Friday, June 7, 2013

Torrey Pines State Park and Beach - San Diego, CA

We go to Southern California quite a bit to visit Prita's parents.  Usually we fly in to one of the LA-area airports, but this time, fares were ridiculously cheap from DFW to San Diego, so we decided to fly there instead and drive in the rest of the way.  On the way back, our flight wasn't until after 4, so we decided to stop at Torrey Pines State Park and Beach for a quick hike before heading back to the airport.  Unfortunately, due to user error, I lost all my photos, so you'll have to make do with a description.

Those of you who golf will undoubtedly recognize "Torrey Pines" for the world famous golf course of the same name (it is actually a couple of miles down the road from the park).  Torrey Pines State Park is named for the odd looking pine tree, the torrey pine, that inhabits this small stretch of cliffs north of San Diego.  The torrey pine is found in only two places on the planet - here, and on Santa Rosa Island, in the Channel Islands to the northwest.  Scientists don't know why that's the case.  The park was initially intended to be a suburban real estate development, but the Scripps family purchased the land, and then deeded it to the city of San Diego (later transferred to the state of California) for use as a preserve.

What to Do

There are really two things to do in Torrey Pines State Park - hike, and go to the beach.  We didn't have time to see the beach, and the foggy weather at the time made it kind of a crappy beach day anyway, so we just did some hiking.  There are two main trails within the park, one that leads up to the visitor center (you can also drive to the visitor center if you prefer), and another that goes down from the visitor center to the beach.  The trail to the visitor center is easy enough; through steep, it's paved, and about a mile and a half from the park entrance at the beach to the top of the cliffs.  The trail down to the beach looked a bit strenuous; it's a good drop down to the beach, right through the cliffs.

At the visitor center is a small interpretive display and a couple of vista points to view both the beach and the surrounding suburban landscape.  Inside the visitor center is a stuffed cougar that I found rather amusing - it had a caption that read "please don't touch me, I bite!".  Guess he must have been friends with my brother's cat, Xena.

How To Get There, How Much Time Do I Need, How Much Does it Cost?

Torrey Pines State Park and Beach is located about 15 miles north of San Diego, and 5 miles north of La Jolla, on the appropriate named Torrey Pines Road (old Highway 101).  It can be reached easily from I-5 Exit 29 or 33.  If you drive up to the visitor center, you can see it and be out of the park in 30 minutes, but I recommend 2-3 hours for the best experience.

There is a fee of $12 to bring a vehicle inside the park, or you can come in by foot for free.  If you don't mind the uphill walk to the visitor center, or just want to visit the beach, there is free parking on both sides of Torrey Pines Road just north of the park entrance.

Best Time to Visit

San Diego is well known for having terrific weather year-round, so pretty much any time is a good time.  The park, like many areas of coastal California, is subject to low clouds and fog courtesy of the marine layer (indeed, it was foggy on the day of our visit).  The clouds yield pleasant temperatures in the 60s and 70s.  Although I nuked all my pictures of the park, I did snap this on the flight out of San Diego, which shows the marine layer rolling in:

Beware, though - if you are used to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, prepare yourself for a shock when you step in the Pacific Ocean.  It's cold, even in the summer.

Serving Suggestions

- If you're coming to or from LA, ditch the freeway and come down the Pacific Coast Highway instead (Highway 1 down to Dana Point, and Old Highway 101 from there to San Diego).  You can follow it most of the way down, except for a short stretch through Camp Pendleton. 
- Spend some time strolling the streets and people watching in ritzy La Jolla.
- If you're fortunate enough to secure a tee time, play a round of golf at the Torrey Pines Golf Course.

The Verdict

It's nice enough, but not really worth paying $12 to see - especially since there are plenty of places to hike and see the beach in SoCal for free.  Go, but snag a free parking spot on the road and hike in instead.

One Last Thing

I know I nuked my pictures of the park, but I did get some nice photos of the sunset from the hills behind my in-laws' house in Loma Linda on the same trip, which I'll leave you with as I sign off for the night.

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