2. Torrey Pines State Park Loop

For one of the most iconic views on the California Coast, check out Torrey Pines State Park. Named after the Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana), one of the most endangered pine trees in the world, this reserve is home to over half of the world’s population of 6,000 trees. This loop trail hits highlight viewpoints from Razor Point to Yucca Point past the Big Basin down the Beach Trail to Flat Rock and up Broken Hill back to the West Overlook. For beginner hikers, this is a great option for a guided hiking tour.

San Diego hiking
The Torrey Pines loop is one of the most iconic hikes in San Diego. Photo by Liz Thomas

How long is the Torrey Pines hike?

Torrey Pines is best hiked as a five-mile loop, although there are trails that are ⅔ of a mile (Guy Fleming Trail), ½ mile (Parry Grove Trail), and the High Point Trail (100 yards). It’s common to see locals running along the loop I describe because it’s so scenic and well-defined. The State Reserve does an excellent job of marking trails and delineating where they are. They even have cables along the edges of many trails to serve as “bumper lanes” that prevent hikers from confusing animal paths for the real trail.

Starting at the West Overlook

Start at the West Overlook, where there is parking, toilets, and a viewpoint. Be sure to fill up your water bottles here as this is the last spot on this hike with any water. An information board, trail signs, and take-with-you paper map all help point the way. Follow the Razor Point Trail to a red, rocky outcropping. This is the spot to take epic photos because it is so prominent against the coastal bluffs and has great views of the ocean behind. From the viewpoint, descend towards Razor Point. After half a mile, you’ll be at an overlook right over the ocean.

From Razor Point, ascend back to an intersection that takes you towards Yucca Point via the Beach Trail. You’ll circumnavigate around Big Basin, famous for its “badlands” like erosion. Approximately 160,000 years ago, rivers deposited silt and sand that eroded to form steep slopes, canyons, hoodoos, gullies, buttes, and mesas. In the spring, I like coming here to see abundant wildflowers like the bright yellow sea dahlia, blue wild hyacinth, and purple wild lupine.

San Diego hiking
Badlands, beach, and wildflowers make Torrey Pines one of the best places to hike anywhere. Photo by Liz Thomas

Continue on to the beach

I think a highlight of this hike is the maze-like narrow canyons of rock that take you on the last descent towards the beach. You’ll swirl around a small cave before walking on the thin edge of a cliff. Descend stairs, and you’ll reach a secluded cove. Check the tides before you leave the visitor center. During high tide, the beach is underwater. From here, you can see the crowded Torrey Pines Beach to your right. More sandy coves, cliffs, and bluffs are to your left. Adventurous locals will run from Torrey Pines State Beach all the way to Black’s Beach, sometimes holding onto the cliffside to get around bluffs.

After the beauty of the beach, I can’t help but feel bittersweet turning around and heading back up the stairs. But returning to the car on the Broken Hill Trail lets you see a part of the park that is a little less crowded. With chaparral, sagebrush, and just a few trees, there’s plenty of scenic views to be had. Towards the end of the hike, you’ll see the backside of the Torrey Pines Golf Course. I always enjoy comparing the natural area that I’ve been hiking in with the manicured grass on the other side of the reserve boundary.

San Diego hiking
To visit the beach, make sure you plan your hike during low tide. Photo by Liz Thomas

You top out on a road closed to motor vehicles (but open to bikes). From here, walk the flat, Torrey-pine lined ridge. Below you is Peñasquitos Lagoon, where freshwater streams reach the tidal saltwater creating a shallow, coastal lagoon. In the distance are the high granite mountains of San Diego. They were created millions of years ago from a chain of volcanoes formed by the collision of tectonic plates. The volcanos eroded, and the granite was lifted and carved into mountains by rivers. These mountains make up some of the best hiking areas in the county, and may even be snow-covered some winters.

Return to your car having viewed or hiked through many of the major ecosystems in San Diego County. As you descend more than 500 feet (and have to climb back up), budget some extra time for this hike.

About the author

Liz Thomas

Liz Thomas

Professional hiker and guidebook author

Liz Thomas is thru-hiker and guidebook author best known for breaking the women’s self-supported record on the Appalachian Trail. She’s the author of the National Outdoor Book Award winning Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike, which won the National Outdoor Book Award in 2017. When she’s not backpacking, Liz is a motivational speaker who has presented on Capitol Hill, corporate retreats, national non-profit donor events, and colleges and universities including Yale and MIT. You can find her at www.eathomas.com or @lizthomashiking and Facebook.

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