Looking for a place to escape the summer heat? Look no farther than the scenic strand of beach stretching south from Swami’s Park in Encinitas. The walk on the sand isn’t difficult, and if you want you can ratchet up the exercise by climbing up and down several staircases along the way.
The straightforward approach to finding the starting point involves exiting Interstate 5 at Encinitas Boulevard. Go west to South Coast Highway 101, make a left, and travel south past lettered streets (C, D, E, etc.) to K Street on the right. Find a curbside parking space on K Street, or on the west side of 101, or just about anywhere within a reasonable distance of K Street. If you’re lucky (fat chance in the summer) you might find a parking space in the small lot at Swami’s Park itself.
If you’re not there already, navigate on foot to Swami’s Park, which is one long block south of K Street, adjacent to the Self Realization Fellowship Retreat — Swami’s for short. (The fellowship meditation gardens, on K Street, are serene and beautiful, and you can experience them before or after your beach walk.)
From Swami’s Park, descend the 145 steep steps leading down the bluff to Swami’s Beach, which is one of San Diego County’s most popular surfing spots. Then, head south on the wide or narrow (depending on the tide level) strip of sand. On a visit I made last winter at extreme low tide, the water level had receded 50 to 75 yards from the base of the sea bluffs, exposing sandstone reefs rich in marine life. This is less likely to happen currently, since the gentler waves of summer tend to deposit more sand on the beach.
Even though the busy coast highway lies right on top of the bluffs, you can’t see it. The summertime sensual experience at the water’s edge includes the soothing sound of the pounding surf, an ever-steady breeze out of the west caressing your skin, the lapping of foamy water around your feet and ankles, the spicy scent of salt-tinged air, and of course sunshine in variable amounts depending on the cloud cover.
As you proceed south, take notice of the six additional stairways that climb to the blufftop camping areas of San Elijo State Beach. Local exercise buffs like to walk or run up and down (or down and up) these stairs for interval training. You gain several hundred feet of elevation if you include these stairs as sideways diversions.
Some 1.4 miles into the beach walk, you reach the San Elijo Lagoon inlet, where tidal water flows in and out across the beach. This is a good spot to turn around and head back north.
Walk a beautiful stretch of beach between Encinitas and Cardiff.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 22 miles
Hiking length: 2.8 miles round trip • Difficulty: Easy to moderate