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Safe Trestles

Design Competition to Create Safe, Low-Impact Access to Trestles

Trestles, aka the Yosemite of surfing, is under threat due to safety and environmental concerns. Currently, over 100,000 people each year follow informal trails through marshlands and over a very active railroad corridor to gain access to the celebrated breaks. These shortcuts have led to numerous close calls and threaten the fragile ecosystem of the most pristine natural watershed system remaining in Southern California. In response, a coalition of concerned groups rallied, and with Nike 6.0 support, a solution became foreseeable, however unforeseen. Enter Architecture for Humanity, a non-profit organization that, through a network of building professionals, brings design, construction, and development services to communities in need. Together, they launched “Safe Trestles,” an open-to-all, two-phase ideas competition. Cost for submitting an idea: $20.

A Brief History of Trestles  |  Safe Trestles in a Nutshell  |  Phase 2
Learn More About Safe Trestles  |  Join the Discussion  |  Phase 1 Results
Schedule  |  Guidelines  |  Scope of Services  |  Additional Resources  |  Cost Estimates
Press Room  |  Competition Details  |   Join the Conversation  |  Feedback  |  FAQs

The Wave wins Safe Trestles

The Wave was collaboratively designed by: Joshua Beck, Joana Gomes of CO-LAB design office in Los Angeles, Tom Reiner in NYC / Stuttgart, and Lily Jencks of JENCKS in London. The design is based on the informal pathways cut through the wetlands each year by surfers.

CO-LAB design office is an emerging award winning architecture practice based in Los Angeles.

The Wave’s ambition is to keep it wild, make it safe, and safeguard the area for future users. The Wave’s primary goals are to increase the safety of the path to Trestles and protect its fragile beach ecology. With many close calls as people illegally cross the railroad tracks to get to this renowned park and surf break, the proposal provides a safe rail crossing so visitors may reach their destination without danger.

The Wave also provides a single path over the wetland, bringing visitors close to this unique ecology while protecting it from rogue trails, and providing visitors with views and information about the landscape they are traversing. The Wave’s subtle re-graded path, integrated signage and beautiful form provides a unique design solution for the unique landscape at Trestles. The Wave proposal will keep this landscape safe, protected and pristine, for generations to come.

Phase 2 Winner + Honorable Mentions Announced

Phase 2 of Safe Trestles – an ideas competition that explores ways to create safe, low-impact access to Trestles – is complete. 5 teams were selected from Phase 1 to develop their designs over the summer while working with stakeholders - Architecture for Humanity, Surfrider, and the San Onofre Foundation - local agencies, and the community towards low-impact solutions that serve visitors to the beach, restore wetlands that have been damaged by the path, preserve and augment vistas, and offer education about the history of the site and the coastal environment.

The focus of the competition has been less about identifying a winning scheme, but to use the discussion, and design ideas generated as a collective and a tool for the evolution of Safe Trestles. The winner selected will be given the opportunity to work with the San Onofre Foundation towards a viable solution as the discussion continues with the community and governing agencies.

Overall Winner
The Wave
Design Team: CO-LAB design office, Los Angeles, CA (USA)

Honorable Mention | Educational Component
Safe Trestles Transect
Design Team: Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects, Inc., Philadelphia (PA)

Honorable Mention | Innovative Crossing Solution
Design Team: kola+kle, Berlin (Germany)

Honorable Mention | Habitat Restoration
Unveiling the Natural
Design Team: ERGO4, Heilbronn (Germany)

Honorable Mention | Site Mitigation Strategies
The Long Trail
Design Team: Ken Smith Landscape Architect: WORKSHOP WEST, Irvine, CA (USA)

Trestles | A Very Brief History

How long have humans been in the area?
• The area has been inhabited for 8000years – initially by the Acjachemen tribe.
• The Spaniards colonized the area in the 1700’s.
• People started surfing Trestles in the early 1950’s.

Who owns the land?
• The railroad maintains a 50’ easement on either side of the tracks.
• CA State Parks has leased the park from the US Department of the Navy since 1971.
• The lease ends in 2021.
• The future of the park is unknown.

Why is the State Park unique?
• The San Mateo Creek remains the most pristine coastal stream in Southern California.
• It is home to a highly diverse & fragile community of plants, birdlife, mammals and reptiles.
• Over 2 million visitors it is one of the 5 most visited parks in California.
• Thanks to epic floods & storm events Trestles is arguably the best year round surf break in America.

Why is Trestles in trouble?
• San Onofre State Beach is home to eleven federally endangered or threatened animal species.
• Over 100,000 people each year follow informal trails over active train tracks & through the fragile wetlands to gain access to the surf breaks at Trestles – that’s 200,000 crossings a year.
• If prompted, the landowners and leaseholders could actively restrict use of the area.

Can You Sum it Up in ½ a Minute?
• Yes.

Safe Trestles | In a Nutshell

What is Safe Trestles?
• It is a 2-phase ideas competition to generate discussions and visions.
• It is organized by the volunteer non-profit organization Architecture for Humanity.
• It is a collaboration between San Onofre Foundation, Surfrider, Rebuild, and Nike 6.0.

