Hemmed in by crumbling cliffs on one side and crashing surf on the other, the gently curving strip of sand between La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines State Beach rates as the wildest stretch of coastline in San Diego County.
Here you can walk in a single direction for more than an hour and yet be removed from almost all sight and sound of the spreading metropolis that lies just behind the 300-foot-high bluffs.
The entire 5-mile walk from La Jolla Shores to Torrey Pines (or vice versa if you don't mind sun in your eyes) is the county's quintessential beach hike. Shorter versions are possible--I'll describe some ways to "bail out" later in this article.
For a good overview of this stretch of coastline (before or after your hike), make a point of visiting the self-guiding Biodiversity Trail, a part of University of California's Scripps Coastal Reserve. You'll find the entrance on La Jolla Farms Road, 0.1 mile west of La Jolla Shores Drive (two-hour, curbside parking is available across the street). The 2/3-mile trail circles the rim of an open mesa overlooking miles of coast both north and south.
So commanding is the view that gun emplacements were set up here during World War II to defend San Diego from enemy attack by sea. From a wooden box at the trail head, you can borrow a self-guiding booklet that has a lot to say about the reserve's diverse indigenous plants and animals.
As for the beach walk itself, be sure to consult tide tables before going. Low tides are best, intermediate tides are OK. Higher tides will make it difficult to get past a couple of cliffs without doing some serious wading or swimming.
During the next several days, we'll be having optimum conditions, that is negative tide heights during the early morning. If you're on the beach before 8 a.m. tomorrow through July 25, you'll take advantage of easy walking on a wide, nearly flat strip of wet sand most of the way. Early-morning starts in general have several advantages: parking isn't a hassle, the air is cool and fresh, sunrise colors paint the sky, and the beach is nearly deserted.
A good place to start is Kellogg Park (La Jolla Shores Beach), where free parking is available when you can get it. (If you're making this a one-way trip, leave a second car along North Torrey Pines Road, next to Torrey Pines State Beach, or in the adjacent Torrey Pines State Reserve--or have someone drop you off and later pick you up.)
Walk north under Scripps Pier and on past the rocky tide-pool area. Once beyond the last of the cobbles and wave-rounded boulders, you can slip off your shoes and enjoy the feel of the fine, clean sand underfoot.
About a half mile past the tide pools, you'll see a paved road (closed to car traffic) going up through a small canyon. This is a good, safe way to reach--or exit from--the beach. There's a limited amount of two-hour parking at the top along La Jolla Farms Road.
Now you begin the two-mile stretch of San Diego's once-official, but now unofficial nude beach. (If that bothers you, you have yet another good reason to come here very early in the morning when no one's around.) Good body-surfing waves and water temperatures currently running about 70 degrees are powerful inducements to jump in, with or sans bathing suit. However, rip currents can be a problem, and the area is not well-patrolled by lifeguards--so you swim at your own risk.
Ahead are two precipitous trails that ascend to the Glider Port on the blufftop. This is a favorite jumping-off spot for hang gliders and also for beach-goers who, ant-like, lug their beach gear down the zigzagging paths. The southern of the two trails, now being improved and widened, is by far the safer of the two. There's plenty of free parking at the top if you want to start or end your walk here.
About five miles from Kellogg Park, you reach Flat Rock, where a protruding sandstone wall blocks easy passage. Follow the narrow path cut into the wall. From a low shelf on the far side, Beach Trail begins its ascent to Torrey Pines State Reserve's visitor center. Our way, though, descends to the beach and goes for another mile on a narrow strip of sand beneath some of the tallest and steepest cliffs in Southern California.
In the end, the beach widens, the cliffs fall back, and you arrive at Torrey Pines State Reserve's main entrance along North Torrey Pines Road.