Torrey Pines is pretty much the ultimate San Diego outdoor experience. Approaching the base of the state nature preserve and looking upon the misty mountain is as grandiose and majestic as entering Jurassic Park. The short but intense trek up the access road gives hikers access to well-maintained trails that zigzag down to the beach, and plenty of lookout points where you and your friends can take selfies in nature to use later when you post it on social media and tell people to enjoy nature. The hike ends on the beach, which is a brilliant cool-down and an opportunity to soak your sweaty feet in the ocean.
There's only one drawback to Torrey Pines (well, besides being regarded as "basic" by serious hikers), and it's the crowds. Good luck finding a parking spot on a weekend that's closer than a mile away from the entrance. If you can, take a day off work and experience it on a weekday.
LOS PEÑASQUITOS CANYON RESERVE
This is Torrey Pines' inland cousin—both are approximately the same travel distance from downtown San Diego—but Los Peñasquitos' advantage comes from the comparative lack of visitors. If you're looking for a calm and serene trek through nature, this is the place to do it.
The canyon preserve offers plenty of easy-grade hikes through alternating forest, meadow landscapes. It's also a godsend for trail runners who don't want to deal with the congestion that happens at other popular trails, and it's not uncommon to spot a couple urban cowboys on horses along these trails.
Its landlocked status makes it hotter than Torrey Pines which, in the dead of summer, can turn an inexperienced hiker into a regular Cranky McCrankerson, and an out-of-town visitor may not see the point of visiting a beach town without hiking on the beach. But this is for us. San Diegans need a place to relax, unwind and get away from crowds without having to drive to the far reaches of East County. Cool breezes and ocean views are dope, but not when they instill feelings of claustrophobia and road rage.
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