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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.
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.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Fee: $10 per vehicle
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 highlights 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.
Fee: $10 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.
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.
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. Grove of eucalyptus trees and cool ocean breezes make this trail comfortable year-round.
Fee: $5 per vehicle when the road is passable
Hours: Winter-Fall - 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Spring-Summer - 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM
Border Field features several highlights, including Friendship Park, a monument marking the boundary between Mexico and the United States, and pristine beaches. Be aware that the road to Friendship Park floods routinely, but you can hike in along a wide, sandy trail to reach both the park and the beach.
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.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Visitor Center Hours: Wednesday-Sunday - 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Just north of the Mexico Border, the Tijuana River's fresh waters merge with the Pacific Ocean to create prime habitat for local and migratory birds. A vast network of trails crosses the estuary into adjoining Border Field State Park and the county's Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. This is one of the best locations in the county for bird watching.
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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