– A Summer Priority – a Stroll Down the Cabrillo Bayside Trail
– Liberty Station
– Torrey Pines State Reserve – Our Own Gem of the Ocean
– San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
– San Dieguito River Park – Boardwalk and Lagoon Trail
– When Santa Ana Hits, the Shoreline Fits

Here meet some of the key places to explore in our coastal areas. You can also find more details about these places and many more in Outdoors San Diego: Hiking, Biking & Camping by Tom Leech and Jack Farnan, available at many book stores, park visitors centers and and For web sites, check the topic — SD Outdoors Organizations.

A quick alert to be careful about heading out on our trails as it’s not  like walking around the block. Wear good walking shoes for good grip, be careful to not stumble (a walking stick is often a good aid, especially when up and down hill hikes), be  prepared for the heat, and go with knowledgeable leaders in the back country. Finally, understand that Tom Leech has no liability for troubles on the trails.

A Summer Priority – a Stroll Down the Cabrillo Bayside Trail

Early part of trail

Early part of trail

At the tip of Point Loma is Cabrillo National Monument, with the obvious landmark the old lighthouse, built in 1854. This is a favorite of visitors and locals as the views all around are hard to beat — San Diego Bay, Coronado, Mexico’s Coronado Islands, sometimes whales passing by, and on a really clear day, perhaps Tahiti. The visitors’ center (with museum and gift shop) provides relevant info and many photo settings.

A scenic and relatively easy hiking option is the Bayside Trail. As you head from the parking lot toward the lighthouse, about 100 yards up you’ll see the obvious (yet often passed by) sign marking the trail off to the left or south. Head down the paved road about a quarter mile to where the trail cuts off to the left. Here’s a bench to rest and take in the expansive views (there’ll be a few more benches along the way).

Examining WWII structure

Examining WWII structure

Now you’re on a dirt trail, with some definite downhill segments as it heads down passing San Diego Bay. Signs tell about the bird and plant life you’re seeing. Some history markers and structures explain how in World War II this Searchlight Shelter and separate Power Plant were key parts of protecting the San Diego area from attacks.Continuing down are some amusing rock formations, where kids like to say that’s daddy’s face looking out at them. As you stroll, you’re right at the bay, seeing many recreational boats, Navy and commercial ships sailing by, military aircraft taking off from Coronado’s Naval Air Station, the legendary Hotel del, and birds soaring by. Straight ahead you’re heading toward docks housing U.S. Naval ships and subs and beyond the San Diego airport and range of mountains. Hard to beat.

A kiosk near the trail end (and another favorite resting bench spot) marks this area as the Point Loma Ecological Reserve, protecting 640 acres of natural area.

Nearing trail end, looking toward US Naval facilities & eastward

Nearing trail end, looking toward US Naval facilities & eastward

Head back up, breathing a bit harder than when you hiked down, and to where you started and you’ll have likely taken about 45-60 minutes, depending on your conditioning and how much you linger to take in all the sights and sounds. There’s plenty more to see in the lighthouse area, the WWII Military History Exhibit building, and the road down to the ocean where you can walk along right at the sea and explore tide pools.

(An interesting related ongoing project you might checkout is the construction of the original boat Juan Cabrillo used when he arrived from Portugal in 1542.  The San Salvador is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum and can be visited at Spanish Landing just north of the airport on Harbor Drive.)

To get there: From I-8, drive west to the end, go left to Nimitz Blvd. pass two lights see Cabrillo Monument sign, head off to the right onto Catalina, which takes you up to the Naval facilities. Pass thru Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, with its thousands of graves, to the Cabrillo National Park entrance. There’s a fee, or show your Golden Age Parks’ Pass and no charge.  If heading north from downtown onto I-5 to I-8 west and same as above. For full info Phone 619-557-5450.

