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Exploring La Jolla on Foot

Ranch & Coast Travel Editor and longtime resident of The Jewel Elizabeth Hansen reveals local paths and hidden gems that lead to scenic views

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There’s more to La Jolla than meets the eye. Visitors with limited time flock to the coast, admire the beach, and move on. But those of us who live in the area have the luxury of time to explore farther afield. For example, La Jolla Shores Beach is a favorite place to walk by the water, and many locals extend the stroll by continuing north onto the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus. The first time I did this, I was surprised to discover dates noting completion of its buildings.

Just past Caroline’s Seaside Café, I learned that the Old Scripps Building was completed in 1910 and is the oldest oceanographic research building in the United States. It is the work of architect Irving Gill, who also designed the La Jolla Woman’s Club, buildings on The Bishop’s School campus, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Further up SIO’s Biological Grade, the charming 1916 Martin Johnson House is juxtaposed with state-of-the-art research facilities.   

La Jolla is blessed with miles of beautiful beaches
La Jolla is blessed with miles of beautiful beaches

Windansea

While La Jolla Shores is perfect for strolling, Windansea Beach is best viewed from an adjacent walkway. I like to start at the south end, on the corner of Palomar Street and Neptune Place, where I can’t resist gazing at the sea, surfers, and sandy nooks created by boulders. Heading north, there’s a concrete structure that was featured in Tom Wolfe’s The Pumphouse Gang. Further on, the iconic palm-covered surf shack was first constructed in 1946 and has been a designated Historical Landmark since 1998. It remains a hallowed spot for local surfers. 

The Windansea surf shack was first built by returned soldier surfers in 1946
The Windansea surf shack was first built by returned soldier surfers in 1946

The route turns away from the water onto Fern Glen and Monte Vista Avenue in the Barber Tract. This picturesque neighborhood is home to many older, architecturally significant houses ranging from a tiny English cottage to the former estate of actor Cliff Robertson and Mitt Romney’s former beachfront abode on Dunemere Drive. Beautiful Darlington House, at 7441 Olivitas Avenue, was built in 1925, belongs to the Social Service League, and is available for weddings and other events. darlingtonhouse.org

Darlington House is a favorite spot for weddings and other special events
Darlington House is a favorite spot for weddings and other special events

Shortly after passing Darlington House, I like to turn left onto Coast Boulevard and enjoy glorious ocean and beach views all the way up past the Children’s Pool (seals!) and La Jolla Cove (snorkeling, scuba, more seals, and sea lions). The pretty little green belvederes along the way are great spots to sit and drink it all in. At the north end of Scripps Park, yoga classes take place in the historic Bridge Club building and, if the surf’s up, body surfers can be seen nearby at Boomer Beach. Altogether, it’s about two miles from the south end of Windansea to The Cove. lajollacovebridgeclub.org

Coast Walk Trail

Beyond The Cove, Coast Walk Trail is short and very sweet. It starts behind The Cave Store, parallels the coast, and provides a lofty view of La Jolla Shores, UC San Diego, and beyond. In addition to the spectacular vista, it’s a great spot for observing the gulls, pelicans, and cormorants that nest along the sandstone cliff. 

Since the 1860s, a path here has been the only way to walk along the bluff high above the water. The trail, with its railings and bridges, was built in 1932 and has long been a beloved La Jolla landmark. Members of the Trail Squad, a Bishop’s School service club, perform monthly cleanups. More than one local Eagle Scout has done service projects here. La Jolla’s five Rotary clubs recently raised funds for repairs. The path is subject to erosion, but under the care of Friends of Coast Walk, it remains a viable walkway. Nearby Goldfish Point Café is a great spot for light fare with an ocean view. friendsofcoastwalk.org

Coast Walk Trail is a sandy path along a high bluff with an ocean vista
Coast Walk Trail is a sandy path along a high bluff with an ocean vista

Pottery Canyon

Another short walk with very different scenery is accessed from Torrey Pines Road just north of La Jolla Parkway. Pottery Park Driveway leads up to a secluded eucalyptus grove with a quarter-mile trail that’s perfect for kids with energy to burn and anyone looking for a woodsy picnic spot. 

The property once belonged to the Rodriguez family, who operated the La Jolla Canyon Clay Products Company on the site. In 1976, Pottery Canyon Park was designated a historical site by the City of San Diego. Mary, Star by the Sea Catholic Church and the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club are among the buildings where the Rodriguez tiles can be found. 

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Probably the best known hiking spot in the area, the 1,750-acre park is home to its namesake rare species of pine tree and is a sanctuary for many other native plants. Some of the most popular trails (all under a mile) include the Guy Fleming Trail, the Parry Grove Trail, and the Razor Point Trail. Having said that, my favorite route is the Beach Trail. It starts in the upper part of the reserve and descends about 300 feet to the beach, offering spectacular ocean views along the way. In spite of the entry fee, the park still gets crowded, especially on weekends. torreypine.org

Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve offers hiking trails with ocean veiws
Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve offers hiking trails with ocean veiws

More La Jolla Walks

Scripps Coastal Reserve is a 46-acre knoll at 9400 La Jolla Farms Road that belongs to UCSD. The flat area, 400 feet above Black’s Beach, offers an easy walk, wildflowers, and great ocean views. The reserve is temporarily closed due to COVID, but when it opens, you’ll see that the half-mile Biodiversity Trail loop includes info on the area’s natural history, including plant and animal life and geology. There is no beach access from the reserve, but just to the north, a paved trail leads down to Black’s Beach. Hang gliders from nearby Torrey Pines Gliderport often float overhead.

I’d venture that few visitors with limited time are able to visit the Scripps Coastal Reserve, and I also doubt that they are able to enjoy the self-guided walking tours of the Stuart Collection on the UCSD campus. Here, more than 20 outdoor sculptures by leading artists are integrated into the landscape of the 1,200-acre university. For now, touring is virtual, but when the time comes for in-person tours, we’ll be glad we live close by. stuartcollection.ucsd.edu

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