Many of San Diego’s top attractions are of the urban sort, from theme parks like SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo, to charming districts such as Old Town San Diego and the Gaslamp Quarter, to the sleek skyscrapers of business-friendly downtown San Diego. Although the beaches and mountains that surround San Diego frame the city in an alluring way, many tourists visit the region without ever seeing its wild side.
Whether you hike up a mountain for a show-stopping sunset, or practice your surfing in one of the world’s most scenic coves, don’t snub Mother Nature on your next visit to San Diego. The city’s skyline has become increasingly clean-cut over the years, but you haven’t really met San Diego until you’ve gotten dirty here.
The World’s Most Rewarding Hike?
San Diego is full of scenic hiking opportunities, whether you stay close to the heart of the city and follow the Sunset Cliffs Beach Walk, or travel north and explore the iconic Torrey Pines State Reserve. These and many of the other hikes most easily accessible from the city are scenic and beautiful, but what if you’re in search of something more difficult and, ultimately, more rewarding?
One tempting option is to hike to the top of Cowles Mountain, located just northwest of the city. With a trail length of 4.7 miles roundtrip, your heart is sure to be pumping by the time you reach the 1,592-foot peak – the highest in San Diego County by far. Cowles Mountains’ summit makes the perfect perch to watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean, with downtown San Diego in the foreground.
Paradise for Surfers
San Diego’s La Jolla neighborhood enjoys notoriety in many circles, from students (the University of California San Diego is here), to scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, to the travelers and locals who flock to its picturesque cove. La Jolla Cove is not only a great place to catch some sun or take a swim, but is also one of the best spots in San Diego to surf.
If you’re in search of a surf spot that’s less about the city, and more about the sea, head north to San Onofre. It’s about halfway to Orange County, which means that it isn’t as accessible as San Diego’s city beaches, but its seclusion makes for the ideal day trip. You’ll feel like you’ve visited another state, or maybe even another country – it’s just you, the surf, the sun, and maybe a seagull or two.
From the Ocean to the Desert – in 90 Minutes!
The most amazing thing about the San Diego area is that it’s the perfect trifecta when it comes to ecotourism: The mountains, the beach, and the desert. In fact, in less than an hour and a half’s drive from downtown San Diego, you can make your way over the mountains and into the desert, where you’ll enjoy a desolate, lonely landscape that feels light years from the city.
Whether you take an organized tour with a company like California Overland, or find a spot that looks good and head out for a free hike, nothing completes your San Diego nature travel experience like a day in the desert. And whether you camp underneath the stars or base yourself at one of the fine hotels in town, San Diego provides a better experience for ecotourists than maybe any other city in the country.
This article is part of the #HipmunkCityLove series. Main image credit.
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