Top Ten Quick Hikes in San Diego


One of the greatest amenities about living in San Diego is that there are so many excellent spots for getting away from the rat race and escaping to the outdoors. Combined with another great advantage of San Diego, the year-around perfect weather, and these hiking spots become a major bonus for those who chose to live near the World's Finest City. Whether you just need to get out for some fresh air, or you want a stiff hike to get your blood pumping, each of these options is only as brutal as you make them.

Torrey Pines State National Reserve
Featuring multiple trails and terrain that includes desert, mountains, and beach, Torrey Pines State National Reserve is one of the most popular places to hike in San Diego. Parking along the beach is often full, but is available in the gate for $10. Once in, those who want an easier hike can drive to the top and hike one of the individual trails, while those who prefer a bigger challenge can park at the bottom and walk up and around the mountain, then back through the ocean path. Either way, Torrey Pines is a great outdoor park that ranks among the best in San Diego.

Balboa Park
For a spacious urban hike that offers a variety of scenery, Balboa Park is as good as it gets. With 1200 acres of architecturally impressive museums, an archery range, and impeccable landscaping throughout, Balboa Park is ideal for a quick hike without leaving the city.

Cowles Mountain
An extremely popular and somewhat steep trail in La Mesa, Cowles Mountain is one of the most notable peaks in San Diego County. At almost 500 meters, Cowles Mountain is the highest mountain in San Diego, so the view from the top is a phenomenal spot for photography.

Iron Mountain
Easily the most brutal hike on this list, the main trail of Iron Mountain is 6.6 miles round trip. That said, there are numerous secondary trails that each lead to different viewpoints, so even if you don't have several hours to make the full hike, there is enough variety at Iron Mountain to appeal to hikers of all skill levels. If you make the drive up to Poway to hike Iron Mountain, the terrain is rocky and jagged, so strong, closed-toed shoes are highly recommended.

Seaport Village
Located near the San Diego Airport, Seaport Village not only features over 70 shops and eateries on over 90,000 square feet, but also a waterfront walk along the bay. The architecture in Seaport Village is unique, and you'll notice great waterside views of the Coronado Bridge and numerous boats that line the harbor. Another advantage of Seaport Village is versatility, since the walk can easily be extended to go through Little Italy or south towards the Midway Museum.

Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach offers a surprising amount of variety for those wanting to go for a walk in the sun. The Ocean Beach Municipal Pier is the longest concrete pier on the West Coast at 600 meters, and there are miles of beach, dunes, and other interesting places to explore. There is a lot going on around Ocean Beach, so in addition to a seaside hike with stunning beach views, there's a good chance you'll see some eclectic characters, street performers, and dolphins in the area.

Sunset Cliffs
For a unique walk along cliffs and coves in between San Diego's most popular beaches, Sunset Cliffs is a beautiful and highly popular trail just East of Ocean Beach. Those who are afraid of heights may have a tough time walking Sunset Cliffs, as parts of the trail lead you inches from serious drops. However, the combination of the phenomenal natural environment and a well-maintained trail makes this a hike worth taking.

Mission Bay Park
At 4235 acres, Mission Bay Park is the largest manmade aquatic park in the United States. The park is ideal for everything from bonfires to volleyball, and has some of the nicest areas for a walk in San Diego. Whether just getting some fresh air, or preparing for a marathon, the 27 miles of shoreline at Mission Bay Park have a lot to offer.

Los Penasquitos Canyon
Los Penasquitos Canyon is a 4000 acre urban park that includes two major canyons and is among the largest in San Diego. Depending on how brutal a hike you're looking for, 2-mile, 6-mile, and 12-mile loops are available. Whichever trail you choose, make sure not to miss the waterfall, which is one of very few in the area.

Palomar Mountain State Park
Like many of the mountain hikes in San Diego, Palomar Mountain State Park features stunning views that are visible from its 6.7 mile loop-around hiking trail. For views of the interstellar kind, the Palomar Mountain Observatory is close by, and is home to three large telescopes including the Hale telescope. Palomar Mountain State Park also features extensive campgrounds known as Palomar Gardens.

After a seven year career in the US Navy, Nicholas Napier completed his MBA and settled in California. He's published over 40 articles as the San Diego Fitness Trends Examiner, and regularly contributes as a freelance writer to various companies.