Best SoCal Beach to Spend the Day for Van Lifers

What is the best beach in Southern California for van lifers to spend the day?


San Onofre State Beach is one of the few beaches in Southern California that can drive your van right up to the sand. The beach has ample parking, restrooms, outdoor showers, water fountains, and trash bins, all of which are key to any van or RV nomad.

The beach is also one of the best surfing beaches in Southern California and is near three campgrounds. San Onofre State Beach is a wonderful place to spend the day surfing and relaxing in the sand. This is why I ranked it number one in Southern California.

What were the Criteria?

Two criteria went into judging a beach to see if it is perfect for any van lifer to spend the day. The first, is the beach van friendly? What do I mean by van friendly? Is the beach a place where you can conveniently park your van and not be hassled by tight parking spaces, unlevel terrain, distance from the beach, and does it come with a nice view while in your van?

Nobody wants to be in their van and see nothing but parked cars. The beach also must have restrooms, available water, and trash bins. These are all essential to making a day in the van more pleasant.  

The second criteria is about the beach itself. Is the beach beautiful?  Is there stuff to do at the beach? What are the beach surroundings? Are there lifeguards at the beach? Does the beach have amenities like a volleyball court, play area, and ample sand? These are key criteria to making the beach an enjoyable place to spend the day.

These are the two criteria I used when judging the best beach in Southern California for any van lifer to spend the day.  Although others might have different criteria, I believe these are the two that most van lifers can relate to.

Why is it the best?

San Onofre State Beach meets all the above criteria. As I mentioned above, it is one of only a handful of beaches in Southern California where you can drive your van right up to the beach.

Just make sure you do not drive onto the sand and get stuck. That would not be very pleasant. I usually like to park my van backward to open the back doors and have a beautiful ocean view.

The main attraction to San Onofre State Beach is the beach itself. The beach is not located at the base of many residential homes or industrial parks. The beach is located below a bluff on Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base.

The base leases the land to the California Park System. That means you will not be looking at houses or other ugly artificial habitats. The only attraction you will see is the beautiful Pacific Ocean.


Surfing is the number one activity at San Onofre State Beach. The beach is home to one of the best local surf spots in Southern California called “Old Mans.”

Old Mans is a nice slow, gentle wave that is excellent for longboarders and beginners. It is a fun wave to ride during any swell.  There is also the world’s famous “Trestles Surf Beach” located about a mile north. If you are an experienced surfer and are up to the challenge, this is the beach for you.   

There are three (4) other surf areas:

  1. Trestles: This world-famous beach is about a mile north of San Onofre Beach.  Trestles is inaccessible by vehicle, so you have to walk, but this is the best surf break in SoCal if you’re a serious surfer. Trestles include Uppers, Lowers, and Middles.
  2. Churches: Located directly north of San Onofre at the Camp Pendleton Beach Resort. The name refers to the long-gone chapel located near the site.
  3. Old Man’s: The main surfing location at San Onofre State Beach. The waves are long and gentle and perfect for longboarders and beginners.  
  4. Trails: is the most southern of surf spots in this region and includes both rock bottom and sandy breaks. Trails are also the last point to camp at San Onofre. (Not on Map)

Beach Amenities

The beach also has good amenities with several restrooms, outdoor showers, drinking fountains, and plenty of trash containers. All three of these are valuable assets for any van lifer, especially the outdoor shower.


Not every beach is perfect, and San Onofre State Beach is no exception. There are only two downsides I have with this beach. The first downside is the park entrance fee of $15. This seems steep for a public beach. If you plan on spending some time at California State Parks, I recommend buying a season pass. They are not cheap (Most Expensive $195) but will save you money in the long run. The second downside is that it can get crowded, especially on a good swell or the weekends. I highly recommend getting there early to get a good parking spot.

Note: Vans over 25 feet long and alcohol are not allowed in the park.

Other Great Beaches to Spend the Day

Another favorite beach to spend the day at is El Segundo Beach. At El Segundo Beach, you can pull your van right up to the beach, and it has a restroom, outdoor shower, drinking fountain, and volleyball courts. It is also located on a bike path that goes to Dockweiler State Beach and Manhattan Beach, both of which are less than a mile away. This beach is not known for its surfing but more for its relaxing vibe.  

Any list about the best beaches in Southern California must mention Pismo State Beach. At Pismo State Beach, you can drive your van right onto the sand and camp among the dunes. It does not have many amenities, but it is a wonderful place to go camping on the beach and enjoy the surf. Just make sure you do not get stuck during high tide or wet sand.

My second favorite beach to spend the day at is Morro Bay.  Morro bay is stunning, especially during sunset. The beach parking area is located right at Morro Rock on the isthmus so that you can access either the beach or harborside. There are restrooms, drinking fountains, and within walking distance of the bars and restaurants. Morro Bay is a great place to spend the day for any van lifer.

The final beach in the running for the best beach was Pacific Beach in San Diego.  Pacific Beach has everything, beautiful scenery, a boardwalk for walking, running, roller skating, and many amazing bars and restaurants with a party atmosphere. Pacific Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego, but it is too congested to be #1, but I highly recommend visiting Pacific Beach in the San Diego area.  

Local Campgrounds

There are three campgrounds within a 15min drive from San Onofre State Beach that adds to San Onofre State Beach’s attraction. Nobody wants to spend the entire day surfing then drive far away to find a place to stay. The three campgrounds are:

  • San Onofre Bluffs is located a mile from San Onofre State Beach. This campground is located on the bluff overlooking San Onofre State Beach. The campground has showers and toilets, and all campsites have a fire pit and picnic table. Six unique trails lead to the beach from the campground. The cost is $40 a night, and there are no RV hookups. (5200 S. Pacific Coast Hwy, San Clemente, CA, 92672)
  • San Onofre San Mateo Campground is 3.5-miles from San Onofre State Beach. There is a 1.5-mile trail that connects the campground to the Beach. The campground has showers, RV hook-ups, water, and electricity. Each campsite also features a fire pit and picnic table. There is a dump station here. Camping is available year-round. (830 Cristianitos, San Clemente, CA, 92672)
  • San Clemente State Park also has a campground. The campground has showers, restrooms, water, and RV hookups. Each campsite also features a fire pit and picnic table. Camping is available year-round.  (225 Avenida Calafia, San Clemente, CA 92672)


San Onofre State Beach is my number one recommended place for any van lifer looking to hang out on the beach for the day. There are only a few places in Southern California where you can drive your van right up to the beach, grab your surfboard, and be in the water within two minutes. You will not be disappointed by San Onofre State Beach.  

Post Links

San Onofre State Beach

California State Parks – Annual & Special Passes

Bert Manning

Oceano Dunes SVRA

Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve is located 3 miles south of Pismo Beach and is one of the most expansive coastal dunes left in California. The preserve offers the opportunity to camp directly on the beach, go horseback riding and traverse the dunes in a doom buggy. You have the ability to drive your van and camp right on the beach which is a real treat in California.

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Bert Manning

San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach is a wonderful place for any van lifer to spend time camping and surfing on the California coast. The park is a 3,000-acre and 3 miles south of San Clemente on Interstate 5 at Basilone Road. The state park is leased to California by the United States Marine Corps.

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