The Most Unique Hike in San Diego: the seven bridges
Before I took the seven bridges hike I had no idea what an urban hike was, to me it sounds like just a walk around town. A hike should involve getting out of the city and enjoying nature, but this hike involves sidewalks and overpasses. However, looking at the core of what a hike is, it should just be walking with a sense of adventure and exploration, which can be done anywhere and at any time. Urban hikes mean that no one is limited to their access to rolling hills and dirt trails, which I find truly incredible.
The seven bridges hike is a perfect loop that takes you across some of the major parts of the city of San Diego while getting to explore the many hidden bridges around the area. While I've driven around town many times, this walk really opened my eyes to the restaurants, architecture, art, and people of San Diego. Plus, the best part of an urban hike is that these trails have food stops!
Some Seven Bridges Hiking Details:
- This hike is a loop, but some of the bridges are off to the side so it's best to bring a map (or this blog) for reference.
- You start in Balboa Park so make sure to leave some time to explore that area as well (there are so many museums and my favorite, The Botanical Building!)
- The hike is 6mi, but also almost entirely flat, so it's really not difficult for anyone to complete
- Make sure to bring your wallet as you will pass so many tasty looking restaurants and cafes through Balboa, University Heights, and Hillcrest
- I suggest starting in Balboa, parking in the lot for either the San Diego Natural History
The museum, or the lot north of it. There are usually a lot of spaces here and it gives you a chance to walk through the park before the first bridge.
Onto the 7 Bridges!
1. Cabrillo Bridge
When you get to Balboa Park, it can be a bit overwhelming with all of the things to do there, but feel free to either start or end your journey by exploring all it has to offer. You can check out their website here for all the fun museums and activities they have. But if you're just here for the hike, then follow along.
If you park in front of either the San Diego Natural History Museum or the Spanish Village Art Center, you should start by going South on Village Place until El Prado. From El Prado, you will start to head West toward the epicenter of Balboa. On this street, you walk through the main courtyard in Balboa, home to the lily pond, multiple museums, and the awesome botanical building (which in my opinion, is a must-see).
Continuing down El Prado out of Balboa you will cross your first of the seven bridges, CabrilloBridge. Built in 1914, this was the first multi-arched cantilever bridge in California and originally had a pond running under it. Today, the 163 (or Cabrillo) expressway runs beneath it and connects Balboa Park to the West side of San Diego.
2. First Avenue Bridge
Once you leave the lush beauty of Balboa Park, you will begin to enter Banker's Hill, an old neighborhood of downtown San Diego. Continuing on El Prado, (which turns into Laural Street once leaving Balboa Park), you will head out 5 blocks before turning right onto 1st Avenue. Following first avenue North takes you to the second bridge, the First Avenue bridge.
The First Avenue bridge is a steel-arched bridge built in 1931. It was dubbed "the people's bridge" due to its creation being prompted by the local property owners wanting to connect over the valley. The valley below the bridge is Maple Canyon, which is home to a mile-long hiking trail that allows you to get a small taste of nature in the middle of the city.
3. Quince Street Bridge
From First Avenue you'll take the first street right onto Quince Street, at the end of this street you will reach the beautiful Quince Street Bridge. This one had me a bit confused because if you want to walk across it, you will have to walk back across to continue on the hike, but I think it's worth it because of the nice view across Maple Canyon.
The Quince Street Bridge is a wooden trestle bridge built in 1905, unfortunately, with all ancient wooden bridges, it was been remodeled quite a bit since its creation. With the original bridge only costing $805 to build, the refurbishments over the years for this historic landmark have now cost roughly $250,000! So please go over and enjoy this ridiculously expensive monument to history before they tare it down to build a better bridge.
