Surf & Hike at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego – How to Get to the Beach

San Diego is an incredible place – a big city with small town vibes and gorgeous coastal scenery. One of the best places to go for surfing, coastal views, and an incredibly scenic beach is Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, located on the Point Loma Peninsula, right outside the neighborhood of Sunset Cliffs.

This guide to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Diego will tell you everything you need to know – where to surf, how to get down to the Sunset Cliffs beach, what to bring on your day trip, and more!

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Things to Bring to Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

When you explore Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, here are a few things you should pack to make your experience the best it can be!

Shoes With Good Traction

The trails at Sunset cliffs Natural Park are pretty easy – they’re not too long, and pretty flat, so you won’t need any hardcore hiking boots. But, I definitely recommend shoes with good traction, and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet! 

If you want to go down to the Sunset Cliffs beach, there’s a steep descent on the rocky cliffside – good shoes are a must here. And, there are several spots where you can stand on the rocks poking through the water, so you need good traction to avoid any slips.

I love my Chaco sandals for exploring – they’re waterproof, have good grip, and are super comfy. This time, I tried out my new Luna sandals – they’re a barefoot shoe designed for adventuring, and I loved how comfy they were and how much traction they provided on the slippery rocks.

A closeup of sandals on a girl's feet as she climbs down to the beach at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

Another great option are these cute waterproof sneakers – perfect for hiking and exploring, because they have grippy soles for extra traction, and offer some more coverage than sandals.

windbreaker or Sweater

While San Diego weather is pretty ideal year round, don’t underestimate the chill from the coastal breeze! Anytime you’re near the ocean, it gets a little bit chilly – so to stay warm while you’re at Sunset Cliffs, bring some layers – a windbreaker or a fleece work wonders

The North Face Class V Windbreaker is a great lightweight, packable option for exploring. The RVCA Meyer Packable Anorack Jacket is another cute windbreaker , and folds up nice and small! For added warmth and layering, add a a Patagonia fleece.

A Day Bag

You won’t need a big hiking backpack to explore at Sunset Cliffs, but a day bag is great for carrying water and snacks! I love my Topo Designs Y-Pack. If you need a bigger bag (maybe for a picnic blanket), check out the 37L Mountain Backpack by Topo Designs! If you’re carrying camera gear, the best backpack is the Alex Strohl Mountain Light.

Hydration!

Especially when you’re hiking or exploring outdoors, it’s important to stay hydrated! Single use water bottles are, of course, terrible for the environment, so avoid that and bring a reusable one!

For hiking, the CamelBak water reservoirs are convenient and easy – they can fit in your hiking backpack for water on the go. Nalgene water bottles are great for day to day, and if you want an insulated water bottle to keep your water cold and refreshing, Hydro Flasks are the best!

How to Get to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Getting to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is pretty easy! If you’re flying into San Diego, use Expedia to find the best deals on flights!

From there, you’ll land in the San Deigo International Airport, and if you need one, you can rent a car through Discover Cars or Rental Cars.

A great alternative to driving your car or renting one, is renting a tiny home on wheels! With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans.

But, San Diego is pretty easy to get around in – so you don’t need a car if you plan to stay in the city! You can walk or Uber most places, but we also discovered my new favorite thing ever – Lime Scooters. They’re electric, so they do all the work for you, and zipping around the city on a scooter is a ton of fun! A day pass (good for 24 hours) is only $20, so we rode from Ocean Beach to Sunset Cliffs, and spent the day exploring.

You can save money on your first Lime Scooter ride here.

A view of the ocean from a cliff at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

Sunset Cliffs is the name of the neighborhood, and there are some beaches and viewpoints with the same name – Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is the furthest south, so you can totally stop along the way to explore. Once you get to the park, there’s a big sign and a parking area.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Parking

The parking lot at sunset cliffs is pretty big, and there’s usually plenty of room to park. There are two lots – a dirt one right at the entrance, and a paved one a little further down.

Sunset Cliffs Address

The address for Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is 1253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, San Diego, California. It’s easy to get to and your GPS should take you right to the parking lot!

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Entrance Fee

Good news – there’s no entrance fee for Sunset Cliffs Natural Park!