Liberty Station’s fine new park, with historic traditions

Fine lawns with military tradition readily seen

Veteran San Diegans will know well the old Naval Training Center, a major military base passed on Rosecrans heading out to Pt. Loma or off Nimitz heading to the airport. A few years ago that land was transferred to San Diego ownership and a lengthy transformation to civilian use was undertaken, and continues today. For outdoors fans, the large expanse of greenery, known at NTC Park, between the commercial section and the channel offers a fine spot for that weekend or weekday break.
It’s readily accessible for residents living in the beach communities and inland. And about any suburban residents can get there in about 20 minutes. There’s plenty of parking, though Sundays can present some problems with congestion due to a hugely popular church there. My experience has found 1-5 pm reasonably accessible.

USS Neversail, the vessel for training recruits

The military tradition is strong, with artillery batteries on the north part, at Cushing.

Right where Roosevelt ends are a series of kiosks showing naval vessels, their histories, and crew members who served on those  ships. Flags are readily seen as you look across the large open green lawns.
Several options for recreation present themselves, the prime ones walking (with pooches on leash OK), picnics (several table settings), and kids playgrounds. Rest rooms are conveniently located. For viewing nature, walk along the eastern garden area, or along the channel. Continue west along the channel, passing hotels and you have some interesting options: (a) turn left, walk over the bridge and under Harbor Drive and walk along the bay, across from the many boat docks; (b) turn right and walk over to the naval vessel, the ship that never sails, called USS Neversail, used for decades for training recruits.

Strolling along the channel- a pleasant pursuit

We had a recent group picnic at this park, and it scored high on the enjoyment scale. And if you want to have some other fun near this park, take in the First Friday Arts Night, starting at 5 pm. Many art-type galleries, music and dance troupes, some free nibbles plus regular restaurants, centered roughly on Old Decatur Road between Roosevelt and Dewey.

1/ Off Rosecrans. I-8 west onto Rosecrans, pass several lights, then the golf course on left, to light at Roosevelt Rd. Turn left, drive to dead end at Cushing and you’re at the park.
2/ From Pacific Highway to Barnett, pass MCRD, continue to light at Truxton. Left into LS, right to Decatur Road to Dewey, turn left.
3/ I-8 west to end, left and on to Nimitz Blvd, pass several red lights, last major one being Rosecrans. Nimitz ends at N. Harbor Drive, left toward airport, and left at Lanning Rd.

Torrey Pines State Reserve – Our Own Gem of the Ocean

Here’s an inspirational setting on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Only twenty minutes from downtown, it’s one of our most frequently-visited parks, yet still many San Diegans are unaware of this gem just north of the jewel city, La Jolla. This was the first urban natural preserve in the country, created in 1899 and designated a National Natural Landmark by the Department of Interior. It takes its name from the rare pine that grows there, one of the few places that occurs.

Looking towards La Jolla

In its 2000 acres, Torrey Pines offers a variety of hiking options to match any level of fitness, plus superb ocean views and beach adventure. A good place to begin a visit here is at the museum and park headquarters, where you also pay the nominal entrance fee. Exhibits inside and out make this worth your time before heading out.

Trails wind from here or other parts through chaparral, along the coastal bluffs and down to the beach. Hikes range from 20-minute easy strolls to one-hour hikes down to ocean and back. On weekends leaders from the Torrey Pines Docents Society lead morning hikes, offering one of the best ways to get acquainted with what the park has to offer. You may also see gliders soaring back and forth along the bluffs.

View from trail

Before you head out on a trail, pick up a map from headquarters. No, you won’t find the old-timers favorite — Fat Man’s Misery — as that was closed off to foot traffic years back. Some sample trails, form mild to more adventuresome:
Guy Fleming Trail starts as you arrive near the top of the road. It’s a good trail for anyone, as it’s easy, yet rich in natural rewards. From the parking area the trail winds through the pines out right along the ocean. You’ll see a variety of plant life, including a variety of flowering ones, while gazing down onto the beach. The trail loops back to the parking lot, making this a genteel 20-30 minute amble. (Answering the Superintendent of all Southern California state parks and the key player in getting this area preserved as a park for all of us.)

