The Mystery of Saint Malo Beach

Have you ever walked down the southern Oceanside beaches? Did you know that there is a private beach named Saint Malo Beach at the very end, right near the border of Carlsbad?

The community of Saint Malo owns the part of the Buena Vista Lagoon closest to the Pacific Ocean.

Not much is known about this beach, and because of this, I was highly intrigued to learn more. I want to mention that there is hardly any information about this area on the internet right up front.

I spent countless hours trying to find something, anything!

Well,  I found just enough, so here I am to take you on a mini-tour of this infamous beach.

Come on!

Let’s have a look!

Saint Malo Beach Map

The History of Saint Malo Beach

Saint Malo Beach was the first private gated community in San Diego!

The houses here were first built in the late 1920s by a Pasadena architect and his wife, Kenyon and Louise Keith.

Initially, he was only interested in buying a few beachfront houses, but ultimately, he had to purchase 28 acres of prime beach real estate.

And as they say, the rest is history.

Beginning Saint Malo Beach Panoramic

The Saint Malo Community

A large majority of the original owners in this community are from notable “old money” Los Angeles families.

The same family generation has owned approximately 2/3 of the 80 houses after generation.

Over the years, the property owners would sell to just family members and friends to keep the community as tight as possible.

Again, it seems to have worked!

Elite Retreat

Saint Malo Beach was the “It” place to go in the 1930s and 1950s. The wealthy elite and Hollywood types would jaunt down here from Los Angeles on the weekends using the train.

You see,  a train station is only steps away from here. Some notable guests that have spent time here include Harpo Marx and Al Capone.

With a little more digging, I found Prince Andrew and Princess Anne stayed her during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and Julia Childs’s parents had a house here at one time too.

Even today, Saint Malo is an ideal location for summer homes and vacation rentals for the rich and famous.

Saint Malo Home Design

Saint Malo Beach was inspired by the island city of Saint Malo, located off the Brittany coast of France. The architecture of this community is unique as all the houses are designed in a French Normandy village style.

Saint Malo Beach France
Credit- All Free Photos

For instance, homeowners are to keep to strict architectural detail:

  • Slanted wood-shingled roofs
  • Redbrick chimneys
  • Animal-shaped weather vanes

Saint Malo Beach-Code of Silence

Not only do all houses have to adhere to this design, but the residents must also keep a code of silence.

I have lived in the San Diego area for over 30 years and have never heard of this place, so I would say this code of silence has worked extremely well!

I will not add any of the family’s names to respect their wishes, but I will give you a few hints.

One family has its name on a famous street in Los Angeles; I grew up one block away from it.

Another family has a California State Beach named after them, only 34 minutes north of here!

So are you ready to go and see this mysterious place? Well, to begin with, to get there, you will need to walk for a little under a mile, starting at the South Oceanside beach entrance off of Cassidy Street.

Cassidy Street Stop Sign

This is the only entrance from Oceanside, or you could start further south at Carlsbad City Beach. Today though, we will be starting in Oceanside.

Let’s go!

  Saint Malo Beach Walk

To start our adventure, we had to park off the street as there was no parking lot.

As a rule, this beach access route is entirely dependent on the tide due to how narrow it is. Because of this, always check the tide report before walking on this beach.

Cassidy Street Beach entrance

Beginning stairs looking south

Cassidy Street Beach Stairwell Halfway Down northwest

Looking north Oceanside Pier

beginning of Saint Malo Beach

Walking toward Saint Malo Beach

About halfway on our walk, the Saint Malo community begins. Each house has its unique stairway making its way down to the beach.

Staircase up to Saint Malo Beach

Saint Malo Beach half-way down

Saint Malo Beach half-way down

Sandpipers Saint Malo Beach

Two birds in surf at Saint Malo Beach

When taking a  look up top, I will not lie, but I was pretty nervous walking up this stairwell.

Keeping my eye on the sign which plainly states no trespassing, I  intentionally kept this photoshoot short!

Stairway up to house Saint Malo Beach

Saint Malo Beach Private Beach

I appreciate how all the houses have the same slanted wood-shingled roofs. Don’t you find this charming? I especially like the animal-shaped weather vanes.

