With 70 miles of sparkling coastline, a pleasantly warm climate year-round and stunning natural wonders, San Diego’s beauty entices and enthralls travelers from around the world — yet many don’t know that San Diego is one of the most biodiverse regions in the U.S. Home to a variety of habitats ranging from intertidal wetlands and chaparral-covered canyons to alpine mountains and pristine desert wilderness, San Diego teems with Instagram-worthy sites.
The following are seven of San Diego’s top natural wonders—a bucket list of sensational sights sure to impress visitors of all ages.
- Nestled atop the scenic seaside cliffs of La Jolla, the 1,750-acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of only two places on earth where nature lovers can find the ancient Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana), the nation’s rarest pine tree. Visitors can enjoy wind-swept sandstone formations, six hiking trails ranging from easy, family-friendly paths to more advanced trails, and striking sunsets over the Pacific. The reserve offers free guided walks on weekends and holidays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., departing from the historic lodge-turned-Visitor Center.
- La Jolla is also home to postcard-perfect La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Underwater Park, the West Coast’s first underwater preserve, spanning 6,000 acres of ocean floor and tidelands. This treasured habitat teems with marine life above and below the surface of the water, including seals, sea lions, bright orange Garibaldi fish (California’s state fish), leopard sharks (especially in late summer), pelicans and more.The cove is famous for its seven sea caves which can be accessed via kayak or snorkeling. Sunny Jim Cave is the only known land access sea cave on the California coast; a mini adventure in the heart of La Jolla Village accessed through the Cave Store.
- Sunset Cliffs on Point Loma is home to an enormous hidden sea cave that needs to be seen to be believed. Tucked beneath sandstone bluffs on the southern end of Luscomb’s Point (adjacent to Sunset Cliffs Blvd., just north of Monaco Street), is a curious chasm in the earth surrounded by a chain-link fence. Peer through the fence to view an illuminated boulder-strewn cavern below. Visitors are advised to enjoy the cave from above and not swim into the cave via the ocean due to dangerous waves and currents.
- Located along the Mt. Woodson Trail in San Diego’s rustic North County Inland region is the famous Potato Chip Rock, a narrow strip of stone jutting out from the mountain that attracts as many shutterbugs as rock climbers. This fun, coveted photo spot is well worth the hike, which averages three hours uphill and one hour down through a labyrinth of giant granite boulders.
- Also located in North County, amidst the 970-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, is the newly restored Annie’s Canyon Trail, a moderate-to-strenuous ¼-mile looping hiking trail that climbs 200 feet to a vista point offering panoramic views of the lagoon and Pacific Ocean. The joy is in the journey as steep switchbacks pass through naturally sculpted sandstone walls and narrow slot corridors that “create a sense of mystery and wonder.” Go on a virtual hike of this wild stretch of scenery here.
- Located in the backcountry hills of east San Diego County, a Visitor Use Permit is required to visit the popular Cedar Creek Falls, a spectacular waterfall plunging 80 feet into a large pool of water. The hike to the falls is a challenging six miles round-trip through beautiful chaparral-covered hills. Bring a minimum of one gallon of water per person to avoid dehydration. The falls’ water levels vary substantially and typically don’t run during the summer. Winter months are ideal with runoff from seasonal rains. Visitors are advised the cliffs surrounding the falls are closed; no climbing, jumping or diving.
- One of San Diego’s most remarkable and inviting natural wonders is the unspoiled desert landscape of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in California encompassing 640,000 acres. This seemingly boundless preserve, “one of the most pristine desert parks in the world” (National Geographic ), features rugged badlands, slot canyons, mud caves, hidden palm oases, colorful wildflower fields in the spring and jaw dropping overlooks like Fonts Point, “California’s Grand Canyon” and Vista del Malpais. The vista points are particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset or on full-moon nights.
Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org.
Courtesy San Diego Tourism Authority
Cover photo credit: Joey Taylor