4. Spruce Street Suspension Bridge
Definitely one of the coolest bridges of the hike, but I should give you a couple of warnings first:
- it does sway back and forth, and for someone prone to motion sickness, it had me feeling a little queasy at the end
- there are almost always a lot of people on the bridge, so be aware you'll be walking very slowly across it
- there is some caution tape on the rails of the bridge where they have disconnected, which definitely put me off at first, but once I got a closer look it seemed that they weren't part of the support system of the bridge so....cross at your own risk?
Getting to the bridge I prefer to take Third Avenue North 2 blocks to Spruce Street, then turn left to go down to the bridge. By taking Third Avenue you get a little more time to look at Maple Canyon before returning to the city.
The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge reaches 375ft over Sessions Canyon and is quite a long way up. So again, if you've got a vertigo thing, you might want to skip this one. With the bridge being built in 1912 and wrapped in caution tape I almost passed it up, but I still think it's definitely worth the cross-over. Plus, afterward, I felt all brave like I just survived a life or death situation.
5. Vermont Street Bridge
From the suspension bridge, you'll head North up Brant St, then back east to First Avenue. Take First North four blocks until you reach W University Ave. This is the main street running through the vibrant and trendy neighborhood of Hillcrest. Walk this about 10 blocks down to Vermont St, and hang a left, the bridge will be behind all of the shops and to the right of the Ralph's grocery store.
Hillcrest is where I would suggest you look around for a bit, and if you're feeling it, stopping in one of the countless restaurants for lunch (or a beer). This neighborhood is a huge spot for Asian restaurants, so if that's your thing you'll be super happy to eat here. For some extra info, you can check out the neighborhood's website here.
The Vermont Street bridge was originally built in 1916 to connect the neighborhoods of Hillcrest and University Heights. Today, this bridge is covered in inspirational quotes by famous authors all about walking, bridges. I am honestly surprised they could find so many quotes on such a specific subject, but it came together very nicely. I probably spent the most time on this bridge just reading all of the quotes and looking at the art they built into it, I thought it was really cool.
6. Georgia Street Bridge
Once leaving the Vermont Street bridge, go up one block to Lincoln Ave and take a right. Follow Lincoln across a couple of busy intersections until you cross over Park Boulevard. Taking this street back South you'll hit University Ave again. Take a left there to find the Georgia Street Bridge.
The Georgia Street Bridge connects the neighborhoods of Hillcrest and North Park (another great spot for food options). This bridge is really short and doesn't look like much from the top, but I think the draw is the retaining walls they built on both sides of it. This tunnel-like effect really adds to this 1914 cement bridge.
7. Park Boulevard Bridge
Continue South on Park Boulevard for just over a mile and you will get to the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. This is where you'll find the Park Boulevard bridge to pass back over into the parking lot you started at.
You can also take any of the trails to your left leading through the park to get a better view of the nature Balboa has to offer before getting to the garden.
This is really the best way to end the trek. Walking through the garden will make you forget all about hiking 6 miles over the entire city. I highly suggest taking your time to relax here, and slowly meander around the unique cacti and other plants this area has to offer. Even though I'm a total plant geek, I've been with several people here that still find it beautiful.
After, you exit over the Park Boulevard Bridge, a cement pedestrian bridge over, you guessed it, Park Boulevard. You enter back into Balboa, right next to one of the parking lots you most likely parked in, but I suggest grabbing a churro at a vendor and relaxing in Balboa for a while. Trust me, after that hike, you deserve it!
That is the seven bridges urban hike, allowing you to see several historical landmarks and neighborhoods in San Diego. While some people might not be so intrigued by some bridges and walking around the city, I say do it anyway! It's an awesome urban hike that gets you some exercise while exploring the unique highlights of San Deigo.
Also, if you're looking for more nature-filled hikes near the city, I really love to hike around Torrey Pines State Reserve. It's a bit further North but is home to many great hiking trails on an ocean cliff overlooking the Pacific. You can check out my blog on Torrey Pines here.
I would absolutely do this hike again and I would love to hear if you guys try it out! Also, feel free to ask me any questions about the hike, bridges, or neighborhoods along the walk.
Until next time,