If you’re only going to go on one hike when you visit San Diego, this should be it. Torrey Pines Natural Reserve is an absolutely stunning location boasting sweeping views, absolutely gorgeous coastline, natural flora and fauna, and ends with a walk on the beach next to some truly awesome ocean cliffs. I have the distinct privilege of living and working close enough to this awesome spot that I can enjoy it any day, and I want to share that awesomeness with you!
Here is what I recommend for a Torrey Pines hike:
If possible, get there early. If you’re there early enough in the morning, you’ll beat all the beach-goers and get a really sweet parking spot on the street that you don’t have to pay for. Score! If waking up early just isn’t your style, I’ve got a few parking tips. If you just have to have the best parking, there is a pay parking lot near the front. It fills up quickly as well, but not as quickly as the street parking. If that’s full, there’s another paid lot a little farther away, with access from Carmel Valley Road. If that’s taken, there’s usually free parking in the neighborhood and on the street off Carmel Valley Road, but that’s a bit of a walk. Here is a map to help you get your bearings:
One last option if you’re using public transportation: The NCTD 101 bus does stop near the Torrey Pines entrance, so that’s an option for you as well.
Once you’ve gotten out of your car, there are two options for you when hiking Torrey Pines: you can either start on the beach and then go up, or you can go up and end on the beach. I recommend going up the trail first. There are a few reasons for this: 1: You get the hard part over with at the beginning and then it’s just fun in nature, and 2: The trail at the beginning has some areas where you hike up the side of an access road. It’s not a very long hike up the road, but it’s the least beautiful part of the trail so you might as well get that part over with at the beginning. I will say, however, that even on the road there are some cool points with nice views to stop at, but either way, it’s better to do the trail/road first. Don’t worry about being on a road. The only cars on it are ones that paid to go into the state park (there’s a small parking lot up top for people who don’t want to hike up, but I wouldn’t count on parking there on a busy day). There are TONS of people that will be hiking up and down the side of the road at any time, so there isn’t really any danger from cars.
When you get to the top, there is a visitor center on the left where you’ll find a small museum, restrooms, and water fountains to refill your bottle. They don’t sell water bottles up there so make sure to bring one. This is also where the small parking lot is located.
Once you’ve stopped at the visitor center and seen all you want to see, it’s time to hit the real trails. Along the road on the right hand side, there are several different trail options to choose from. You can find a trail map here. The Guy Fleming trail, the Perry Grove Trail, and Razor Point do not link up to the beach, but are nice little detours with great views if you want to check them out while you’re up there.
To get to the beach, you can take any of the other trails, but you’ll want to link up with either the Beach Trail or the Broken Hill Trail. Which one you choose depends on how long you want to hike (the Broken Hill route is longer) and what you want out of your hike. Personally, I like going on the Red Butte Trail, checking out the awesome view at Yucca Point, and then linking up with the Beach Trail where you’ll end at a staircase down to the sand.
From there, you can walk on the sand next to some truly awesome ocean cliffs until you reach the parking areas.
A Few Extra Tips
It’s not a particularly lengthy or challenging hike, so most people who are reasonably fit will have no problem completing this trail. Bringing along snacks isn’t necessary unless you plan on having a picnic lunch while you’re in the State Park. However, water is essential on this trail. It gets really hot and since Southern California is primarily a desert landscape, there isn’t a lot of shade. A hat and sunscreen may be really useful for you as well. I don’t recommend you try this trail in beach shoes or flip flops because there are some areas where proper footwear is required. If you want, you can bring a small bag with a change of shoes for when you get down to the beach portion.
Make sure you bring your camera. You’re going to want to take photos.