A View From the Top
Close to end Saint Malo Beach

 When visiting today, the tide was low, but the waves crash right into the rocks when the tide is high, making this beach impossible to go on.

Could this be another reason why not many are aware of this area?

South Oceanside Beach Saint Malo Beach

Saint Malo Beach Looking North

Saint Malo Beach Upper View

Can you imagine the waves crashing onto the rocks here and how wonderful that would sound?

Saint Malo Beach Private Beach Lifeguard Chair

Here is a look at the private beach, which includes a lifeguard! What a gorgeous spot for sunbathing!

Private Beach Saint Malo Beach
Saint Malo’s private beach.

The Backside of Buena Vista Lagoon

End of Saint Malo Beach

As we come toward the end of Saint Malo Beach, we come upon the backside of the Buena Vista Lagoon.

Backside Buena Vista Lagoon

In the past, the Buena Vista Lagoon was a saltwater lagoon because it naturally connected to the Pacific Ocean.

But in the early 1940s, that all changed. The homeowners of Saint Malo placed a small dam (weir) to keep the ocean out.

Ultimately this weir has turned this area into a freshwater lagoon.

Long story short, the Saint Malo community believed it was in their best interests to have a freshwater lagoon compared to a saltwater lagoon. Needless to say, there has been controversy over this decision. Please go here if you would like more information as I have written more on this in-depth.

Buena Vista Lagoon Overflow

Buena Vista Lagoon Weir

Corner house Saint Malo Beach Hottentot-fig

Buena Vista Lagoon

Can you imagine what the views must look like inside these houses?

Buena Vista Lagoon Saint Malo Beach

Dunes at Saint Malo Beach

Here we are at the city border-Oceanside is on the right, and Carlsbad is on the left.

Saint Malo Beach ice plant

Let’s now walk toward the water again and soak in the views.

Ocean waves beach iceplant

Saint Malo Beach sand dune

Buena Vista Lagoon runoff

Corner house Saint Malo Beach

Looking north Saint Malo Beach

Well, here we have come to an end.

Saint Malo Beach looking North

End of the Line

I hope that you enjoyed our quick tour walking the beach of South Oceanside and Saint Malo Beach!

What do you think about the architectural design of the homes? How about a sense of community? How has this spot been kept secret for so long?

I am happy that I could finally come here and see it for myself. I hope that one day you will too!

Until next time!


24 Replies to “The Mystery of Saint Malo Beach”

  1. Great post, very informative. I lived in LA many years ago, and the San Diego area was a favorite of mine. I’ve always said if I could move back to California, I would go to the San Diego area.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Yvette! Yes, San Diego is spectacular! I grew up in Los Angeles and the beaches there definitely cannot compete with the San Diego Beaches, that is for sure.

  2. Terrific article, Colleen. I have never heard of this place before but the way you describe it, it sounds like it was the Long Island of the West Coast. Looks like a great spot for a vacation. Thank you for the info.

    1. What a great way of describing Saint Malo Beach! You see, I do not know much about “old money families” but that sound just about right! I am so glad that you enjoyed the information and thanks so much for commenting.

  3. I absolutely love San Diego. The weather is beautiful, the sun always seems to be shining and I’ve always had a nice stay in San Diego. Your pictures and videos are absolutely stunning.

    I thought you might find it interesting that there are a couple of homes for sale on St. Malo beach – I was checking them out on zillow!

    Thanks for the beach tour!

    1. Hi Heather! Yes, I was having fun checking out what the houses looked like from the inside too! Stunning and so peaceful and let us not forget expensive!Thank you for commenting. I hope you can come back and visit soon!

  4. I think it’s amazing how many hidden beautiful places there are. Learnt about another place in Mexico recently and I was intrigued. I love private beaches and this looks likes a perfect vacation spot. Hopefully I’ll be able to ‘Dora the Explorer’ my way there in the nearest future lol.

    1. A Dora Expedition is indeed something to have fun going on! I too love to learn about hidden jewels! Thank you so much for commenting.

  5. Colleen – I enjoyed this virtual tour immensely! I love the architecture of the homes, and my interest grew even more with Saint Malo’s code of silence. Thanks for sharing this natural treasure despite it being kept so selfishly by the elite owners. Your pictures truly made me feel I’ve been there myself! I’ll ask my friend from San Diego if she even knows about Saint Malo. Thank you so much!!

