Rooted in conservancy: Torrey Pines Lodge marks its centennial in La Jolla

Torrey Pines Lodge was completed in February 1923 and dedicated in April that year.
(Torrey Pines Docent Society)

The historic restaurant turned visitor center for the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve will be celebrated Saturday, April 8, as support groups hope for a $5 million renovation.


Torrey Pines Lodge in La Jolla is preparing to mark 100 years of standing tall for the Torrey pine.

The Torrey Pines Docent Society and Torrey Pines Conservancy will present a centennial celebration at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 8, at 12500 N. Torrey Pines Road.

The free event will feature presentations and proclamations by elected officials including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, tours of the historic adobe-style lodge, historical photographs and exhibits, docents in period costumes, ranger talks and guided nature walks, activities for children, cake, a parade of old cars and more.

The lodge — among an estimated 5,000 Torrey pines in the 1,750-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve — was dedicated April 7, 1923, as a restaurant, welcoming travelers who wished to stop among the protected trees, which are so rare they grow only in San Diego County and on Santa Rosa Island off Santa Barbara.

C.C. Parry named the tree species in 1850 for his mentor, fellow botanist John Torrey.

The lodge — not to be confused with The Lodge at Torrey Pines hotel — is now the ranger station and visitor center for the reserve, with a museum and shop run by the Torrey Pines Docent Society, which was established in 1975.

“We’re celebrating the conservation of nature,” said Docent Society President Matthew Xavier.

“It’s a real story of preservation,” said Torrey Pines Conservancy President Rick Gulley.

Planted in history

Torrey Pines Lodge was designed in the Pueblo Revival style.
Torrey Pines Lodge was designed by architect Richard Requa and structural engineer Herbert Jackson in the Pueblo Revival style.
(Torrey Pines Docent Society)

The lodge was designed by architect Richard Requa and structural engineer Herbert Jackson in the Pueblo Revival style with funding from La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. It was styled after the houses of the Hopi tribe in the Arizona desert, according to its website, and was completed in February 1923.

Scripps envisioned the lodge as a stop on what was then the main route between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The restaurant had “stumpy tables, chintz curtains, lampshades made of Torrey pine needles and a jukebox,” according to the website.

The lodge cost about $30,000 to build at the time. The city of San Diego gave $5,000, with the rest coming from Scripps.

Branching out

The restaurant closed sometime around the end of World War II in the mid-1940s, and in 1950 the Torrey Pines Association — which became the conservancy — was founded to preserve the lodge and the surrounding parkland.

The area that is now the reserve became a state park in 1959 and expanded over several years amid additional conservation efforts. It was designated the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in 2007.

The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to about 5,000 Torrey pines, a rare tree native to Southern California.
(Peter Jensen)

The reserve was named a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1978 and the lodge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Torrey Pines Lodge’s museum section contains educational exhibits. Money raised by the shop goes to educational programs that fund buses for children across San Diego to visit the reserve and learn about indigenous Kumeyaay culture and ecosystems while docents lead them on trail walks.

With more than 3 million annual visitors, the reserve is “the busiest state park in California,” Xavier said. He added that his group’s 250 docents contributed more than 22,000 hours of volunteer time in 2022.

Seeding the future

The Torrey Pines Docent Society and Torrey Pines Conservancy work together to protect and share the park, with the docents serving as the “boots on the ground,” Gulley said.

The conservancy works to raise money to augment state funding, Gulley said, enabling “state park staff to continue to do a lot of the jobs that need to be done.”

Torrey Pines Lodge was funded mostly by Ellen Browning Scripps and is now a ranger station and visitor center.
Torrey Pines Lodge was funded mostly by La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and is now a ranger station and visitor center. Fundraising has begun for a renovation project.
(Rick Gulley)

After 100 years, the lodge is in need of restoration, Gulley said.

“The front of the lodge is sagging,” he said, and natural materials with which it was built will need replacing. It also has electrical and plumbing issues, he said.

The conservancy received a $5 million estimate for renovations and has begun fundraising. But work can’t begin until the state park system upgrades the plumbing and other utilities along Torrey Pines Park Road, which provides access to the lodge and reserve from the south.

The road also will need to be modified in the utilities upgrade, Gulley said.

However, that upgrade is sinking lower on the state parks projects list as emergencies such as forest fires and storm damage occur throughout the state. There currently is no set timeline for the restoration, Gulley said.

Meanwhile, the conservancy and Docent Society have partnered on a project at the north end of the reserve, Xavier said.

A structure called the Beach and Lagoon Information Kiosk, or BLIK, will be used to teach visitors about the ocean and the adjacent Los Penasquitos Lagoon and its resident creatures, funded by a gift from the family of a former docent after her death.

“We’re really excited about it,” Xavier said. “It’s going to be a great program once we get it off the ground.”

BLIK is scheduled to open in late spring at the north beach parking lot.

Gulley has other projects on his wish list as well, including a memorial bench program and a refresh of the south beach parking lot.

He also would like to hire a transportation consultant to look at ways to get cars out of the reserve through shuttle services or other methods.

“It’s all things we can do to improve the visitor experience,” Gulley said, and “it gives us all an opportunity to focus on the value of philanthropy to San Diego.”

Every project furthers the two groups’ efforts to conserve the Torrey pine, Xavier said.

“They’re really a symbol of adaptation. San Diego is a desert and yet you have this pine tree that’s able to live in an environment with less than 10 inches of rain a year,” he said. “It’s a reminder of how if we invest in each other and nature, good things happen. We’re saving this precious tree, but we’re also saving ourselves at the same time.”

The reserve is open from 7:15 a.m. to sunset daily. The lodge’s museum and shop currently are open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, visit