Bluffed and Beached in La Jolla for Refreshing Views

Known for its shopping, restaurants and ocean views, the picturesque community of La Jolla also boasts a wilder side, attractive to hikers and beach walkers. Two routes--one around Scripps Coastal Reserve and the other down Black's Canyon to Black's Beach--add up to an enjoyable adventure.

Scripps Coastal Reserve

Scripps Coastal Reserve is on bluffs north of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and its Birch Aquarium. Hikers headed to the reserve can swing by the aquarium, open daily, and learn about life under the sea.

The reserve is equally impressive, an astonishingly diverse Mediterranean-like ecosystem that boasts about 200 plant species and nearly 100 bird species.

Directions to trail head: From Interstate 5, exit onto La Jolla Village Drive and head west past UC San Diego to Torrey Pines Road. Turn right (north) on Torrey Pines, then left (west) onto La Jolla Shores Drive. Take an immediate right onto La Jolla Farms Road and continue a tenth of a mile to the entrance of the Scripps Coastal Reserve on the left.

The hike: A detailed interpretive pamphlet, keyed to 21 numbered posts along the Biodiversity Trail, is available at the start.

As the path winds around the grassy mesa, you might spot flags, stakes or fenced areas. Scientists and students conduct environmental studies here, the major reason for the reserve's existence.

La Jollan Indians are thought to have inhabited the coastal cliffs for thousands of years, followed by the Digueno (also known as the Kumeyaay).

During the first half of the 20th century, the bluffs were used for cattle grazing and lima bean farming. During World War II, gun emplacements were installed to defend San Diego from possible attack by Japanese submarines. Today hikers enjoy the same coastal views as the troops did.

Black's Beach

Directions to trail head: Follow the directions above to Scripps Coastal Reserve, but drive another half-mile to Black Gold Road and the entrance for Black's Canyon.

The hike: The road winding down the steep cliffs south of La Jolla to Black's Beach is more a "safe cut" than a shortcut. The steep path is popular with local surfers, picnickers, sunbathers and fitness walkers on their way to one of San Diego's finest--and least accessible--public beaches.

Black's Beach is best known for its nude sunbathers, and visitors are sure to encounter the uninhibited. That said, Black's Canyon Road is full of other natural sights, such as prickly pear, lemonade berry and sage.

Black's Canyon, Black's Beach and Black Gold Road owe their names to Texas oilman William H. Black, who bought the land from the Scripps family in the 1940s. At first he planned a hacienda, but later he subdivided the property.

From Black's Beach, you can walk about a half-mile south to Dike Rock, a volcanic formation with intriguing tide pools.

You can continue south to Scripps Pier and La Jolla Shores Beach. Or walk north about 2.5 miles to Torrey Pines State Reserve, or five miles to Del Mar.


For more of John McKinney's tips, visit

Biodiversity, Black's Canyon Trails WHERE: Scripps Coastal Reserve, Black's Beach.

DISTANCE: 0.7-mile loop around Scripps Coastal Reserve. To Black's Beach is 1.6 miles round trip with 300-foot elevation loss; much longer beach walks possible.

TERRAIN: High, richly vegetated coastal bluffs, sand beach.

HIGHLIGHTS: Biodiversity on land and sea, splendid coastal views.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: Birch Aquarium, tel. (858) 534-FISH

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