On a thin coastal strip of San Diego County, 2,000 to 3,000 Torrey Pines survive even though they are surrounded by some of the most populated areas of Southern California. At one point during the 20th century, only 100 trees survived the harsh environment. Conservation efforts have permitted the wild population to increase to current levels.
The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine species in the United States and can only be seen on a natural reserve located between the cities of Del Mar and San Diego or on Santa Rosa Island (part of the Channel Islands National Park).
During my visit to the Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve, I felt extremely blessed to appreciate the beauty of the pines which lend its name to the reserve. Nevertheless, the reserve offers 8 miles of trails on a plateau with cliffs that overlook the beach. Many different kinds of wildlife and flora are found within the reserve, including bobcats, foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, rabbits, cacti and coastal chaparral.
In other words, this is an opportunity to enjoy one of the few wild stretches of land in Southern California.
Torrey Pines Hikes and Trails
There are several moderate and beautiful trails within the reserve. It is a good idea to park at the top of the reserve, close to the visitor’s center and get a map with instructions. Others park at the beach level to avoid the entrance fee and access the reserve on foot.
Here is a summary of the trails you can hike at Torrey Pines:
- Guy Fleming Trail – Length: 2/3 of a mile
- Parry Grove Trail – Length: half a mile
- High Point Trail – 100 yards with steps
- Razor Point Trail – Length: 2/3 of a mile
- Beach Trail – Length: ¾ of a mile
In addition, you can walk along the beaches in the area (the State Beach or Black’s Beach)
Since we allocated the entire day for the Torrey Pine hikes, and since the trails are short and connected, we decided to explore as much as possible.
The first highlight of our walk was Red Butte, a terracotta promontory from where the entire reserve and even downtown San Diego can be seen.
It was interesting to spot unusual formations in a small canyon located next to Red Butte.
We continued moving towards the ocean with the desire to check Yucca and Razor Points. These two areas are probably the most well known in the reserve. They can be conceived as rippled, curvy walls of rock. Patches of terrain besides them are reminiscent of badlands. Some spots look like melting chocolate ice cream while others present domes of colors (think of soft pinks and pale yellows).
We checked Yucca Point first.
Then, we moved on to Razor Point.
After delighting our eyes with the curious rock formations, we made our way to the southern end of the park (where Flat Rock is located) thru the Beach Trail.
Let me be clear from the beginning. Black’s Beach is known as San Diego’s unofficial nude beach and as you can imagine people make a big fuss about this place. To be fair, let me also say this is a famous surfing spot where big swells can be experienced due to an underwater canyon.
I have read about the seclusion of this place, how the access is very difficult, how people get caught in the high tide and how some have even died to try to get there (falling from the cliffs while trying to follow ‘trails’ left by others).
So, we arrived at the Flat Rock area (which is in Torrey Pines State Beach) and saw a stretch path over the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. We followed the crowds and landed on another beach. In the distance, a pier was seen a mirage because of the thick marine layer. We decided to walk to that pier.
As we walked, I realized we were approaching the Scripps Pier (‘cause it is the only one in the area) and that could only mean one thing: we were in Black’s Beach. I still had my doubts since there was a crowd walking in the same direction and there was no indication in the reserve’s map. Plus, the access was so easy, nothing to do with the tangled descriptions found on the Internet.
After passing thru a rocky area, the beach widened. It was then when I saw some people, close to the bottom of the cliffs, sunbathing in a natural state (let’s call it that way). We didn’t pay much attention and continue walking. We realized the pier was not that close and decided to go back.
I don’t understand from where all the commotion about Black’s Beach comes from. Even the San Diego Tourism Authority presents it as one of the top attractions in the city because of its beauty (yeah, right). To me, it was a meh beach (nice cliffs but not much more). I have seen better in the area.
Walking in Torrey Pines State Beach
So, we made it back to Flat Rock and started to walk north thru the Torrey Pines State Beach. This is another way to appreciate the reserve since the cliffs are very colorful and full of crazy formations. To me, the view from the bottom is fascinating since it is almost impossible to determine what lies at the top.
A lagoon that is vital to migrating seabirds is also within the reserve limits. It is visible from several lookouts.
Torrey Pines Paragliding
The Torrey Pines Glideport is located next to the State Reserve and it is considered one of North America’s top paragliding and hang gliding locations.
Classes and tandem flights are offered on site. If you do not have time to visit, you probably feel encouraged to make future plans once you see the many gliders flying over the beach (it is a very cool experience to watch them).
- The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is located about 18 miles north of Downtown San Diego.
- Surfing and swimming are popular at Torrey Pines State Beach. The usual facilities (restrooms, changing rooms and lifeguards) are available.
- Guided nature tours are offered during the weekends.
- Parking inside the reserve is $10.
- Roadside parking is also available.
- Be careful when accessing Black’s Beach. The only maintained routes are the Beach Trail coming from the State Park and a trail coming from The Glider Port. A lot of people have been involved in accidents while trying to get access descending the cliffs.
- Drones are not allowed at the reserve
- Dogs are not permitted on the reserve
- Food and drink (except for water) are allowed on the hiking areas
For more information about hikes and trail on the Torrey Pine Reserve, visit the following sites:
More about Southern California
If you are interested in learning more about what Southern California has to offers, you have to check out my area guides:
- Los Angeles Bucket List
- Ultimate San Diego Bucket List
- 150+ places to go in Orange County, California
Have you visited Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve? What do you think about the Torrey Pine hike (s)?
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