Before or after this day hike, check out the Aquarium Museum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
In the aquarium, all manner of local sea creatures are on display. Underwater video cameras provide views of the marine reserve. Located near the entrance to the Aquarium is a dry-land tide pool, where the tide rises and falls in two-hour intervals. Kelp planted in the pools provides hiding places for bright-orange garibaldi, rock fish and red snapper. Starfish, barnacles and sea anemones cling to the rocks. A wave generator simulates surf conditions.
The aquarium and museum are open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Information: (619) 534-4086.
This hike begins at Scripps Pier, passes along Torrey Pines City Beach, or Black's Beach (once swimsuits optional, now suits only). After hiking below some spectacular cliffs and along Torrey Pines State Beach, you'll arrive at Torrey Pines State Reserve, home to the rare and revered Pinus torreyana.
Plan your hike for low tide, particularly during winter when beach sand is carried away by high waves. The southernmost stretch of this beach trail is passable only at low tide.
Directions to trailhead: Exit Interstate 5 on La Jolla Village Road and travel west past UC San Diego to North Torrey Pines Road. Turn right, then make a left on La Jolla Shores Drive, following it to the Aquarium turnoff on your right. Parking is sparse and metered near the Aquarium. From the Aquarium, follow the paved path down to the beach.
The Hike: As you look south from Scripps Pier, you will see long and flat La Jolla Shores Beach, a wide expanse of white sand where the water deepens gradually. This is a family beach.
Hiking north, the going is rocky at first; the surf really kicks up around Scripps Pier. Soon the beach widens, growing sandier, and the spectacular curry-colored cliffs grow higher.
A glider port once stood atop the bluffs. Manned fixed-wing gliders were pulled into the air and rode the currents created by offshore breezes which rose as they met the cliffs. Nowadays, brave adventurers strap themselves to hang gliders and leap off the cliffs and, unless the wind shifts, come to a soft landing on the beach.
The 300-foot cliffs tower over Black's Beach, named for William Black Sr., the oil millionaire who owned and developed most of the land on the cliffs. During the 1970s, Black's Beach enjoyed fleeting notoriety as the first and only public beach in the country on which nudity was legal. Called "a noble experiment" by sun worshipers and "a terrible fiasco" by the more inhibited, the clothing-optional zone was defeated at the polls.
After passing below more bluffs, you'll spot Flat Rock, a distinct rock outcropping. Here you may join a stairway that leads up to Torrey Pines State Reserve.
Atop the bluffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve lies a microcosm of old California, a garden of shrubs and succulents, an enclave of life that the Indians lived.
Variety of Native Plants
Most visitors come to view the 3,000 or so Torrey pines, but the reserve also offers the walker a striking variety of native plants. If you enjoy interpretive nature trails, the reserve has some nice ones. Protect the fragile ecology of the area by staying on the trails.
Be sure to check out the interpretive displays at the park museum and the native-plant garden near the head of the Parry Grove Trail. Plant and bird lists, as well as wildflower maps (February-June) are available for a small fee.
Among the reserve trails:
Parry Grove Trail, named in honor of Dr. C. C. Parry, takes you through a handsome grove of Torrey pines. Parry was a botanist assigned to the boundary commission that surveyed the U.S.-Mexican border in 1850. While waiting for the expedition to start, Parry explored the San Diego area. He investigated a tree that had been called the Soledad pine for the nearby Soledad Valley. Parry sent samples to his teacher and friend, Dr. John Torrey of Princeton and asked that if it proved to be a new species, it be named for Torrey. The Soledad pine became Pinus torreyana, or Torrey pine, in honor of the botanist and taxonomist.
The 0.4-mile loop trail also leads past many kinds of plants in the reserve: toyon, yucca and other coastal shrubs.
Broken Hill Trail visits a drier, chaparral-dominated landscape, full of sage and buckwheat, ceanothus and manzanita. From Broken Hill Overlook, there is a view of a few Torrey pines clinging to life in an environment that resembles a desert badlands.
Beach Trail leads to Yucca Point and Razor Point and offers precipitous views of the beach below. The trail descends the bluffs to Flat Rock, a fine tide-pool area.
Guy Fleming Trail is a 0.6-mile loop that travels through stands of Torrey pines and takes you to South Overlook, where you might glimpse a migrating California gray whale.
Torrey Pines Beach Trail
Scripps Pier to Torrey Pines State Reserve: 10 miles round trip