Hugging one of the most picturesque shorelines in Southern California, the San Clemente Beach Trail is one of the premier rail-trails in the area. The trail itself is technically a rail-with-trail, as it shares the corridor with an active Amtrak line with service between Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as Metrolink trains that are part of the L.A. commuter rail system. Whereas most communities surrounding L.A. have fallen victim to rampant development, surfside San Clemente has preserved its small town identity and spirit. The trail enhances these qualities. The trail surface is composed mostly of compact sand from the beach.
Begin at the north end of the pedestrian-only trail near the San Clemente Metrolink station in the area known as North Beach. The trail leads south out of the Metrolink parking lot. It is narrowly situated between high cliffs on the left and the railroad tracks and beach on the right. Be sure to check out the unique flora that cover the cliff, as well as the impressive beach houses high atop the cliffs. After several hundred yards, the trail flows onto an impressive bridge. Running about 10 feet off the ground for roughly 0.25 mile, the bridge serves as a glorified boardwalk over sensitive beach habitat.
Once across the bridge, follow the trail across the railroad tracks and continue to the primary beachfront area of San Clemente at the Pier Bowl trailhead. Here you will find restaurants, shops and beach picnic areas. A pier jets out into the ocean here and is a prime location for watching surfers ride the waves. There are public restrooms and plenty of parking near the pier.
The trail continues south along the beach and crosses the railroad tracks again about 0.25 mile beyond the Pier Bowl area. Be careful because the crossing is at grade with the tracks. The trail continues for another 1.5 miles south along the beach to the endpoint near San Clemente State Beach, which has parking and beach access.
Parking and Trail Access
To reach the northern trailhead at the Metrolink station from Interstate 5, take Exit 76 and head west on East Avenida Pico. Follow it for about 0.5 mile to the intersection of North El Camino Real. Take a right and the train station will be on your left in a few hundred feet.
To reach the trailhead at Pier Bowl area from Interstate 5 take the exit and head (right or left) west into town. Take a left onto North El Camino Real Road. Continue for less than 0.5 mile to Avenida del Mar. Take a left and follow Avenida del Mar all the way to the beach and San Clemente Pier and the adjoining parking lots. The trailhead is just beyond the train tracks.