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San Diego Whale Watching

December through April is one of San Diego’s two whale watching seasons. Gray whales migrating from Alaska to Baja California can be seen from land or boat. Blue whales pass through San Diego from mid-June to September. 

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is one location where you may be able to spot gray whales from land. They also offer whale watching tours through Flagship Cruises to see and learn about whales up close. Cruises depart from downtown San Diego.

Children and ocean lovers in general should plan a visit to Birch Aquarium while visiting La Jolla. Outside you’ll be greeted by the whale fountain (pictured above) and inside you’ll get to see and learn about all kinds of creatures that live in the ocean waters near La Jolla. One of our favorite sea creatures to see at the aquarium are seadragons. We must not be the only ones captivated by these creatures since the aquarium is currently building a new 18-foot-wide, 9-foot-tall exhibit to display and breed Leafy Seadragons as part of the aquarium’s conservation efforts.

Other locations to whale watch from land are Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma and from the hiking trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Bring binoculars!

We’ve been lucky enough to see whales from land and water —the experience never gets old!

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Fletcher Cove Park, Solana Beach

Beyond the Zoo Guides typically start with a coffee or breakfast suggestion and end with dinner and a sunset. The Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach is no exception. Dinner at Pizza Port Solana Beach followed by sunset at Fletcher Cove Park is our idea of a perfect ending to a day of outdoor adventuring.

Play areas, public art, picnic tables, and restrooms on site make Fletcher Cove Park an ideal destination for families. Enjoy gorgeous ocean views from the park or walk down to dip your toes in the ocean while waiting for the sun to set.

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Annie’s Canyon Trail

Annie’s Canyon Trail is a sandstone slot canyon located in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve in Solana Beach. The .25 mile trail is short but makes a grand impression!

Our youngest enjoyed this hike so much that he requested we loop through twice before exploring other trails in the reserve. 

Select the strenuous one-way loop option to hike the canyon (the canyon is narrow and requires some climbing) or opt for the moderate view point option to bypass the canyon. This video provides a good idea of what to expect.

To get here find street parking near the N. Rios Avenue trailhead. Follow marked paths pointing to Annie’s Canyon Trail (.6 miles from the trailhead). Spend some time exploring the lagoon before leaving.

Our Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach was already packed with a full day of family activity but we couldn’t pass up sharing this unique hike. Follow-up your hike with dinner at Pizza Port our favorite San Diego-based pizzeria. The casual family style eatery is popular for its pizza and onsite craft beer brewery.

Looking for more things to do in San Diego? Download our free Beyond the Zoo Guides.

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Torrey Pines Gliderport

Visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport for a unique San Diego experience that your family won’t forget. Cross paragliding off your bucket list or simply order lunch from the onsite Cliffhanger Cafe. The outdoor dining area provides a front row seat for people watching and taking in the view!

Here are a few fun facts today about Torrey Pines Gliderport. You know, just in case it comes up on Jeopardy or something.

  • Torrey Pines Gliderport is a historic landmark for its role in aviation history. 
  • Gliders first began using the site in 1930. They were initially car-towed on the beach in order to take flight.
  • The first launch and landing at the top of the cliff at Torrey Pines was in 1936. 
  • The property became an Army camp (Camp Callan) for anti-aircraft artillery training from 1941 through the end of World War II.

Know before you go: 1) Parking at Torrey Pines Gliderport is free but sometimes crowded. 2) Bring a light jacket or sweatshirt to keep warm in the breeze.

You can read more about the history of Torrey Pines Gliderport at Looking for more fun things to do in Torrey Pines? Grab our free free Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach.

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Torrey Pines State Beach

After hiking through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve you’ll be ready to break out snacks (food isn’t allowed in the reserve) and soak in the beauty of Torrey Pines State Beach. Except for during high tide you can hike all the way down to the beach. (Tide Chart

Sandstone bluffs are one of the many beautiful features to admire from shore. Just be mindful to keep a safe distance away.

Torrey Pines State Beach is a popular destination for locals and tourists. Based on natural beauty alone it’s easy to see why! The picture above was taken during the winter – a great time to explore or find a spot to unwind on the beach.

One thing you’ll find in abundance at Torrey Pines State Beach is rocks. They are fun to sift through for interesting colors and shapes but not so fun to step on. While it’s never stopped our family from having an enjoyable experience, it is something you may appreciate knowing about ahead of time.

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Plants at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

One of the best parts about hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is the variety of plants you might encounter. 

The main plant communities found in the coastal reserve are categorized as Torrey Pine Woodland, Chaparral, Coastal Sage Scrub, Coastland Strand, and Salt Marsh. Most of San Diego’s rainfall occurs during winter or early spring. However, there is always something beautiful to enjoy regardless of the season. (Full plant list here.)

Point out plants as you hike with your family. Talk about how they provide food and shelter for animals that live in the reserve. Look for fun shapes and textures.

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What’s So Special About Torrey Pines?

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is named after the Torrey Pine, a rare and endangered pine species that is native to the reserve. A subspecies also grows on Santa Rosa Island off the coast of Santa Barbara. One characteristic of a Torrey Pine is that it has 5 needles in each bunch. 

Even though California doesn’t get a lot of rain, the Torrey Pine has a smart watering system. Moisture from coastal fog collects on pine needles and drops to the ground to help distribute water to tree roots. 

It’s easy to spot Torrey Pine trees in the reserve as you explore San Diego using our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach.

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Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

A morning hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is first on the list of activities in our Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach. We’ll share more about what makes this hike special in the next few posts. 

Before you visit: 1) Learn about Hours and Parking. Expect to park in a pay lot near the beach and walk uphill to the Visitor Center where most of the trails begin. 2) Bring a water bottle, but save food for eating on the beach. There is no food allowed in the reserve which is a protected area. 3) Dogs are not allowed.

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Bird Rock Coffee Roasters

Raise your hand if you’ve ever woken up at the crack of dawn in an unfamiliar bed surrounded by little hands and feet and thought, “I can’t wait to brew the complimentary coffee in the bathroom of my hotel room!” Yeah, me neither. The good news is that our Beyond the Zoo Guides always include a favorite local coffee or breakfast stop along the route.

The first stop of the Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach is Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, an award winning San Diego-based craft coffee roaster known for its Farm to Cup brews. 

Coffee connoisseurs may spring for Bird Rock’s famous $11 cup of coffee while budget conscious moms and dads will appreciate that a 12oz batch brew is a reasonable $2.50 investment. We gravitate towards the Monkey Bite Espresso

Bird Rock Coffee Roaster’s Del Mar location overlooks Torrey Pines State Beach and Los Penasquitos Lagoon. Enjoy the tranquil view from the patio as you sip away on the beverage of your choice. 

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Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach

New release! Travel with us through Torrey Pines and Solana Beach for a full day adventure along California’s beautiful coastline. From hiking trails to the beach, our latest Beyond the Zoo Guide was created for families who enjoy nature and spending time together outdoors.

Download our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to Torrey Pines & Solana Beach to plan your visit. You can also follow along at InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

We release a new Beyond the Zoo Guide each month. Are you subscribed?

Our guides aren’t just about where to go in San Diego. Each guide also includes activities and talking points to help you create meaningful family memories. Previously released guides include Ocean Beach & Point LomaSan Diego By the Bay, and Barrio Logan