By John McKinney
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Southland Beaches: Five Favorite Hikes Along the Promised Sand
Southern California's beaches have long served as resort areas for Californians, as well as visitors from across the country and around the world. Though some state beaches are crowded blanket-to-blanket with sun worshipers, many offer a much more relaxing, even remote environment for a day at the beach.
The Southland's three dozen or so state beaches begin at the Mexican border with Borderfield State Park and continue past Santa Barbara to Refugio and Gaviota state beaches. Each state beach beach has its own character: best surfing, clearest water, panoramic view, most birdlife. The air and water temperatures are Mediterranean, most of the place-names Spanish.
While millions flock to the promised sand, most cluster near the parking lots of a relatively few beach parks. Less-accessible beaches, bluffs and coastal ridges are left to those willing to walk. Beach-walk past the crowds and you might just discover a measure of solitude as well as some surprisingly wild shoreline. Here are five of my favorite Southland state beaches, easily accessible yet offering beach hikers, both casual and intrepid, some very special outings.
Silver Strand State Beach, boasting 2,000 parking spaces, might seem the last place on earth to seek solitude, but this San Diego Bay area beach remains remarkably uncrowded. By virtue of its great length (5 miles), it disperses visitors over its sparkling sands so that coastal congestion of the kind found at other Southland beaches is rare.
The state beach hosts a multitude of such waterfowl as Brandt's cormorants, gulls, terns, sanderlings and loons. California sea lions are numerous offshore and an occasional school of porpoises visits the area. You can walk a mellow mile or two north along the strand or saunter 5 miles to that rambling, red-roofed queen of Victorian-era hotels, the Hotel Del Coronado. Coast walkers can then return to the state beach by bus.
San Clemente State Beach is a great place for a walk. The beach is mercifully walled off from the din of the San Diego Freeway and the confusion of the modern world by a handsome line of tan-colored bluffs. Only the occasional train passing over the railroad tracks (located near the shore) interrupts the cry of the gull, the roar of the breakers. The trestles located at the south end of the beach at San Mateo Point give Trestles Beach (one of the finest surfing areas on the West Coast) its name.
You can walk 1.5 miles to San Mateo Point, which marks the San Diego-Orange County boundary. The enthusiastic, with the time and inclination, may trek several miles south to San Onofre State Beach.
Huntington and Bolsa Chica State Beaches are the Bonneville Salt Flats of beaches: Wide. Long. With more fire pits than Fiji. The state beaches (with Huntington City Beach sandwiched in the middle) extend some 9 miles along Orange County's coast.
This long beach is ideal for a bike and hike excursion. A bike path extends the length of Bolsa Chica Beach to the Santa Ana River south of Huntington Beach. You can leave your bike at Bolsa Chica State Beach and hike up to it from Huntington.
You can also experience these state beaches on a one-way jaunt by taking advantage of OCTD Bus #1 which makes several stops along Pacific Coast Highway.
McGrath State Beach has some surprises for the beach hiker, including a small lake in the southern part of the park which attracts more than two hundred species of birds, including black-shouldered kites, northern harriers, owls and herons. Begin with the nature trail that leads through the Santa Clara Estuary Natural Preserve, a haven for birds and habitat for weasels, skunks, rabbits, opossum, squirrels and turtles. Once you reach the sandy beach, it's a 2 mile walk to McGrath Lake, a 6-mile walk to Channel Islands Harbor
Carpinteria State Beach hosts one the park system's more popular beachfront campgrounds. A broad beach, gentle waves, safe swimming and fishing are among the reasons for this popularity.
It's a delightful walk south along what some Carpinteria boosters claim is the "safest beach in the world." (Although the surf here can be large, it breaks far out and there's very little undertow.) From the campground, it's a 1.25 mile walk to the Harbor Seal Preserve. Continue a little farther to the just preserved Carpinteria Bluffs, which rise about 100 feet above the beach and offer great views of Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands.
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