Beginner’s Guide to Hiking San Diego

Once we made the move from Indiana to San Diego, I knew I wanted to get involved with all the hiking in the area. It was a little overwhelming trying to figure out where to hike first- there are many great options! So I’ve put together my top 3 picks for beginners-whether you are new to SoCal, spending time here on vacation, or just want to start hiking 🙂

  1. Torrey Pines State Reserve in La Jolla: I listed this first because it is the easiest of the 3 and requires the least amount of fitness. It is also right on the coast and gives you the beachy vibe you think of when you picture San Diego-crashing waves, sand, ocean views. Be prepared to pay for parking (about $15). Once you do, drive all the way up to the parking lots at the top. Otherwise you have to walk all the way up to the trail entrance, which will add on more time and distance with no views. One thing I like about this hike is there’s a variety of trails to choose from. You can make it a long hike and check out them all, or you can make it short and just do one or two. A con of this hike: narrow, crowded trails. Totally worth the views though, even on an overcast day!

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2. Cowles Mountain: Moving from the beach to the mountains. This trail is a bit more challenging but can still be done with little fitness preparation. I love this hike because the views at the top are breathtaking. You see lakes, the ocean, more mountains, downtown San Diego, and even Mexico. It is also relatively quick and easy despite being 95% uphill. It takes about 30 minutes to make it to the summit, and on this hike we always see old people (if they can do it we can do it!). There are different sides you can hike up, but I would recommend starting at the entrance at Navajo Road and Golfcrest Drive. This trail is a bit more windy and not as steep. You also get great views all the way which you don’t get if you hike up the other side. There is a cute cafe across the road if you need a quick coffee or acai bowl to energize you before embarking. Street parking is free in this residential area. Don’t forget to bring lots of water!

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3. Mount Woodson Trail to Potato Chip Rock: I would not recommend this hike without having a decent level of fitness. It takes about 4 hours, and is straight incline (think stepping up rocks made into natural stairs) for about an hour of it. You will definitely feel a sense of accomplishment once you make it to the top and will be rewarded by seeing the famous Potato Chip Rock. If you want a photo, the wait is usually at least 30 minutes unless you go at a really slow time. It’s totally worth it though to have the awesome picture, and it’s a huge adrenaline rush having to leap onto the rock. You want to start this hike around 6 or 7 AM (any later and you will be dealing with a really hot sun). Bring A LOT of water and some protein bars to eat at the top before making your way down. You do have to pay for parking (about $5) to get to the trail entrance.

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What other San Diego hikes are your favorite?

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