Torrey Pines State Reserve

Recalibrating Expectations

We are itching to hit the trail on our first hike in our new hometown, San Diego!

Hiking in Southern California is quite a bit different from hiking the woods of the Pacific Northwest. No more thickly-forested hikes on volcanic mountains to jaw-dropping waterfalls.

SoCal trails are mostly desert or beaches, and today we’re doing both. It’s more like going on walkabout. Although — spoiler alert — we will be doing quite a few mountains as we get familiar with our new territory.

As we hike our way through San Diego County, we recommend the book Afoot and Afield in San Diego County. This is our go-to guide for weekend hiking, and a total sanity saver during 2020!

A Few Tips and Safety

Because SoCal is desert, temperatures can soar and there is little shade from trees. There can be dramatic differences in temperature and conditions within a few short miles of the coast. Hiking is best done in cooler weather, usually October through early June. In the summer, early morning lagoon, beach, and urban hikes are sometimes possible.

Dogs present another challenge. When temps go to 77° or higher, there’s a risk of burnt paws and overheating. When in doubt, hold your palm on the ground for 10 seconds. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for them.

And Ladies, avoid black yoga pants! I know they look cool and hide butt sweat. However, wearing black can cause dangerous overheating.

Always bring extra water for both you and your dog, more than you think you will need. We fill our 24 ounce plastic water bottles, and pack extra water bottles from Costco.

Beach hikes are wonderful and romantic, but can be tricky. Always check the tides to make sure you don’t get trapped. And stay off and away from cliffs. Cliffs can collapse any time of year.


I love desert and beach walks. They remind me of when I was a child on family outings. The desert and tropical plant life are a thing of beauty. A beach walk with warm sand between my toes and waves crashing inspires creativity. Our Torrey Pines hike today gives us the best of both worlds.

Torrey Pines State Reserve began as 364 acres of Pueblo land in 1899. Now it’s a 2,000 acre reserve with several trails to explore. Today we are taking the popular Beach Trail. This is considered an easy to moderate trail. (I agree, as both a 10-year-old and 50-year-old Darcy can now attest.) The hike is kid-friendly, but no dogs allowed.

Soaking Up Culture

We park at the Visitor’s Center. Take some time to wander around the Center, read up on some history, and take in the panoramic views: Carmel Valley to the east, Los Penasquitos Lagoon below, and Torrey Pines State Beach to the north west.

Los Penasquitos Lagoon, below the cactus and Torrey Pines. Del Mar Heights is beyond that.

There’s a parking fee ranging from $12 to $25, depending on the season. Or a year-long beach pass is a good deal if you visit the beach a lot. We haven’t tried that yet.

Torrey Pines State Beach is right below the bluffs.

We’re hungry and are excited to enjoy our picnic lunch on the beach, but we take our time to visit both Yucca Point and Razor Point that overlook the Pacific. The views are stunning today!

As the marine layer burns off, the ocean and sky are crystal blue. We see plenty of sagebrush, agave, yucca, and cactus as well as the namesake Torrey Pines, an endangered species which only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island, just off the coast from Santa Barbara.

Going Down

This iconic Torrey Pine has been the subject of photos here for decades!
The Razor Point Trail with La Jolla in the distant background.

The trail down to Torrey Pines State Beach is a bit steep and winding. Wind gusts blow a bit of sand in our eyes as we head down the sandstone canyon. But once on the beach, conditions are just right. The water is warm and the sand feels good.

The best part is looking up at the beautiful sandstone cliffs. You see varigated reds, oranges, light yellows, and sage greens.

We find a nice spot to have a light picnic lunch. I’ve packed focaccia sandwiches, juicy cantaloupe, cheese and crackers.

Here I’ll impart another important tip… never feed begging seagulls! Feed just one, and before you know it, you’ll have an entire flock descending upon you!

Walk It Off

After lunch, we stroll the beach. Colorful kite surfers fill the sky and put on quite a display on the waves. Eventually, we head back up the steep road to the Visitors’ Center. This gives our legs a good work out!

Special Note: if you’re not into a big hike, try the Guy Fleming Trail. It’s a mostly-flat hike filled with wildflowers in the spring, and views of Torrey Pines Beach and the Pacific Ocean anytime.