Coast Boulevard at Coast Walk Trail, La Jolla
Enjoy a casual walk along one of the most picturesque parts of the San Diego coastline. This area is often featured in artwork and photography exhibits by artists of San Diego. It is also often used for outdoor weddings and is a favorite destination of tourists visiting La Jolla. It can best be enjoyed in the early morning hours before crowds arrive, especially in the summer.
Begin the walk at Seal Rock, next to the historic wall commissioned by Ellen Browning Scripps to create a cove that was safe for children to swim in. The beach in front of the wall is a favorite location for harbor seals to lounge in the sun, and from December to March to give birth to their pups. Just over the fence, next to the sidewalk, there is also a colony of California ground squirrels begging for handouts and chewing on the ice plant from South Africa for moisture. Ground squirrels are the most common member of the squirrel family found in San Diego County. The Spermophilus ssp. have strong front paws and teeth that never stop growing. Forging on tough plant matter is needed to wear the teeth down to keep healthy.
Proceeding on the sidewalk going north, there are high-rise condos inland and sandstone cliffs along the coast with some small, secluded beaches. An amazing sight to see near the water is California brown pelicans gliding overhead in formation, riding the updrafts from the cliffs or from the condos.
Eventually, the sidewalk winds past Ellen Scripps Park, which has a variety of tree life from around the world, including several mature Mexican fan palms, large Monterey pines, Australian tea trees, New Zealand Christmas trees, and a very large dragon tree from the Canary Islands. In addition to building a wall for the Children’s Pool and bequeathing a park to the city, Ellen Scripps’s philanthropy is also recognized by the many institutions she supported in La Jolla and San Diego, including the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps Hospital.
Just north of the park is the beach at La Jolla Cove, which has been a popular recreational spot since the late 1800s and offers some of the best snorkeling in San Diego. Below the water is the San Diego–La Jolla Underwater Park, which encompasses 6000 acres, four habitats, and includes the Ecological Reserve and Marine Life Refuge.
Continuing along the sidewalk past the cove beach, head upward and notice the very mature Joshua yucca tree at the base of the hill. When leaving the cove, there is the area of sandstone ledges frequented by several California sea lions with the accompanying pungent odor. There is a gate along the fence to go down for a closer look, but use caution because the sandstone is slippery when wet, and sea lions will bite if you get too close.
Further up the hill, there is a spectacular view of one the seven caves of La Jolla. There are also sea lions in this area, along with pelicans and Brandt cormorants resting on the sides of the cliff. Keep walking up and veer to the left into the grove of Torrey pine trees near the Cave Store. For a small fee, you can enter the Sunny Jim Cave from inside the Cave Store. This is where the sidewalk ends and the dirt trail along the bluff begins. There is also a short side trail at the beginning with wooden steps going down to an observation deck. It is worth the stop for the views of the La Jolla cliffs. Usually a colony of cormorants is perched on the vertical cliffs, looking like a scene from a wildlife documentary of some distant land. Looking down when the ocean is calm, you will see the occasional bright orange flash of color from the California state fish called the Garibaldi.
The bluff trail winds along the top of the cliffs above the caves through mostly native vegetation of coastal sage scrub variety. There are benches along the trail to rest and enjoy the wonderful views and solitude. The trail ends shortly at a small obscure public parking lot for two cars. Retrace your steps back to your vehicle.
Distance from Downtown San Diego: 15 miles. Allow 25 minutes driving time (La Jolla). From I-5, exit on La Jolla Parkway, continuing on Torrey Pines Rd. as it heads west until Prospect St., turning northwest then veering down and right to the signed 1300 block Cave St./Coast Blvd. Park near Jenner St. to reach the starting point at Seal Rock or “Children’s Pool.” Plan to be there early to park close by, especially on weekends.
Hiking length: 2 miles out-and-back.
Difficulty: Easy. Most of the walk from Seal Rock to La Jolla Cove is on a wide level sidewalk. There is a gradual rise of 40 feet from the cove to the Cave Store, where the section of the bluff trail begins. The bluff trail is a well-traveled 200-yard-long dirt trail winding along the cliffs above La Jolla. Restrooms available at the beach near the cove. Bring binoculars for birdwatching.