Exploring San Diego’s wild side – hiking in Torrey Pines

A hike through the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is something not to be missed. A perfect microcosm of rarities survives in this 2000-acre park. Add to that views out over the Pacific, incredible landscapes, sheer cliffs, vast black beaches… Torrey Pines is a must.

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When our friend Mona suggested we go for a hike up to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, I wasn’t keen.

A hike? In the Southern Californian sun? With all these microbreweries everywhere? Really?

I mean, I was a little tempted. I’d heard from our guide on a recent winery tour that the Torrey Pines park was a must for visitors and locals alike, but I hadn’t really taken him too seriously.

The Torrey Pines are in fact one of the few native species of tree to grow here. Everything else – yes, even the palm trees So Cal is famous for – are imports. The Torrey Pine is also one of the rarest trees in North America.

But to me a hike means backpacks, supplies, a satellite phone… probably a heli-vac at the end of it.

But what it turned out to be was a really amazing walk through some classic Californian landscapes culminating in one of the most impressive beaches I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something!

It’s a quick drive from La Holla – a beautiful northern beachside suburb of San Diego – to South Beach and one of the main entrances to the park.

As you come down the hill from the north, the beach opens up to you on your right. You should be able to find parking along this stretch of road as it comes down to almost sea level.

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Then it’s a bit of an incline walk as you head into the state park.

Soon you’re in amongst these rare and ancient trees, the noise of the road and the city far behind.

We stopped in at the ranger station/visitors’ centre to have a look at where to go and what to see, then we headed off further into the park.

Our friend Mona led the way until we reached the edge of one of two golf courses in the park and then headed into the scrub towards the coast, taking the South Fork Trail towards the Broken Hill Overlook and Trail.

With names like Broken Hill Trail it sounds like an expedition but it really was a comfortable, easy-going walk. The paths are in great condition and the place is very well kept.

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We finally came to the cliffs that drop you straight down onto the beach below. Taking the switchback steps down, down, down until we had our hot, weary feet in the cool Pacific.

From there it was a very relaxing walk along the black sands of the flattest, widest beach I’ve been on in a long time. It was more like a great sandy freeway than a public beach.

The cliffs on our right loomed over us like a strict schoolteacher. The water and wet sand dazzled our eyes and still sparkle in our memories now.

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Dolphins are a regular attraction along this section of coastline, but this time – much to Mona’s irritation – we didn’t see any. For a while we stood staring into the waves of the world’s biggest ocean, almost in a daydream state. We all felt so chilled out.

But soon it was time to step off the beach and back into the car. Dolphins or no, it’s still an amazing place to visit – and that first beer tastes so bloody good after, I can tell you!

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Snapshot – Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve:

Top tip: walk up the hill through the park then down towards the cliffs and the beach back to the car. Doing it the other way round wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Time to walk: 2-3 hours – though you can make it longer if you want. There are so many paths to explore.

Hike difficulty: easy-medium – there are some stairs especially when you get to the cliffs, but they all lead down.

Parking: free outside the park.

Open: only accessible during the day. No camping or overnight hiking allowed.

For more information on the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, head to their website torreypine.org, and for other things to do in San Diego, check out our essential guide to San Diego here.

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Do you like hiking or is a driving holiday more your thing? Do you dream about being heli-vac’d just for the ride in a chopper?! Tell us in the comments!

Images by Mrs Romance using an OM-D E-M1 Olympus camera and Mr Romance using an iPhone 5S.

4 Comments

  • Reply April 8, 2015

    Smaggle

    I freaking love hiking. It’s my new favourite thing. Mr Smags and I haven’t been able to book a trip but we’re totally hanging out for it!
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    • Reply April 9, 2015

      Mr Romance

      This is the most gentle of hikes, Smags. It’s funny – our friend Mona’s been trying to get her husband to go with her for ages. He hates the idea of hiking but likes going for walks. Go figure. We suggested Mona tells him they’re going for ‘a walk’ along the beach instead next time. Should do the trick.
      But hiking’s great, isn’t it? Hope you guys get away soon. There are some amazing spots out and around rural Vic, aren’t there?
      Jxx

  • Reply April 18, 2015

    Marjie

    I remember my dad raving about the view in Torrey Pines when he went there to play golf. I now understand why he spoke that way. You’re pictures are so well taken.
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    • Reply April 19, 2015

      Mr Romance

      Thank you, Marjie! You’ve put a big smile on Mrs Romance’s face with your kind worlds. Yes, the views from Torrey Pines are fantastic. So glad we went know – we really weren’t too sure about going at first! Your dad’s very lucky to have played there. Both courses look beautiful.
      Jxx

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