Spectacular Short Coastal Hikes in the San Diego Area: Razor Point and Annie's Canyon Trail

By Charleen - January 10, 2022

During a New Year's 2022 family gathering near San Diego, we enjoyed outdoor cooking, hiking and reading in the sunshine. We revisited the spectacular Torrey Pines shoreline and discovered a hidden canyon gem in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Preserve. Each of these featured hikes is less than 2 miles round trip.   

California is known for its stunning and varied landscapes. In addition to its nine National Parks, a network of state parks and local parks offer new discoveries for every trip. One of my favorite places is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, south of the Monterey area. On a family trip around 5th grade, this was where I took my very first hike, and we happily walked every trail in the reserve. About 30 years later, I was able to take my own family to Point Lobos. The big thrill was hearing a tapping noise that led to seeing my first sea otter in the wild.

We were able to enjoy exploring the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve a bit more frequently as it was closer to my home growing up. On this trip in 2022, we were limited in time to a single trail so we selected a route with some of the most iconic views of these dramatic wind- and rain-etched cliffs. 

We also discovered new hikes in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve, a San Diego County Park. While our initial path was stymied by an impassible area (without waders) due to the recent rainstorm, we were able to find an alternative dog-friendly loop past reed-lined lagoons and bright red prickly pears on the east side of the preserve. 

East side of San Elijo Preserve

Then we drove to the western end of the preserve where we discovered the narrow Slot Canyon portion of Annie's Canyon Trail, which was a lot of fun. 

Coming up Slot Canyon in the one way portion of Annie's Canyon Trail

Dogs are not allowed in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, but my sister's chow chows enjoyed hiking the trails around the San Elijo area and going for walks in the neighborhood.  

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

There are few vistas more striking than the wind- and water-etched red-tan cliffs at Torrey Pines. Although the state beach attracts a lot of visitors, filling up the parking lots, to me the true beauty of this area requires a walk or drive up to the top of the cliffs. 

Red sandstone cliffs from the Beach Trail

Torrey Pines is named for the most rare type of pine tree in the US -- Pinus torreyana, with its big pine cones, long thin needles and leaning, twisted wind-sculpted branches. I believe at our last visit, I read that the few remaining pines are genetically identical, contributing to their fragility. The Torrey Pine grows only here and on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands National Park

Torrey Pine

Nov. 2023 update: The Torrey pines in La Jolla are genetically identical, but the groves on Santa Rosa Island are slightly different, with larger cones and denser branches. Click here for our hike to see them. 

The reserve also includes one of the last natural salt marshes in the state, but we did not have a chance to visit this area.

On this trip, we brought my 89 year-old mother, who was limited to walking among the benches along the top of the ridge and a short segment of the Guy Fleming trail before we had to return for a Zoom call with other family members. So we limited our main hike to a single loop with high yield views.

West Overlook

This is a short, flat gentle trail that leads to some nice ocean viewpoints with benches. Red Butte dominates the vista, with scattered Torrey Pines rising above the short bushy shrubs characteristic of chaparral vegetation. 

Red Butte and a distant Torrey pine from lookout near parking area

Beach Trail - Razor Point Trail Loop

Razor Point Trail is a 0.7 mile out and back trail.  Because it intersects with other trails, we were able to take a stem-loop round trip of about 1.6 miles by starting down the Beach Trail past Red Butte, staying right when Beach Trail branches off the to left, and then turning right at the branch point between Yucca Point and Razor Point. After we took in the views at Razor Point, we returned via the Razor Point Trail.

Red Butte, which can be seen from the Overlook, is fun to climb up. 

At the base of Red Butte

As you continue down the trail, you will see the iconic knife-edge, sculped cliffs of reddish sandstone on the right. 

An early view of the largest stretch of sandstone cliffs

Although we started down the Yucca Point trail, we decided to turn around and head more directly for Razor Point so that my mom and siblings did not have to wait as long for us to finish our hike. 

This path, which goes parallel to the shore offers some dramatic views with knife-edge red and tan sandstone ridges pointing downwards to the green-blue surf.

Connecting from the base of the Yucca Trail towards Razor Point

Seagulls and waves greeted us as we headed back from Razor Point. When we got back to the lot, the docent told us the tide was extra high this morning, about 9 ft instead of the normal 3.

Seagulls and breaking waves.  

Razor Point itself offers panoramic views that includes coastline to the north of the main reserve. 

Looking north from Razor Point

Returning along the Razor Point trail yields a nice view up a valley lined with rounded ochre yellow sandstone cliffs. 

Returning back uphill along the Razor Point Trail

Guy Fleming Trail

The volunteer docent recommended this trail for my mom. It is a 0.6 mile stem-loop trail with its own small parking area downhill to the trailhead. There are some groves of Torrey Pines and two scenic overlooks. 

