Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

#5 in Best Things To Do in San Diego
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve picture1 of 4
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve2 of 4
Lisa Field/Courtesy of SanDiego.org

Key Info

12600 North Torrey Pines Road

Price & Hours

Rates vary seasonally
7:15 a.m.-sunset daily

Details

Beaches, Hiking, Parks and Gardens Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
4.3

scorecard

  • 4.5Value
  • 3.0Facilities
  • 4.5Atmosphere

Want to see what San Diego looked like at its founding? It's at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This oceanfront reserve features 1,750 acres of unspoiled land, protecting the unique topography and various types of flora present from way back when, including the Torrey Pine, America's rarest pine tree. There are 3,000 Torrey Pines in the reserve alone and aside from San Diego, the only other place in the country the pines grows are on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara. The reserve also houses one of Southern California's last salt marshes and waterfowl refuges. What does that mean for you? Plenty of hiking opportunities (8 miles to be exact). Trails offer a chance to get up close and personal with the attraction's famously beautiful sandstone ravines and badlands as well as breathtaking views of the coastline. And if you come during the spring, you'll see wildflowers on full display.

Popular trails include the brief Guy Fleming Trail (0.7 miles round trip), which features two ocean overlooks, and the longer Razor Point Trail (1.4 miles round trip), which tours more of the sandstone geological features of the reserve. There is also the beach trail that leads to Torrey Pines stunning stretch of shore. Of all San Diego's beaches, a long walk along Torrey Pines State Beach is a must simply for its views of the towering sandstone cliffs that border it. Keep in mind that along these bluffs there are no lifeguards on duty and the ocean can be rough, so swim at your own risk. Also the cliffs can be unstable, so set up close to the shore.   

Recent visitors were taken with the Torrey Pines scenery and strongly suggested exploring more than one trail while you're there. However, be sure to come early or during the week days. Considering this is one of the most popular attractions in San Diego, not to mention a jewel prided by locals, trails can become crowded very easily. While Torrey Pines is a bit of a trek from downtown San Diego (about a 25-minute drive), visitors say going the distance was completely worth seeing the beautiful site. 

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve borders the Pacific Ocean just north of La Jolla, and is situated about 18 miles north of downtown San Diego. It opens daily at 7:15 a.m. and closes at sunset. Admission is the cost of parking, and where you park largely depends on what you end up paying. If you park in the South Beach parking lot parking will cost $12 to $25 depending on what day you visit and time of year. If you park in the North Beach parking lot, you'll pay $10-15 depending on the day you visit during the high season. During the low season at North Beach lot, you pay hourly rates or $3 all day Monday to Thursday or $10 Friday and Saturday. All day rates depend on day and time of year. It's important to know that the South Beach parking lots fill up quickly during peak hours and popular times of year and that it's a bit of a hike to get from the North Beach parking lot to the reserve. Also, know that food is not allowed in the reserve or on the beach, including parking lots and paved roads. Make sure to stay on marked trails too, as rattlesnakes call this reserve home. For more information, check out the park's website.

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Type
Time to Spend
#1 Balboa Park

Home to the renowned San Diego Zoo. this 1,200-acre park is the city's cultural hub. Located in downtown San Diego (about 2 miles north of the city center), Balboa Park is a great place for a stroll, bike ride or picnic. Wander around the park's many gardens while admiring the intricate Spanish-Renaissance architecture that permeates the grounds (the best examples are the California Building and the House of Hospitality). The Botanical Building is a great starting point in Balboa Park. The building is one of the most photographed places in Balboa Park and is one of the largest lath structures in the world. But don't just look at it. The famous botanical building features more than 2,100 permanent plants, including striking collections of tropical plants and orchids. The park also features a cactus garden, rose garden, a Japanese-style garden as well as a palm tree canyon, among many others.

But if you find yourself growing antsy just walking around and smelling the roses, there are plenty of attractions located here (many of them free). Take in a show at the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre, visit the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to see one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs, or the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater if you got the kiddos in tow. Museums are just as aplenty, with enough to suit all types of interests. Art lovers will enjoy the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts and Mingei International Museum while science enthusiasts will enjoy the Fleet Science Center and the Museum of Man. If you're traveling as a family, take some time to check out the San Diego Air and Space Museum or the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the world's largest operating model railroad museum. There's also an automotive museum and the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum, dedicated entirely to San Diego's sports history.

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