Fun stroll down to Flat Rock and beach

– A set of trail options leads directly west from Park Headquarters parking lot (or its nearby restroom). The Beach Trail starts out as an easy, slightly downhill, winding trail out through chaparral. A short side trail leads up to the prominent jutting sandstone. The trail continues west; one option heads out to a bluff viewpoint. The other heads down along and through sandstone canyons to where it really gets fun with a final descent along a narrow ledge to Flat Rock and the beach. You’ll find lug sole shoes come in handy, and hikers with vertigo will not enjoy this part. This is one of the most popular spots in the park, and lots of people will be gamboling on the beach or the rocks. This is the only place you can have a picnic in the park. Return the same way or make it a loop by walking up the beach and back up the park road (or wait for pickup by your designated driver). This is 1-2 hours round trip.

To get there: I-5 to Carmel Valley Road west, turn left at Pacific Coast Highway to park entrance. You can park there at beach level, or continue up the hill to the lot near Park HQ. An alternative walk-in entrance is on Torrey Pines Road just north of the golf course, with some parking beside the road. The South Fork Trail heads to the beach from here.

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve –   You like great trails ???

You like great trails ???

This 1000 acre reserve is between Solana Beach and Cardiff and administered jointly by the County and State Fish & Game. This is a good stroll any time of the year, and definitely take your camera, especially with a good distance lens to get good close up shots. It combines pleasant aspects of interesting terrain, open vistas, plenty of birds, and several good hiking options On any weekend (or after work), many people will be here enjoying a pleasant stroll along the paths while formations of geese soar by and brightly-plumed ducks and black coots swim through the reeds.

You Like Views ???

You can gain access to the lagoon via several entries:
West end, south side: Take I-5 north to Lomas Santa Fe Dr. west. At Rios, turn right. Drive to the end and park. From the entrance, the trail left (west) takes you quickly down near the water where you can continue north along the lagoon and railroad tracks. The trail right (east) is a considerably different hike which stays well above the lagoon as it winds through a rich variety of foliage. This may be muddy in parts, but it’s especially interesting.
East end: Take I-5 to Lomas Santa Fe east. From the south, go straight ahead onto

You like birds ???

Santa Helena (same as Marine View). Left at Santa Victoria and left at Santa Carina, to end. At the entrance you’ll see a large sign, which says among other things, you can take your dog along on these trails, on a leash and with poop sack at the ready please. Take the trail in to the large and obvious eucalyptus tree. Head west and you’ll quickly be down along the shoreline among the fowl. You’ll walk by several large stands of beavertail cactus, which seem out of place amidst all the water-oriented foliage. One leg of the trail crosses through a gate onto a dike which leads over to Manchester Avenue. The water streaming over may be only a half-inch deep or maybe not. (The prominent white, golden-domed building across the lagoon is the Greek church.)
Return to the main trail which leads over to the freeway and along the fence toward the bridge. You’ll be enjoying the expanse of lagoon below you, plus a view of several mountains way over to the east. A pleasant setting, with only eight lanes of freeway traffic noise just above you. The trail crosses under the highway and meets up with the west lagoon trail. You can hike over to the ocean or with two vehicles leave one at Rios and make this a less taxing one-way hike.
Another fine option is to continue east on Lomas Santa Fe to El Camino Real, then north or left, to a marked parking area on the left. Hike along the obvious trail to the west, initially through shade, then open and you’ll join the trail described above.
Northwest side: Take I-5 to Manchester and head west, turning left into the marked new Visitor’s Center. There’s plenty of parking and the Center provides good educational info, such as that over 300 different types of birds show up here, making 40% of all bird species in North America. You’ll see obvious trails that take you for short walks south and east right beside the lagoon.

