Hike amongst the rarest pine tree in the world: Torrey Pines, San Diego
Updated: Jan 22
Located just north of La Jolla, Torrey Pines, San Diego is home to the Torrey Pines State Reserve and the rarest pine tree in the world. If you haven't guessed the name of that rare tree yet, it's the torrey pine. This pine is so rare that they are only native at this reserve, and on Santa Rosa Island off of Santa Barbara. For all of the weird people who don't care too much about pine trees, you should also know that this reserve is on a bluff looking over the ocean, and all of the trails are short and easy to get around on so you can't have too much to complain about. So, come for some views and enjoy this rare and beautiful spot of coastal majesty.
Parking at Torrey Pines
Do I need to pay to park at Torrey Pines?
The short answer, no.
Long answer, it depends on how much walking you want to do.
The price for parking in the south lot of the reserve varies from $10-25 depending on the season, which is pretty damn expensive considering the size of the park.
By paying, you have access to drive to the top of the cliffs directly at the trailheads. You can also park across the street from the trailheads at the visitor center (which as of publishing this, is currently closed). The unfortunate truth is that these parking lots aren't very big, so you may have to park at the bottom on a busy summer day.
Without paying, you can park down at the beach and walk to the top, which depending on where you find a parking spot (or if you find a parking spot) can be 1-2 mile trek with that last mile being almost straight up the cliffside. So, if you came to get some hiking in then by all means, grab your free parking and start walking.
FYI: If the tide is low, you can park at the bottom and walk down the beach until you reach the beach trail and take that back up the cliffs and into the park.
A few more things to know about the reserve
Most of the trails are connected, so even though they seem like out-and-backs, you can take almost any trail north or south to get to another one without hiking back to the trailhead every time.
Torrey Pines is a very popular area in San Diego, so I suggest coming over either early in the morning or even in the evening to catch the sunset.
It can also get very hot in the summer with little protection, so be prepared with extra water and sunscreen.
Also, this is a nature reserve, which means they must take extra precautions with keeping the area natural. This comes with a couple of rules, such as:
No dogs are allowed anywhere on the reserve
No alcohol is allowed
No drones are allowed
Food is only allowed down at the beach parking area, Not on the trails
As always, you must stay on the trail and refrain from picking up or disturbing wildlife
You can find all up to date rules and regulations here: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=658
Now on to the fun stuff!
Torrey Pines Trails
Almost all of the trails in this area are relatively short with your longest option being around 2 miles. Your main trails to pick from are:
1. Guy Fleming Trail: An easy .7 mi loop trail that starts down the hill from the main trailheads. Here, you get to see more of the torrey pine trees and still have a view of the ocean.
2. Parry Grove Trail: Another easy loop trail at .5 mi. At the start you'll get to see a small native plant garden and some plaques informing you about the native species.
3. High Point Trail: This is a short 100-yard trail on the opposite side of the road from the other trailheads. This point gives a great view of almost the whole park and is right next to the visitor center.
4. Razor Point trail: This trail is .5 mi, with a gradual slope down to the point and back. As of 12/2020, the actual lookout point is closed due to the bluffs eroding making it unsafe to enter the area.
5. Beach Trail: This .75 mile hike takes you straight down to the beach below the bluffs. Most days of the year you can walk on the beach and take the back to the parking area or head south to Black's Beach (FYI: Black's Beach is a "clothing optional" beach so be prepared for that: https://www.californiabeaches.com/beach/blacks-beach-san-diego/ ).
When I took the beach trail in December, the water was so high that it came straight up to the stairs from the trail, leaving no beach at all, so make sure you check the tides and plan ahead if you're expecting to do some beach walking.
6. Broken Hill Trail: You have two options to start this trail 1. The North Fork Trailhead: at 1.25 mi with a couple of neat bridges and a little tunnel through the trees 2. The South Fork Trailhead: at 1.33 mi with an overview of the gold course.
FYI: One of the best routes to take to get the most views in one go would be starting at the razor point trail head, then crossing over to yucca lookout. This lookout also connects to the beach trail so you can go down to see the beach. From there, you can either come back up the beach trail or head south to broken hill trail to get a different view going up. This will get you to cover almost the entire park in one go, and it is still only about 2 mi long.
While Torrey Pines is relatively small for a hiking destination, that doesn't mean it is not worth the trip. It is full of beautiful views and if you're lucky like I was, you might even catch some dolphins in the waves. Plus, the torrey pine is such a rare sight that they are really cool to see, but I might be biased since I'm a huge plant nerd. Overall, it's a great afternoon spot full of stunning views, easy trails, and a perfect location for sunsets.
Also, if you're in town looking for more great ocean spots, you should check out Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach, two crazy fun neighborhoods directly on the oceanfront. You can also check out a simple overview of my favorite spots around San Diego here.
If you have any other questions or experiences on Torrey Pines please feel free to comment below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,