Why skipping the beach for hikes in San Diego is totally worth it

By Jennifer Kelly Geddes, Feb 2020

On your way to San Diego? Forget the beach; take a hike!

Hikes in San Diego should not be overlooked. The mountains near the city limits are some of the prettiest in the nation. In fact, the wide-ranging terrain is reason enough to take a hike: There are deserts, ocean bluffs, serene pine forests and classic mountain ranges to choose from.

So while you'll probably swim and sunbathe multiple times during your visit, add a few fun hikes in San Diego to your upcoming itinerary. We've put together four different options, so lace up your boots, pack a water bottle and some granola bars and get ready to hit the trail.

Beautiful landscape of the ocean coastline at Torrey Pines State Reserve, the many natural greens and browns of the shore contrast with the saturated blue sky and sea

Take in the stunning landscape and ocean coastline on a hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Just a half-hour outside of San Diego, Torrey Pines is a 2,000-acre nature preserve right on the ocean. The park strives to protect the Torrey pine (a rare tree species that grows in just one other place in California) and one of the state's last saltwater marshes. Miles of hiking trails will take you to spectacular headlands where you might spot a gray whale or a pod of dolphins in winter. The rest of the year, Torrey Pines is home to rabbits, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and (gulp!) rattlesnakes.

Cowles Mountain Trail

This hike is popular partly because the trail climbs the highest peak in San Diego. The Cowles Mountain Trail is part of Mission Trails Regional Park, which is an easy 30-minute drive from the city and offers 65 miles of rugged hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails. You'll get a good workout on the 3-mile trail, and the view at the top will be worth it. There are also shorter, easier hikes. Bring a hat and some sunscreen; the wide-open landscape offers little shade.

The beautiful Los Penasquitos Lagoon wetland at La Jolla, San Diego, California

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve offers many natural treasures, including a freshwater pond and marsh.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Located approximately 19 miles from downtown San Diego, this diverse ecosystem has 12 miles of trails on more than 3,700 acres, plus a museum that's housed in a historic adobe ranch house. Hiking the canyon takes you past quiet streams and creeks and gushing waterfalls surrounded by oaks, sycamores and eucalyptus trees. Keep your eyes peeled for egrets, blue herons and ducks in the freshwater pond and marsh. Los Peñasquitos, which means "little cliffs," is also the home to archeological evidence of indigenous peoples who lived in the area 6,000 years ago.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

A bit farther away (about 90 minutes) but no less spectacular is California's largest state park, home to stunning desert landscapes. Hiking paths here are dotted with gorgeous wildflowers, and the region is home to a wide variety of fauna as well, such as badgers, bobcats, squirrels and bighorn sheep, for which the park is partly named (borrego is Spanish for sheep). The main trail in this state park dips into a 450-foot canyon and then loops past one of the state's largest palm oases.

Hikes in San Diego highlight the vast and varied natural wonders on offer in the Golden State. Add one or two of these hiking adventures to your travel plans and enjoy the great outdoors on the West Coast.

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