Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

torrey pine sandstone cliffsOne of the things we have missed while in San Diego is hiking in the wilderness, without having to drive a great distance to do so.  We have not been able to get to  Mission Trails Regional Park yet so the next best thing was to head out to Torrey Pines State Reserve, about a 6 mile drive south for us.  We heard the hiking was nice and read that this is one of the wildest stretches of land remaining on the southern California coast so we were counting on some pretty spectacular views.

torrey pine tree
The not-so-rare-looking Torrey pine

This day use only park  is home to the nation’s rarest pine tree, the Torrey pine, named after the renown botanist Dr. John Torrey of New York, back in 1850.  Ironically Dr. Torrey never set foot in this part of the country but instead was bestowed this honor by a colleague of his, Dr. Charles Christopher Parry, who did travel here and took action in 1855 to protect this species of pine.  Where this rare pine once covered a large area, it now only grows here and on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara.

You can park down at the beach in the day use parking lot and walk up to the top (which would afford you the most exercise) or drive up and park where the network of trails begin.  There is a nice little visitor center and museum to peruse and interpretive nature walks are provided on the weekends.  To keep the park pristine, no food or drink except water and no pets or bikes are allowed on the trails.

Eight miles of trails criss-cross the park, some hugging the sandstone cliffs, offering stunning 360º views.

Sandstone cliffs with views of Del Mar and Cardiff

Other trails take you through chaparral, prickly pear cactus and Mohave yucca, just beginning to bloom.  You can catch a glimpse of the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course through this shrubbery.

Mohave yucca
Flowering Mohave yucca

The Beach Trail descends 300 feet to Torrey Pines beach and lagoon, an area vital to migrating birds, with views of Flat Rock.  South of this rock is San Diego’s “unofficial” nude beach, Black Beach.

Flat Rock at Torrey Pines beach
View of Flat Rock on Torrey Pines beach

The Torrey Pines Park Road was once part of the main highway running between Los Angeles and San Diego.  Originally a dirt road built in 1910, it was paved a few years later.  Even paved, its steep grade posed a problem for the vehicles of that era.  Because Model Ts used gravity to deliver gas to the engine that was set in front of the car, motorists had to climb the road in reverse!  This road is now used by those wanting to enjoy the views while working up a sweat.

With the sound of the pounding surf and the salty smell of the ocean tantalizing the senses, you can forget that you were here for some exercise.  If you are looking for a heart-pounding hike, this is probably not going to get you there but you definitely can’t beat the views!

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Sea Caves of La Jolla

We had been looking forward to seeing the La Jolla sea caves for some time. Unfortunately we learned that this could not be done without a guide present so I started the research to find a company that would allow us to take our Sea Eagle out on the tour.  After some phone calls I found one that would allow this and took out small groups only (just what I wanted to hear) but decided we would rent a double instead due to parking restrictions in La Jolla.  Didn’t want to be truckin’ the darn thing several blocks after inflating her on the street.  Nina and Paul were game to kayak as well as they had not seen the sea caves either.

Let me start by saying that the weather was pretty darn perfect.  A sunny, calm 80° day could not be better.  You see a ‘but’ coming here, don’t you?  We did have a good day, in large part due to the company (Nina and Paul), and that we were wintering in San Diego on a gorgeous day and on the water.  BUT I cannot recommend taking a kayak tour to the sea caves.  I will not mention any company names because I suspect they are all the same.  All four of us agreed that many times tours can be a disappointment, too commercial, too many people.

Kayaking La Jolla Shores
Looks like Paul is slackin' a bit.

We paddled out to the caves in a group, feeling more like we were playing a game of kayak bumper cars, dodging  left and right.  The small group we were expecting turned out to be more like 15-20 kayaks, what appeared to be the largest of the tour companies out there.  The rented kayaks did not have a keel so the steering could be a challenge.  Picture 15-20 kayaks, with mostly novice kayakers in them, bobbing out on the Pacific.  Now put a paddle in those kayakers’ hands and tell them to paddle a straight line out to the caves.  Guess what you get?  I don’t even have to tell you, do I?

Kayaking at the sea caves
Traffic jam at the sea caves

We all made it safely to the caves and proceeded to get into a long line behind other tour companies waiting to get in (only two kayaks allowed at a time  and only one cave available for viewing).  The four of us were among the last of our group to enter, behind our guide.  It doesn’t take much to paddle into the cave and as soon as we got into it our guide said “paddle backward once on your left and three times forward on your right”.  This positioned us heading  back out of the cave.  We foolishly thought we were going to go in further backwards to see something spectacular that we could not be seen going in forward.  What we heard next was “now paddle out”.  That was it!  If we had blinked we would have missed it.

Look ma, no paddles in the water!

When heading back to shore, we had the pleasure of having four common dolphins swim very close to our kayak. Unfortunately we were not able to grab any photos but this, along with the sea lions we saw on the rocks, probably were the highlights of our time on the water.

Sea lions at La Jolla sea caves
Sea lions sunning. Noisy little fellas they are.

We had decided on lunch after but none of us had planned to get wet (go figure) so didn’t have a change of clothes.  Not to worry as we sat outdoors at a little Vietnamese restaurant and dried out.  Great conversation and great soup rounded out the day.  We said our goodbyes with the hopes of a hike in our future.

Back at home, over a glass of wine, Terry and I had a good laugh as we went over our 30 seconds in the sea cave.  Not the best part of our day but a very good day overall and we would definitely go back out to La Jolla Shores for more kayaking, BUT in our Sea Eagle AND sans guide.

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