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La Jolla Mom

Which Carlsbad Beach to Choose

What to know before you go to one of these eight beaches

With its sprawling shoreline, Carlsbad is home to eight beaches. The state owns South Carlsbad beaches, and North Carlsbad beaches are owned by coastal property owners with the City of Carlsbad providing public access.

Stretching from La Costa Avenue to the Carlsbad/Oceanside border, these beaches offer visitors a wealth of activities including surfing, hiking, biking, diving, beachcombing, and wildlife viewing.

How to Get to Carlsbad Beaches

Getting to a Carlsbad beach is relatively straightforward. Take the I-5 freeway and exit at La Costa Avenue, Poinsettia Lane, Palomar Road, Cannon Road, Tamarack Avenue, or Carlsbad Village Drive, depending on which beach you’re visiting.

Head west from any of these exits to the iconic Pacific Coast Highway 101 — also called Carlsbad Boulevard along this stretch — which runs parallel to the beaches.

All Carlsbad beaches can be accessed from PCH. It’s important to use caution entering or exiting this coastal highway, especially between La Costa Avenue and Cannon Road near the NRG Cabrillo Power Station where traffic moves at a consistent clip.

Taking the Coaster from San Diego is another option with stops at Carlsbad Poinsettia Station and Carlsbad Village Station. Carlsbad Village Station might be the best choice for tourists since it’s close to both Tamarack Beach and popular Carlsbad Village. You can also bring bikes on the Coaster or rent them in the Village.

I’ve detailed the access points of each beach in its description.

What to Know Before You Go to a Carlsbad Beach

What to know before going to the beach in Carlsbad
Photo courtesy of Visit Carlsbad

Parking

Carlsbad Boulevard runs the entire length of Carlsbad north and south parallel to the ocean. Parking is available at many points along this stretch of highway, including along side streets and several beach access parking lots.

Parking lots north to south are at Oak Avenue, Ocean Street, Island Way, Tamarack Avenue, North Ponto Beach, Ponto Road Parking, South Ponto Beach, and near La Costa Avenue.

Parking lots belonging to California State Parks require a $10 fee during low-season, and a $15 fee in the high season. There are facilities at some, but not all, of the beaches. The breakdown of each beach covers which ones have facilities and which don’t.

Camping

If you’re planning to camp at South Carlsbad State Beach Campground (at Poinsettia Lane), you’ll need to make reservations in advance. Note that they don’t accept RVs or trailers longer than 35 feet.

Surfing

The best places to surf are Tamarack Beach at Tamarack Avenue, Terra Mar near Agua Hedionda Lagoon, Warm Water Jetty Beach by NRG Cabrillo Power Station, and North Ponto Beach near Palomar Road.

Lifeguards and Water Safety

For your safety, California State Parks and Recreation in Carlsbad cautions visitors unfamiliar with the beaches to be aware of cold water temperatures, large surf and pounding shore-breaks, backwash and rip currents, and sudden drop-offs.

What may seem like a safe activity, wading, climbing on rocky outcroppings, or playing near the surf line can turn dangerous under some weather and water circumstances. It’s important to pay attention to posted signage and warnings given by lifeguards.

There are 16 lifeguard towers from South Ponto Beach at Carlsbad’s southern end to Carlsbad City Beach at the city’s northern end. If you’re going to a beach that isn’t lifeguard protected, check daily weather and water reports first.

Nearby Essentials

If you forget any of your beach supplies here are a few nearby stores:

  • Ralph’s Grocery Store — 7140 Avenida Encinitas
  • Offshore Surf Shop — 3179 Carlsbad Avenue
  • Costco — 951 Palomar Airport Road
  • Pacific Coast Bait & Tackle — 2100 S. Coast Highway

Carlsbad Beaches: The Breakdown

The Carlsbad coast can be split into two sections, north and south. The southern portion is home to expansive South Carlsbad State Beach, which also includes North and South Ponto Beaches and Terramar Beach. The northern part is home to Carlsbad State Beach (Tamarack Beach), which includes Warm Water Jetty Beach, plus Carlsbad City Beach, and Frazee Beach.

