Gym-goers in short-shorts vie for attention with women in skimpy bikinis at the best people-watching beach along the Pacific Ocean, famous for skim boarding, parties and Bohemian beach homes.
To get to Thousand Steps Beach, one descends some 265 stairs – not one-thousand stairs as the name implies – under the shadow of overgrown fuchsia bougainvillea. What appears at the end of the steep staircase is evidence of a fascinating sedimentary process, unusual homes built on the sand, arches at both the north and south points, stunning views, and of course warm golden sand and clear waters.
Thousand Steps Beach Sedimentary Rocks
The sedimentary process evolved with layers of rocks, water, and sand settling and forming the cliff-side. Evidence of an earthquake or a major tectonic incident shows a slanted layer pattern. Some of the rocks are well-rounded indicating they were probably tumbled in the surf. Some of the rocks are angular and likely embedded themselves in a landslide. Some rocks are loosely bound together with sand, and they are fairly dangerous because they can fall at any time. The alternating layers of minerals and red sand is beautifully perplexing, reminding the viewer Earth is 4.5 billion years old. You can find the sedimentary rocks at the far northern tip of the beach.
Homes on the Sand
When early settlers homesteaded Laguna Beach, they often built homes on the sand without a vision for future tsunamis and high tidal waves. Most of those homes were long ago washed away, but on Thousand Steps Beach, many of the homes are still standing, grandfathered in, and exempt from forced sale or demolishment. The homes are inevitably Bohemian in style: Simple structures constructed of wood with little in the way of modern ammenities. The property lines are protected by a simple plaited rope, and a weathered, hand-penned “Private Property” sign.
Thousand Steps Beach Arches
At the north end of the beach, accessible only at low tide, a small cave marks the entrance to Secret Cove. The cave’s rocky floor makes navigation a venture for the brave even at low tide. Most people don’t find this cave because they do not walk far enough, and because the cave is not visible from the beach’s center. You must walk around a cliff before you spot it. The north end of Thousand Steps is rumored to be a gay beach (as is West Street Beach), but I have never spotted the slightest hint of a homosexually dominated beach at Thousand Steps (although I did see a heterosexual couple having open air sex at the north end of the beach in September 2013).
The south point cave evokes memories of an Indiana Jones adventure filled with secret jewels and hidden treasures. At high tide, lifeguards place signs warning of danger and they won’t allow you to risk killing yourself on their watch. You can either walk through the cave at low tide, or swim around the point to a small, unnamed point where the waves are quite rough. Keep swimming south and you will find yourself on Laguna Beach’s best kept secret, Paradise Bay, where controversy over two swimming pools built in the early 1900s creates controversy between residents of Three Arch Bay and those who believe they are within their right to swim in them. I swam in both pools – definitely worth the trouble of getting there.
Skim Boarding Thousand Steps Beach
The waves at the south end of Thousand Steps Beach come in at a 90 degree angle, creating a dangerous and exhilarating shore break. This is one of the more difficult wave patterns to swim on the Laguna Coast. The waves breaking on the rocks form a mid-size A-frame peak with a long barrel. If you time it right, you’ll have the skim boarding ride of your life. Swimming at the south end point of Thousand Steps Beach is not recommended. Entering the water to swim here requires intense study of oncoming waves. I once took a tumble in the surf and lost my mask, snorkel, and fins entering the water at this point. The below video highlights some good rides and tough tumbles.
Because of the difficult access (no parking, except on South Coast Highway) and stairs that mimic a hardcore Stairmaster workout, Thousand Steps Beach attracts the young and fit, especially during summer months. Bikini clad young women and volleyball buff young men play squash ball, explore the arches, lounge in the sun, and otherwise add more beauty to an already decadent beach. If you can high-tail it back up those stairs, you’d be crazy not to spend a day at Thousand Steps Beach.
Have something a little more frisky in mind? Read about the best beaches for sex.