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Los Peñasquitos Lagoon, one of San Diego County’s largest coastal wetlands, spreads far and wide in Sorrento Valley, between La Jolla and Torrey Pines. Nearly all of this marshy area belongs to Torrey Pines State Reserve, though it has its own title: Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Natural Preserve. The approach to the preserve is obscure and a bit awkward, but you’ll surely enjoy the easy and flat, three-mile hike you can take here — especially during this spring-green time of year.

If you are driving north from La Jolla on Interstate 5, the way to the trailhead is relatively simple. Take the Sorrento Valley exit, turn left on Roselle Street, go 0.3 mile north, and turn left on Dunhill Street. Dunhill soon becomes Flintkote Avenue. Just drive to the end of Flintkote and stop before the locked gate ahead. Carefully observe the no-parking signs posted along the last 150 yards or so short of the gate. Southbound travelers on I-5 or I-805 can take either the Carmel Mountain Road or the Sorrento Valley Road exits and then make their way over to the industrial area underneath the merge. Just remember that you need to go west of the railroad tracks to find Roselle Street.

Start walking past the locked gate on a paved driveway. After an uneventful but quick half a mile, you pass a private residence and spot a couple of interpretive plaques ahead, which detail some facts about the lagoon and the preserve. Press on, following a rougher, hard-surfaced road, which lasts another half mile. The scenery improves greatly on this stretch, as you begin to enjoy beautiful vistas of the spreading marshland on the right and the sheer sandstone bluffs on the left, which are pocked with small cavities (perhaps home to at least one great horned owl) and dotted with Torrey pines. You can amuse yourself with the impromptu antics of squirrels and cottontail rabbits, and with the help of binoculars, scout out the abundant bird life in the lagoon.

After the deteriorated road ends, a narrow footpath, semi-overgrown as of last month, continues through a zone of gorgeous, spring-green and blossoming coastal sage-scrub and chaparral vegetation. Both of these plant communities are in their mature phase, since there have been no wildfires here for many years. Amid the soft-looking shrubby vegetation, look for prickly-pear cactus and less frequent specimens of coast cholla cactus. Two potential hazards to be aware of this time of year are rattlesnakes and ticks.

After a few hundred yards on the primitive trail, you’ll likely reach an impasse, where the marshy bottomland presses against a steep hillside and it’s too muddy to continue. This is the spot to turn around and retrace your steps.

Los Penasquitos Lagoon
Del Mar’s Los Peñasquitos Lagoon Natural Preserve serves up good birding and plenty of blooming vegetation.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 15 miles
Hiking length: 3 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy


  • This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
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