Panoramic

As stated previously, Trestles Beach is a collection of surf breaks, named by where its position is related to the Trestles train track. For instance,  where the Beach Trail spits you out; so to speak,  is considered Uppers Beach, followed by( going South) Lowers, Middles and finally Church (private military beach.) Cotton’s is a little bit north at San Clemente State Beach in  Orange County.

Fun Fact- There is a spot at Trestles were you can indeed have one foot in San Diego County and the other in Orange County! I wonder if there is a marker there? I will have to look next time using my  GPS.

Surfing Trestles Sign Trestles Beach

Let’s now go left and see what we see.

Surfing Trestles driftwood tree on beach
May 2018

I was excited to see this huge tree trunk and how it was buried in the sand.

You see, my husband and I came here back in December, and I took many photos of it.

I love how the comparison of the two, showcases the ever-changing dynamics of the sand on the beach.  Look how much of it was buried in five months.

Driftwood Tree Trestles Beach
December 2017

  Here you can see all of the rocks on the beach, exposed by a low tide. These rocks are found all the way offshore and are one of the reasons why this beach has fantastic surf breaks.

south view Trestles rocky shore

Trestles Beach Birds rocky shore tidal pools

Trestles Beach Birds Western Gull Flying
Western Gull
Trestles Beach Birds western gull brown pelican
Brown Pelican and Western Gulls

Surfing Trestles

Surfing Trestles rocky shore surfers wave

Ironically, the day that we visited Trestles, a decent swell was coming in. I wish I had a better camera, but here are a few shots.

Surfing Trestles Beach

Surfing Trestles

Surfer Trestles Beach

Trestles Beach North View Sandy Shore

We are now coming to the border of San Diego County and Orange County, with San Clemente State Beach in the background.

California Black Sea Hare Trestles

Scattered on the shoreline, we encountered many California black sea hares. Do not worry though, once the tide comes back in they will be back in the water.

Trestles Dunes

Trestles Beach Lifeguard Tower

Trestles Beach as you see is in a very remote location. Lifeguards are only present on the weekends but do patrol via trucks throughout the week as well.

Trestles Dunes salt grass ice plant

Trestles Beach Sand Dunes Coastal Sage Scrub
Coyote Bush

The dunes at Trestles has always been a favorite spot of mine. It is not too often that you see so much vegetation right on the beach. It fascinates me to no end, on how these plants can survive in the sand!

Coast Prickly Pear Trestles Dunes
Coast Prickly Pear
Salt Grass Trestles Dunes
Salt Grass
Beach Primrose Trestles Dunes
Beach Primrose

Trestles Dunes next to Train Trestle

We are now walking back to where we first started.

So what did you think? Which part did you enjoy the most? All in all, this is an amazingly easy trail to walk.

In closing, I highly recommend the Beach Trail to Trestles for the whole family. You experience such a variety of landscapes all while hearing the sweet sound of the Pacific Ocean. And remember, if you continue on the Beach Trail east, it turns into the Panhe Nature Trail and connects you to the San Mateo Campground. I highly recommend checking it out!

Until next time.

Trestles East two people walking path
Walking back

I have always had a deep-seated passion for the Ocean Environment which ultimately led me to receive a degree in Marine Biology. Living in the San Diego area for over 30 years, I have extensively explored the 70 miles of San Diego’s coastline, and I am here to share! Please use my website to your advantage and have a look around at all the wonders that the beaches of San Diego can offer you!

8 Replies to “Exploring Trestles Beach Trail”

  1. Cool post. I learned some new stuff here. I surfed Trestles as a young dude growing up in San Diego and got some killer lefts there and loved the break. I remember the train tracks there as we had to huff it over them to get to the waves. Fun times and well written and informative article you have written here. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, David! I grew up near the beach in Los Angeles, and a bunch of guys that I knew from High School would go down to Trestles on the weekends to surf. To be honest, I was too intimidated to go to Trestles when I came down to San Diego for college in the 80’s. I didn’t think I was COOL enough! Thank you for the comment.

  2. What a great post! I really enjoyed reading and found it very interesting. I appreciate your passion for the Ocean Environment and the way you’ve put that across in this article. Loved the pictures and the videos. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hey Colleen,

    Wow, you have really covered everything about exploring the Trestles Beach Trail!

    I do have a couple questions for you though:

    How much is parking?
    Is Poison Hemlock really poisonous? It doesn’t even look like a harmful plant! If you come in contact with it what should you do?
    Do you believe some people can’t get poison oak? I believe I have touched it many times, but never really got any skin irritation or anything.
    What other trails do you recommend by San Diego County and Orange County?

    I am considering going there in 3-4 months if I can talk my girlfriend into it.

    1. Hi Garen! Thank you for the questions. Regarding Hemlock, it is very poisonous but only when ingested. As for poison oak, I try not ever to touch it, so I do not know! The parking rate at the Trestles parking lot is four dollars an hour or fifteen dollars for the whole day. Please look around my site as I have many posts under the hiking category. I hope this helps and that you and your girlfriend have a fantastic time on your San Diego vacation!

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