Preserving San Diego coastal access: a gift for us, a legacy for the future

San Diego coastal access

San Diego coastal access is an important feature in local architecture and design, one that connects us with the land and sea that defines our unique California environment. Photo Credit: Stephen Goodwin,

By Paul Benton

One of the great joys of architecture is to see the relation between our buildings and the world around us, and to see the world through our buildings and public spaces. Here in San Diego, coastal access epitomizes that relationship. Whether we are a few blocks or a few miles from the ocean, we use it as a landmark and a reference point — to orient ourselves, to refresh ourselves, and as a reminder of how it feels to be in this wonderful place. We see a fog line on the ocean, and immediately we are reminded of the cool breezes that will be coming our way in an hour or so; and when they do, it always lends a refreshing pause to a warm afternoon.

Coastal access is vital to our experience, not just for the beach, but also for the way we view and relate to the coast through our daily lives. And there is no better way to enjoy coastal access than by walking, either strolling through our neighborhoods or on our way to a special place by the coast.

In many older communities by the coast, there are hidden paths and walks that have grown into the grid of streets: some by accident, and others by design. La Jolla has several stairs that reach from the upper streets down through the middle of the block to the street below. There are wonderful examples on Prospect Street, near the La Valencia Hotel and the Grande Colonial Inn, that provide a slight view to the ocean and then dramatically open out to the street below. I delight in seeing the look on out-of-town guests’ faces when we take these paths: just a moment away from the bustling street, and just like that we can experience a sense of calm and higher purpose.

In Del Mar, there are wonderful walks that thread among the bluffs that lead from the upper levels, through preserved areas, and down to the beach below. These preserves are part of our coastal heritage. They harbor plants and wildlife that once were common along our coast, and now are rarely seen. To be able to experience this coastal environment so close to a major city, with a coastal access route that is timeless and protected, is a priceless gift that previous generations have created for us. We should enjoy these as often as we can, and pass them on to the future.

Eventually, the city of Del Mar will be considering a big change in their coastal access by moving the railroad alignment that presently fronts a significant part of their coastline. While this action may be years in the future and will take considered planning, it is an opportunity to expand coastal access for the local community, as well as its many visitors. How many ways could this coastal access feature be transformed into a collection of views, overlooks, and preserves? To learn more about the details of coastal access planning here in San Diego, contact us at Alcorn & Benton Architects today. Visit us online, at

Did you know? For some large projects with slopes and views to the ocean, the California Coastal Commission has required stairs and other viewpoints to take advantage of the view to the ocean.  In some cases the experience of walking on these paths is breathtaking, and it continues the design tradition of relating our buildings to our environment.

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Posted by Social Media Staff on Mar 18, 2013. Filed under Columns, Paul Benton, Sponsored Columns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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