Leo Carrillo State Park: Popular Film Location

Disclaimer: While we are, and will always be The Desert Way, sometimes the Pacific calls to us, especially in the dog days of summer, and we must go. Anyway, as the rock group, America, told us in 1972, “The ocean is a desert with its life underground.” Okay, it’s a stretch, but we hope you enjoy the beach anyway. Leo Carrillo State Park situated on the western outskirts of Malibu, California, was named after Leo Carrillo (1880-1961), actor, preservationist and conservationist. Leo Carrillo served on the California Beach and Parks commission for 18 years, and was instrumental in the state’s acquisition of the Hearst property at San Simeon. He was related by blood and marriage to a long line of distinguished original Californians. Leo’s greatest fame came from his portrayal of Pancho, the sidekick to Duncan Renaldo’s Cisco Kid, an early 1950’s TV series.

The TV series began production in 1949, and was filmed by ZIV Productions at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California; in Pioneertown, California; and at other southwestern U.S. locations.

The wildly popular Cisco Kid show was unique in that era of shoot-’em- up Westerns; in over 170 episodes, neither the Kid nor Pancho ever took a life. Instead, Cisco and Pancho outsmarted the bad guys, showing that villainy was its own worst enemy. The formula made international stars out of Renaldo and Carrillo.

Leo Carrillo State Park has hosted a cornucopia of films over the years featuring actors such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis, Nancy Sinatra, Dick Clark and other celebrities.

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) starred Frankie Avalon, Linda Evans as Sugar Kane and Annette Funicello as Dee Dee. It also starred Don Rickles, Buster Keane and Paul Lynde. Columnist Earl Wilson lets everybody know who he is by exclaiming “That’s Earl, brother.”
St. Louis Post Dispatch, December 13, 1964.

Some of the memorable classics like Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Gidget (1959), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), The Rockford Files (1974), Grease (1978), The Karate Kid (1984), 50 First Dates (2004), and Cast Away (2000) were filmed on Leo Carrillo Beach.

Sally Field starred in Gidget, 1965.

Fun Fact: The fictional character Gidget, from a novel written by Frederick Kohner in 1957 based on the accounts of his daughter, Kathy, was played by Sandra Dee (1959), Deborah Walley (1961), Cindy Carol (1963), Sally Field (1965) and Karen Valentine (1969). The nickname her surfing friends gave Gidget is a combination of the words girl and midget. Gidget’s original pen name was Franzie Hofer, which was later changed to Frances Lawrence for movies.

In 2009, the 2,500 acre park was featured in Huell Howser‘s TV series California’s Golden Parks. Huell meets up with Harry Medved, author of Hollywood Escapes, a book about movie locations in California. Harry tells Huell all about the long history of Leo Carrillo State Beach, and why it is probably the most filmed beach in the world. Click the link below to watch the full episode from Chapman University’s website.

When we visited, the park had only been re-opened for 3 months. In 2018, the Woolsey Fire, the most destructive in Los Angeles and Ventura counties history, burned through almost the entire park, closing the campground for 7 months. The equipment for the Junior Lifeguard program that was destroyed in the fire was replaced by a donation from a group of Australian surf lifeguard associations. There’s still ongoing construction to restore the areas on the road overlooking the beach. The state repaved the campground.

Leo Carrillo State Park is popular not only because of its proximity to urban Los Angeles and the hotter San Fernando Valley, but because its one of the few campgrounds in Southern California where visitors can walk to the beach. It is also a popular destination for surfers seeking to hang ten.

LA Weekly, September 29, 1988

Leo Carrillo State Park campground has 135 campsites for tents, trailers and RVs (up to 31 feet) within one half mile walking distance from the beach.

We recommend you drive from your campsite to the designated parking area towards the beach then walk in the tunnel under Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to South Beach.

Make sure you display your current campground pass on your vehicle’s dashboard. Otherwise, pay per hour at the lot’s designated kiosk. Free parking for South Beach can be found along PCH near the park entrance. 

Leo Carrillo State Park has four separate beach access points; South Beach, North Beach, Staircase Beach and County Line Beach. Lifeguards are staffed seasonally at North and South Beach. Dogs are allowed on leash north of lifeguard tower 3.

There are 46 campsites with electrical hookups. All sites also have a picnic table and fire pit with grate. Don’t forget to bring your wire brush to clean your grill. No cutting or collecting of downed wood. There’s no water or sewer at any site, but there is potable water spigots throughout the park, free toilets in designated areas and a free sewer dump site in the park near the park exit.

Hot showers are available for one dollar. They do not make change or accept coins, so come prepared with bills. A group campsite which was destroyed by the Woolsey Fire and rebuilt, is located in the back of the campground. Dogs are allowed on leash. Generators may be operated 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Incoming campground gates close at 10 p.m.

You will enjoy Leo Carrillo State Park’s one and a half miles of beach for whale watching, swimming, kite surfing, kayaking, fishing, beach combing and bird watching.

The beach also has tide pools during low tide, rock arches and reefs for exploring. Removal of any animal species is prohibited without a permit. Please leave them alone for others to enjoy. Several excellent caves and tunnels can be found in the rock walls at Sequit Point, west of South Beach. Some of these caves are only exposed at low tide, so check tide charts first.

The large sycamore trees in the canyon of the Leo Carrillo campgrounds were somehow mostly untouched by the Woolsey Fire, as was the center row of campgrounds, with much of the devastation contained to the surrounding brush on the hillsides.

The park also features 7 miles of back-country hiking with lovely views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands. Some of these trails are wheelchair accessible.

Mountain bikers can ride the steep, rugged Yellow Hill Fire Road Trail and gain 1,800 feet elevation starting near the park visitor center.

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