Guide to Cardiff-by-the-Sea Beaches

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


  • 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.


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


  • 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.



  • 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.


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

“Guide to Cardiff-by-the-Sea Beaches”, San Diego,


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