5115 Soledad Road, Pacific Beach
Named after a renowned San Diego horticulturist and landscape architect, this 139-acre park is located on a hilltop between the communities of La Jolla and Pacific Beach. The high perch leads to some spectacular views. On a clear day, one can see all the way to the hills of Mexico, and even with the marine layer coming in, Mission Bay and Fiesta Island can usually be seen. The manicured portion of the park contains a playground, a large grassy area for picnicking, frisbee, or soccer, and barbecue pits for cookouts. These features (plus a bathroom and water fountain) are what make this park such an establishment in the surrounding neighborhoods, not to mention the workout one gets if bicycling up the hill to get there!
Nevertheless, there is a whole other side to Kate O. Sessions Memorial Park. Outside of the 79-acre portion most people are familiar with, there are 60 additional acres of land preserved in a more natural state. This area contains a mile-long loop through the sage scrub, with many offshoots created by both hikers and wildlife. The trail can be quite narrow at times as it is not officially maintained, affording close-up looks at the native plants and animals. Ground squirrels, rabbits, rattlesnakes, and a wide variety of birds and insects make good use of this “island” of preserved habitat. When hiking through, it is easy to see how important urban parks can be for wildlife in an otherwise urban/suburban area.
In many ways, this park is a perfect reflection of its namesake, Kate Sessions. Ms. Sessions was an avid horticulturist, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park” for importing and planting many of the exotic trees found there. She often started these trees in her gardens from seeds she collected all around the world. Many of the ornamental trees in the landscaped half of Kate O. Sessions Memorial Park are the same species she imported: Peruvian pepper trees, ornamental pines, and eucalyptus are some of the prominent ones. However, Ms. Sessions was also one of the first proponents of California native plants. She collected, grew, and introduced some of our loveliest natives into the horticulture trade, and now they can be found in gardens all over America.
Kate O. Sessions Memorial Park is a great example of a well-planned urban park. It has all the amenities for a great picnic spot as well as preserved natural space to explore.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 10 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. From I-5, exit west on Garnet Ave. then turn right (north) onto Lamont St. Shortly after Lamont becomes Soledad Rd., turn right on Park Dr. into the parking lot. Restrooms and water fountains are available.
Hiking length: 1-mile loop.
Difficulty: Easy hike that starts near the playground; 50-foot change in elevation with some steep areas where traction may be needed. Trail is narrow at times.