Torrey Pines Beach and Preserve

Torrey Pines Beach – Beach Trail – Parry Grove Trail – Guy Fleming Trail

Distance: 8 Miles
Elevation Gained: 300
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 2:38
Critters: Roadrunners, gulls, hawks, godwits, and a naked man doing jumping jacks

Torrey Pines beach and reserve
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Del Mar, California

– Miles of undisturbed coastline and cliffs
– Rare Torrey pines

– Very crowded, at least in the preserve
– Nude beaches


This last Sunday, I did a hybrid hike over at Torrey Pines beach and preserve. I’ve been to the preserve a number of times, but I hadn’t walked on the beach. I know that there’s a hike you can take from La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines beach that runs about 5 miles one way, and I wanted to walk at least some, if not all of that. I didn’t get all of that; instead, I opted to turn back 3.3 miles in and take a thorough hike through the preserve.

Beach hiking is very straightforward: stay out of the ocean, and you’re fine. I’ve gone in the water before, but all I end up with rashes from walking in wet shorts. The best place to walk is the tide line, which is where the sand is firmest. Otherwise, like hiking in the snow, you’re going to have to do a lot more work per step than you would on compacted dirt trail.

Afoot and Afield suggests that you take this hike at low tide or ebb tide, but I didn’t find that to be totally necessary. Sure, low tide means that you don’t have to walk beneath the cliffs, which erode rapidly and sometimes both spectacularly and dangerously. There are numerous signs explaining the dangers of falling rocks, and you should take those signs seriously. However, as long as you’re within 4 hours of low tide in either direction, you should be able to walk the entire route without being obliged to wade in the surf or stay perilously close to the cliffs.

The cliffs and the endless, rolling blue of the ocean are the primary attraction on the beach segment, although it is wonderful to note that this is one of the only stretches of beach anywhere in southern California that is free of signs of development AND which doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of visible development. In other words, you can walk for miles and not see anything other than distant La Jolla to indicate that there are people around. This is especially true once you pass the beach trail and Flat Rock and come around a protruding cliff to the wilder parts of this beach. It’s a lovely experience, and this beach does a convincing job of emoting “solitude.”

That is until you get to Black’s Beach. A word of caution to anybody who attempts this hike is that Black’s Beach is an unofficial nude beach. If you have issues with naked men, especially those who like to do jumping jacks, then this probably is not the trail for you. If you think naked men are funny looking, as I do, then you’ll probably get a kick out of it. Completely harmless.

After about 6 miles on the beach, I took the Beach Trail up and into Torrey Pines Preserve. This place evokes a lot of mixed emotions for me. On one hand, the Torrey pine is a relic species that remains from a cooler, wetter time. It has survived a warming, drying trend for thousands of years and, although rare, does seem to do pretty well in this particular location. It is the rarest pine, and one of the rarest trees for that matter, in all of California. It grows in two sites: coastal bluffs in and around Del Mar, and on Santa Rosa Island, south of Santa Barbara in the Channel Islands chain.

The park information plaques estimate that there about 6,000 Torrey pines growing naturally, although many more grow well as ornamentals. One of the bittersweet emotions here is that there would probably be thousands more had developers not chosen to build numerous houses on these bluffs. Sure, there’s money to be made, but an extremely rare ecosystem has been shrunk down to practically nothing so that some people could pay a metric ton of cash for a nice view and a sea breeze. There’s plenty of injustice there, but I’m not the Lorax, so I’ll shut my pie-hole for now. Besides, California’s ecological history is full of tragedies like this. At least we have what remains to enjoy.

The park is also incredibly popular, which is great. It also means that the park is incredibly crowded, especially on a Sunday. You will encounter hikers, families, runners, groups, and more on this trail, so if you crave solitude, stay on the beach with the nudists and leave the Preserve to the Torreys and the day-hikers. I am begrudging hikers less and less for swarming a beautiful place, but it is always worth warning that there will be crowds.

After a thorough jaunt through the Beach Trail, the temporarily-closed Parry Grove Trail, and the brief, but gorgeous Guy Fleming Trail, I made my way down the hill and back to my car. Good hike, overall. In fact, it’s an iconic hike, and probably one of the best in San Diego. I might recommend doing it early in the morning or on a weekday if possible, but those are only personal quibbles.

Final note: these pictures were taken in February on a hike with Kelly. My camera is out of commission, since I left my battery charger in Berkeley. The days were virtually identical in quality. God, the weather in San Diego sucks ; P

April: 80.7 Miles
Year-to-Date: 437 Miles

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