Crest Canyon, an open-space park within the city limits of San Diego, helps separate the woodsy City of Del Mar from the bustling sprawl of inland Del Mar and Carmel Valley to the east. The canyon, rather like a shallow bowl with an upturned lip on three sides, slopes down from Del Mar Heights Road on the south to San Dieguito Lagoon on the north. Native plants of the coastal-sage and chaparral variety carpet the canyon’s floor and adjacent slopes, the result of efforts at restoring this formerly eroded canyon to a state resembling its original natural state. Young Torrey pines have been planted here over the years, and these relatively youthful saplings join the handful of century-old pines that thrive higher up on the slopes.
To reach the lower (northern) end of Crest Canyon, follow Jimmy Durante Boulevard to the intersection of San Dieguito Drive, just south of the bridge over the San Dieguito River and opposite the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Drive southeast on San Dieguito Drive and its continuation, Racetrack View Drive, for 0.7 mile to the trailhead on the right. Abundant curbside parking space is available in the immediate area.
Start off from the trailhead on a wide path that gently curves up the canyon’s broad, sandy floor. Check out the creamy blossoms of the native buckwheat plants and the now-drying stems and aromatic, needle-like leaves of the California sagebrush shrubs.
About two-thirds of the way up the canyon (0.7 mile), the main path swings left and abruptly climbs via sturdy new steps and stairs to a secondary trailhead at the north end of Durango Drive. This little climb is worth it for the panoramic view of the entire canyon.
When it is time to return, go back down the stairs to the canyon bottom, and turn right on a narrow path paralleling the main path. That route takes you closer to the canyon’s east slope and passes near some Torrey pines, which (you’ll discover if you look close-up) exhibit long green needles in bundles of five.
On the drive back out along San Dieguito Drive, stop by the new San Dieguito Lagoon Overlook, on the right. There’s a small space for parking, plus a restored section of an old bridge overlooking an arm of the lagoon. Exhibits detail the human history and natural history of the area. Another interesting diversion is the just-opened San Diego Lagoon interpretive boardwalk, which is a part of the in-progress Coast to Crest Trail. That trail will eventually stretch 55 miles into the mountains near Julian. The 1200-foot boardwalk starts just north of the Jimmy Durante Boulevard bridge over the San Dieguito River, and continues east.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 20 miles
Hiking length: 1.5 miles round trip