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Seven Star Coastal Hikes

Some of the most beautiful landscapes in SoCal

Coastal San Diego County is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Southern California. These seven hikes highlight the best of the San Diego Coast.

By: Scott Turner, Co-author of the 5th Edition of Afoot and Afield in San Diego County

Coastal San Diego County is, without a doubt, home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Southern California. The combination of mild climate, sunny days and beautiful landscapes make San Diego County one of the premier hiking destinations in the state. These seven "star" hikes highlight the best of the San Diego Coast. The hikes selected here feature prime examples of the natural features that set the coastal areas apart, including fragrant coastal sage-scrub habitats, intertidal lagoons, estuaries, pristine beaches, city and ocean views, rare plant species such as the Torrey pine, and noteworthy historical sites.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve - Coastal Hikes in San Diego

TORREY PINES STATE NATURAL RESERVE

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Fee: $12-$25 per vehicle (demand based pricing)
Hours: 8:00 AM to sunset

This 2,000-acre natural reserve encompasses several miles of beaches, intertidal lagoons, sandstone bluffs and canyons carpeted in fragrant sages and sagebrushes, and, of course, the Torrey pine. This rare pine tree grows in only two spots in California - here and in the Channel Islands. The reserve is the crown jewel in the county's hiking system, and if you only have time for one hike, this is the one to take. A looping trail network visits a variety of notable spots and terrains including Guy Fleming Grove, Yucca and Razor Points, the Beach Trail to Flat Rock, and several miles of colorful sandstone cliffs. A number of connecting trails allow visitors to create hikes ranging from easy to moderately difficult.

The Bayside Trail, Cabrillo National Monument - Coastal Hikes in San Diego

THE BAYSIDE TRAIL, CABRILLO NATIONAL MONUMENT

Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: $20 per vehicle
Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM

Sweeping views of downtown San Diego and San Diego Bay are the principal rewards of this hike. You can also visit the monument to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to land on the west coast of the United States. This 2.2 mile trail curls around the eastern edge of Point Loma to face San Diego Harbor. On clear winter days, the snow-capped Cuyamaca Mountains loom in the distance while, closer afoot, the acrobatics of ocean birds contrast against the take-offs and landings of military aircraft at North Island Naval Air Station.

Sunset Cliffs - Coastal Hikes in San Diego

SUNSET CLIFFS

Difficulty: Easy
Fee: Free

This diminutive coastal park with its free-form trail system is one of the best places to catch a sunset on the coast. Steep trails go down to the rocky shoreline, but the best views are from atop the bluffs. During Spring and Fall, keep your eyes open for migrating Gray Whales only a few miles out to sea. This is a fine place for children to hike, but be mindful of letting them near the cliffs; there are no guard rails.

Annie's Canyon Trail - Seven Star Coastal Hikes

ANNIE'S CANYON TRAIL

Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: Free
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset

The naturally eroding sandstone walls create a sense of mystery and wonder. The canyon was sculpted by water, over time, which poured over sandstone and smoothed its surface into narrow corridors with sandy footing like a dry creek bed. It is deeper than it is wide. Whether you hike through the steep switchbacks, or choose the winding path to the overlook, the views along the .25 mile loop trail of the ocean and San Elijo Lagoon are panoramic. It is named Annie’s Canyon Trail in honor of a conservancy supporter, Annie, a 30-year resident of Solana Beach who desired to expand and restore wild areas for nature and for people.

During and after periods of significant rain, the canyon portion of the trail will be closed for safety.

Batiquitos Lagoon - Coastal Hikes in San Diego

BATIQUITOS LAGOON

Difficulty: Easy
Fee: Free

A popular hiking, jogging, and dog-walking path follows the northern shore of one of the county's best preserved intertidal lagoons. The influx of ocean water merging with fresh water from San Marcos Creek provides a rich habitat for a variety of birds. A grove of eucalyptus trees and cool ocean breezes make this trail comfortable year-round.

Tijuana River Estuary - Coastal Hikes in San Diego

BORDER FIELD STATE PARK

Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: $7 per vehicle when the road is passable
Hours: Memorial Day - Labor Day: 9:30 AM.-7 PM; Labor Day - Oct. 31: 9:30 AM - 6 PM; Nov 1 - Mar 14: 9:30 AM.- 5 PM.; Mar 15 - Memorial Day: 9:30 AM.- 6 PM

At the southern most edge of San Diego county, marking the border between Mexico and California, you'll find Border Field State Park. Located within the Tijuana River National Estuary Reserve, the park provides a lovely 6 mile round trip hike from the park to Imperial Beach over sand dunes, bluffs and salt marsh that is habitat to many species of migrating birds including the Snowy Plover, California Least Tern and the Light-footed Clapper Rail. It is one of only 23 wetlands in the United States that has been designated a "wetland of international importance." The hike also provides beautiful views of nearby mountains as well as Silver Strand and Coronado beaches. 

San Onofre State Beach - Coastal Hikes in San Diego

SAN ONOFRE STATE BEACH

Difficulty: Moderate
Fee: $15 per vehicle

Off the beaten path at the northern boundary of San Diego County, this hike's wild, untrammeled character compensates for its remoteness. Nearby Camp Pendleton's presence has prevented development along this stretch of coastline, and a walk along the beach beneath beautifully carved sandstone cliffs allows you to envision what the San Diego Coast looked like prior to the arrival of European settlers.

Seven Star Coastal Hikes in San Diego Map



A Note on Coastal Climate

Coastal San Diego often experiences dense morning and evening cloud cover from late spring to early fall. This phenomena, commonly called the "marine layer," often takes visitors expecting sunny summer days by surprise. If you're concerned about "May Gray" or "June Gloom" ruining your day, don't worry! The clouds will likely burn off by noon.

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