Hiking the Trails at Torrey Pines State Reserve Park

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Before heading back to Los Angeles and ending my vacation, I was looking for one more opportunity to hike and enjoy the coast.  My choice was the immensely popular and strikingly beautiful Torrey Pines State Reserve, just north of San Diego.

Torrey Pines provides a rare glimpse of what the California coast looked like before modern-day development took over.  2,000 acres of coastal land are preserved here, providing a home for the Torrey pine trees — the rarest pines in the United States.  The only place they grow naturally is here, and there are only about 3,000 of them.

While the trees are nice, I was here for the beach, and the cliffs that overlook the ocean.  So, I set out on a loop route, made up of the Razor Point, Beach, and Broken Hill trails.

Parking is plentiful at the bottom of the hill at Torrey Pines Reserve, but extremely limited at the top of the hill.  After circling several times at the top, I gave up and drove towards the bottom, and ended up finding a spot about halfway down the hill.  As you’ll see when you watch the Drivelapse Video, cars must move slowly, because the roads at Torrey Pines are clogged with pedestrians.

After walking from my car back to the top of the hill, I started on the Razor Point Trail.

You might think that the trail’s namesake “razor point” is the rocky outcropping that dominates the view at the start of the trail.  It’s not.  This is actually Red Butte…

… and it provides a great place to take in a 360-degree view (assuming you can find a spot at the top amongst the crowd).

From Red Butte, you can follow either the Razor Point or Beach Trail.  I continued to follow Razor Point, since it eventually loops back to the Beach Trail for the walk down to the ocean.  Along the way…

… the Razor Point trail takes a serpentine route down the mountainside…

… and out to the edge of the bluffs.

A spur of the trail ends at the “razor point” — a knife-edge plateau, eroded on both sides.  From the narrow platform you’ll have a great view up the beach…

… and you can admire the badlands-style erosion that’s occurred on the neighboring cliffs.

There’s also a nice view to the south, but at mid-day in February, the sun is in the wrong place to take great pictures in that direction.

Before heading down the Beach Trail, take a hike along another short spur to the Yucca Point viewpoint, which is perched directly above Torrey Pines State Beach.

Once again, there’s another nice view looking north.

Return to the main trail, and continue on to the Beach Trail, for the downhill trip to the water.

The Beach Trail slopes gradually, until the final few hundred feet, where it quickly descends through a pass…

… down a staircase that ends at the beach.

From the staircase, the beach stretches all the way north to the outlet of Los Peñasquitos Marsh.  Cliffs tower above the sand, and warning signs alert visitors to watch for falling rocks.

Not far from the steps, at the southern end of Torrey Pines State Beach, there’s a large, flat rock that provides a good place to get sprayed by the crashing waves.  Appropriately enough, it’s called Flat Rock.

You can walk out to the end of Flat Rock, or you can circle around to the beach on the opposite side of the cliff, via a narrow trail that’s carved into the cliffside.


Click here to see a larger version of this photo.

On the other side of Flat Rock, you’ll enjoy a wide-open view of the coastline to the south, all the way to La Jolla.  Part of this beach is known as Black’s Beach — and nudity is allowed.  Before you’re allowed to strip, you have to go a little further to the south, and pass another rocky outcropping and a large steel buoy.

You can find exact directions to Black’s Beach on this website (be warned, the website does contain some nudity).


Click here to see a larger version of this photo.

This spot, just beyond Flat Rock, was probably my favorite place in Torrey Pines, because it was the only place where I had escaped the crowds.  While a few people ventured out onto Flat Rock or around the bend, most of them didn’t go any further.  The beach was almost completely empty from here on south.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to relax here, or enough time to hike on to the textile-free area.  So, I headed back.

The return trail was a lot less exciting than the previous trails.  The ocean was behind me, and a steep climb ahead of me.  For a while, the trail passed through a thicket of brush…

… before finally emerging at the park road.  This part of the road looks like it’s as old as some parts of Route 66.  That’s probably one reason why it’s closed to vehicular traffic (beyond the visitor center, and those tiny, overcrowded parking lots).

From the road, you’ll have a great view of Los Peñasquitos Marsh (previously called the Soledad Lagoon).  It’s also protected as part of Torrey Pines State Reserve, and there is a trail that leaves from the lower parking area that explores the edges of the marshland.

The marsh empties out into the ocean near the lower parking area.  From there, a bridge carries County Highway S21, also known as Historic US 101, north to Del Mar and beyond.  Part of the hill, on the other side of the marsh, is also part of Torrey Pines State Reserve.  To access the trails in that part of the park, exit the park and head north, then turn onto Carmel Valley Road, then Del Mar Scenic Parkway.

Southern California Coast

With time ticking away, I left Torrey Pines Reserve and headed north.  I wanted to arrive in the Los Angeles area just before dark, and hopefully get to Santa Monica to watch the sunset.  But I didn’t want to get there too soon, so I decided to take the slow drive up the coast on old Highway 101.  Now known with a much less romantic name (County Highway S21), the coastal route stays close to the water all the way from La Jolla to Oceanside, California.  From there, you have to hop onto Interstate 5 for the drive through the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of views of the water from I-5 as well, you’re just not allowed to get out of the car and access the water.

Since I was watching the clock, I drove through this area without making any stops.  If you’re on a more relaxed schedule, there are several towns with inviting shops, restaurants, and beaches, all within walking distance of a parking spot on Historic 101.  From Torrey Pines, you’ll pass through Del Mar, Solana Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside.

I didn’t take any pictures, but the Drivelapse camera was running for the entire journey up the coast.  Watch the video, and you’ll get an idea of what to expect along the way.

Drivelapse Video

Carlsbad is home to LEGOLAND, as well as a complex of outlet stores.  Turn on Palomar Airport Road to access both.

Oceanside is home to the longest wooden pier on the western US coast.  It’s also home to the California Surf Museum.

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