Summer Beach & Beer Guide


Whenever I go to the beach, I get the urge to rip off my clothing. It's not that I'm an exhibitionist—I just hate swimsuits. One-pieces make me look unshapely. Bikinis are worse, squeezing my skin until it looks like a Jell-O mold of the surface of the moon. Besides, I actually look good naked.

But in Orange County, going to the beach au naturel just isn't done. For that, you need to go to San Onofre State Beach, just south of the county line.

Although a virgin to bare beaches, I knew enough on my first outing to bring along a wide-brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen. But when I got there—laid out my towel, stripped, and began putting suntan lotion on parts of my body that had never before had the pleasure—I should have paid more attention to the fact that nobody else was naked.

Before I could work up the courage to walk along the shore, a 60-ish gentleman wearing shorts and a T-shirt approached and informed me that the nude beach was a bit farther south. "I'm heading that way myself, but I thought I'd just let you know," he said, politely averting his eyes to the sand.

Slightly mortified but extremely grateful, I hastily put on my bikini and shorts and—as casually as I could at that point—made my way to the designated area.

I knew I had arrived when I saw six people playing beach volleyball, with various body parts flapping in the breeze.

A minute later, my gentleman savior appeared again, this time showing me his round belly, skinny legs, even tan and that special wee gift God had bestowed upon him.

After telling me his name was Oscar, he explained all about the beach, pointing out the heterosexual area (lots of couples and even more old, single men), the homosexual section (a lot of young, well-oiled men) and "the bathroom"—a tiny cove in the cliff that accommodated just one at a time. This time, I found myself staring at his eyes—only his eyes.

After setting up camp, I stripped again, and my new friend and I (and that fellow with the binoculars) walked south, among the little bamboo fortresses some beach-goers erected around themselves for privacy. Oscar, acting as maitre d'côte, gave me the royal tour. A regular for 20 years at San Onofre, Oscar considers himself a kind of community sheriff, watching out for copulation, masturbation, and anything else that might make some people uncomfortable (or jealous).

Thanks to Oscar and others like him, those instances are pretty infrequent. Jenny, a woman in her mid-20s, told me that sometimes a guy sitting next to her will enjoy himself too enthusiastically, but mostly those disruptions don't deter her from being a regular.

After spending the whole day at San Onofre, I couldn't think of anything that would deter me either. (Kari Dietrich)



Many summers ago, when Trestles was very far away, almost all the stories about getting to the best waves in Southern California were the kind that Leo Hetzel and Steve Pezman still tell as if they happened yesterday.

"We had a 1948 Dodge we painted in green camouflage and wrote 'Trestles Special' across the doors," recounts Hetzel, 58, of Modjeska Canyon, a surfer since the late 1950s. "We'd leave so early in the morning that it was still dark, driving down Pacific Coast Highway, then pulling off the road just past San Clemente and hiding the car deep in the scrub brush. Those were the days before the San Diego Freeway."

Those were also the days when the long drive in a raggedy car through dark, undeveloped OC was the easy part of a trip to Trestles. The isolated stretch of beach, which was named for the railroad bridge that spans the mouth of San Mateo Creek, was situated within the borders of Camp Pendleton. Lugging their longboards, the surfers would scramble down the canyon and wade through the reeds, trying to elude the patrols of Marines assigned to stop them.

"It was like a game of cat and mouse," recalls Pezman, 57, former publisher of Surfer Magazine and current publisher of the quarterly Surfer's Journal, who lives in San Clemente and has also been surfing for more than 40 years. "The Marines would steal our boards or our clothes, pull the valve stems or the coil wires out of our cars—and we'd return the favor. But it also got serious. I remember them firing live ammunition over our heads while we were in the water."

Sometimes surfers could find peace at Trestles, however, and it was always worth the hassle. They would paddle out to take their pick of the some of the most famous waves in California—moving water sculptures known for their consistently good shape and long rides. And as the surfers bobbed on their boards amid the swells, waiting in the water, the view toward the land was just as magical. "It was like a look back into California history," Hetzel says dreamily. "There was nothing built on the beach, nothing on the bluff. It was a special space, perfectly unspoiled."

Trestles isn't very far away anymore. The freeway drastically reduced travel time for the most far-flung surfers. For others, urban sprawl nearly eliminated the commute altogether; they live right next door in San Clemente or San Juan Capistrano, which have been transformed from quaint beach towns into bustling cities. And now a controversial 60-unit Marine Corps housing project has been carved into the once-pristine hills just above San Onofre State Beach, removing one more reason to bother with the trek to Trestles at all.

"They did it—the housing is in, and it's horrible," says Hetzel, who attended California Coastal Commission hearings in support of the Surfrider Foundation's fight against this project. "In the hearings, the Marines kept downplaying the impact of these homes, but it's a full-on giant suburbia with Mission Viejo-style houses—all cookie-cutter, pastel-stucco units with cul-de-sacs—nothing tasteful or nice. And there's a Phase II still to come."

There are also plans for a new toll road—the Foothill Transportation Corridor-South—that will conclude its run from Oso Parkway through one of Orange County's few remaining swaths of open space by bisecting and covering a large portion of San Onofre State Beach Park before hooking up with Interstate 5.

Hetzel and Pezman are part of the battle against the toll road, too, supporting the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club and a bill that Senator Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) has put before the California legislature to restrict the uses of state park lands. Surfrider is still pursuing an appeal of its suit against the Marine Corps housing. Perhaps most significantly, state biologists just discovered several southern steelhead trout—an endangered species with a surviving population of only 500—in San Mateo Creek, which has prompted much outrage on the part of the Sierra Club. The finding may require the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate the creek a critical habitat. That could put a stop to groundwater pumping at Camp Pendleton, as well as the proposed toll road.

But the old surfers will continue riding Trestles' still-incomparable waves this summer, just as they have for more than 40 years. Lots of new surfers will be there, too. Lots and lots.

"The waves are as wonderful as ever, but it's crowded and competitive out there now, and it's sad that most of the surfers can't conceive of a time when a busy day at Trestles was 10 or 20 people," says Pezman. "And the ones who start surfing now, after the homes have been built, will never know any different than that, either. That's real sad.

"But really, it hasn't been the same for nearly 30 years, since surfing at Trestles was trespassing on the Marine Corps' land. That kept the crowds down, kept the beach pristine."

Surfers' makeshift undercover assault on the beach was long ago replaced by graded trails of asphalt that wind amid the native botanical gristle. "But the walk in to Trestles still isn't completely spoiled," Hetzel allows. "I've seen deer in there. And beaver. And lots of native birds. You wonder, though, with people living nearby, if their dogs and cats are going to get down in there and run everything off. Trestles is just so close now. The buffer between that place and the rest of the world is almost gone." (Dave Wielenga)

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