Workamping at San Elijo State Beach

San Elijo State BeachHard to believe we have been here at San Elijo State Beach 2.5 months already, with only a couple more weeks to go.  Thought it was about time to tell you about this little jewel that keeps people coming back year after year, some 20+.  Many of those who frequent this beach are locals, some living in Encinitas, right across town.  The smiling faces tell the story.  Many come for the surfing (some of the best in the state we are told), some to watch their kids build sand castles and splash in the surf, some to take strolls along the water’s edge, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells that engulf them, and others to rekindle friendships year after year.  Many boast that this is the best state beach on the California coast.

Life on the rocks

One big draw other than the beach, we believe, is that you can literally walk out the campground gates, cross the Coast Hwy, and you are in the sleepy little laid-back town of Cardiff, which boasts some pretty decent restaurants, a Sambazon Acaí Cafe (check it out for a yummy organic, superfood fruit bowl) and a great gourmet grocer, Seaside Market.

Self Realization Fellowship Encinitas
Buddha Healing Statue ~ Self Realization Fellowship

Head north out of the gates instead and walk to Encinitas, which seems to be the focal point for many of the little towns surrounding it.  Much larger than Cardiff, it has huge grocery chains, big-box stores, great restaurants to entice anyone, wonderful consignment stores, and lovely boutiques to browse through.  Our favorite Encinitas restaurant so far, for a nice dinner out, is 3rd Corner, a first-rate little bistro/wine shop.  Choose a bottle of wine in their shop, if you like, and they will uncork it for you at your table.  And their entrées are killer to boot!  If you like craft beers, Union Kitchen and Tap is the go-to place, and Kim’s Vietnamese is just up the street for good pho.

Solana Beach artwork
Tennis anyone?

Solana Beach, just south of San Elijo, is another laid-back beach town with some trendy shops and a great Thai restaurant, Bangkok Bay.  Cedros Avenue is a colorful street lined with shops that has something for everyone.  The walk back to San Elijo from Solana Beach looking out over the ocean never disappoints.

Outside the San Elijo State Beach campground, at the corner of Chesterfield and Coast Hwy 101 sits a somewhat controversial statue entitled “Magic Carpet Ride”.  Commissioned by the Cardiff Botanical Society and designed by local surfer and sculptor Matthew Antichevich, this 16 foot bronze statue was originally designed to represent a surfer performing a “backside floater” (whatever that is).  A lack of funds prevented the sculptor from including the surf in this piece.  Serious surfers criticize the design as being too thin and effeminate, the feet and hands being positioned incorrectly, and resembling more a novice than experienced surfer.  Locals have dubbed this statue the “Cardiff Kook”, surf slang for a wannabe surfer.

Cardiff Kook
Hey, who you callin' a kook?

Like him or not, the local community has had great fun adorning him for local birthdays, holidays, charitable events and remembrances, such as 9/11.  Many of his wacky costumes have been captured and can be seen here.

With 171 campsites (both hookups and non-improved sites), tent campers and RV’ers large and small (their rigs that is) take up residence at San Elijo. Most reservations are made online through Reserve America, many 7 months in advance.  If you are lucky enough to snag a cancellation, the gods are indeed smiling down on you.  During the busy season these are few and far between.

View of south end of campground

Amenities include public showers, camp store, wi-fi (very spotty), and it’s home to the original  Bull Taco, an “inauthentic Mexican” joint serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Bull Taco Cardiff
Bull Taco, known for its "inauthentic Mexican" food.

It is a draw with the locals and other campers as well, allowing for take-out or the chance to sit on the deck enjoying a fish taco, watching the surfers or the setting sun.  The smells wafting out of this little haven make your mouth water as you pass by.

Also on the grounds is the Eli Howard Surf School, an overnight surf camp run by Emily, hubby Greg, and their two beautiful, energetic dogs.  Emily outfitted our granddaughter Alyssa with a wetsuit and boogie board while here on vacation and made her feel totally at ease.

Eli Howard Surf School
Eli Howard surf camp

This has been our first workamping experience and what a great place it has been to cut our teeth.  The job itself has been fun, allowing us time to visit with the campers at check-in or when motoring around in our golf cart to make sure all is well.  This gig also gives us a tremendous amount of downtime, which is what retirement is supposed to be all about, right?  The entire San Elijo staff, as well as other camp hosts, have been wonderful, making our experience one we hope to repeat, here as well as in other beautiful settings. What a great way to see this country, meet interesting people, and feel you are contributing to the community where you have settled.  This is a volunteer position, as many are, and given the economic conditions in California, we hope in some small way we are helping to keep state beaches like this open for generations to come.

Our friend Bill, a founding member of the non-profit Friends of Cardiff and Carlsbad State Beaches, is passionate about preserving these beaches and has been working diligently to do just that.  If you are interesting in workamping here, this is the site to visit.  Can’t beat San Diego whatever the season!

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18 thoughts on “Workamping at San Elijo State Beach

  • Son of a gun, sounds like a wonderful idea, but first have to find a partner willing to do volunteer work and an RV probably be good too. Guess I’ll have to settle for YNP.

    See you soon.

    Love Joyce

  • This is a great sales pitch and I’ll bet Bill will have lots of hits. I’m glad you guys had so much fun and are willing to do it again. Are there other such places people should know about? Where does someone go to find out about these volunteer opportunities? See you soon.

  • We were in the San Diego area in December 2010 and happened upon Carlsbad State Park. We spoke to some friendly workampers there and even picked up an application. I’d love to volunteer workamp near the ocean. I’m glad you had a good experience. I’m more determined than ever to do it someday!

    • Haven’t had the pleasure to meet you or your husband yet but feel certain you would enjoy it here. We sure have and there is so much to do in this area. You would need to be here much longer than we have to experience it all.

  • Sounds like you had a great first work camping experience. Looks like it is a beautiful area and fantastic beach. We have yet to really explore that area, maybe next spring.

    Kevin and Ruth

  • You found a way to spend winter/spring at a great place on the San Diego coast for free! [your labor not included.] Maybe YOU are the lucky ducks! High-five. It sounds really wonderful.

  • Lu, thanks for the tour. I read it on my phone the other day but so much easier to comment when on the computer. Application is in. here’s to hoping it works out. Safe travels to Yellowstone!

    • Glad to hear your application is in. We are hoping that it works out and that we can all be here at the same time. What trouble we could get in! There are some good breweries around here we are told, although we haven’t been yet. Waiting on you two to get here!

  • Love this story. We are currently enjoying a workamp experience in AZ with a future goal of workamping/volunteering in southern California next 2014/2015 winter season. I need a little help in applying for an opportunity. Can you direct me please? Would love to workamp in the San Diego area. Thank you so much.

    • Fran, we loved volunteering at San Elijo State Beach. I recommend going to the website at You used to be able to apply online but there may be a number to call now. Chris Larkin was the park ranger in charge of volunteers, but don’t know if that has changed since we were there. Good luck!

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