If you’ve spent some time on the coast in Southern California, you know there’s really no such thing as a “bad view” along this attractive stretch of the Pacific shoreline. But in this celebrity-minded region of ascending stardom, some of these vistas shine brighter than others. Here we explore a few of our favorite vantage points, from sunny San Diego to seductive Santa Barbara.
TORREY PINES STATE NATURAL RESERVE, LA JOLLA
It’s located in San Diego city lines, but it also holds the distinction of being on the “wildest” stretches of coastline in Southern California. Why? Foresight. Before San Diego became the city it is today, efforts were already underway to preserve—and keep preserved—the 1,500 acres that make up this stunning natural reserve.
Unlike a park, a reserve seeks to protect threatened plants, animals, habitats or unique geological formations that call the area home. As a result, visitors may enjoy beautiful walking trails, unspoiled beaches, rare Torrey pines and a lagoon vital to migrating seabirds.
How to Get There: 12600 North Torrey Pines Road in San Diego. From either direction on I-5, take the Carmel Valley Road exit and drive west for about 1.5 miles until you reach S. Camino Del Mar. Turn left (go south) and proceed along the beach for about ½ mile. The entrance is on your right just before the road begins to climb up the North Torrey Pines grade.
Before You Visit: Leave your furry friend at home. Dogs are not permitted in the reserve at any time.
HEISLER PARK, LAGUNA BEACH
This little piece of paradise tucked right in the middle of the action is your afternoon respite in stylish Laguna Beach. Stretching along the bluffs on Cliff Drive from Aster Street to Diver’s Cove, here you’ll find the perfect perch to breathe in that salty Pacific air and admire a patch of Orange County’s romantic coastline. The park is also home to walking trails, gardens, a marine refuge with tide pools, sculptures, barbecues and lawn bowling greens.
How to Get There: 375 Cliff Drive in Laguna Beach. Take Pacific Coast Highway South into the heart of Laguna Beach.
Before You Visit: Pack a lunch or grab something at a nearby eatery to enjoy an oceanfront view from one of the picnic tables.
SEASCAPE TRAIL, PALOS VERDES PENINSULA
This breathtaking coastline is one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets. Fortunately, guests at Terranea Resort get to experience these views firsthand from their room balcony. Just beyond the resort and starting at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, this easy but vista-rich hike takes you north on the coastal bluffs. Enjoy 1.5 miles of natural wonders, with the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy to one side and the hills of Catalina Island to the other. Plan to see tide pools, native flora and fauna and, depending on the season, a migrating grey whale.
How to Get There: From Terranea Resort, head north on Palos Verdes Drive West in the direction of the Pointe Vicente Lighthouse. Easily reachable on foot from the resort.
Before You Visit: Dogs are welcome, but leave your bicycles behind.
CORRAL CANYON PARK, MALIBU
Though called a park, these 100 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountains are stewarded much like Torrey Pines in order to protect their natural integrity. In fact, Bob Hope once planned to build a home and golf course on the site, but the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy purchased the land first and opened it to the public.
Filled with glorious walking and hiking trails, the summits will give you a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and plenty of opportunities to spot quail, deer and hawks along the way. For an accessible hike, try the Sara Wan Trailhead, a 2.5-mile loop with parking and picnic facilities.
How to Get There: 25623 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Take Pacific Coast Highway north toward Malibu and turn inland 4.5 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road. There’s a parking lot on north side of highway.
Before You Visit: Bring some cash, as there might be a small fee to enter and park.
POINT MUGU STATE PARK, VENTURA COUNTY
Stretching from Newbury Park all the way to the ocean, this expansive park offers a mix of terrain—from sprawling meadows and grassy hills to cactus-specked cliffs and coastal scrubbed cliff sides. The sweet spot is the hike up to Mugu Peak, starting just outside the Point Mugu Naval Base. You’re looking at about a 5-mile moderate climb to the peak, but the work is worth it. From the top you’ll see the Channel Islands, Mugu Lagoon, Boney Ridge and even an American flag perched near the summit.
How to Get There: 9000 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Head north on Pacific Coast Highway toward Ventura County. You’ll find a dirt parking lot just before the Point Mugu Naval Base.
Before You Visit: Wear proper hiking boots to protect yourself from ticks or rattlesnakes. The snakes are more afraid of you, but better safe than sorry.
THE DOUGLAS FAMILY PRESERVE, SANTA BARBARA
This 70-acre preserve is located in Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood above Arroyo Burro Beach. Acquired by The Trust for Public Land and transferred to the city, the open space is full of hiking and walking trails, wildlife and scenic views of the Pacific.
Originally a nursery, there were plans to turn the property into grounds for a luxury hotel and residential and retirement community. Thanks to local residents and a generous donation by actor Michael Douglas, a preserve emerged triumphant for all to enjoy … including dogs, invited to run off-leash in certain areas.
How to Get There: Between Medcliff Road and Selrose Lane. Enter the park on Oak Grove Trail at the intersection of Las Positas Road and the southern side of Cliff Drive.
Before You Visit: Bring binoculars to observe dolphins, whales and drifting hang gliders.