Just west of Interstate 5 (or “the five,” as they say in these parts) within the San Diego city limits is a big slab of 15th-century California. The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is 2,000 acres of coastal chaparral, pine groves, sandstone cliffs and salt marsh that is pretty much the way early Spanish explorers found it.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve was established to protect the namesake trees, but the hiking trails and beach access make it a popular spot for SoCal residents to regain their mellow.
The San Diego City Council in 1899 passed an ordinance to preserve 364 acres as a park. Newspaperwoman and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps bought additional acreage and donated it to the city. The city council expanded the park and in 1956, residents voted to give the nearly 1,000-acre park to the state of California for the higher protection afforded by being a state reserve. The state park’s name was changed to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in 2007.
Things to do
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has a dozen miles of hiking trails and while most of the individual trails are fairly short, a good day hike is easy to put together because many of the trails link up.
Perhaps the most popular path is the Guy Fleming Trail (pictured below), a fairly flat loop about three-quarters of mile long. The trail takes you through a grove of Torrey pines and offers views of the Pacific Ocean and Peñasquitos Lagoon, one of the few brackish water wetlands remaining in Southern California.
The Beach Trail — as you might expect — is a .75-mile path to the beach. It’s a 300-foot drop to the ocean, which means it’s a 300-foot climb back to the car. Branching off the Beach Trail is Razor Point Trail, a hike of nearly a mile that offers gorge and ocean views.
Why you’ll want to come back
When you take the Beach Trail and hit the water, you can turn north and stroll in the sand to Torrey Pines State Beach and more than four miles on undeveloped beach front.
Flora and fauna
The park’s reason for being is preservation of the Torrey pine, identified as a unique species in 1850 by botanist Charles C. Parry, who named the tree after his botanist buddy, John Torrey. The wind-gnarled trees are the rarest pines in North America, found only in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Santa Rosa Island off the coast of southern California. The trees are 25-50 feet tall and have extensive root systems to help them draw moisture from the sandy soil.
There are roughly 300 protected species of native plants in the reserve including sand verbena, beach primrose, California sagebrush, California buckwheat, black sage, scrub oak, mountain mahogany, prickly pear cactus, Monterey cypress, Mohave yucca, Spanish bayonet and a variety of wild flowers.
California quail, Anna’s hummingbirds, scrub jays, the California towhee and the rufous-sided towhee are among the birds spotted in the reserve. And that is without a walk along the beach.
Visitors may also spot mule deer, gray foxes, coyotes and, if really lucky, bobcats. The sweeping ocean views from some trails may offer a view of migrating gray whales, dolphins or sea lions.
By the numbers:
- Website: Torrey Pines State Reserve
- Park size: 2,000 acres
- Funky fact: Leave the trail mix at home. No food is allowed in the reserve or on the trails.