Leaving Big Sur we pulled our tiny shiny Aistream Sport south to our next destination San Elijo State Beach, a 2 mile stretch of sand with campgrounds overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As with pretty much all California camping, reservations in advance are a necessity.
Experience the Ocean
The campground is nestled between highway 101 and the ocean. It’s an urban campground, so don’t come here thinking you’ll be escaping the noises of the city. Notably there is the traffic noise from the 101 as well as the horns from the commuter and freight trains riding the rails on the other side of the highway.
We had an ocean-front site #54 which was quite large as you can see in the photo below. We backed the Airstream into its spot below the embankment and setup camp.
Most of the Ocean-front campgrounds we looked into on the California coast are simply paved parking lots for a lineup of Class A and C motorhomes. We used the satellite view of Google maps to check out the sites as we searched the different campgrounds. Were were happy to find that San Elijo breaks that mold with large campsites suitable for RVs, trailers and tents. Each site includes a fire ring, a picnic table, and a modest attempt at privacy by using bushes and trees for separation.
Welcome to California, Now Pay Up!
Welcome to California where everything costs more, even camping. Ocean front sites at San Elijo are considered premium and the cost is $50 per night. The remainder of sites are $35 per night. These rates are for the non-hookup sites as of January 2018. There are a small number of sites with Electric, Water and Sewer (in the Middle section) that run $75 per night for Oceanfront and $60 per night for the rest. The campground has several modern bathroom/shower facilities found at reasonable intervals. Each building is a series of private rooms that include toilets/sinks or shower rooms (separate purchase of tokens required for shower of course).
Good Vibes Abound
When we arrived at the campground, every site was occupied and there was a lot of activity going on. Surfers were coming and going to the ocean, dog owners were taking pups for a stroll, people were talking and laughing, cars were coming and going non-stop. At first it felt really hectic, but as soon as the sun went down, a different San Elijo appeared. The activity slowed, the noise dwindled and eventually it was the ocean breeze and lullaby rhythm of the waves that washed over the campsite. We grew to enjoy the daily activity and came to understand that this is the vibe of the camp, and it was a good vibe full of positive energy and happy people.
Surfers, surfers, surfers
Many of the campers here are hardcore surfers looking to get out on the water as soon as the sun comes up. Although we don’t surf, we pulled our chairs onto the bluff each morning and sipped coffee, being entertained by the head-over-heels crashes of those out on the waves. Now if you want to be one of those riding the waves, there is the Eli Howard Surf School located right there in the campground.
Bonus! Encinitas is just down the street
Speaking of surfers, the charming surf town of Encinitas is just a short drive from San Elijo and touted as one of the best surf towns in the world. We did have fun in Encinitas and found some great food and fun people. We’ll come back to Encinitas in a separate blog post.
San Elijo Net Net…Good times!
We stayed at San Elijo for 5 days and it wasn’t long enough for us. The vibe was cool, the campers were respectful and the scenery was awe-inspiring. Waking up to the ocean every day and then watching the sun set over the Pacific are two special treats that don’t ever spoil. As we left and headed East towards the desert we decided that we liked San Elijo enough to plan a return before we make our way back to Washington.