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For beachcombing, tidepool exploration, and all-over suntanning, the coastal stretch north of La Jolla Shores can’t be beat. This coming winter’s extreme low tides (typically a tide of -1 foot or lower) are especially conducive to expeditious travel here, and they will occur during the afternoon hours of the day.

For the coming month of December, extreme low tides are predicted for the following occasions: December 3 at 1:42 p.m. (-1.1 feet); December 4 at 2:26 p.m. (-1.3 feet); December 5 at 3:07 p.m. (-1.4 feet); December 6 at 3:49 p.m. (-1.3 feet); December 7 at 4:30 p.m. (-1.0 foot); December 20 at 2:52 p.m. (-1.2 feet); December 21 at 3:29 p.m. (-1.4 feet); December 22 at 4:09 p.m. (-1.3 feet); and December 23 at 4:49 p.m. (-1.2 feet).

High tides, on the other hand, are to be avoided, especially during winter-storm periods, when the waves swamp almost every walkable space on this stretch of coast.

To get to the starting point of this walk from northbound Interstate 5 or westbound Highway 52, take La Jolla Parkway west toward La Jolla. La Jolla Parkway merges into Torrey Pines Road. Immediately after, turn right on La Jolla Shores Drive. Go five or six blocks north and turn left on narrow residential streets leading west to Kellogg Park, where a large parking lot lies in between two spacious grassy areas. You’ll begin walking on the adjacent La Jolla Shores Beach.

Walk north along the sand, passing under the cliff-hugging buildings of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The initial stretch of sand is gently shelving and extremely wide during low-tide episodes. On the wet sand nearest the waves you might catch shimmery reflections of Scripps Pier and looming Torrey Pines bluffs beyond.

You pass under Scripps Pier after about half a mile. Just ahead, the cliffs on the right get taller and pinch in toward the water. You’re on rocks now — wet and slippery near the waves and smooth and dry higher up. The rocky tidepool area exposed at extreme low tide is wiggling with plant and animal life. The sea vegetation tends to move to and fro with the waves at the water’s edge, while the sea creatures — including tiny fish, sea stars, shore and hermit crabs, and even octopuses — flit about at variable rates of speed. Please note that all species are protected here, and no collecting is allowed.

Near the end of the tidepools, notice the narrow finger, or “dike” (a geological term), of grayish volcanic rock stretching diagonally out to sea, toward the southwest. This is the only significant exposure of volcanic rock along San Diego County’s coastline. It dates from a pulse of magma that pushed its way up nearly to Earth’s surface some 11 million years ago, in the Miocene Epoch.

Right after the dike, the sandy beach resumes, flanked by tall cliffs on the right and the crashing surf on the left. You might want to slip off your shoes and enjoy the feel of the fine, clean sand underfoot. By that point, or not far ahead, you may notice that some beachgoers have doffed more than just shoes. You’re now on Torrey Pines City Beach, also known as Black’s Beach, San Diego’s ever-popular nude bathing and sunbathing spot. The warmer the weather, the more skin is exposed here.

About half a mile past the tidepools, you’ll see a paved road (closed to car traffic) going up through a small canyon and ending at La Jolla Farms Road on the bluffs above. This is a straightforward way to reach surface streets that can take you back to your starting point — but it is not the shortest way back, by any means. Turning back and retracing your steps is the shortest way.

Press on as far as you like before you turn back, but be aware of incoming higher tides that might block your return by way of the same route.

La Jolla Shores
Sand, surf, and sea creatures — La Jolla Shores and beyond has it all.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 11 miles
Hiking length: 3 or more miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

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