The 5 Most Unknown Spots in San Diego

Consider this a challenge, San Diego. I am a non-native Californian. I have lived among you for a long time. I hate to say it, but I know more about your city and your county than any native. I’ve kept quiet about this for years, but when I saw this blog post on Josh’s blog, I had to speak up. I had to speak up because while there’s nothing wrong with any of those spots, everyone, and I mean everyone, in the United States knows about them. Black’s Beach? I’ve run into people in Iowa who wanted to talk nude San Diego beaches. Mt. Soledad? It’s in plain sight above La Jolla. There’s been a Court case about the cross atop it for over twenty years! The Whaley House? It’s only on every travel channel show and is considered the “most haunted” house in the entirety of the United States. Coronado’s sand dunes? You walk through them to get to the beach. Not a secret either.

You want secret spots in San Diego? Let me now challenge you as a non-native: do you know where more than one of my secret spots are located? Have you been there? If so, then I take my hat off to you. If not, my challenge remains intact, and I will remain the definitive San Diego expert. Finally, if you think you’ve got a better spot or spots as I did before I wrote this article, put your money where your mouth is, and let me know in the comments, because chances are, I already know it!

1)      Broken Hill, Torrey Pines State Reserve

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Do you know where the best place to watch the sun set is in San Diego? Even though it’s a tough call, I do. It’s atop Broken Hill at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Torrey Pines has two things: the rarest pine tree in the nation, and amazing sculpted sand cliffs. Interestingly enough, these sedimentary rocks used to be the ocean seafloor millions of years ago. The best place to see these two things? Broken Hill.

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Follow the trail to the overlook at the end, and you’ll learn why it’s called Broken Hill, because you’ll be sitting high on the edge of the “broken” or missing piece. From this point, the very bones of the earth seem exposed, and you feel like a bird, floating high over the Pacific which stretches out before you. My tip: take dinner, have a seat, and watch the world turn on a summer’s night.

2)      The White Ghost Deer of Presidio Park

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Ever heard of a little thing called the San Diego Zoo? Of course you have. It world-famous. Before it was world famous, it was just a zoo. As just a zoo, it had an escapee. A deer. Did that deer make it far away from the zoo? No. It settled in Presidio Park, right next to Mission Hills, which is where it lived peacefully for years until it met with an unlucky end. Rather than that being the end though, it decided to come back and haunt where it had lived – which it still does to this day. If you go to the right spot in the park, you’ll find a plaque and a water bowl for the ghost deer to this day. (More information here). My tip: once you’ve found the bowl and plaque, head into Hillcrest for some food, because you’ll be hungry. My favorite spot: R-Gang Eatery.

3)      The Borrego Sandman of Ranchita

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In case ghosts of wild animals roaming the parks of San Diego aren’t unusual enough for you, there’s also mythical creatures lurking in the dead zones of the city and county. Even stranger, there’s a monument built to these creatures. What is a Borrego Sandman? There’s a large degree of uncertainty about what they are but what is known is that they’ve made it up into the County of San Diego, and probably the into city as well. What is also known is that there’s a life size statute of one in Ranchita outside the post office that you can visit. Whether the Sandman is a Bigfoot or something else, just don’t confuse it with a Yeti like I did. My tip: if you’re out here, head into the desert to see the man-made prehistoric creatures outside of Borrego Springs and on your way back, get some fresh pie – Julian Apple or other at Dudley’s Bakery.

4)      The Secret Sea Cave of Cabrillo National Monument

According to the NPS website, this spot is now off limits, check out their site for more information on this.

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Everyone knows that Cabrillo National Monument commemorates his discovery of San Diego. But what most people don’t know is that the most beautiful cave in the entire county is on the Western side of the monument. It’s only accessible at low tide. But, if you’re willing to edge along some of the iconic cliffs that Juan Cabrillo saw from his ship, and skirt a narrow opening, you’ll find yourself in a spot that’s been preserved for years.

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This hike’s not for the faint hearted, and I cannot stress enough that you have to go at low tide; otherwise, you’ll find yourself swimming home. But if you’re willing to risk it, it’s worth it, and what you need to know can be found here.

5)      Black Mountain’s Glider Port

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Sure, there’s that Glider Port down in La Jolla, but if you really want to see the entirety of the city and county, you’re going to want to get a bird’s eye view. The best way to do that is to leap off a mountain in the middle of the city. Luckily enough, Black Mountain is in the middle of the city and tall enough to provide a great launching pad. Even better, it has a set runway that is basically like a secret airport. Even if you don’t want to risk life and limb, this is a great spot to watch others do so, and see where you want to head on your next adventure. Bonus secret tip: this is one of two “secret” aeronautical areas in San Diego, but the only one that is still operational. The other would be the defunct Del Mar Airport.

