Sunday, December 12, 2021

San Diego: Torrey Pines Hike and Coronado Via Bicycle

Torrey Pines State Beach, from the bluffs.

For my last full day in the San Diego area, I decided to visit Torrey Pines State Beach to hike along sea cliffs. I had reviewed the tide tables the previous day and determined it would be best to be there around midday as the beach can only be safely walked at low tide. I also wanted to fit in a bicycle ride and visit downtown. This compressed my schedule a little but I still couldn't resist taking in a leisurely full breakfast. What's the point in taking time off work if you can't enjoy it?

Torrey Pines was reasonably easy to access, although I was a little confused about where I should park. I ended up having to make a U-turn in front of the famous golf course by the same name which I remember my brother and I playing on a computer game back in the late 90s. Incredibly, it is a municipal golf course, but it looks like 18 holes is over $200 currently for a non-resident.

Actual Torrey pine trees.

After paying the $15 day use fee and parking, I starting hiking uphill with all the other hikers without carefully planning a route. Distances were not marked on the signage so I decided to wing it. The trail on the north end of the bluffs ascends along a road for a while before you encounter side trails that lead to spectacular views of the coast.

The view south along the foggy coastline.

Looks like Arizona by the ocean.

The weather was cliche California coast weather: overcast, windy, and slightly foggy. It was positively atmospheric and it felt like walking in a movie. I took several trails through the pines and past a peculiar mix of pine barrens, desert vegetation, and coastal plants. Some of the ravines leading down to the beach have eroded into hoodoos and clefts reminiscent of Arizona. I decided to skip the interpretive center and followed a trail down to the beach to make a loop back to my car. I first checked with a couple of "docents" to make sure I understood the tide correctly. They assured me I had a good two or three hour window in which to avoid the waves.

The steep trail down to the beach. You can find photos and video of this spot with waves crashing on the steps.

The trail down to the beach featured many knee-stressing steps and finally down a stairway. I've been using the word too much but it was spectacular! The sea cliffs tower over you with waves crashing ashore. There are rounded rocks mixed in with the beach sand and huge slabs at the base of the cliff, marking previous rockfalls. Signs warn to stay away from the base of the cliffs. You can feel the salt spray on your face and see the thin fog in the air.

The beach was wide here at low tide but you can see the narrow spot ahead. I assume that at low tide the waves wash all the way to the base of the cliffs, even in good weather.

I walked along the sand for a while and then decided to go shoeless and wade a little. All the foot traffic was going in the same direction, which I found interesting. I assume people like to do the loop in the same direction I was going. One might hope for less of a crowd but it was the first day of November and a weekday, and the weather was less than warm so I guess Torrey Pines must never be a lonely place.

I noticed a nervous-looking ranger drive past a couple of times in a small truck. I'm not sure if he was looking for some particular behavior or if he was just worried about people lingering too long for the turning of the tide. I think it would be a terrible place to get caught in the waves when they crash against the cliffs. Probably they have had to rescue people before, or worse yet, recover the bodies.

I had plenty of time to return to my car before the tide turned, though there was a short stretch of the beach where it is a relatively narrow strip between the waterline and the cliff, and I could see that a rogue wave or two could occasionally reach the rock even at low tide. It must be a fearsome place in winter.

I really enjoyed my visit to Torrey Pines and highly recommend the experience. It's beautiful! It would be best to visit at low tide so you can walk the beach below the cliffs.

I finished up my hike early enough to go back to the Airbnb and pickup my bike and get a snack. I drove down to Coronado, which didn't take long but was an unpleasant, hectic drive through downtown and over a ludicrously high bridge, high enough for giant cruise liners to pass beneath. I found parking quickly and easily in a public park next to the bridge and right on San Diego Bay. I noticed my back tire on the bike was flat. This was a bad sign. I pumped it back up and it seemed to be holding so I went ahead with the ride.

I guess this is San Diego Bay. The bridge pictured is tall enough for cruise ships to pass beneath.

There is a nice greenway along the waterway, but I followed signs for the beach and soon wandered into the downtown area. I had to ride some streets to get into the beach area and took a few photos. Along the beach there are some old houses with interesting nineteenth to early twentieth century stylings.

There are a few grand old buildings in Coronado.

The beach is wide on the outer side of the Coronado peninsula and you can see mountainous islands out in the Pacific. There are multiple military installations on Coronado, and Navy and Marine Corp personnel are all around, especially visible on motorcycles1. Coronado is the major west coast station for the famous US Navy SEALS, as well as other types of units. San Diego Bay has a huge naval base and there were many large warships in port.

Coronado Beach. I think that is possibly San Clemente Island behind the cruise ship, but I'm not certain. I had to zoom because there was a sign saying no bicycles on the beach and I didn't have a lock to leave it behind.

Warships under construction (behind the white wrappings).

I finally found my way back onto the greenway and headed back toward the car. Then I realized that there was another .8 mile or so that I had not ridden in the opposite direction so I continued all the way to the end, where there is a ferry that can be ridden over to downtown San Diego. My knees were sore from all the walking and riding over the past few days so I headed back to the car. When I unloaded back at the Airbnb, I could hear air escaping from the bike's back wheel. It was a split in the tire, so I got really lucky to finish my ride.

The harbor at Coronado. The place shouts "wealth!"

After three and half days in San Diego, I was very relaxed and pleased with my adventures in new places, but I was also ready to go home. The return drive seemed faster to me, but it was uninteresting and I was almost ecstatic to be home. I love a good road trip but the driving wears on me more the older I get.

There are many other things that I didn't do in San Diego, such as visit Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. Those are better for families and I doubt I would go to those places on a solo trip anyway. I also have a few ethical reservations about the confinement of wild animals for exhibit, but never say never. There are also many other hikes and mountain bike rides in the area, as well as many other places to paddle or rent boats. I think people who live in the area have an abundance of interesting things to do.

I'm really glad I took the time off work to visit the Pacific Ocean and San Diego. It was a great fall trip!

Back in Ocean Beach at the Bluewater Grill, the best meal I had the entire trip. Grilled mahi-mahi. I wish I'd gone there first!


1 In California, "lane splitting" is legal for motorcycles. On a multi-lane road, motorcycles may ride down the dashed white line in between full sized vehicles. Some drivers find this unnerving but it has been shown to be statistically safe (within reason). Unfortunately some motorcyclists do it at unreasonable speed, but mostly it doesn't cause issues.

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