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Great places to explore San Diego on foot

Solvitur ambulando. “It is solved by walking.”

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I’m not sure my challenges are solved by walking, but I do know that after a good walk I almost always view them with a fresh, more positive attitude. This is especially true when the path has led me through an unknown area or a place I haven’t recently visited. 

Even though I’ve lived in San Diego most of my life, I felt this way when I walked from the Star of India to the Convention Center recently. Portside Pier, right next to the historic ship, was the first place that grabbed my attention. This handsome dining complex sits on the spot occupied by Anthony’s Fish Grotto for 52 years. Portside opened last year, but I’ve
been — well, you know — staying home, so it came as a surprise. Portside includes Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar, Miguel’s Cocina, and Ketch Grill & Taps. 

As I continued south along the Embarcadero, my head swiveled back and forth from the beautiful waterfront to the shiny new high-rise buildings that have sprung up downtown. I was happy to see that the Pier Café, my longtime favorite, is still occupying its unique over-water location. On the steps to the Convention Center, a bride was posing for photos and, just beyond, I could see The Shell, San Diego Symphony’s new permanent outdoor venue on the bay. It’s due to open in late summer or fall depending (like so much of our lives) on county and state safety guidelines. From The Shell it was about two miles back to the Star of India.

More Great San Diego Strolls

My all-time favorite waterfront walk is at the Cabrillo National Monument at the end of Point Loma. Here, the Bayside Trail follows an old military road carved into the sandstone cliff high above the water and about 300 feet below a statue of the first European to step foot on the west coast of North America. Walkers have a phenomenal view of Naval Air Station North Island, the Silver Strand, and mountains to the south in Mexico and to the east beyond San Diego. All sizes and sorts of watercraft move back and forth from the bay to the ocean in a graceful procession. 

The Bayside Trail is about 2.5 miles roundtrip, gradually downhill and then back up. There are no restrooms and, especially in summer, it’s important to bring water. Bikes are not allowed and admission is charged to enter the park.

From the Bayside Trail at the Cabrillo National Monument, walkers can see Ballast Point, where Cabrillo landed in 1542.
From the Bayside Trail at the Cabrillo National Monument, walkers can see Ballast Point, where Cabrillo landed in 1542.

From the Cabrillo Monument it’s easy to spot Shelter Island in the distance on the city side of Point Loma. The manmade peninsula is home to low-rise resorts and parkland overlooking a big view of North Island and Downtown San Diego. The area is popular for picnicking and fishing (permits aren’t required), and it’s also a pleasant place to walk. The “island” is just over a mile long and a few hundred feet wide. Look for the Yokohama Friendship Bell at the far end.

Mission Trails Regional Park

Twelve miles northeast of downtown and sprawling over 8,000 acres, Mission Trails is home to nearly 65 miles of hiking options that range from easy to very challenging. My favorite is the six-mile walk around Lake Murray, which is flat and provides a sweet view of kayakers and other quiet watercraft. This is also a good walk for birders. On our last visit, my husband spotted a magnificent osprey sitting atop a tree near his large nest. The lake is also home to herons and ducks and other winged creatures. The wide path is paved, which makes it perfect if you’re pushing a stroller or walking with kiddos who want to run, bike, scoot, or rollerblade. 

Batiquitos Lagoon

My top pick in North County is along the north side of Batiquitos Lagoon east of I-5 in Carlsbad. The flat au natural trail here is just over three miles long and offers peaceful views of the calm water. This wetland area is a great place for birding and various water fowl are frequently spotted. The Batiquitos Foundation operates a Nature Center at the Gabbiano Lane entrance. Also, look for information delivered by QR codes posted along the trail, which is wheelchair-, kid-, and pet-friendly. 

There are several access points with parking. One of these is at the Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club, which is handy for post-walk meals and drinks. The club’s restaurant reopens this month as Ember & Rye with Chef Richard Blais (Juniper & Ivy) in the kitchen. 

La Jolla Walks

Because it’s nearly on my doorstep, I’m “a regular” on La Jolla Shores Beach. One of the things I like here is that, depending on the tide, I have the choice of walking in sand or on the boardwalk. I also appreciate that, coming or going, I can stop on Avenida de la Playa at a range of wonderful eateries including Shorehouse Kitchen (cornmeal blueberry pancakes with housemade lemon yogurt), Brick & Bell Café (scones!), and Piatti (ricotta-spinach basil ravioli with lemon cream sauce). 

La Jolla Shores is an ideal place for barefoot beach exploration.
The La Jolla shoreline is an ideal place for barefoot beach exploration.

My favorite add-on to this beach walk is to continue north onto the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus and wind my way up Biological Grade. Just past the charming 1916 Martin Johnson House, there’s a well-sited bench with a priceless view of Scripps Pier, the beach, the Cove, and the sky. When I sit there, I feel calm, grateful, and confident that all will soon be right with the world. Solvitur ambulando.

A gorgeous panoramic view waits at the top of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus.
A gorgeous panoramic view waits at the top of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus.
Featured Photo The path along the north side of Batiquitos Lagoon is a serene spot for walking and birding
Image Credits Photography Courtesy of Adams/Hansen Stock Photos

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