    1. Thank you, Gigi! I am so happy to hear that you enjoyed the virtual tour! I appreciate it so much because that is precisely what I am trying for-like you are there. I hope that one day you may visit this site as well but this time in person! Thank you for stopping by 🙂

  6. Wow, what amazing photos… And what a privilege to have been there to take them! It must’ve been quite nerve wrecking for you!

    The rich really do know how to live and to be able to keep it so private too! Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Hi Teresa! You know me so well! Yes, I was a little nervous when I climb the steps to get a closer look. It is so magical here at Saint Malo-I can only imagine what it would be like to wake up here every day with the sounds of the waves just outside your front door! I am so glad that you enjoyed the trip. Please check back regularly, as I will be updating with new adventures every week! Thank you for your comment.

  7. Rumor has it that the Chandlers, the founders of the L.A. Times lived there at one. When I lived in O’side in the 80s, I took a walk on the beach one day with my baby. Got kicked out. Had no idea the place was private lol.
    I’m probably the first non-white ever seen there apart from the help hahaha.
    When I lived in Cali, I wished I could live there, but nowadays if you ask me, that place has lost its luster. Based on pics I’ve seen lately, St. Malo has seen its better days. Won’t be long before they’ll start using it for Air B&B if only raise money to fix the place up. Maybe that’ll be my chance to live like California royalty? ahahaha. I’d rather stay in Malibu, to be honest.

    1. Hi Maria! Thank you for stopping by! I know what you mean about feeling quite odd around the place. When I was on the beach, I was afraid of going up the stairs to take better pictures. I didn’t want anyone to kick me out. One thing that bugs me about the community is the fact that they want to keep the lagoon freshwater. That weir needs to go, or there is a chance that with all of the cattails overgrowing, that to lagoon will dry up.
      Thanks for the intel about the Chandlers, very interesting. To be honest, I had a lot of fun researching Saint Malo Beach. I had lived in the San Diego area for 30 years and never heard of the place until recently. And there is hardly anything online about the place, which made it a challenge.
      Thank you again for the comment!

  8. One of my first home health nursing positions was for a woman that lived in St Malo. It was an overnight position so I slept there several days a week. My client had a bday window right in the sand and you could see dolphins from the window sometimes. A very beautiful home and neighborhood

    1. Hi Serenity! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! What you describe sounds so lovely. Would you say that you witnessed the dolphins in the late afternoon? Also, did the water ever breach the rock piles in the wintertime? Thank you again for sharing!

  9. I have had the privilege of “summering” there from 8 yo to about 16yo at which time my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and we bad bigger things to worry about. My best childhood memories are from St. Malo, I remember befriending some local guy and when I brought them over they didn’t think they were allowed through the gate. I assured them Little John (gate guard) knows me well and as long as they were with me they could come in. These guys were just in shock that they were allowed in. LOL. My Aunt still owns her home and my mom says it is exactly the same in 2023 as it was in 1960.

    1. Hi Will! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, as I appreciate feedback immensely! I find it funny how your friend felt like they couldn’t go into the gate because whenever I am on the beach and climb the stairs for a better photo perspective, I feel like I should not be there. I am also happy to hear that your Aunt still has her house there. Did you know they are discussing getting rid of the lagoon weir? Thank you again for reaching out.

  10. It’s a fantastic and charming community there. Some homes are behind the guard gate, others are along Cassidy. The exteriors look weathered, it’s the look of homes on the “shore.” Private beach, tennis, etc. The views are terrific, a few see the lagoon and the ocean. I’ve visited a couple of times for business-related things, it felt incredibly relaxed (well taken care of but not overly manicured) and the community feels like a big, extended family. When there nearly everyone is on vacation, seeing long time friends and neighbors. There’s nothing else like this neighborhood in San Diego. It’s like a membership in a old, established beach club (like La Jolla) or small yacht club (like the one in Coronado). You’d expect the HOA fees to be high, they’re pretty reasonable given that it’s got a guarded gate.

    1. Hi Peter! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I appreciate your viewpoint, as I have only been able to experience the Saint Malo community on the shoreline. I have to say that someday I will be vacationing here. Thank you again!

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