San Diego Section 9

Ocean Beach Pier to Downtown San Diego Waterfront

San Diego Section 9

Ocean Beach Pier to Downtown San Diego Waterfront

Trekking from Ocean Beach to the Point Loma area to San Diego's downtown waterfront offers both variety and abundant rewards in this intensely urban area. Features include one of the best sunset viewing areas on the west coast at Sunset Cliffs, scrambles on beaches and eroded bluffs, the busy downtown waterfront with an impressive historic sailing vessel, the Star of India, and, on clear days, our first view of Mexico after 1150 miles of trail.

This walk starts at the Ocean Beach Pier, at 2100 feet currently the longest pier on the west coast. For a different perspective on the coast, walk out to the end of the pier and back, ¾ mile round trip. From the pier the CCT then winds its way through residential neighborhoods before returning to the coast along Sunset Cliffs Blvd. The low tide route from the pier bypasses the streets for almost a mile of rocky shoreline before climbing to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. via one of several stairways. After more residential streets, the route follows the urban shoreline of San Diego Bay to the skyscrapers at the bayside heart of downtown.

To do the inland route start at the pier and follow Niagara Avenue uphill for a block, then turn right on Bacon Street for two blocks. Go left on Coronado Avenue, right on Cable Street, then left on Orchard Avenue for one block each before turning right on Sunset Cliffs Blvd., all accomplished in six short blocks. Walk south along the sidewalk of Sunset Cliffs Blvd.

To do the low-tide beach walk, take the concrete path that starts under the pier south for 300 feet, then descend the stairs to the shore and turn left. Some of this route consists of concrete walkway set into seawalls, part is on tidal rock and some on flat tidal rocks embedded with fossil shells. Follow the shore out around a point and along the rocky coast, coming to the first stairway leading to Santa Cruz Street. Round a small cove at ⅜ mile before heading out to a narrow point, then passing Alligator Rock. Walk down the rocky shore below 40-foot cliffs to the Orchard Street stairs at ⅝ mile. If you continue down Pescadero Beach to the third stairway at Bermuda Street beyond ¾ mile, the cliffs shrink to about 20 feet. Exit the beach, walk up to Sunset Cliffs Blvd. and turn right at ⅞ mile.

The CCT follows Sunset Cliffs Blvd. south, returning to the shoreline at 1⅛ miles. Follow an informal path along the bluff's edge, rounding Osprey Point, then Pappy's Point. This premiere sunset viewing area faces directly west. In a few places you must walk on the road shoulder where erosion has eaten into the bluffs. Round broad Luscomb's Point at 1⅞ miles.

Where Sunset Cliffs Blvd. ends at Ladera Street at 2⅜ miles, you have two options: easy and difficult. Both options take you through undeveloped Sunset Cliffs Park and the Point Loma Nazarene College Campus. Before you decide, consider descending the nearby stairs to a fine cove with a sandy beach and extensive wave-cut reefs. The easy route goes up Ladera Street for a block, turning right on wide path across from the end of Cordova Street. Take this path to Cora nish Drive at 2⅝ miles where you turn right. Follow this campus road past dormitory buildings and athletic fields as it climbs, curving up the hill. In front of the history and political science building, turn right up a short driveway into a parking lot. Head for the trees across the lot where you pick up dirt path. You reach the deadend of Garden Lane at 3⅛ miles.
The more difficult option from Sunset Cliffs Blvd. at Ladera Street (it takes patience to find your way through this neglected parkland of informal trails and eroding terrain) takes the dirt path at the end of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. that crosses in front of a little house on the bluff. Go about 500 feet, then turn left up the eroded bluff and into the grove of stunted eucalyptus trees not far up the hill. Turn right through the lower end of the grove to a parking lot. At the far corner of the lot angle down towards the shore. You will soon come to a small eroded valley. Turn uphill along the valley's edge and circle around the top. Just past the valley, take the informal trail right down into a ravine and up the other side to a ball field. Walk along the uphill side of the field. At the far end turn right and angle toward the shore. The trail curves above a lone palm tree and heads directly toward a fence. Turn left at the military base fence and follow the steep well worn, informal path up the hill along a ravine on you left, then down into the head of the ravine. The trail follows the base of cliff, then climbs steeply up an incline for 50 feet. At the top Garden Lane lies 100 feet across a flat area at 3⅜ miles (so the difficult route adds ¼ mile to the total).