The trail from the parking lot at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

Sunset Cliffs Beach Access – How to Get to the Beach at Sunset Cliffs

There’s tons to explore at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. The trails wind along the bluffs, taking you over scenic cliffs above the ocean. The path to get to the beach at Sunset Cliffs isn’t immediately obvious – we wen’t sure if it was possible until we saw people down below! Here’s how to get to the beach at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

From the lower (paved) parking lot, head straight. You’ll see a metal fence, and as you get closer, there’s a concrete “slide” down. If you take the trail to the right and head downwards, you’ll reach a rope attached to the steep cliffside.

Use this rope to climb down – it’s easy with the rope, but definitely too steep to attempt without holding on!

After you’re down the cliffside, you’re on the beach! You can explore, find seashells, enjoy the view, or hop in the water to go surfing. Fun fact – this beach is actually called “Garbage Beach,” but many locals have renamed it to “Rope Beach,” which I think sounds much more appealing.

A girl in a bright yellow shirt is looking at a seashell at the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park beach.


Surfing at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a great place to surf year round! 

Where to Surf at Sunset Cliffs

There are two places to get in the water – the first is at the beach, so you can follow the instructions above for beach access at Sunset Cliffs.

The other is a little north. From the parking lot, if you stay to the right and head towards the water you’ll reach a staircase. You can take it down to a rocky platform – sometimes when the tide is high, it’s not accessible (definitely not a good time to surf from this spot), but if it’s low enough, you’ll find tide pools and a beautiful little cove at the bottom of the stairs.

From here, you can hop in the water and paddle out! I wouldn’t recommend this spot for beginner surfers (take the rope trail to the beach instead) because if you don’t time it right, you could end up hitting the rocks.

What to Bring for Surfing at Sunset Cliffs

A Wetsuit

In the summer, a 3/2 mm suit will do the trick and keep you warm. For the colder months, I recommend a 5/4 mm suit with a hood. Even though it’s usually warm and sunny year round in San Diego, the water does get pretty cold. This suit offers full coverage and is great for cold weather surfing!

A Surfboard

Probably the most important thing for surfing at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park – a surf board.

I’m pretty new to surfing, and if you are too, I recommend a foam board like this one. They’re easy for beginner surfers, more budget friendly, and won’t knock you out when you inevitably get hit with it on the water.

Plenty of more advanced surfers use foam boards, or you can try out a sleeker board like this fish board designed for fun on the waves, or this hybrid board!

If you aren’t a surfer, you can still have fun in the waves! Try out a boogie board or a body board.

Surf Accessories

Those are the must haves for surfing at Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, but here are a few more things you might want to pack!

Surf Wax – make sure your board is waxed so you aren’t slipping off. 

Surf Board Bag – to make carrying your board on the hike to the beach easier!

Beach Towel – getting out of the water will be cold. A towel can help you dry off and warm up!

Surf Cap – keep your head warm if you surf in the winter.

Surf Boots – if you surf in the winter, these will help a ton with staying warm.

Water Bottle – don’t underestimate the dehydrating effect of salt water! You may not notice while you’re surfing, but it’s important to hydrate after.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Trails and Hiking

If you head right from the parking lot, you’ll find more incredible views! There are also less people around the further you get from the cars. Walk along the trails at Sunset Cliffs, and you’ll see the colorful layers of sand in the cliffs ides, the unique rocky formations, and the gorgeous coastal scenery.

Where to Stay Near Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

An Adorable Cabin

For a unique place to stay during your trip, check out Hipcamp! It’s like Airbnb for campsites – and you can find yurts, cabins, glamping sites, and more.  There are several cute places to stay in near Sunset Cliffs and around San Diego, adding a fun experience to your trip, and a great place to relax after a hike!

You can even get $10 off your first booking here!

A Camper Van

With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans.

Whether you car camp, tent camp, or rent a tiny home on wheels, The Dyrt is the best way to find campsites!

A Beachfront Inn

If you want to be close to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, you can stay in Ocean Beach! There are tons of beachfront inns and cute places to stay with views of the water. Here are a few of the best inns and places to stay near Sunset Cliffs. The Inn at Sunset Cliffs – a waterfront inn with views of Sunset Cliffs! Ocean Beach Cliff Sanctuary – conveniently located between Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach, this spot has terraces with ocean views. Sunset Cliffs Escape – this one has a hot tub right by the ocean!


More Hikes on the West Coast

Have you been to Sunset Cliffs Natural park in San Diego? Let me know in the comments below! 

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