The Best San Diego Hikes for Non-Hikers

There’s a reason why hiking has soared in popularity in recent years. A nice hike isn‘t just a lovely day in the great outdoors, it can also be a great way to stay in shape. And with New Year’s resolutions looming on the horizon, hiking is poised to be more popular than ever. 

While the idea of hiking often calls up mental images of navigating steep, rocky inclines wearing expensive boots and carrying a heavy pack, hiking doesn’t have to be difficult, or even involve expensive equipment. In fact, the San Diego area has a large number of hiking opportunities that are perfect for novice trail-trekkers looking to get a start. And given our mild year-round weather there’s never a bad time to experience them for yourself.

So if you’re new to hiking, check out these beginner trails in “America’s Finest City,” and head out in search of adventure. 

Mission Trails Regional Park (14 miles from the hotel)

Mission Trails is one of San Diego’s loveliest hidden gems. The park itself includes many trails (some quite challenging), but beginners will want to opt for the Kumeyaay Lake trail, a brisk 1.8-mile stroll past some lovely bodies of water, and lush greenery. Starting near the lake adjacent to the campground, and winding your way down to the Old Mission Dam isn’t just a leisurely walk, it’s an undeniably picturesque one. 

1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119

Cowles Mountain (15 miles from the hotel)

The Cowles Mountain Hiking Trail is a great spot to start your fledgling hiking career. A quick and breezy 3-mile trail winds through nearby La Mesa, past beautiful wildflowers and other native vegetation. The terrain is even and gradual enough for hiking, running, or mountain biking, and is also dog-friendly as long as your four-legged companion is kept leashed. The best part? The unbeatable city views along the way. 

7001 Golfcrest Dr, San Diego, CA 

Torrey Pines State Beach (17 miles)

For a truly unique San Diego hiking experience you simply can’t get anywhere else, head to Torrey Pines State Beach. Torrey Pines offers a multitude of trails, and none is particularly challenging. However, the views are spectacular. Torrey Pines’ gentle rises afford spectacular views of the Pacific, as well as surrounding hikers with lots of local vegetation — including the extremely rare tree from which the park draws its name. A mild caveat if you plan to visit, however: Torrey Pines is protected land, so follow the responsible nature-lovers’ maxim and Leave No Trace. Even removing a souvenir rock is not permitted. 

12600 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla CA


Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve (20 miles)

Los Peñasquitos (“little cliffs”) is a great beginners’ trail for those who want to enjoy mountain-feel views without having to hire an expedition crew. There are two approaches (east and west), and the trailheads offer a trek of either 6.5, or 5.5 miles, respectively. The terrain is gradual and level, but the trails are surrounded by the sort of views that gave the area its name: scenic rocky outcroppings, and stony formations that ripple with rubble.   

12020 Black Mountain Road, Rancho Penasquitos, CA

San Elijo Ecological Reserve (23 miles)

San Elijo’s 7-plus miles of winding, interconnected trails make their way through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the metro. Wetlands, canyons, and gently-sloping pathways offer delightful natural surprises around every bend. The reserve campus also includes a nature center with exhibits, activities, and even a special area for kids. The wildlife-spotting is particularly good at San Elijo, so be sure to bring your camera.

2710 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA 92007

Batiquitos Lagoon (30 miles)

Hikers at Batiquitos can look forward to a low-elevation, wetland walk on a 3.25-mile trail that winds through a park-like environment. If you go, you’ll encounter lots of families, dog walkers, and more than a few bird watchers. Owls, ducks, swans and other water-loving birds make Batiquitos their home in large numbers. The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation also sponsors several yearly events where avian enthusiasts are more likely to spot our finest feathered friends.

Batiquitos Dr. Carlsbad, CA