What are the goals of Safe Trestles?
• Eliminate the danger of crossing active train tracks.
• Restore & preserve wetlands that have been damaged by the current paths.
• Preserve and improve vistas.
• Offer education about the history of the site and the beach marsh environment.
• Encourage open & low-impact access to Trestles for future generations.

Wetlands imagery developed in collaboration with Amy Whitesides.

Learn more about Safe Trestles.

Phase 1 Results

View the results Phase 1: the finalists, semi-finalists, honorable mentions, people’s choice winner, and the founders’ and fellows’ award.

View all Phase 1 Entries.

Phase 2 Schedule

June 04:
Design Development Begins

June 04 – June 15:
Information + Question Period

June 18:
Meeting with Stakeholders + Finalists

June 23 – June 28:
Safe Trestles Exhibit at Surf America Nationals (at Trestles)

June 23 – June 28:
Safe Trestles Exhibit at Surf America Nationals (at Trestles)

June / July:
Community Meetings, dates TBD

July 21 – July 23:
Design Progress Review

July 04 – August:
Safe Trestles Exhibit at US Open of Surfing, Huntington Beach

August 16:
Community Meeting – San Clemente
download the meeting summary
watch the introduction
watch the discussion

August 30:
Phase 2 Submission Deadline

August 30 – Sept 13:
Stakeholder Design Review

September 13:
Safe Trestles Exhibit –
San Clemente Community Center
All are welcome 7:30pm – 9:30pm

September 12 - 18:
Safe Trestles Exhibit at Hurley Pro

Press Room

See who’s been talking about us.
Media inquiries:

Competition Details

Host: Architecture for Humanity

Phase 1: Complete

Phase 2: Design Phase Complete.
Design Review.

Fundraising: Phase 1 entry fee of $20 raised $1k for Architecture for Humanity, San Onofre Foundation, and Surfrider Foundation (each)

Jury: Check out our phase one jurors.

Award: Five finalists were chosen from Phase 1 to receive a $5k stipend to develop their designs in Phase 2.


Questions, comments, suggestions? Contact us.

Phase 2 Cost Estimates

A huge thank you to Davis Langdon – San Francisco for donating their time to provide cost analyses and comparisons of the five Phase 2 solutions.

Phase 2 Designs

Anyone can view and comment on the proposed solutions. What should we do to protect Trestles for future generations?

Safe Trestles Transect: a journey through a coastal landscape
Design Team: Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects, Inc., Philadelphia (PA)

Design Team: kola+kle, Berlin (Germany)

The Wave
Design Team: CO-LAB design office, Los Angeles, CA (USA)

Unveiling the Natural
Design Team: ERGO4, Heilbronn (Germany)

The Long Trail
Design Team: Ken Smith Landscape Architect: WORKSHOP WEST, Irvine, CA (USA)

Phase 2 | Guidelines

Program Requirements

The design should serve both surfers and visitors to the area, restore and protect the coastal environment that has been damaged by foot traffic, provide view points and educational opportunities related to the past and present conditions as wells as protecting its future.

Railroad Crossing
Designs should include 2 schemes for the railroad crossing – at and below grade.

Accessibility Guidelines
All portions and elements of the proposal should be accessible to all users. Indicate 1 accessible parking space, and 1 van accessible space.

Educational Component
Solutions should include wayfinding, signage, literature, and/ or interactive display/s.

Material Selection
Proposed material choices should be durable, and environmentally friendly.

Additional Facilities
Proposed solutions should include alternatives to the current porta-potties, integrated waste receptacles, and bicycle/ surf board racks.

Phase 2 | Scope of Services

Site + Community Involvement
1. Site Visit – meet on site with Stakeholders + Finalists June 18
2. Community Meetings
3. Project Outreach

Required Presentation Materials
1. Design Book
2. Presentation Boards
3. Physical Model

Required Supporting Documentation
1. Site Plan/s
2. Enlarged Plans
3. Site Sections
4. Enlarged Sections
5. Construction Details
6. Photographs of physical model
7. Computer generated model
8. 3-dimensional renderings
9. Documentation of Educational Component

Suggested Supporting Documentation
1. Project Video
2. Website
3. Innovative Solutions that represent designs.


Competition Details

  • Name: Safe Trestles
  • Host: Architecture for Humanity
  • Type: Public
  • Registration Deadline: April 17, 2010
  • Submission Deadline: April 17, 2010
  • Entry Fee: $20
  • Award: up to 5 Finalists: each awarded Phase 2 design stipend of $5,000.00+
  • Contact: alix o
  • Status: Winners Annouced

About Our Partners


San Onofre Foundation is a charitable organization whose mission is to provide education, protection, and preservation for the California State Parks at San Onofre and San Clemente State Beaches.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.

Architecture for Humanity is a charitable organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crisis and brings design services to communities in need. We believe that where resources and expertise are scarce, innovative, sustainable and collaborative design can make a difference.

Rebuild is the San Diego chapter of Architecture for Humanity, providing solutions to problems that face communities on a local and global level through participation in design competitions, initiating their own projects, and working together with other humanitarian and non-profit organizations.


Nike 6.0 defines innovation and embodies the creativity of youth, united by action. Nike 6.0 delivers footwear and apparel to support the new generation of action sports athletes who are changing the worlds of surf, snow, ski, BMX, wake and moto. Their unlimited potential and contagious energy deliver the future through performance and lifestyle.