This hike offers views of breaking waves, tall, stratified cliffs, and shore birds such as the marbled godwit, whimbrel, and Heermann’s gull. Flying just above the waves you may see individuals or long lines of brown pelicans. There is also an occasional osprey. Ospreys are large hawks with slender wings, long legs, and white feathered heads. They have a brown stripe through the eye and feed almost exclusively on fish, diving no deeper than three feet, then flying with the fish facing the wind with two toes clasping the fish on either side. The winter months offer more migratory birds along the coast.
This hike is easiest if you start when the tide level is zero or less at Scripps Pier. If you do not mind more challenges hiking closer to the cliffs, it can be hiked starting at a low tide as high as two feet. Winter beach erosion can mean more walking on patches of large stones, broken rock, and some climbing onto and off of rock outcroppings. Starting with a low tide much higher than two feet is likely to result in wet feet or worse on your way north. If you start the hike at a negative tide, you may be able to return south along the beach. Also, a negative tide will allow more walking on firm, moist sand instead of rocks. The one-way change of elevation is close to zero. It’s a beach walk. A nice option is to hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and return to the beach on the “Beach Trail,” about 0.1 mile north of the visitor center. If you hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve on the return, the elevation gain is about 350 feet.
There is relatively little flora along the beach. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has several endangered plants. The reserve offers coastal plants in bloom in the spring and summer months. A warm day with a good onshore wind may produce colorful hang-gliders flying out of the Torrey Pines Glider Port. This walk does include Black’s Beach, a clothing-optional beach. Generally, there are none to only a few naked sunbathers. If that is a problem, hike on a cool, cloudy, winter day.
If you want to shorten the hike or need to escape rising tides, there are stairs, trails, or roads up from the beach that can be used as hike starting points. These are found at the following distances from the La Jolla Shores main lifeguard station: (1) Scripps stairs at 0.5 mile; (2) a road at 1.5 miles — the top of the road is gated at the intersection of Blackgold Road and La Jolla Farms Road; (3) stairs and a trail to Torrey Pines Glider Port parking lot at 2.2 miles; (4) stairs and the Torrey Pines Beach Trail at 4.2 miles. This trail leads to the parking lot near the visitor center. The Blackgold Road location has very limited parking. Torrey Pines Glider Port and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve have good parking.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 12 miles. Allow 20 minutes driving time. (La Jolla). From I-15N, take exit 26A onto La Jolla Parkway, then continue onto Torrey Pines Road. Turn right onto La Jolla Shores Drive, then left onto Calle Frescota and park in the lot. Parking may be a challenge, as this walk needs to start at low tide.
Hiking length: One way, beach to beach is 5 miles. The round-trip hike is around 11 miles. Except for the Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, the return hike is generally on park and city streets because of the rising tide. It takes a good negative tide to be able to return on the beach.
Difficulty: Moderate, with less than 50 feet elevation loss/gain if one way, to strenuous difficulty if hiked round-trip. Facilities in parking lots at both ends of the walk.