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Throwback Thursday | San Onofre

Happy Throwback Thursday! Where you come from, where you call home is a part of who you are. Welcome to the Live Like a Local blog series that explores our roots and hometown in South Orange County.

Every week we welcome you to explore with us, as we take in the vibrant culture, beautiful histories and exquisite homes created in our own backyard. Whether it be San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, or a surrounding coastal community, it is always a great day for Throwback Thursday in Orange County!

Especially when you’re grateful for an amazing place we call home…

Historic San Onofre

Who was the 1st to ride the waves at San Onofre? No one seems to know for sure.

Perhaps it was the late, great George “Peanuts” Larson of Laguna, who would have happily claimed it for himself. Or, maybe it was Matt Brown and Lorrin “Whitney” Harrison who stumbled onto ‘Nofre’s forgiving waves while heading south from Corona Del Mar in search of surf. We will have to follow in the footsteps of those first adventurers, touching upon the spirited history given by the San Onofre Parks Foundation, to search out more answers.


A new decade brought cars traveling up and down the old Coast Highway with surfboards in tow. Paddleboards hit the beach from minds like Ted Sizemore. By the end of the 1920s, the regular scene of surfers included anywhere from 50 to 75 lone adventurers. San Onofre was on the list, part of a legendary trek to explore the points, inlets and coves from Southern Orange County through all Southern California for the best surf. Despite it all, the secret held on. The break maintained its relative level of secrecy, with only a handful of watermen claiming its waves.


The “fish camp,” where unbelievable surf and legends of large corbina, sea bass, and halibut abounded, became the talk of the land. This beachfront land changed hands over the year, from Santa Margarita Ranch to the Haven Ranch to the San Onofre Beach Fishing Camp; but, in 1937 a local by the name of Frank Ulrich took over the lease of the camp from his Texaco gas station and café across the way. For 25-cents, a handful of wave riders started to form who frequented the beach. No surfing club resided over the surfing lifestyle and the fabled surfers who called it home liked it that way.


A new era arose. Many of the regulars of ‘Nofre did not surf much during the years of the world war. The sweet spot of surfing almost ceased to exist. It was now a strategic base, with issues of gas rationing, scarce surfboard materials, and daily beach sweeps. But, the late 1940s swept the life back into San Onofre. Many at Camp Pendleton turned a blind eye to the surfers (many of whom were WWII veterans) returning to the still closed beach. Shaping its informal beginnings, Barney Wilkes and Andre “Frenchy” Jahan established the San Onofre Surfing Club to overcome civilian incidents and keep the beach open.


1951 marked the true beginning of the San Onofre Surfing Club, a loosely formed collection of beach regulars. A key to the iron gate came with membership. However, soon copies of the key spread to hands all along the coast. And, in 1952, the club started to build a more permanent structure with paid guards and required membership at the gate. As the San Onofre Parks Foundation puts it best, “this era was the beginning of a tradition that had its roots firmly planted in the early-50’s, but in many respects would continue to represent the overall style of life at San’O for decades to come.”

And Now

With stunning ocean views, majestic cliffs, and the soothing sounds of the ocean, this trail and beach has it all! Support the stewards of our San Onofre State Beach heritage – California State Parks & San Onofre Parks Foundation. Follow them on Facebook to get involved in their many events throughout the year.

Thank you to all our neighbors for sharing this hometown with us!

Dedicating this week’s Throwback Thursday to the San Clemente Historical Society, California State Park, San Onofre Parks Foundationand all those that protect our heritage from San Onofre and beyond. Thank you to these organizations for the original photos featured in this post. Photos are courtesy of their original archives and collections. Cheers!