Although San Diego has many great places to watch the sunset as it is a beach town, one of the best places, if not the best can be found with minimal effort in Torrey Pines State Reserve along the Broken Hill Loop Trail. In case you are visiting San Diego or are new to the city, Torrey Pines State Reserve is the premier beach park in the County with over five miles of beautiful beaches, stunning eroded cliffs, and several miles of hiking trails, spread out over the course of the Reserve proper, the North Beach extension, and a couple of other park inholdings near Del Mar. To locals, Torrey Pines is known as “their” park, and is a popular destination for trail runners, walkers, and outdoor adventurers of all shapes and sizes. Torrey Pines State Reserve is also home to the rarest pine tree in all of North America, and one of the rarest trees on the planet, the pinus torreyana – the Torrey Pine. The Torrey Pine only grows in and around the confines of the reserve, and on Santa Rosa Island. Since the Channel Islands are a little harder to get to, the easiest way to see this rare tree is to visit the reserve; and a grove of the trees can be seen from Broken Hill itself.
Directions: Torrey Pines State Reserve is located directly off of the Pacific Highway in Carmel Valley, in between Del Mar and La Jolla (The physical address of the Reserve is 12600 North Torrey Pines Road, San Diego, California, 92037). As of 2015, there is an entrance fee of $12.00 to enter the reserve. The Broken Hill Loop is located at the southernmost point in the main portion of the reserve, which means that there is a slight half mile walk from the upper parking areas near the visitor center to the trailhead(s). Fortunately, this walk is mostly flat and paved, so it is accessible for all levels of hikers. This paved road is also historic in that it was the original route of Highway 101. This portion of the hike also provides great views of the bulk of the reserve to the West, along with the Pacific Ocean, and views of the entirety of eastern San Diego County as well.
After a half mile, the Broken Hill Trail – North Sign is readily apparent on the western side of the road. At this point, hikers can either head down this North fork, or proceed a tenth of a mile further to the Broken Hill – South trail. Both of these trails form a 2.5 mile loop (1.2 miles on the North Fork; 1.3 miles on the South Fork), so irrespective of which trail a hiker decides to enter on, they will exit out the other trail. The entirety of the Broken Hill loop (North and South) is well marked; and mostly flat. Make no mistake about it; this is an easy trail; and one that is suitable for all levels of hikers. This is also an area where the State Park system has elected to improve; and much of the North loop has been graded and leveled by park employees over the last six months.
While the trail itself is easy, this allows the hiker to focus on the views – which are plentiful. Both trails provide great views of the Reserve; and the Pacific Ocean. At the halfway point on both forks, the trail has two junctions – one of which leads down to the beach; and the other which leads to the namesake of the loop – the Broken Hill. The Broken Hill spur has the only “elevation gain” on the trail, and ascends gradually up to a viewpoint atop an eroded cliff. From this point, there is a fantastic 180 degree view of the Pacific Ocean stretching out as far as the eye can see; La Jolla to the South; and the bulk of the reserve to the West and North. Back toward the East, San Diego County and its foothills and mountains are visible on a clear day. The cliff that the viewpoint rests upon is the “broken hill” – an eroded sedimentary formation that has been shaped by the elements over thousands of years. As I mentioned above, this is a great place to watch the sunset – or watch anything at any time of day. Once the hiker is done admiring the view, they will travel back toward the park road via either the North or South fork; and return back to their car at the Visitor Center parking area for an easy three mile roundtrip “must see” hike.