The 45-acre Encinitas beachfront has a fabulous centerpiece: Moonlight State Beach. Among the most popular of the San Diego area’s many fine beaches, it’s an obvious, go-to introduction to the joys of the North County coastline.
It’s also the most kid-friendly of the Encinitas beaches, a wonderful place for the whole family to soak up Southern California sunshine. (Or, perhaps, moonshine: The beach gets its name from early-day Encinitas beachgoers who enjoyed midnight oceanside picnics here.)
15 Reasons to Love Moonlight Beach in Encinitas
I’ll drill down on some of the main attributes that make Moonlight Beach beloved—among Encinitas locals, San Diegans, concierge desks, and out-of-towners alike. Here are 15 solid reasons to love Moonlight State Beach.
1. The Easy Access
Exit the I-5 freeway at the Encinitas Boulevard exit and head west. You’ll end up right at the doorstep of Moonlight State Beach. (You can find more detailed directions at the end of this post.) It’s basically located in the center of the expansive Encinitas seaboard.
It’s not only how directly you can drive to the beach. It’s also how readily you can get your bare feet on those swoony sands. Unlike at most Encinitas beaches, which come fortressed by (lovely) bluffs, you can walk out onto Moonlight Beach just about straight from street level.
Downtown Encinitas is within quick walking distance of Moonlight State Beach, too, so it’s no trouble at all sampling the charms of both popular things to do in Encinitas.
2. The Friendly Waters
The gently sloping foreshore at Moonlight Beach makes it one of the best places in Encinitas to actually get out in the Pacific Ocean. There’s also a designated (and lifeguarded) swimming-only zone.
3. The Year-Round Lifeguards
And speaking of lifeguards, Moonlight serves as the oceanfront headquarters for the City of Encinitas’s Marine Safety Division, with the Moonlight Beach Marine Safety Center overlooking the strand.
Lifeguards watch over the beach in every season from this tower, amping up the sense of security for anyone looking to get wet. Seasonal lifeguard towers also pop up along the beaches here between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
4. Tennis, Anyone?
The just-about-perfect year-round weather of Encinitas is mighty conducive to hitting a ball around. Moonlight State Beach has its very own tennis courts.
No-pressure practice or high-intensity family doubles match? Either way, it’s a joy to serve, volley, and dropshot to your heart’s content alongside a beautiful Southern California beachfront.
5. How About a Little Beach Volleyball?
Tennis is all well and good, but nothing beats beach volleyball for iconic sand-between-your-toes exercise.
Moonlight Beach offers three courts. Be aware that they’re in high demand. Pro-level players often practice here, which can be a blast to watch.
6. The Fire Rings
Moonlight State Beach comes outfitted with first-come, first-served fire rings. There aren’t that many San Diego County beaches with fire pits, so Moonlight’s are a treat for classic Southern Californian beach bonfires.
7. The Restrooms & Showers
With large, well-maintained restrooms and outdoor showers for post-dip rinse-offs, Moonlight Beach sets you up for full-day fun along the Encinitas oceanfront.
8. The Playground
Moonlight State Beach includes a grassy park complete with a nicely designed playground, upping its appeal to families with young children.
The ability to run from the ocean to slides makes this beach a top pick for things to do in San Diego with kids.
9. The Picnicking-Friendly Setup
Ample picnic tables and grills at Moonlight Beach mean you get to enjoy some al-fresco meals in between surfside jaunts and boogieboard sessions.
10. The Equipment Rentals
Boogieboards, in fact, are available to rent at Moonlight, as are surfboards and wetsuits, in case you want to try your hand at those friendly breakers offshore.
11. Surfing And Surfing Lessons
Encinitas is world-famous in the surfing community, and Moonlight Beach is a great place to get a taste for it if you aren’t already a veteran hang-10er. Surfing is allowed at Moonlight outside of the swimming-only zone.
You can take lessons here from multiple surf schools. It’s an awesome way to experience one of the defining aspects of Southern California culture under expert tutelage and in a (usually) forgiving environment.
12. Walking Between Encinitas Beaches
The continuity of the Encinitas beachfront, and the centrality of Moonlight, means you can—when tides permit—check out other stretches of sand on foot. Walk north to Stonesteps Beach, or south to D Street Beach and Boneyards.
Other Encinitas beaches have their own distinct feels, especially those backed by the steep bluffs that Moonlight lacks. If you have the time, moseying to additional city beaches—not least Swami’s, the most hallowed Encinitas surfing spot—is definitely rewarding. (The Moonlight Beach Marine Safety Center dispenses free tide books, by the way.)
13. The Moonlight Beach Snack Bar
You’re bound to work up an appetite soaking up the sand and surf at Moonlight. Even if you neglected to bring a picnic lunch, you can still answer that appetite. There’s a concession stand here selling a decent variety of eats and drinks ranging from sandwiches to shave ice.
You’ll just want to be sure to check hours before you go as it’s not always open all day in off-peak seasons.
14. Southern California Sunsets
As with just about any San Diego County beachfront, Moonlight gives you front-row seats to breathtaking Pacific Ocean sunsets.
That nightly show is all the more enjoyable around one of those blazing beach bonfires. What a way to cap a day on the North County shore.
15. Annual Events
Moonlight Beach serves as the sand-and-surf venue for a variety of annual happenings, making it reliably one of the places to be in Encinitas.
These include various surf competitions, concerts, and a Mixed Doubles Volleyball Tournament. Then there’s the famous Wavecrest Woodie Meet in September, an absolute photo-op of a vintage car show.
Moonlight Beach Rules & Regulations
Moonlight State Beach is open daily from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. (This means you can get a taste for its moonlit beauty if you’re so inclined.) The parking lot is available from 5 a.m to 10 p.m.
While Moonlight is part of the California State Parks system, the City of Encinitas operates it. As at other city-run beaches, there are no dogs allowed here.
You also can’t have alcohol, glass, or portable grills. Smoking at the beach is similarly a no-no.
Moonlight State Beach Directions & Parking
As already mentioned, Moonlight State Beach is easy as can be to get to. Encinitas Boulevard turns into B Street west of the South Coast Highway 101. B Street continues westward to end at Moonlight Beach.
Parallel-running C Street to the south leads to the Moonlight State Beach parking lot. This is a fee lot that includes ADA-accessible spaces fronting B Street.
If the lot’s full—or you don’t want to pay—you can do as many beachgoers do and find free street parking in the immediate neighborhood. You’ll see folks unloading beach gear and people off of B Street before driving off to hunt out a streetside parking space.
Summing Up Moonlight Beach’s Irresistible Charm
Particularly if you’re visiting Encinitas, California as a family, Moonlight State Beach is the best option for quality time on the sand. It simply offers the most amenities of any North County San Diego beach.
You can choose Encinitas hotels near Moonlight Beach to avoid parking a car. Many people do.
The spot’s a great choice for kids’ birthday parties. It’s also appealing to teens given the volleyball courts, board rentals, snack bar, and see-and-be-seen atmosphere in the summer months. It stands among the very best family beaches in San Diego and has made my list of best family beaches in California.
And by the way, the city issues Special Events permits on a limited basis for Moonlight Beach, in case you’re smitten enough with the location to consider, say, tying the knot here…