Here’s a complete breakdown of all eight beaches going from south to north.   

South Ponto Beach

A wide, sandy beach, South Ponto Beach is one of Carlsbad’s nicest beaches. It sits between the southern end of South Carlsbad State Beach Campground and La Costa Avenue, at the city’s border with Encinitas. The Pacific Coast Highway hugs this stretch of shoreline and crosses the Batiquitos Lagoon — a nature preserve located on the other side of the highway.

Located on the large sandspit that protects the Lagoon, there are access points to the Preserve along the north side. This is a favorite stretch of beach for families. It’s much larger than many of the nearby beaches, and it tends to be packed during summer.

The most popular activities here are sunbathing, surfing, and volleyball. The South Ponto State Beach Volleyball Courts are equipped with poles for volleyball, but you have to bring your own nets and volleyballs to play. There are also occasional surfing competitions here throughout the year.

At times, winter storms can rob the beach of its sand, creating large sand dunes with generally smooth cobblestone in its place. There is a day-use area above the parking lot that features an ocean overlook and a few paved walking paths.

Beach Activities

  • Sunbathing
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Boogie boarding
  • Volleyball
  • Fishing
  • Whale watching
  • Diving

Parking: There is a large paid parking lot at the southern end of the beach near La Costa Avenue and Carlsbad Boulevard. It fills up quickly during summer, so plan to come early for a spot. During nonpeak times, it’s easy to find free parking along the southbound lanes of Pacific Coast Highway.

Amenities: The beach has restrooms and outdoor showers. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer.

Limitations: South Ponto Beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No glass, alcohol, or fires. Dogs are not permitted on this beach.

South Carlsbad State Beach

Guide to Carlsbad Beaches: South Carlsbad State Beach
Photo courtesy of Visit Carlsbad

South Carlsbad State Beach is a three-mile-long stretch of beach located in front of South Carlsbad State Beach Campground. The beach extends along the coast from La Costa Avenue to Palomar Airport Road. This is the beach in front of Cape Rey Carlsbad.

The favorite campground is nestled atop a gradually eroding bluff between Carlsbad Boulevard and the beach. Due to the campground’s position along the rugged cliffs, the beach below has remained relatively remote. There are stairways that lead from the campground to the beach.

There are numerous footpaths along the bluffs, as well as additional safe access points located on the small turnouts along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) where you’ll see several cars parked. There is no day-use parking at the campground, so turnouts and parking at South Ponto Beach, Ponto Road, and North Ponto Beach are the alternatives.

South of the campground the cliffside disappears opening to a wide, undeveloped sandy beach that runs along the PCH to Batiquitos Lagoon and South Ponto Beach. This portion of the beach is considered one of the nicest in the county.

South Carlsbad State Beach is favored by families with kids, especially during summer, because it offers a wide variety of activities. If you plan on camping, you should book it well in advance, since it fills up quickly during high season. The State Beach includes Terramar Beach, North Ponto Beach, and South Ponto Beach.

Beach Activities

  • Camping
  • Sunbathing
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Boogie-boarding
  • Stand-up paddleboarding
  • Scuba diving
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Bird-watching
  • Picnicking

Parking: There is limited parking along Carlsbad Boulevard. Parking is free at the campground, but only for campers — no day-use parking. There is a free day-use parking lot south of the campground at the beach next to Batiquitos Lagoon. You can also park in lots at North Ponto Beach, Ponto Road, and South Ponto Beach.

Amenities: The campground features fire pits, a camp store, restrooms, and showers. The facilities are token operated, so you’ll need to obtain some when you check in at the ranger station or get some at the campfire center. Beach lifeguards are limited to the summer season and other peak times. The staircase from the campsite to the beach is now accessible, and beach wheelchairs are available. Call (760) 753-5059 to request one.

Limitations: South Carlsbad State Beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No dogs, fires, glass, or alcohol are allowed on the beach.

North Ponto Beach

Guide to Carlsbad beaches: North Ponto Beach (San Diego, California)

Located on the northern end of South Carlsbad State Beach, North Ponto Beach is a day-use beach with beach access at Carlsbad Boulevard. Unlike South Ponto, this beach is very narrow. It’s popular with surfers who park at the North Ponto parking lot and hit the easy access to the beach.

