Hiking has become more popular than ever as Americans seek an entertaining form of fitness. It’s safe to say most people would rather enjoy open space while getting their cardio rather than a smelly gym. It’s also a great way to get closer to nature that is often times right in your backyard without you even knowing about it.
California has world-class national parks like Yosemite and Sequoia where the hiking can be surreal, but it’s the coastal hikes that get us going. Most of Southern California has coastal mountain ranges and beach bluffs that offer amazing terrain to hike within close proximity of the sea. Weather is most often gorgeous, this is So Cal after all, and spectacular views of the sea and our Channel Islands can be seen from most of the coastal trails!
Hiking is an epic from of exercise, so make sure you have the right shoes and activewear for your journey. Before you set out on a hiking adventure, check out these six awesome coastal hikes that are easy to get to and are easy to moderate difficulty level!
Chumash Trail – Point Mugu/North Malibu
Only one hour north of Los Angeles, the area just north of Malibu is very mountainous and rural. The Point Mugu State Park is massive and offers miles of hiking. One of the best hikes in this zone is the Chumash Trail. It’s a 4.5 mile loop hike that climbs 900 feet in the first mile to the gorgeous La Jolla Valley Natural Preserve, a ridge top valley with wildflowers, then circles around to the trailhead with superb views of the Pacific Coast along the way. Bring water, especially in the summer, as it’s much warmer at the top than down on the coast.
Shipwreck Hike – Palos Verdes
It’s amazing to find such an unusual hike so close to urban L.A. The city of Palos Verdes is an affluent area with high cliffs on the beach. There is open space along the bluffs with plenty of hiking trails meandering down to the beach. In 1961, the ship S.S. Greek Dominator ran aground here due to fog and navigation problems. The high seas after the wreck thwarted the attempt from the Coast Guard to save the ship, and it’s been there ever since. Once you get down the bluff, walk down the rocky beach to the ruins of the wreck, which feature two large pieces of the hull and a crane. There is no shade or level ground, and it’s rough and rocky, so make sure you have good footwear and sunscreen. (photos by JoshMC/California Through My Lens)
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park – Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is easily one of the most beautiful coastal towns in California, filled with art galleries and eateries on the PCH just above the sand. In the foothills above the small town is a huge expanse of open space and 45 miles of hiking trails at the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. This county park envelops one of the last coastal canyons in Southern California and has Oak and Sycamore Woodlands that lead up to ridge top trails with vast views of the coast in South Orange County. Parking is only $3 for the day. The park offers guided tours and has the award-winning Nix Nature Center as well!
Torrey Pines State Reserve – San Diego
Covering 2000 acres of preserved land in the middle of San Diego County, Torrey Pines has over 8 miles of hiking trails along the coastal bluff top. The area has a chaparral plant community as well as one of the only three stands of Torrey Pines in America. There is also a lagoon that is vital to migrating sea birds, and some unusually eroded sandstone cliffs that look like they were plucked from the desert.
Cowles Mountain – San Diego
This three mile round trip hike takes you to the top of the highest point in San Diego! This hike is a bit further from the beach, but at 1600ft elevation the peak gives you a stunning 360 degree view of the entire city of San Diego, from the US/Mexico Border all the way up to North County SD, and out to the beautiful Pacific. Part of the Mission Trails Regional Park System, this trail has well kept bathrooms at the base and a worn dirt path to the summit. Parking can get full at the lot, but it’s free to park on the side streets if you’re cool with adding a little extra distance to your hike. (photos by JoshMC/California Through My Lens)
Scorpion Landing to Smugglers Cove – Santa Cruz Island
It’s hard to find a more spectacular hike in California than on Santa Cruz Island. In fact, most Californians don’t even know this hike exists. A portion of the island is a National Park allowing hiking and even camping! This hike takes some effort as you have to take a boat out of Ventura to get there. But once your out on the island you are in another world. Through efforts of The Nature Conservancy, the National Park system, and other local non-profits, the island is undergoing an extensive restoration project that has brought it back to it’s natural state (no invasive plants or animals brought by human settlers, native plants re-introduced, breeding programs for endemic animals, etc.). The 8 mile round trip hike is mostly flat on a grated dirt road through rolling meadows with spectacular views of the mainland and Anacapa Island. If you’re lucky you might see creatures found only on Santa Cruz Island like the Island Scrub Jay, the Island Fox, and the Island Skunk!
These six hikes are just a fraction of the hundreds of great trail hikes in Southern California. Do a little research before you head out, and then get out there and explore!