A clam with its siphon sticks out of the sand
8200 Camino del Oro, San Diego
If you have been avoiding the beach thinking it is overcrowded with tourists, it pays to remember that timing is everything. Keep an eye on the tide schedules, get up early on the weekend, and head down to La Jolla Shores for a surprisingly relaxing and fascinating hike to the tide pools. In order to find a parking space, it is best to get there well before 10:00 a.m. Since you will also want to arrive at or a little before low tide, check the tide charts before you go. High tide will cover the tide pools and cut the hike-able beach route by more than half.
There are tide pools both to the north and to the south of the park, so you can choose either direction or start at one end and work your way to the other. Walking about half a mile to the south, you will come to the end of a row of red-roofed buildings. If the tide is low enough, you can walk around the corner toward smooth, flat-topped black rock formations that host many small tide pools. Sea anemones, small crabs, and fish frequent these hiding places. If you are lucky, you might spot the occasional nudibranch (sea slug), a small but often spectacularly colored soft-bodied gastropod mollusk. Watch your footing, since the rocks can be slippery and the waves can surprise you when they shoot up between rock crevices.
If you choose to walk along the beach in the other direction, about half a mile to the north, just past Scripps Pier, you will come across another set of tide pools in a rocky area with some interesting rock formations in the Scripps Coastal Reserve area. Some of the rocks feature large swirl patterns hinting at ancient earthquake activity. The cliff side provides a cross-sectional view back into geologic time and it may be possible to spot a fossil or two embedded into the side of the cliff. As you explore the tide pools on this side, be aware that what looks like pieces of shells scattered among the rocks may actually be covering dozens of sea anemones. The sea anemones excrete a natural adhesive that allows bits of broken shells, sand, and small rocks to adhere to the little creatures. This debris offers the anemone some protection from the sun and wind as the sea exposes the creatures at low tide. Avoid stepping on the anemones; although they can move, they do so slowly and cannot quickly get out of the way of humans.
In addition to the sea creatures, many shore birds inhabit these beaches. You may find yourself within a few feet of long-billed curlews, marbled godwits, plovers, and killdeer as well as the ever-present seagulls. Brown pelicans can often be spotted soaring overhead or skimming the waters for a quick fish catch. Kelp and eelgrass often wash ashore on the beaches. The eelgrass actually grows flowers. Both aquatic plants provide nursery areas for fish.
You can continue your walk past the tide pools all the way up to Black’s Beach if you wish to cover a longer distance. You can walk about five miles from the south to the north if you catch the low tide. There is also a private residence at the base of the cliffs known as the “mushroom” guesthouse on Black’s Beach. The Pavilion, with the round top on a narrow column, was designed and built in 1968 by Dale Naegle for Sam Bell of Bell’s Potato Chips.
- Distance from downtown San Diego: 13 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. From I-5, take W. La Jolla Pkwy and turn right at La Jolla Shores Dr., just past where W. La Jolla Pkwy becomes Torrey Pines Rd. Turn left on Calle Frescota and park in the lot just past Camino Del Oro. An outdoor shower and facilities border the north side of the parking lot. There is also limited parking on the surrounding streets.
- Hiking length: 5 miles total at low tide with addition of Black’s Beach.
- Difficulty: Easy, over soft sand to waterline. Elevation just above sea level. If low tide, then north past Scripps Pier entails a careful scramble on slippery rocks. Dogs prohibited between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on the month. At all other hours, dogs must be leashed.