Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

On our last day in San Diego, we spent a lazy morning packing up our AirBnB and making a picnic lunch. We were headed north next, and thought on our way out of town, at the suggestion of a friend, we decided to check out Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. My friend promised beautiful views of the water atop cliffs that come almost to waters edge. She said “the views are beautiful and so different from where we grew up”. I had to see it.

After getting a little turned around, we managed to find the South Beach Parking Lot, which marks the entrance to the Torrey Pines Reserve. Then we found out something…strange. The road up to the reserve was not yet open. They said it would open in 30 minutes, but they expected the bottom parking lot to be full by then. They suggested we pay to park below, wait, and go up when the road was open, to ensure a parking spot. I didn’t quite understand but I paid the $20 and parked below. We got out of the car, sunscreened, made sure the backpack was full and walked up to the road. We saw a trail of people walking up the road to the trailheads of the Reserve. Seemed no one else was waiting for the road to open. Everyone else was walking up, how hard could that be?

Ready to head up the hill.  There are a lot heading up, how hard could it be?

The answer is – hard. Very very hard. Extremely hard for someone out of shape and a few months post knee surgery. I was miserable walking up that hill. My husband seemed to have no problem (which surprised me given he has a bad back). My children showed off by running up and down between us. I just keep thinking, it can’t be much further, it can’t be much further. Just when I thought I might die, we came to some steps. Way higher than normal, and I needed help since my legs couldn’t quite do that high a step yet. Then we saw we were at the Guy Fleming trail head. I was panting. I was exhausted. And we hadn’t started the actual hike yet…

I was miserable pretty much every step up that hill

The Guy Fleming trail was advertised as a mostly flat short trail that had two scenic look out points. As we walked the trail we found our first surprise, it was sandy. Sure, we were near the beach, but we were way up high on the top of a cliff, none of us actually expected the tail to be sandy. As we hiked along we saw cactus, sandy dunes, and the beautiful Torrey pines, for which the park is named.

The hike up was worth it, the scenery along the trail was beautiful*

The delight of the trail however was the two scenic view points. At those points (and the path in between) we were able to see down to the ocean. We saw white crested waves, dolphins jumping in the water, and sheer cliffs along the side. We saw vegetation growing in inhospitable land, growing and flowering and showing its strength. At the second view point we saw the cut landscape from years of crashing waves, and caves in the side of the cliff. The kids were amazed. My husband could not stop taking pictures. And I was in awe at the beauty of mountian and ocean combined in a way I never knew existed.

But the path along the cliffs was the best.  The breeze was refreshing and the views were dramatic

Soon however, the hike was over and the children were hungry. We could not eat while we were on the trail, so we had to hike down the long hill (that is easier, but not by much), and found a spot near the shore to sit and eat our public lunch. Once lunch was done, we went for a walk on the beach

Picnic lunches after a hike are the best

We had not planned on a beach day, so everyone was in sneakers. My kids however could not resist the draw of the water, so they took off their sneakers, ran over the rocks (seriously how do they feel no pain?!?!) and went to the water. My husband and I, being too practical, walked along the rocks while my children ran along the waters edge, in and out of the waves, and enjoying the water. My daughter and husband skipped rocks, and collected sea shells. My son enjoyed the waves. And I took joy and pleasure from the scenery and watching my two children finding sheer joy in the simplicity of nature.

The frolic along the beach was the best way to end the hike for all*

Soon it as time to go. We wanted to get to the hotel with plenty of time to settle in and have a good night’s rest for the adventure of the next day. We were able to pry the kids away from the water and walked over to the parking lot. We washed the kids feet, and discovered that my daughters skirt was completely soaked. Guess she didn’t stay as far away from the waves as I asked. We walked to the car barefoot, where able to chance her bottom, and then got in the car and waved good bye to the beautiful reserve and city we had come to love and enjoy. But it was time for the next part of our Great Southern California Adventure.

Torrey Pines

  • Hours: 7:15 AM to Sunset, 365 days a year
  • Cost: Entrance is free, but you must pay for parking. South Beach Parking (the closest to the reserve, is $10 – $15 Monday – Thursday, $12 – $20 Weekends and Holidays
  • No food is allowed above the beach and no dogs are allowed in the reserve.

This was a stop during our Great Southern California Adventure

*Starred photos taken by Atma Photography

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