At the end of the short stem, it was a gentle uphill to the right and a somewhat steeper descent to the left. We chose the gentler side as we knew we did not have time to take my mother around the entire loop. This side wound around a huge rock formation with groves of Torrey Pines and a view down into the salt marshes. 

View along the right side of the Guy Fleming loop

Useful Info

Dogs are not allowed. The Reserve is open dawn to dusk and coming early allows you to avoid the crowds. By the time we returned to the lot around 9:30, the rangers had set up a tented information area, where you can feel the Torrey pine cones and needles. 

From 21 or North Torrey Pines Rd, turn into the South Beach & Reserve Entrance, where you will see a parking lot along the beach.  Drive to the south end of the parking lot, where you will see signs telling you to pay for parking at a pay station before heading uphill along Torrey Pines Park Rd to the two parking areas near the Visitor Center Lodge. Turn left to go to the Visitor Center, but stay straight and to the right to park closest to the trailheads.

This parking lot has a stand of porta-potties, complete with well-stocked handwashing stations with a foot pedal to make the water run.  

Contour map showing elevation changes of the main trails

🐾 Love2Chow Tips
Parking/park entry cost $20 in Jan 2021. If you have the exact amount in cash, you do not have to use the pay machines along the beach, but can drive directly up to the Visitor Center area and pay the ranger or leave the money in an envelope, putting the filled out receipt part on your windshield. Otherwise, you will have to stop and use the pay machines before heading up in your car. 

San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

This 979 acre research stretches about five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. It acts to preserve the coastal wetlands or estuary, where the incoming salt water tides mix with fresh water streams and storm drains. Highway 5 divides the reserve into eastern and western parts and the preserve is bordered by neighborhoods in Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, Encinitas and Cardiff-by-the-Sea. 

Horse trail in eastern San Elijo. Note the distant bird on the branch overhanging the trail

Horses are allowed in the eastern part of the reserve, and leashed dogs are allowed on most of the trails. The exception is the narrow one-way ascent up Slot Canyon on Annie's Canyon Trail. Our hikes in the eastern reserve were stymied by higher than normal levels of water at the Orilla Creek crossing, but we changed direction and followed a narrow equestrian path past small lagoons and and prickly pear cacti.

Prickly pear


Annie's Canyon Trail

Once closed to the public, the soft sandstone walls in this area had been subject to painted and carved graffiti and vandalism. A local Solano Beach woman named Annie helped lead the restoration effort, leading to the opening of this trail in 2016.  

One of the trail heads that leads to Annie's Canyon Loop is at the end of N. Rios Avenue in Solano Beach, CA.  According to my Map My Run trace, the round trip from the trailhead was 1.5 miles, with a 156 ft elevation change from trail head to the highest point of the lookout area.  We found parking on a side street about 1/3 of a mile away, so our total walk was just over 2 miles.  

A bench is situated just above the purple circle. The one-way narrow part of the loop is to the left of the blue 1, and you can see the two-way switchback path to the lookout above it. 

Almost immediately after starting down the steps to the trail, we saw a juvenile hawk on a branch silhouetted against a dry area of the lagoon bottom.

An hour later on our way back after completing the slot canyon hike, the hawk was still there!

At the branch point, you can turn left to go up the moderate switchback part of the trail or turn right to pass sandstone walls with carved graffiti. 

For a while before the canyon narrows, you can see hardy trees clinging to the edge of the cliffs.

Then you enter the beginning of the slot canyon.

On New Year Day, a Saturday shortly after noon, you will inevitably get to a point where you have to wait in line to ascend the narrow slot canyon.

There is a little side trail off to the left, which leads to a heart-shaped grotto or cave. Apparently this used to be known as the mushroom cave, but it is a lot more romantic-looking now that much of the graffiti paint has been cleaned off.

Towards the end of the trail, there are several metal ladders leading to the lookout area at the top of the slot canyon. 

Turning around, you can see the winding path leading up this narrow canyon.

The views from the lookout are magnificent.  A set of broad steps leads back down the moderate switchback portion of the trail.

Heading back down the switchback, dog-friendly part of the trail with a view of San Elijo Lagoon

🐾 Love2Chow Tips
Parking can be tight around the trailhead for Annie's Canyon Trail as it is all street parking. There is a bench at the trailhead, where my mom waited until we got parked, although the descent ended up being too steep for her. As dogs cannot traverse the ladders near the end of the one way Slot Canyon ascent, my sister took her and the chows home after she had a chance to enjoy the fresh air and views.

For an alternative parking area approaching the slot canyon from other other side for a 1.8 mile round trip, see the HikingGuy's blog post. 


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