The most scenic beaches in San Diego are generally found at the state parks. Arguably the most scenic beach is Torrey Pines State Beach which runs about 3 miles miles from La Jolla to Del Mar. The beach can be divided into several areas. This covers what we call Torrey Pines State Beach South.
Beach Type: Large state beach
Access: Directly from parking lot
Parking: Torrey Pines State Beach south parking lot, $10-20 per vehicle
Facilities: Full restrooms in the parking lot
Good For: Laying out in the Sun, scenery, hiking, swimming, surfing, family day at the beach, lagoon exploring, kayaking, paddleboard
Not Good For: Lack of crowds
Torrey Pines State Beach South is actually somewhat of a misnomer, as the parking lot lies more towards the north end of the beach. However, as you head south from the beach there are 300-foot bluffs that limit access. To the far south end of the state beach is Black’s Beach, a famous nude beach.
The parking lot for Torrey Pines State Beach South is where the bluffs of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve end and give way to a low-lying area that opens into a lagoon. About a mile to the north Highway 101 rises again into the bluffs of Del Mar.
There are two lots at Torrey Pines State Beach South, the lower lot for beach goers and the upper lot designed more for visitors to the reserve. However, many reserve visitors park in the lower lot and hike up the hill. The reserve has some of the best hiking trails in San Diego and many of our hikes start from this parking lot. We often combine a day at the beach with hikes.
On a busy summer day this area can get crowded. Parking here costs $10-20 at the state park, and there is limited free parking north along Highway 101. Generally, the south parking lot fills up faster than the north parking lot, which is located off Carmel Valley Road. See our overview of Torrey Pines Beach North here.
The actual beach at Torrey Pines can be secluded if you are willing to walk. The area in front of the parking lot is obviously the most crowded, but if you walk to the south along the bluffs, the crowds quickly disappear. Of course, if you walk too far south you will hit clothing optional Black’s Beach. However, that is over a 2-mile walk. Torrey Pines State Beach South is one of the most family friendly beaches in San Diego.
In terms of Torrey Pines State Beach South versus the north beach, we probably go to the north beach about two-thirds of the time. This is because we have a California State Park annual parking pass and the north parking lot is more convenient, off the Carmel Valley Rd exit of Interstate 5. There are also some takeout food options near the north side. On busy days there may be a food truck at the south parking lot, but other than that you need to pack your own food.
In our experience the surf south of the lagoon entrance tends to be calmer than the northern side. Of course, many times we like the rough surf, but if the rip currents are strong we will tend to head here instead of the North parking lot.
The one downside is that during certain times of year and at high tides this area can be quite rocky. The beach actually changes quite a bit depending on weather conditions. If you are looking for a more traditional beach experience with lots of sand and grassy parks you can head a few miles south to La Jolla Shores.