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La Jolla's Pottery Canyon: Steep climb or slow stroll?

This destination offers both a relaxing and a challenging hike.

The view toward La Jolla beaches from the top of the steep trail.
The view toward La Jolla beaches from the top of the steep trail.

Pottery Canyon is a historical site that was named after the La Jolla Clay Products Company. This small company developed because a potter from Mexico found raw clay in the area and took up residence here. Using a wood-fired kiln, they made handmade roof tiles and adobe brick. Their wares were used to restore Mission San Diego de Alcalá as well as for construction in many buildings in the La Jolla community.

Lemonade berry is the most common plant on the trail.

There are two short hike options at Pottery Canyon. There is a level trail underneath eucalyptus trees and a steep side canyon to an overlook with an ocean view. The shorter trail is really just a short stroll.

Proceed straight ahead and to the left side of the parking-lot entrance to access either of the two trails. Continue straight ahead under the tall eucalyptus trees for a short distance. Some low-hanging branches and fallen logs mark the recommended turnaround point. The short distance of this trail is more conducive to a relaxed amble. The primary native plant is lemonade berry, which produces a sticky berry with a tart citrus flavor. The pioneers would flavor their drinking water with the berry of this plant. This might be a place to enjoy after a rain, as there is a small intermittent riparian area adjacent to the trail. This is the perfect trail to introduce hiking to small children.

The second trail branches off of the main trail after a short distance. Look for some fallen logs and a concrete post on the right. Maneuver over and under the logs to begin on this trail, which becomes very steep in a short distance. The loose soil also adds to the challenge of this hike. The only advantage is the narrow trail, which may supply some help in using plants to hold onto during your ascent and descent.

The trail offers an opportunity to view native vegetation, such as chemise and buckwheat. These plants were used by Native Americans. The new growth of the chemise grows straight in order to provide less surface area to the sun and help conserve water. Due to its straightness, it was used to make the fore shaft of arrows for hunting. The seeds of the buckwheat were ground and used in times of famine as a filler food. There is an interesting open area on the right side of the trail with a beautiful geological feature. This area has sculpted iron-rich soil due to erosion. There is also a section of the trail that contains cobbles, rounded rocks. These cobbles are representative of other areas of the county. They once were a part of Mexico but were transported via a shift in the tectonic plates many millions of years ago. There is a view at the summit, where you can see La Jolla and the ocean from a distance.


  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 14 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. Take I-5 N and exit on La Jolla Parkway. Turn right on Torrey Pines Road. Turn right at the first stoplight where there is a sign for Pottery Canyon. The driveway will end adjacent to a neighborhood. There is a small parking lot of woodchips to the left. Note: The park is open from 8:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. daily.
  • Hiking length: 1/5 mile following a path under the trees or 1/4 mile to an overlook.
  • Difficulty: Easy following the path under the trees and strenuous to the overlook. Use caution on the extremely steep portion, as footing is poor. The elevation change is 10 feet on the level trail and 100 feet on the side canyon. No facilities.
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The view toward La Jolla beaches from the top of the steep trail.
The view toward La Jolla beaches from the top of the steep trail.

Pottery Canyon is a historical site that was named after the La Jolla Clay Products Company. This small company developed because a potter from Mexico found raw clay in the area and took up residence here. Using a wood-fired kiln, they made handmade roof tiles and adobe brick. Their wares were used to restore Mission San Diego de Alcalá as well as for construction in many buildings in the La Jolla community.

Lemonade berry is the most common plant on the trail.

There are two short hike options at Pottery Canyon. There is a level trail underneath eucalyptus trees and a steep side canyon to an overlook with an ocean view. The shorter trail is really just a short stroll.

Proceed straight ahead and to the left side of the parking-lot entrance to access either of the two trails. Continue straight ahead under the tall eucalyptus trees for a short distance. Some low-hanging branches and fallen logs mark the recommended turnaround point. The short distance of this trail is more conducive to a relaxed amble. The primary native plant is lemonade berry, which produces a sticky berry with a tart citrus flavor. The pioneers would flavor their drinking water with the berry of this plant. This might be a place to enjoy after a rain, as there is a small intermittent riparian area adjacent to the trail. This is the perfect trail to introduce hiking to small children.

The second trail branches off of the main trail after a short distance. Look for some fallen logs and a concrete post on the right. Maneuver over and under the logs to begin on this trail, which becomes very steep in a short distance. The loose soil also adds to the challenge of this hike. The only advantage is the narrow trail, which may supply some help in using plants to hold onto during your ascent and descent.

The trail offers an opportunity to view native vegetation, such as chemise and buckwheat. These plants were used by Native Americans. The new growth of the chemise grows straight in order to provide less surface area to the sun and help conserve water. Due to its straightness, it was used to make the fore shaft of arrows for hunting. The seeds of the buckwheat were ground and used in times of famine as a filler food. There is an interesting open area on the right side of the trail with a beautiful geological feature. This area has sculpted iron-rich soil due to erosion. There is also a section of the trail that contains cobbles, rounded rocks. These cobbles are representative of other areas of the county. They once were a part of Mexico but were transported via a shift in the tectonic plates many millions of years ago. There is a view at the summit, where you can see La Jolla and the ocean from a distance.


  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 14 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. Take I-5 N and exit on La Jolla Parkway. Turn right on Torrey Pines Road. Turn right at the first stoplight where there is a sign for Pottery Canyon. The driveway will end adjacent to a neighborhood. There is a small parking lot of woodchips to the left. Note: The park is open from 8:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m. daily.
  • Hiking length: 1/5 mile following a path under the trees or 1/4 mile to an overlook.
  • Difficulty: Easy following the path under the trees and strenuous to the overlook. Use caution on the extremely steep portion, as footing is poor. The elevation change is 10 feet on the level trail and 100 feet on the side canyon. No facilities.
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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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