Coastal Hikes Around San Diego
Torrey Pines State Reserve, off Interstate 5 in Del Mar
2 miles/1 hour - rolling terrain
Torrey Pines State Reserve is so beautiful that every time I'm in San Diego, I go out of my way to go there. Actually, Torrey Pines is so beautiful that if they'd let me, I'd pitch my tent there and never leave. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one who feels this way. On weekend afternoons, consider yourself lucky if you can get a parking spot by the visitor center and trailheads at Torrey Pines. It's wise to confine your visits to weekdays, or get there early in the morning on weekends.
From the visitor center, begin hiking on the Razor Point Trail, which provides dramatic views of the reserve's eroded coastal badlands. Badlands? At the ocean? Yes. They look like something straight out of Death Valley-colorful hills that are creased and wrinkled with narrow canyons and caverns-except that there's a big blue ocean beyond them.
On The Bluff
A spider web of paths weave along the coastal bluffs, only some of which are marked. It's fine just to wander around at random and visit as many of the trail's overlooks as possible. (Be sure to stay on formalized paths and don't make your own-the soil is eroded enough already.) Razor Point is one of the signed overlooks; you stand on a narrow backbone of sandstone, fortunately surrounded by a wooden fence, and look straight down to the surging sea. Yucca Point is another overlook a few yards off the main trail, also worth a visit.
Windswept Torrey pines grace the park's coastal bluffs; they're the park's signature tree. Torrey pines grow only two places in the world: here in San Diego and on Santa Rosa Island, a part of Channel Islands National Park. It is estimated that only about 10,000 of the trees exist. Adding to the coastal beauty, wildflowers bloom in the sandy soil in springtime. If you time it right, you may see white morning glories, blue dicks, red Indian paintbrush, tiny white popcorn flowers, or purple nightshade.
Don't be concerned if you lose the trail as you saunter along the myriad paths; the proximity of the ocean makes it impossible to lose your bearings for long. Also, keep in mind that you started hiking at the highest point in the park (by the visitor center), and all of the trails lead downhill to the beach. When you want to head back to your car, just make sure you hike uphill, and you'll get there.
Wander roughly south from Razor Point (paralleling the ocean), until you hook up with the Beach Trail, then turn right and squeeze through the steep, narrow, sandstone-lined entrance to the beach. When the tide is low, you can hike along the sand; when it's not, sit yourself down on the best-looking patch of sandstone and watch the spectacle of the sea.For your return trip, you can follow the Beach Trail all the way back to the parking lot for an excellent semi-loop, or take the Beach Trail back to the Razor Point Trail and retrace your steps from there. The Beach Trail is the shortest, most direct route between the visitor center and the ocean, but that means it's also the most steep.
Make it more challenging: If you want to hike more in the park, try the half-mile Parry Grove Trail, which leads to the oldest Torrey pines in the reserve. Or hike the Guy Fleming Loop Trail, a three-quarter-mile wheelchair-accessible trail with Torrey pines, ocean views, great spring wildflowers, and sandstone formations.
Trip notes: A small day-use fee is charged per vehicle. A map of Torrey Pines State Reserve is available for free at the park visitor center. For more information, contact Torrey Pines State Reserve, 12000 North Torrey Pines Park Road, San Diego, CA 92008; (858) 755-2063.
Best season: Good year-round; wildflowers are excellent from March to May.
Directions: From Interstate 5 in Del Mar, take the Carmel Valley Road exit and drive west for 1.5 miles. Turn south on Torrey Pines Road and drive 1.7 miles to the reserve entrance. Drive up the hill and park by the reserve office and visitor center. The trailhead is across the park road from the visitor center.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication