There’s much more to the Southern Californian coast towns than beautiful beaches. On our recent trip, we made outdoor excursions beyond the sand and surf. Here are five experiences we particularly enjoyed.
San Diego’s North County was once the home of Paul Ecke’s Poinsettia Ranch, which was single-handedly responsible for popularizing the plant for Christmas. As a result, the area became known as the flower capital of the world. Today, the Flower Fields in Carlsbad keeps up the tradition by cultivating 50 acres of ranunculus, a member of the buttercup family. The flowers blossom for about six to eight weeks each spring, but April is peak season. Visitors can walk the paths between the sea of colorful blooms or hop aboard the antique tractor wagon to get a better view. Besides strolling amid the flowers, we visited the Cymbidium Orchid Greenhouse and made our way to the 2-acre blueberry patch, where guests can pick a pint or two to take with them. Reservations are highly recommended.
Early Spanish explorers called this area Punto de Los Arboles, or Point of Trees, for the groves that dotted this area of the coastline. Set within the San Diego city limits, this 1,500-acre expanse is not a park but a reserve that contains wetlands, beaches, maritime chaparral and the endangered Torrey Pine, which is native to only two spots in California (here and Santa Rosa Island). Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a lovely place for an easy self-guided day hike (the longest trail is 1.3 miles). We took the southernmost South Fork Trail (closest to Torrey Pines Lodge) to the Broken Hill Overlook, which had light foot traffic and offered a scenic view at the end. You can also access the reserve’s six trails from the visitor center, which is housed in the original Torrey Pines Lodge, built in 1922.
Our visit to the San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas was an unexpected delight. We spent more than three hours exploring and taking photos in this 37-acre oasis. During our April visit, the World of Orchids exhibition was showcasing exotic specimens from members of the San Diego County Orchid Society, the Palomar Orchid Society and various commercial growers in the area. From the conservatory, we walked the 4 miles of paths through more than 5,000 species of plants, grouped together by place of origin (New Zealand, Africa, Australia, Mexico, Mediterranean and more) and characteristic (bamboo gardens, Old World desert gardens, succulent gardens and fruit trees, for example). Various ponds and waterfalls add to the ambiance.
A great way to visit the little beach towns along the coast is by bicycle. If it sounds intimidating to travel down a highway on two wheels, rest assured, in this case it’s not: One of the two lanes each way is dedicated to cyclists, so you can pedal without worry while getting a good feel for the towns you pass though. We rented complimentary e-bikes from our hotel, the Alila Marea Beach Resort in Encinitas, and rode them south past cute restaurants, breweries, cafés and more surf shops than we could count. Our endpoint was Swami’s Beach, a park that offers a sublime view of the surfers navigating the waves below. On the return trip, we stopped for craft beer at Saint Archer Brewery in Leucadia, a beach community in Encinitas, and sat on the patio with the locals we’d just seen on the ride down.
When you think of the Southern California coastline, tidal wetlands may not immediately come to mind. But the 610-acre Batiquitos Lagoon is one of six lagoons in San Diego’s North County that not only play host to resident mammals, fish and birds but also support visiting wildlife on their migratory paths. For years, the lagoon had slowly been filling with silt and trash, and it was expected to dry up within 50 years. A dredging and enhancement project, however, completed in 1996, rescued it from certain death. You can access the lagoon from five public parking lots, or walk to it, as we did, from the Park Hyatt Aviara. Along the nature trail, we passed eucalyptus trees, palms, egrets and very few people. It’s an easy but enjoyable 3.3-mile hike that you can also cut short if you want to.