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Doheny State Beach

From Doheny State Beach to Capistrano Beach is 2 miles round trip;
to San Clemente Pier is 10 miles round trip

San Juan Capistrano attracts swallows and tourists while Capistrano Beach, which bounds the old mission town, attracts sanderlings and locals. Capistrano Beach, along with Doheny Beach to the north and San Clemente Beach to the south, offers the beach hiker a mellow saunter along the strand.

This beach hike begins just north of Dana Harbor at Doheny State Beach, a good place for family-style swimming and boogie-boarding because the harbor jetties gentle the surf here. Doheny attracts a lot of happy campers, though some seekers of peace and quiet complain that the campground is a bit too close to the highway.

Be sure to visit the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Center, which fea¬tures an impressive tidepool exhibit, some aquariums and a photo gallery that highlights Orange County’s long-board surfing era during the 1950s and 60s. The interpretive center (open 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. daily) is located close to the park’s entry station.

Directions to trailhead: From the San Diego Freeway (5) in San Juan Capistrano, exit on Camino Las Ramblas and drive a mile westward to Highway 1. Turn north and very soon reach an intersection and make a left on Harbor Drive, then another quick left into Doheny State Beach. There is a state park day use fee.

The hike: Walk down to the shoreline and saunter south along the white sand beach. After 0.25 mile, you’ll reach the mouth of San Juan Creek. In summer, a sandbar closes off the creek mouth and forms a small lagoon patrolled by ducks and egrets. During the wintertime, or if the sandbar has been breached by the creek and is too high to cross, detour inland to the park road and follow it over the creek. Walk through the campground back to the beach.

After a bit more than a mile, you’ll reach the end of Doheny and the beginning of Capistrano Beach, easily identified by the long, uninterrupted row of houses facing the beach. Lots of rock has been dumped near the tideline in an attempt to stabilize the beach and protect the houses from the surging waves; this translates into awkward passage and a less-than-aestheti¬cally uplifting experience for the beach hiker.

At 2.75 miles, you’ll reach undeveloped Poche Beach, a county park, and continue 0.5 mile to a development-crowded point that makes beach walk¬ing a challenge and thwarts all passage at higher tides. Detour inland, walk south along El Camino Real, then return to the beach by the MetroLink Station.

Resume your shore walk southward across the brown sands of San Clemente City Beach. San Clemente Pier and nearby refreshment opportu¬nities suggest a turnaround point. Gung-ho hikers can continue another two miles or so down-coast across San Clemente State Beach to San Mateo Point and the Orange County/San Diego County line.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at