The cliffs of San Diego overlooking the Pacific are really a sight that needs to be seen. This is one of the great freebies of living in/visiting Southern California. Overall it is a really easy sight taken for granted (or ignored) by residents but we bet many visitors miss it completely. The reality is this is a half hour trip from the airport/downtown and for many visitors well within walking distance of the hotels of UTC/La Jolla. We are talking about the Torrey Pines Gliderport across from UCSD.
A guide to free things to do in San Diego better include watching para gliders. Almost the first thing that observant travel people researching San Diego will notice is that the Torrey Pines Gliderpoint is located on a nude beach. Indeed that is the case, there may, on fairly rare occasions, be nude people below. Nevertheless, this is one of the great free family excursions that should be on the top of your list on a visit to San Diego. We can almost guarantee a nude free visit and this is the type of place that while, maybe only converting a few, can generally make people realize why they moved to the area. It is a great spot that after many years you can come to and just sit and wonder at life.
The Gliderport is simply that, a place where at first hang gliders, and more frequently nowadays para gliders can jump off the 400 foot cliffs and soar to their hearts content. The naked part refers to the fact that at the bottom lies the famous clothing optional Black’s Beach. Our family having lived in San Diego for either all their life or a minimum of 25 years can say that of all the many times we have been to the gliderport the ants (are they people?) on the beach far below may or may not have been naked. In other words, Black’s Beach is far away from the Gliderport.
Getting to the Gliderport is a simple matter of exiting off the I-5 at Genesse Ave and going west up the hill to Torrey Pines Rd. Make a left at Torrey Pines go two streets and make a right on Torrey Pines Scenic Drive by the sign to the Gliderport. Go to the end of the street and enter the dirt parking lot for plenty of free parking. If you want to keep your car clean there is usually plenty of free parking space on Torrey Parks Scenic Drive.
From the parking lot you will see the main building which houses a shop for serious glider gear, a very good cafe and plenty of viewing room. Activity will vary by season and weather but there are usually a few people out gliding and on Saturdays they say they have live music from 1-4 (we were there at 2:30 on a summer Saturday with no music so take it with a grain of salt). Sandwiches at the Cliffhanger cafe are about $9.
The cool thing about Torrey Pines Gliderport is just walking around. It is on a bluff 400 ft over the sea and is subject to constant erosion. As such it is a great place to explore, making sure you stay clear of the well marked no trespassing pilot’s area. Kids can climb over fairly rough crooks and cranies that will vary from year to year and it really has a unique, almost lunar landscape feel. It is has just always been a huge hit for out of town visitors and for many San Diego friends we have brought who have NEVER been here despite living there entire lives in this hood!
Oh, so about the naked beach? About a hundred yards south of the Gliderport is the trail down to the beach. And it is a long way down. The parking for the beach and Gliderport are shared and we had a funny time talking to a couple from Miami, Florida hoping to jump on a nude beach and believing that hundreds of feet down was San Diego’s finest. Yes, there are nude people a long walk down but the Gliderport is a separate place and overall Black’s Beach is disappointing as far as the nude thing goes.
Overall this is a G rated experience that is a great San Diego freebie. That is unless you want to get into the mix and try hang gliding or para gliding. A tandem glide ranges from $175 to $225 and with no experience they strap you to an expert. Over the years we have seen this move from hang gliding to paragliding and given that we have seen far fewer paragliding incidents we would choose the latter. However, our experts in such areas say that overall this is one of the safest places to learn the sport. It definitely is one of the most spectacular!
For some hikes in this area see:
Our 4-mile walk through Black’s Beach
Our classic 4-mile Torrey Pines hike