San Dieguito River Park – Boardwalk and Lagoon Trail

Looking over to the Fairgrounds

A new outdoors walking option is this trail right beside the Del Mar Fairgrounds and adjacent lagoon. It’s an easy stroll, all flat, and you can:
– Take the pooch with you, on a leash (and, of course, pick up the droppings) 
- Ride a bike though not especially challenging
- Take your binocs for super bird-watching 
- Tackle it from wheelchair or other necessary gear
The scenery is memorable as you’re strolling first along the San Dieguito River Lagoon, then cross under I-5, and along the river on one side and the Fairgrounds parking lot on the other. And just over there to the west is the Pacific Ocean. Round trip is about a 3-mile stroll, and maybe 1 ½ hours (allowing time for ample checking out the scenery and birds).

The Lagoon

Primary access is on the eastern side of I-5, just north of the Fairgrounds. Take Via de la Valle east and drive a short distance to San Andres Dr (just past Wells Fargo bank), and turn south or right. It dead ends at the marked entry way, with plenty of parking right on the street. (Often useful to know about is the restroom, follow the sign off to the left and back about a half-block to the usual structure.)

To the east is the wildlife refuge, with kiosks to provide useful information. The wide path heads west to near the freeway, then turns south. Cross under the freeway and walk about a half-mile to the Boardwalk, with planks installed by volunteer work parties from Del Mar Rotary and River Park. Across the river to the south is Crest Canyon, another fine nature exploration. A stone marker notes the path is “made possible in part through a donation of land by Mary Lou Jefferson in memory of her husband.”

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk ends at Jimmy Durante Blvd(the main road into theFairgrounds). An option is to walk up to the sidewalk, and left or south across the bridge. Cross the street at the signal, locate the continuing river path which goes right along the river. Shaded spot is there for lunch at picnic tables. The official path stops at the railroad track. Some might cross over, and walk right to the ocean at the leash-free beach area.

Another option is to enter the trail from the west end. Public parking is available at the Del Mar Public Works lot, after 4:30 p.m. and weekends.

For full information about the many ways to enjoy the San Dieguito River Park and the nearly 60-mile Coast-to-Crest Trail, visit the park website at

When Santa Ana Hits, the Shoreline Fits

Originally appeared in San Diego Magazine Online Outdoors Forum Sept-Oct 2005

When Santa Ana hits, head to the shore

© 2008 Tom Leech

When those hot desert winds in September and October arrive, it does get warm, and dry. You might be inclined to stay inside with the air conditioner on, but that (a) runs up the electrical bill and (b) means you’re missing some wonderful nature experiences.

Rather than trek around where it’s so hot, visit and stroll at some of our many coastal places. Here are a few, from south to north, to help you enjoy our outdoors world and stay in shape besides. Take the kids– they love those tidepools and shoreline rambles.

1. Down at the U.S. Mexican border is lightly-visited Border Field State Park. The road in has had major rework and now provides a smooth entry into the park, located right at the ocean and next to Las Playas de Tijuana and Plaza Monumental just across the fence (come by on a Sunday in summer around 4 p.m. and the sounds from the Plaza de Toros will tell you the bullfights are underway). It has picnic tables, restrooms, ample parking, many informational kiosks about the Tijuana Estuary and the border marking. Take a stroll along the ocean (not so good for swimming here) or along several pathways into the estuary. Open 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Take I-5 south to Hollister exit and follow signs. (Note: Major problems now with construction of the border fence).

2. Take in a couple of South Bay nature centers. On the other side of the marsh is the first-rate Tijuana Estuary Nature Center, with educational exhibits about the many birds that either make this home or pass through. Enjoy some easy strolls right from the Center or a bit east off 5th. Take in the hands-on exhibits and bay strolls at Chula Vista Nature Center. Exhibits, kids’ activities, simulated tide pool, shore birds, and informative trails out along the bay and marsh.

3. Enjoy lunch over the ocean at Imperial Beach Pier. Walk along the beach and out onto the pier for great views, a pleasant outdoors lunch with lively entertainment on Sunday afternoons.

4. Stroll on the Strand or in Coronado. Silver Strand State Beach is popular for swimming, camping, and beach strolling. Or cross under the highway to the bay and stroll north along the nature reserve. In Coronado, take a walk along the shore, from the Hotel Del north to the dog leash-free area right next to the naval facility. Or walk from the Hotel Del south along the boardwalk to another Naval facility, with guards just in case you missed the signs. Best views in town of Coronado Islands (yes, those really are islands). Take in the bridge and bay scenes from Tidelands Park (on San Diego Bay at the foot of the bridge). Take a scenic walk along the boardwalk from the park under the bridge to the south or northward up to the ferry landing.