It’s not nearly as tempting for beachgoers and sunbathers who can find much better beaches just north of here. However, when the tide permits, it’s a perfect option for a romantic beach stroll below the towering bluffs.

If you’re looking for a wider beach, just head north to Tamarack Beach or south to South Ponto Beach.

Beach Activities:

  • Swimming
  • Surfing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Strolling
  • Fishing

Parking: There is a paid angled parking located on the southbound lanes of Carlsbad Boulevard at the southern end of North Ponto Beach.

Amenities: There are lifeguards on duty during peak times and bathrooms available for use.

Limitations: North Ponto Beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No dogs, alcohol, fires or glass are permitted on this beach.

Terramar Beach

Terramar Beach is a small, hidden beach situated at the foot of bluffs between Palomar Road and the NRG Cabrillo Power Station. Though technically a part of South Carlsbad State Beach, there is no signage that indicates this. The narrow stretch of beach runs along the front of the Terra Mar community.

For public access, use the staircase at Carlsbad Boulevard and Cerezo Drive. You can also access the beach by walking south along the shore from Warm Water Jetty Beach. Terramar Beach is very narrow and often covered by the waves at high tide. It’s popular with local surfers.

Local families like this beach so much for tide pooling that they’ve dubbed it Carlsbad Tide Pools. But keep in mind there are no public bathrooms anywhere nearby.

It’s important to check the tide charts for low tide times and be gone before the tide begins to come in since it swallows the entire beach. There are also no lifeguards here, although they patrol the area periodically.

Beach Activities:

  • Surfing
  • Tide pooling
  • Sunbathing
  • Swimming (not lifeguard protected)

Parking: There is free street parking along Carlsbad Boulevard and side streets.

Amenities: There are no facilities or lifeguards on this stretch of beach.

Limitations: No dogs, glass, fires, or alcohol are allowed on the beach. The beach is underwater during high tides.

Warm Water Jetty Beach

Guide to Carlsbad Beaches: Warm Water Jetty Beach (San Diego, California)

Named for its rock jetties and the warm waters that flow between them, Warm Water Jetty Beach is located along Carlsbad Boulevard near the entrance to Agua Hedionda Lagoon and the power-generating plant that warms the water.

Warm Water Jetty Beach is part of the larger Carlsbad State Beach. It’s an easy beach to spot since you can see the smokestack of NRG Cabrillo Power from almost anywhere in the area.

Warm Water Jetty Beach is a large sandspit that protects the open-water lagoon, which is part ecological reserve and part watercraft recreation area. The beach is primarily a surfing beach; however, its sandy shores and nearby jetties are perfect for sunbathing, fishing, beachcombing, and rock exploration.  You can also explore the nearby ecological reserve.

Beach Activities:

  • Surfing
  • Fishing
  • Beachcombing
  • Rock exploration
  • Hiking Agua Hedionda Lagoon trails

Parking: There is free street parking available all along Carlsbad Boulevard, and a paid lot at Tamarack Avenue.

Amenities: Lifeguards are on duty during peak seasons, and restroom facilities are available.

Limitations: Warm Water Jetty Beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No dogs, fires, glass, or alcohol is allowed.

Carlsbad State Beach (Tamarack Beach)

Guide to Carlsbad Beaches: Tamarack STate Beach
Photo courtesy of Visit Carlsbad

Carlsbad State Beach is more commonly referred to as Tamarack Beach. This well-liked beach is large, wide, and sandy, making it the perfect choice for a family day. The beach extends from Tamarack Avenue to the breakwaters at the opening of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Tamarack Beach is very popular with surfers and families alike for its incredible surf and variety of activities and amenities. There are two paved paths, one is a sidewalk located at the top of the bluffs that’s always busy with walkers and joggers.

The other is the 1.4-mile-long Carlsbad Seawall Walk. It runs along the beach from Carlsbad Village to Tamarack Avenue and is popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, and roller skaters. There are numerous access points to either the beach or the street level. The enclosed nature of the concrete pathway makes it suitable for letting the kids run around.

