Sunset Cliffs, San Diego
Ocean Beach Activities and Travel Tips
Sunset Cliffs lies south of Ocean Beach and has several beaches below. Named for its exquisite sunset vistas, Sunset Cliffs Park encompasses 68 acres of bluffs and walking paths high above the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
With its rugged coastline and panoramic views, this area is popular with surfers, ocean-gazers, and folks who like to cruise Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, which runs the length of the cliffs. The drive along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, which begins at Adair Street and continues south to Ladera Street, offers breathtaking views and photo opportunities. It also makes a nice bike ride or walk, and it’s a great place to watch birds. You can see migrating California gray whales during the winter months from high on the bluffs.
Garbage Beach at Ladera Street is named for the large amounts of odiferous kelp among its rocks. Built-in stairs lead down the cliff to this beach. Beware; the descent is very steep. Two other beaches — No Surf Beach (Hill and Froud Streets on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard) and New Break Beach (south of Point Loma Nazarene College) — have no identified route leading down to the water’s edge. Trails to these beaches exist, but finding them can be challenging.
Sunset Cliffs Insider Tips
Sunset Cliffs is a rare stretch of Southern California Coast that has retained much of its natural beauty. With Ocean Beach just to the North, Sunset Cliffs makes a wonderful weekend getaway for couples or families. The “Inn at Sunset Cliffs” is conveniently located at the north end of the cliffs, close to downtown Ocean Beach.
There is a newly constructed concrete pathway that runs along the ocean just south of Ocean Beach Pier. We highly recommend expending the little bit of effort it takes to find the path. The easiest way is to start from the parking area at the west end of Newport Avenue. From the parking lot, follow south along the concrete walk. You’ll go under the pier and then navigate a small concrete landing. The path starts on the south side of the landing. Although the path itself is handicap-friendly, getting there requires assistance.
Don’t miss the eclectic mix of shops in downtown Ocean Beach, especially “The Black,” hippie-era, tie-dye-and-incense-filled shop of cool items that take you back to the days of the Grateful Dead (although many would argue that those days continue in Ocean Beach). “The Black” is located on Newport Avenue.
Sunset Cliffs Bike Rides
If you enjoy bike riding, Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach offer several excellent rides for beginners and advanced riders.
San Diego River channel. Beginners can start at the parking lot located at the south end of Ocean Beach near Dog Beach. A paved bike path runs east from the parking lot along the San Diego River channel. It goes several miles and provides a nice easy ride for beginners or families with small children.
Pt. Loma / Cabrillo National Monument. Intermediate and advanced riders looking for a longer ride can start anywhere near Sunset Cliffs or Ocean Beach. From your starting point, ride to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard south until you see either Point Loma Avenue or Novara Street. Turn left and ride up the hill on either street (Novara turns into Santa Barbara at the top of the hill). You’ll soon intersect Catalina Boulevard, where you’ll turn right. Catalina heads south up the hill toward Cabrillo National Monument. You’ll soon enter the gate and continue to the top of the hill to the monument. This is a great place to take a break and enjoy the monument’s spectacular views, historical buildings, and exhibits.
For a little extra riding and hill-work, take the road that heads down to the tide pools, which are great for exploring sea life. End your ride by retracing your route back to Sunset Cliffs or Ocean Beach.
Sunset Cliffs Directions
Sunset Cliffs Park lies about 1 mile south of Ocean Beach, a short drive from the airport, downtown, and Mission Valley. It’s relatively easy to find. The park sits between Point Loma Nazarene College to the south and Adair Street to the north along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Take I-8 west; it turns into Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, which takes you to Sunset Cliffs Park.
Sunset Cliffs is not the best choice if you have small children or limited mobility (except for the drive). Beach access is limited, and beaches are unsafe for small children because of the unpredictable surf. Also, aside from the parking areas, this is not a handicap-friendly area.
Beach access at Sunset Cliffs is no easy feat. It requires a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and good timing, since the tide must be low. Be very careful walking down the paths and never try to climb up the cliffs — many people have either become hopelessly stuck or died falling off them. If a trail doesn’t feel safe, find one that does!
Sunset Cliffs has no lifeguards and only portable restrooms are available. There’s one public shower at the corner of Ladera Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Parking lots are located at the north and south ends of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. There’s also a lot on Ladera Street and Cornish Drive and a public lot at the Point Loma Nazarene College campus (Lomaland Drive). Street parking is plentiful on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.