Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma is one of San Diego’s great free attractions. Located only a few miles from the airport this is great way to experience the beauty of the San Diego coastline. It is easy to simply park at the cliffs and enjoy the view. However, this experience is best enjoyed by taking a troll along the cliffs. Kids love to explore the rocks and this is a great way to get them to exercise without complaining. This article describes our basic 3-mile Sunset Cliffs Hike.
Starting Point: 1370 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. San Diego, CA 92107
Length: 3 to 4 miles
Elevation: mostly flat
This is a basic out-and-back hike along the coastline. You can start from either end, but we usually start from the Inn at Sunset Cliffs. This is at the southern edge of the funky San Diego neighborhood of Ocean Beach before it officially becomes Point Loma. One idea is to pack a picnic lunch for the turnaround point of the hike. If you want to start at the other end, simply drive another mile or so until Sunset Cliffs Blvd ends at Ladera St and Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. Generally, there is plenty of parking at both ends (as well as all along the trail).
For fans of the classic teenage detective show Veronica Mars, the Inn at Sunset Cliffs was the setting of Veronica’s apartment building. This show was filmed in San Diego and many beach shots were filmed around Ocean Beach. The start of the trail is marked by a sign right next to the hotel.
Immediately as you start you will see many opportunities to climb out on the rocks. Generally, this is not something we do for a big cardio hike but instead use it as a chance to play around and enjoy the view. It can be a good idea to check tide tables. If you really want to enjoy exploring the rocks and the sea creatures it is best to go at low tide.
Of course, as the name implies this is a great place to view the sunset. However, we usually do this hike earlier in the day. If you do go for the sunset just be aware the temperature is likely to drop significantly minutes after the sun goes down. It should also be noted that many of the falls that occur at Sunset Cliffs occur after dark.
Falls are uncommon, but definitely do occur. Especially if you are with kids you need to be cautious of not only the cliffs but also the rocks. Climbing out on the rocks is fun but a sudden wave can wreck you day. On Christmas Day 2015, this area made national news when a tourist from Indiana fell to his death right at sunset. In this case, he was apparently distracted by looking at his cellphone.
There are actually two places where you can access the beach here. You can see our guides to what is known as No Surf Beach and Rope Beach. Past Hill St, before Monaco St you will see a circular fenced area. This is an open hole to Sunset Cliffs Cave. This cave can be accessed from the beach at very low tides.
The reality is this is a very safe hike and perfectly fine for children. There are a couple sections where you must walk along the road shoulder, but this is only for a short distance and in most cases there are barriers to keep you away from the road. Like many of our cliffside hikes, such as Torrey Pines, caution is always necessary when there are dropoffs.
The trail ends at the main portion of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. This is a 68-acre park operated by the city of San Diego. This is a great place for a picnic. Kids will enjoy walking through the trees and exploring the hillside above the ocean. There is some major restoration work going on to the park so some areas may be closed off. For more information about the improvements go here.
Beyond the park it is difficult to go much further. On the hilltop, above the ocean is Point Loma Nazarene University. The beach to the south is restricted U.S. Naval property. So basically, it is time to turn around and retrace the route to where you started. If you wanted you could walk through some of the hilly side streets, but usually by this time people are just ready to head back. Depending on how much side exploring you do this is a 3 to 4 roundtrip and will take from 1 to 2 hours.
If you have worked up an appetite, Ocean Beach has some great eating places. Most of them are casual but there are a few upscale ones. See our complete guide to OB for more details.