There are a number of state beaches in the Leo Carrillo area, but El Matador was our favorite, as it is a very scenic beach. We visited this beach twice, both times taking a walk along the shoreline. Located along highway one, south of Leo Carrillo, a sign will tell you where the beach is. From the parking lot, you will descend stairs, leaving highway 1 and its traffic behind. Rocks jutting out of the ocean and along the beach give this state beach a lot of character and beauty that reminds me of the beautiful beaches along the Big Sur area of California. When the tide is out examine the exposed rocks for sea creatures. We saw sea anemones, starfish, a tiny crab, snails, hermit crabs, and the ever present muscles.
To get to this trailhead, use the driving directions in the Nicholas Flat Trail Pond above. After you go around the gate and follow the dirt path to the area where the trail forms a L shape, you will continue straight, rather than going to the pond. After a time you will see a sign labeled Nicholas Flat Ridge Trail. This trail leads you up hill through a more desert like habitat giving you views of the curving highway 23, and the ocean. We explored this trail the same day we walked to the pond and look out area described in the preceding tip. We enjoyed this trail, but only walked part way, as we were unsure where it actually led. When we returned to the campground, I asked a ranger about it, but he had never walked this trail, so he got out a National Park Service Santa Monica Mountains publication, and we looked at it. This did not show detailed trail information, but it appears that this is an optional side section of the Nicholas Flat Trail, coming off of the trail, then returning to it. If you were to walk the entire trail, and used this leg, you would miss the pond altogether. Since this ranger was not entirely sure about this trail, I would recommend doing what we did, walking only part way on both legs of the Nicholas Flat Trial, or better yet, purchasing detailed trail maps of the area. The first photo shows the curving highway that you would drive to get to the trailhead, with the ocean beyond.
The Nicholas Flat Trail is a 4 mile one way trail that leads from the Leo Carrillo Campground to a pond near Decker School Road. The ranger I talked to suggested finding someone to drive you to the entrance on Decker School Road and hiking back to the campground from there. Since we did not have anyone that could do this for us, and since we wanted to see the pond, we instead drove to the Decker School Road trailhead and walked the trail part way, then turned around and walked back to the car. This is a small, but picturesque pond. When we visited it there were a couple of ducks and a cormorant in the pond. From the pond you can walk up hill for a short distance to a nice ridge overlook, and the edge of a deep valley that opens to the ocean. There were rocky outcroppings on one area across the valley from the lookout point. Photo 3 shows you a view of the ocean from the lookout point.
Directions From the Leo Carrillo Campground area drive east on Pacific Coast Hwy 1, for about two and a half miles. Then turn onto Decker Road, also known as Hwy. 23. Highway 23 is a very curvy mountain highway. You will have to watch carefully for Decker School Road, as it is a dead end secondary road that is somewhat obscure. This road comes off on the left side of the highway. Drive to the end of Decker School Road where the trailhead is located. You will have to go around a gate on the left side of the small parking area. There is a marked sign, and you will see a dirt path. Be careful not to get off the path to explore the creek, as there is a lot of poison oak in this area. You will not walk far, when the trail forms a L shape, turn right, and after a short walk you will come to the pond.