The horizon ascends to meet your eye and the ocean, expanding, kisses the sky. The rooftops shrink smaller as the summit draws near while the coastline widens from Bird Rock to the pier. Though the cliffs are initially all you can see, the hilltop draws back and reveals the buildings are rust and the color of snow and the sun warms the Village and beaches below. The way down is orange, lavender, pink, the green flash beckons, but disappears in a blink as the horizon melts down the last of the sun, Soledad is silhouetted; night has begun.
The La Jolla Natural Park is a 42-acre area of chaparral and small water runoffs. It is also called the La Jolla Heights Open Space, and it sits to the north of a much greener, healthier-looking expanse of land — the century-old Country Club’s golf course.
The park contains a dog-friendly hiking trail that takes you from the trailhead on Al Bahr Drive up the hill to Encelia Drive. All along the way, there is a lovely view of the Village and of the Cove. If you wish to escape the lush lawns that belie La Jolla’s natural climate and experience the desert as it has been for thousands of years, the Natural Park hiking trail is perfect.
The trail starts at the top of Al Bahr Drive with a brown trailhead sign. After passing through tall reeds, the hike opens up to an expansive desert hillside covered in chaparral. There are several clearings up the hill that provide brilliant photo opportunities; the view of La Jolla gets better with each step upward. There are many forks in the path, but as long as you continue on an uphill branch, you will eventually reach your destination.
You will come to an asphalt path, which is Encelia Drive, and a pole that supports a solar panel. Keep to the left; the way on the right leads to an old water tank and does not provide a path down the hill.
You will come to a car gate, as well as a dirt trail that branches off to the right. This trail leads to a small area fenced in by chaparral and desert plants that hide a bench with a lovely view of the horizon. During the evening, this place offers a peaceful spot to rest and watch the sunset. If dusk is approaching, it is preferable to descend via the streets rather than to backtrack down the hill, as navigating the rocks and scree can be tricky in the dimming light.
When you are back on Encelia Drive, you will continue south to reach the intersection of Encelia and Brodiaea Way. Turn right onto Brodiaea and make your way down the hill; turn right again on Romero Drive, which will become Country Club Drive. When you reach Exchange Place, you can continue down to Torrey Pines Road or turn right onto Soledad Avenue to make your way back to the trailhead at Al Bahr.
Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed. The ascent is steep and most of the path is covered with scree, so this hike is for the sure-footed with hiking boots or tennis shoes! There are “No Trespassing” signs at the top of the hike; they refer to the reservoir and not to the hiking trail!
The roundtrip hike, up the hill and down the streets back to the trailhead, is approximately 1.3 miles and takes around 50 minutes if you stop for a few photos and sit on the bench at the top to admire the view. There are few trees to provide shade, so bring sunglasses, sunscreen or hats on hot sunny days. Elevation gain: 655 feet or 200 meters.
■ Directions to start of hike: Heading northeast on Torrey Pines Road coming from the Village, turn right on Exchange Place. You can park to the right on Virginia Way or Olivet Street. Now on foot, keep left onto Soledad Avenue when Exchange forks off. Go right from Soledad onto Al Bahr Drive. Continue on Al Bahr under the bridge; the trail begins at the farthest end of the street loop, marked by a brown trailhead sign.