Paths of La Jolla: Torrey Pines reserve a feast for the eyes

Editor’s note:

This is the first in an intermittent series of short profiles on scenic places to hike and walk in La Jolla. If you have suggestions for us, e-mail

  1. We’d even walk with you if you want to show us your favorite trail.

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

There are several well-known — and little-known — spots to traverse the great outdoors in the Jewel.

None are more spectacular than Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve at 12600 N. Torrey Pines Road. Sandwiched in between Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course on the south and the city of Del Mar on the north, the coastal park with its half-dozen coastal trails offers exquisite ocean vistas.

Perched on a hilltop plateau overlooking Torrey Pines State Beach, the historic park is home to the nation’s rarest pine tree, Pinus torreyana, which grows only here and on Santa Rosa Island near Santa Barbara.

The reserve owns another singular distinction.

“It’s one of the few places you can look and see only native vegetation, with spectacular wildflowers in the spring, that doesn’t have any influence either of man or of all the species that have invaded,” said La Jollan Ken King, a Torrey Pines docent.

Just like urban La Jolla, a jaunt along the craggy cliffs resembling drip candles in the reserve is a multicultural experience. Negotiating the well-trod and clearly marked trails, hikers are likely to hear numerous foreign tongues.

The cooling ocean breeze mingles with the earthy scents of soil and chaparral as hikers young and old meander the interlocking network of sandy trails.

The difficulty level here is easy to moderate. Trails running parallel to the coast at the lower levels are easily walkable, but those that switchback their way down from the hills to the coast are relatively steep with significant altitude gain. Bring water, because even on breezy, sunny days, it can get hot.

Also unique to the reserve is the sight of colorful airborne sails in the wind courtesy of hang gliders and paragliders from nearby Torrey Pines Gliderport.

A day-use park that costs $10 to access, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is open from 8 a.m. until sunset daily. The park has no overnight camping facilities, and no picnicking is permitted except on the beach. No food or drinks other than water are allowed in the reserve.

The park features a museum at the Visitor Center (lodge) with exhibits of the reserve’s natural and cultural history open daily at 9 a.m. (May-October) and 10 a.m. (November-April). Guided nature walks are offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

For more information, call (858) 755-2063 or visit