From the end of Garden Lane, the CCT follows quiet residential streets over to Point Loma Marina. From Garden Lane jog right on Catalina Blvd. briefly, then go left on Rosecroft Lane, left on Silvergate Avenue, right on Dupont Street, left on Gage Street and right on Jennings Street. Go left on Bangor Place then immediately turn right on Lucinda Street where you have the first view of Mexico twenty miles south, with downtown San Diego and the harbor not far to the east.

At the bottom of Lucinda Street, jog right on Harbor View Place briefly, then make a hard left down Armada Terrace to go right on Bessemer Street. At its end turn left along the shoreline path and come out on Anchorage Lane at 4⅞ miles. Walk Anchorage to its end, turn left on Shelter Island Drive for a block, then go right along Scott Street briefly. You then turn right on Dickens Street into the sports fishing marina. Walk along the dockside businesses, then make your way across a parking lot to Harbor Drive. Turn right and walk the sidewalk past the Navy's anti-sub warfare school and over a bridge. Beyond the bridge turn right into Spanish Landing Park at 6⅜ miles. Walk the shoreline pathway to the main entrance road to the San Diego International Airport across Harbor Drive. Pick up the bike path here and follow it east along the harbor. After the bike path and Harbor Drive turn south along the Embarcadero, you pass several historic ships including the impressive three-masted Star of India built in the 1870s. The section ends at 10⅛ miles at the Broadway Pier where you'll find the ferry to Coronado for the next section's adventure.

SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS AND LOOPS: Drive or walk out to Cabrillo National Monument to visit an historic lighthouse, take in the visitor center and learn about the voyage of Juan Cabrillo in 1542 as he explored the California coast, or walk a trail through healthy stands of coastal sage scrub. The walk from the CCT route to the monument and back is about 6 miles round trip from the corner of Garden Lane and Catalina Blvd. Recent proposals call for a loop trail on Point Loma but for the present you must walk or drive the road out and back. The views are stunning from the high ridge of the point where much of the military reservation preserves the natural environment.
At the end of Bessemer Street, turn right (instead of left as on the route) on the shoreline path. It skirts the bay shore for 1½ miles before ending at a military fence. At one time the path connected to a street, now blocked by a private security fence.

Distance: 10⅛ miles (16.3 kilometers).

Open to: Hikers. Bicyclists on bike paths and streets.

Surface: Beach, trail, sidewalk.

Access point: Ocean Beach Pier.

How to get there: Exit Interstate 5 onto Interstate 8 heading west toward Ocean Beach. Take Sunset Cliffs Blvd. to Niagara Avenue, turn right and drive to the pier at the end of the street.

Other access: Anywhere along route especially Ocean Beach City Beach, Sunset Cliffs Park, Spanish Landing Park, Embarcadero.

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain/loss: 420 feet+/420 feet-.

Cautions: Watch for traffic on busy city streets. Use caution if you walk the tidal zone: watch for slippery rocks, sneaker waves and rising tides.

Further information: For Ocean Beach and Ocean Beach Park, call the San Diego Coastline Parks Division (619)221-8900, Maritime Museum (Star of India) (619)234-9153.

Facilities: Ocean Beach Pier has restrooms, water and parking. Urban amenities abound at both ends. Restrooms, water, picnic tables and parking at Spanish Landing Park.


Lodging: You'll find many choices of accommodations in the area. Two budget choices close to the access point are Ocean Villa Motel and Ocean Beach Motel. San Diego has two hostels, Point Loma (619)223-4778 and Downtown (619)525-1531.

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