– Tips for exploring San Diego’s Special Outdoors World
– Waterfalls in San Diego? Si

Here meet some of the key places to explore in our hugely-diverse and enjoyable San Diego outdoors turf. This is a general introduction, with specific regions described in the other sections. You can also find 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.

Tips for Visitors (and locals) to San Diego’s Incredible Outdoors World

Originally appeared in San Diego Magazine Online Outdoors Forum June 1999

As many visitors want to spend some of their time here enjoying our natural world and climate (whether July or January),  here are some specific places and activities our visitors can enjoy. And, as I frequently talk about the outdoors with local residents, many admit they haven’t been heading out as often as they would like. So whether visitor or resident, Get Out and Go San Diego. But first, the Forum Quiz. Which local mountain road is a National Scenic Byway? Answer follows.

The San Diego area offers a wealth of activities for outdoors enjoyment. Because of space, descriptions are Spartan, and you’ll need a map to locate places. Many of these and more are described in our other sections, with park websites located under SD Outdoors Organizations. And, of course,  in full via your personal copy of Outdoors San Diego.

1. The beaches. Here you’ll find almost all beaches are public, a major difference from many East Coast areas I’ve visited. Take your pick of a host of beaches all the way from the border at Imperial Beach to the north side of Camp Pendleton. Choose your action — swim, surf, poke around in a tide pool, jog, stroll, pedal, watch the sunset, have a beach party, live…
2. San Diego Bay. If you fly in, you’re right there, beside the bay. Along with a few aircraft carriers, subs and sailboats. Choice areas for strolling are (a) Shelter Island on Point Loma; (b) Harbor Island, near the airport and (c) the Embarcadero, from the Star of India to Seaport Village and the two parks jutting into the bay.
3. South Bay and the Tijuana River. Several exploration and educational opportunities await along the coast toward the Mexican border. Just off I-5 and right on San Diego Bay is the Chula Vista Nature Center, with exhibits, simulated tide pool, shore birds, and trails out along the marsh land. At the San Diego Tijuana Estuary Visitors Center, learn about the maritime environment and stroll the trails with binoculars in hand. At Border Field State Park you’re in the shadow of the Tijuana Plaza de Toros and right at the beach. Caution: check the signs as water here is often contaminated due to river runoff.
4. Cabrillo National Monument. At the tip of Point Loma, the old lighthouse and new visitors center overlook the bay, Mexico’s Coronado Islands, and on a really clear day, perhaps Tahiti. This is the million dollar view, plus you can stroll down the trails on either side to the shore.
5. Mission Bay. This is the smaller bay surrounded by I-5, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. (a) Take a walk along the north shore right next to the sand from the Catamaran Hotel east to Ingraham Street. (B) Join hundreds of locals as they jog, skate, bike or walk along the bay near I-5 and the Hilton Hotel or across on Fiesta Island. (c) To closely experience those waves crashing on the rocks, stroll out, carefully, on the Mission Beach jetty.
6. Kate Sessions Park, Pacific Beach. Up Lamont Street and overlooking Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean is this pleasant spot for a picnic and strolls around the park or adjacent canyons.
7. Torrey Pines State Reserve. Between La Jolla and Del Mar this park sits atop the cliffs overlooking the ocean (or right at it on a trail down to the shore). Take a picnic, your walking shoes, and definitely your camera, as this offers a variety of scenery, from the rare pines, to sandstone cliffs to Black’s Beach (ask any local), if your eyes are really good.
8. Balboa Park. Moving inland a short distance, this is the cultural and fun center of the city. Sunday afternoons are always entertaining, without spending a nickel should you choose to amble here and there. You’ll find the occasional street entertainer providing pleasant diversions (and do spend more than a nickel in tips). Oh, yes, there’s a zoo here.
9. Presidio Park. If you go to Old Town State Park, and most people do (best way is via the Trolley), and want to walk off the enchiladas, stroll up to where the prominent white mission-looking building – actually a historical museum — looks out onto I-8. Or skip Old Town and drive directly to the park. Up here you’ll find plenty of foliage along several paths with more views from the memorial to the Mormon Battalion. This is a popular area for a wedding or maybe just a picnic.
10. Mission Trails Regional Park. This is one of the largest urban parks in the country, easily accessible from Highway 52, with a variety of outdoors options. You might start with the Visitors Center — though you might miss it as it blends so well into the environment — where you can learn about the area from exhibits inside and out. A fun spot for children especially is a short distance away ato the remnants of the old dam. Lots of shade here and trails heading in several directions. For a real workout, hike up hike Fortuna or Cowles Mountains.
11. San Dieguito River Park. This park-in-progress eventually will extend from the ocean at the race track 55 miles eastward along the waterways to the mountains. Easily accessible in the Rancho Bernardo-Escondido area are: (a) on the south shore of Lake Hodges in RB is the Piedras Pintadas Trail, with many educational markers about Native Americans and the natural features of the area;  (b) on the north shore, trails lead from I-15 all the way west trough Del Dios to the dam, or up to Bernardo Mountain with great views.
12. Palomar Mountain. Head out through Escondido and Valley Center and up to the home of the famed telescope. That itself draws many visitors, and the campgrounds, picnic areas and trails draw many more. Some popular options: (a) Hike the Observatory Trail along the ridge down to two campgrounds. (b) Drive over to the state park (fee charged) on to Doane Pond. Lovely setting near the campground for fishing, picnicking or trekking in several directions out among the pines, oaks and cedars.
13. The Cuyamacas. An hour east of the urban area out along I-8 and north on Highway 79 is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Start with the visitors center for a map, flower pamphlets and advice. Dozens of trails provide hours of hiking through meadows and forests. Two popular candidates: (a) Stonewall Mountain, the #1 peak hike in the mountains. (b) Azalea Trail, which starts across the road from Stonewall at Paso Picacho Campground and loops up and back through mostly wooded areas. For a picnic or hike across to an island, continue north to Lake Cuyamaca.
14. The Lagunas. Also east on I-8 is the Sunrise National Scenic Byway (the opening quiz answer) which winds through the Laguna Mountain National Recreational Area. Stop off at the Visitors Center next to the store for information or a short hike along the marked trail behind the center. Make it a picnic at the Desert View Picnic area and stroll along the Pacific Crest Trail (another thousand miles north and you’ll be in Canada).
15. Your favorite selection goes here. ___________________________

“Waterfalls in San Diego? Si!”

Originally appeared in San Diego Magazine Online Outdoors Forum JMay 2005
© 2008, Tom Leech

Here are some options awaiting your arrival:
– Mission Trails Regional Park. The Old Mission Dam is always a fun place for exploring, and kids have a ball there. This is at the San Diego River off Mission Gorge Road. Another is to walk down from the Visitors Center to the river at the crossing over to Suycott Wash. (A stopover at the Visitors Center is always enjoyable, and educational.) And in the spring a remarkable stroll and falls is to head up the Oak Canyon Trail, just west of the dam.
– Los Penasquitos Canyon County Park. Get on your boots, bicycle, or hoss and take the trails in from either I-5 or I-15. About three miles in gets you to the falls. There are a couple shorter routes in as well.
– Cuyamaca State Park. Green Valley Falls. About a one hour drive east on I-8 to Highway 78 north takes you up to this gem of a park. The first major attraction is at this campground, which is closed for camping but open for day use. Signs clearly mark the short trail out to the falls, a year-round and popular spot.
– Kitchen Creek Falls. You can get at this from below or above, and either is a good hiking workout to the county’s most spectacular falls. For specifics see the article noted above.