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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: $12-$25 per vehicle (demand-based pricing) or a a valid annual California State Parks Vehicle Day Use Pass
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.
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 seem to echo the takeoffs and landings of military aircraft at North Island Naval Air Station.
This diminutive coastal park with its free-form trail system and multiple pocket parking lots 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 early winter, keep your eyes open for migrating gray whales passing closely along the coast. This is a fine place for children to hike, but be mindful of letting them near the cliffs; there are few guardrails.
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
The naturally eroding sandstone walls of this hidden, meandering trail create a sense of mystery and wonder. The canyon was sculpted by water, which over time smoothed and shaped the sandstone into narrow corridors with sandy footing like a dry creek bed. The trail becomes much deeper than it is wide. Whether you hike through the steep switchbacks, or choose the winding path to the overlook, the views along the 1.4-mile loop from the Rios Avenue trailhead are panoramic. The new pedestrian bridge connecting the trail to the Visitors Center on the north side of San Elijo Lagoon offers yet another scenic option. The trail, by the way, is named for a longtime San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy supporter and 30-year resident of Solana Beach who desired to expand and restore wild areas for nature and people.
During and after periods of significant rain, the canyon portion of the trail will be closed for safety.
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.
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 southernmost 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 Estuarine Research 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 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 the Silver Strand and Coronado beaches.
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 before the arrival of European settlers.
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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