5. Unwind with a stroll along Shelter Island. San Diego Bay offers many locales for pleasant strolls, such as the Embarcadero with the Star of India and now the replica ship from Master & Commander. A stroll out on Point Loma’s Shelter Island is hard to beat. Here you can see the full range of bay activities, Navy ships and facilities, pleasure boats, North Island airfield activities, the fishing pier, yacht clubs and James Hubbell’s art at the end.

6. Enjoy history and super views at the tip of Point Loma, where the old lighthouse and new visitors center overlook the bay, Mexico’s Coronado Islands, and Pacific Ocean. Here are the million dollar views and museums. On the walkway up to the old lighthouse stop off at the Military History Exhibit, showing the WW2 coastal defenses here. Hike down to the water on Bayside Trail or drive down to the tidepools on the ocean side.

7. Take a walk along Ocean Beach north of the pier, up to the well-known Dog Beach, or to the south over the rocks. And above all, literally, take a walk out onto the pier. Maybe have a coffee or lunch at the café half-way out. Hard to beat for letting the hectic life fade away.

8. Many possibilities for an enjoyable walk along Mission Bay. The option just west of I-5 is a popular one. Join hundreds of locals as they jog, skate, bike or walk along the bay past the Hilton Hotel or over onto Fiesta Island (pooches allowed).

9. To really feel those waves crashing on the rocks, stroll out, carefully, on the jetty at So. Mission. Join the bunch on Mission/Pacific Beach Boardwalk. Take a walk out onto Crystal Pier, taking care to not disturb the vacationers as this is a full- fledged hotel out above the surf. Watch the wild surfer dudes and dudettes at Tourmaline Canyon or walk north and spend some leisurely time at the tidepool (take nothing away).

10. Explore the sand or bluffs of La Jolla, slowly on the bluffs above Windansea; over the sand and rocks to Marine Street Beach, or along Coast Boulevard (more tide pools); check the sea lions at Children’s Beach; amble through Scripps’s Park (good Sunday afternoon concerts in summer) to the Cove, the caves and beyond to high above the water. Join the throngs walking on the beach or boardwalk at La Jolla Shores and under the Scripps Pier, perhaps exploring the setting from the world famous Institution of Oceanography.

11. Wander along the bluffs at Torrey Pines State Reserve. This park at the north end of La Jolla sits atop the cliffs overlooking the ocean (trail down to the shore now closed). Take your camera, as this offers a variety of scenery, from the rare pines, to sandstone cliffs, to Black’s Beach (ask any local), and perhaps some dolphin or whales (winter, not summer). On way home, stop by Torrey Pines Glider Port (turnoff from Salk Institute) for more fabulous views and aviation entertainment. For a less-visited, but equally scenic, stroll head across the lagoon to Torrey Pines Extension.

12. Visit a North County lagoon, such as Penasquitos (just east from Torrey Pines State Beach), San Elijo (north of Solana Beach), Bataquitos (south of Carlsbad), or Buena Vista (Oceanside at Visitor Center along 101, or park at east end).

13. Enjoy a stroll at any North County beach, with public access and parks at many locales, such as Fletcher Cove Park in Solana Beach or Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. Walk either way on the sand from Cardiff State Beach or above over to Encinitas Swami’s Beach beside the landmark Self-Realization Fellowship. Take a walk out on the Oceanside Pier for great views and perhaps a meal at Ruby’s ‘50s diner at the end.

14. Finally, drive past Camp Pendleton and visit San Onofre State Park and San Mateo campground and trail has had major threat from proposed toll road, rejected by California Coastal Commission.

Is that enough to expand your shoreline exploring? And, remember they’re just as good in November (great sunsets) or February (a walk with your valentine).