Beach Activities

  • Sunbathing
  • Swimming
  • Surfing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Fishing
  • Stand-up paddleboarding
  • Boogie-boarding
  • Windsurfing
  • Kayaking
  • Beachcombing
  • Walking, jogging, rollerblading, and cycling along the sea wall

Parking: There is a large parking lot located where Carlsbad Boulevard and Tamarack Avenue intersect. This is also where the main staircase leads down to the beach. Other stairs providing access to the beach are located at Sycamore, Cherry, Maple, and Hemlock Avenues. There is street parking available in these areas.

Amenities: Tamarack Beach has public restrooms and showers, as well as a few rinse-off spigots located near the parking lot. Lifeguards are on duty during summer offer “surf chairs” (wide-tire wheelchairs) upon request. To reserve one you need to call and leave a message at (760) 438-3134. There are a few picnic tables along the walkway, as well as a few drinking fountains.

Limitations: Tamarack Beach is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. No dogs, fires, glass, alcohol, or vehicles are permitted on the beach.

Robert Frazee State Beach

Carlsbad Beaches: Robert Frazee State Beach (San Diego, California)
Photo courtesy of Visit Carlsbad

An extension of Tamarack Beach, Robert Frazee State Beach is a wide and sandy stretch of beach that stays relatively uncrowded. It begins at the northern end of Tamarack Beach and continues in front of the condos and homes that run along the coastline to the north. Robert Frazee State Beach and Tamarack Beach are connected by the Carlsbad Seawall Walk below and the promenade at street level. So, you can access one end of the paved pathway from this beach. There is also a small grass park adjacent to the nearby parking lot that provides a few benches overlooking the ocean and the Pine Avenue beach access ramp.

Beach Activities:

  • Surfing
  • Watching a sunset
  • Sunbathing
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Walking, running, bike riding, skateboarding, and rollerblading along the Carlsbad Seawall and the Promenade walkway.

Parking: There is a parking lot located on Ocean Street. This is also where you can access the adjacent, small grass park.

Amenities: This beach is wheelchair accessible with ramp access located at the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard and Pine Avenue. The Carlsbad Seawall and Promenade walkway connect this beach and Tamarack Beach.

Limitations: Robert Frazee State Beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are no fires, dogs, glass, or alcohol allowed. There are no lifeguards, restrooms, showers, or other facilities at this beach.

Carlsbad City Beach

Guide to Carlsbad Beaches: Carlsbad City Beach

The northernmost beach in Carlsbad is Carlsbad City Beach, which runs from Ocean Street (the end of Robert Frazee State Beach) to Elm Street. It provides beach access paths at several locations including Ocean Street, Carlsbad Village Drive, Grand Avenue, Beach Avenue, and Christianson Way. Although it is named Carlsbad City Beach, it is part of Carlsbad State Beach.

Carlsbad City Beach is well-known for surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and surf fishing. Surf fishing season is May to October, so surfing is prohibited at this beach during fishing season. Surfers should head south to Tamarack Beach from May to October.

The northernmost part of this beach is situated at the entrance to Buena Vista Lagoon, a favored bird-watching locale. St. Malo Beach, which is a popular Oceanside beach, is on the other side of the lagoon. You can walk across the lagoon entrance from Carlsbad City Beach to St. Malo Beach during low-tide.

Beach Activities:

  • Beach strolls
  • Sunbathing
  • Swimming
  • Surf fishing
  • Bird-watching
  • Lagoon exploration

Parking: Street parking is available along any of the access streets that lead to the beach, but try Ocean Street first, if you can.

Amenities: There are no facilities here, including restrooms and showers. Lifeguards are seasonal, so call the main lifeguard tower to confirm lifeguard protection at this beach if it’s important to you. The telephone number is (760) 438-3134.

Limitations: Carlsbad City Beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. No glass, alcohol, dogs, or fires are permitted.

Carlsbad Beaches and Dogs

You may have noticed that dogs are not allowed on any beaches in Carlsbad. If you brought your furry friend on vacation with you, the nearest dog-friendly beaches are Dog Beach in Del Mar, Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas, San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff by the Sea, and San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente.

 

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