3 Hiking Trails Worth Ditching the Beach For

In late September, my wife Megan looked so excited that I thought for sure she must be cheating on me. So I was relieved to learn it wasn’t another man who had her so thoroughly impressed. Rather, it was a discovery she had just made: San Diego, California’s Ocean Beach tidepools.

It’s not like the tidepools are a mystery. More than 500,000 tourists visit them—and the half-mile-long pier above them—every year. During the day when the tide is low, people trek along the Ocean Beach tidepools which hug the Pacific Ocean. And sweetheart couples love to carve their names into the rocks and scratch the cliche heart around it. Into the side of one rock, someone, most likely in 1996, scrawled “Korn.” After the apocalypse, I’m sure that stone will be the only thing left on earth.

The ridiculous vandalism didn’t ruin our all-too-perfect moment, and as we headed south along the tidepools, we even came to a small, secluded beach. Of course we fell in love with it.

So enthralled by the tidepools, we demanded our friends, who also were vacationing in San Diego, visit the area too. They went at night later in the week, and that’s when they learned the tidepools were filled with people...well, I think this San Diego tourism website describes them, “'beach flies' - regulars who can be found sitting on the seawall or hanging out in the parking lots.” They may or may not have been completely strung out on heroin.

Lesson learned: Explore the tidepools during the day, unless, of course, heroin--not hiking--was our goal.

But if you are in the mood for a more serious hike, where can you go in a city where the biggest attractions are the beaches?

The Bayside Trail
Difficulty: Easy

The Ocean Beach neighborhood is nestled near the hills of Point Loma, which offers the 2.5-mile roundtrip Bayside Trail. It curves through the area of the Cabrillo National Monument in a park named after a European explorer. The trail itself sprawls through a coastal sage scrub forest, which Cabrillo the man may or may not have walked through himself.

And it may sound cliche to say, but this trail does offer some picturesque views of the city’s downtown, San Diego Bay and the 6,512-foot Cuyamaca Mountains, a prime spot for hiking itself.

El Cajon Mountain
Difficulty: Hard

Of course, you don’t have to only view mountains from a distance. You can also take to the 11.8-mile trail on El Cajon Mountain. calls it one of the most difficult hikes in the area. But for the avid hikers, a more strenuously challenging trail on the mountain belongs to El Capitain Open Spa. The 14-mile trail takes hikers to the 4,100-foot peak.

Cowles Mountain
Difficulty: Moderate

To reach the highest point within the city, look for the 3-mile hike on Cowles Mountain. As one of the most popular paths in the Mission Trails Regional Park, the trail can be crowded, but not packed with “beach flies.” At the end of the 933-foot ascent, hikers can find panoramic views.

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