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And, that San Diego is my top five list of unusual or hidden spots.

Update 2016: Chris wrote about 10 more spots that are unknown in San Diego, check it out here.

About the Author

The Last Adventurer is a jack-of-all trades guy that hikes, climbs, mountaineers, skis, surfs, runs, looks for strange spots, explores strange spots, and does just about everything in between. He’s also a podcaster on iiawt.com, a blogger at lastadventurer.com, and a bad freelance writer that misses deadlines that he sets himself.

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About Last Adventurer

The Last Adventurer is an jack-of-all trades outdoorsman who likes to climb, hike, and explore strange places around the Western United States and the world. He can be followed at lastadventurer.com.

  • Carlos villal

    Gr8t post! Finally something diff. about SD that’s not the usual. Kudos & keep it coming!

    • Ya I really like the suggestions Last Adventurer had in this post, lots I still need to do as well!

  • HeyCourtneyRae

    This is awesome, I’ve lived in CA my whole life and never knew about this! I might brave it out and go one day soon!

    A Golden State of Mind

  • Candace Agnew

    Dang, so many new places to explore! So pleased to have seen all these, thanks again, Josh!!!

    • No problem, glad you like the site! Feel free to share it with others!

      • Candace Agnew

        Thanks, will definitely share!

  • Ravean Kretowicz

    I won’t argue that those are good spots, but as you have challenged me, a local, to a game of secret spots I know quite a few that rival these, and yes I did know all of these spots minus the Borrego Sandman. Have you ever hiked Fat Mans Misery and seen the awesome display of cave face carvings? Or have you gone venturing into Cooks crack in La Jolla? How about the Indian ruins and caves below the homes between the cove and the shores?

    • Last Adventurer

      Hahah! Now we’re talking! Challenge ACCEPTED. In terms of ye olde “Fat Man’s Mystery” and “Canyon of the Faces”, I actually worked at Torrey Pines, so I am very familiar with those “off limits” spots and a couple others (including some ‘homes’ that were built into the sandstone cliffs and then eventually sealed over). Cooks Crack, done that; and Indian ruins, yes, I’ve done that too, but among the people I’ve been with there’s a debate whether those spots are authentic native american or not, especially given the high traffic in those areas. Good spots though, let’s keep this rolling!

  • Bruce Behymer

    What about:
    1) Agua Caliente Hot Springs County Park with a pool sized spa fed by natural hot springs
    2) The Goat Canyon Trestle – Worlds highest curved wooden train trestle
    3) The mud caves
    4) The wind caves
    5) The San Luis Rey bike trail from Guajome Park to Oceanside Harbor

    • Last Adventurer

      1) Been there, always think I’m Imperial County when I am, but nope, still in SD! 🙂
      2) Love that spot, didn’t include it, because it’s hard for the novice/average hiker to get to. Probably my favorite hike in the county though.
      3) Arroyo Tapiado: awesome spot, definitely not a secret based on the traffic I’ve seen there in recent years.
      4) Need more information: which wind caves are you talking about?
      5) That’s ok: not sure I’d really call it a secret either.

      Right now my top secret spot in the County is the Jamul Kiln. Almost feel like asking Josh to let me revise my post. 🙂

  • Last Adventurer

    Tony Andrews: Wow, great list! Very impressive! To be honest, when I wrote the article for Josh, I was trying to stay as close to the city confines as possible, so that’s why I didn’t talk about things out in the Anza Borrego Desert – and there’s DEFINITELY a lot of secret/cool spots out there. Including the Arroyo Tapiado, Palm Spring, Goat Canyon Trestle, Blue Sun Cave, Split Mountain, Galleta Meadows, Hellhole Canyon, Fonts Point, and many more.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I think you’re right: the White Deer needs to go off the list (it’s a cool concept, but it’s a little like the Del Mar Airport: you show up and look, then you leave). In its place, I submit that the Jamul Kiln (pictured below) should definitely be on the list. I’d link to my site which has a description, but I don’t want to practice bad blogging etiquette. 🙂 Nevertheless, if you go there, you’ll find some more epic photos of this spot. Another good spot is the Lawrence Welk Caves, but the area does have a litter problem.

    Three Sisters for me falls into the Lawrence Welk Category of too much litter/too many people. It’s a shame, because it was a beautiful area. Also, with the drought, there’s just not that much water left.

    But, I will admit – you have me stumped on #2 and #4: WINNER! If you feel like sharing your secrets, send me an e-mail, if not, I’m going to try and find out on my own! Thanks!

    • Jenae Myers

      Would love to know how to get to these places! Feel free to email info on how to get there 🙂

  • Alex

    I have some questions about the adobe falls. Can I contact you by email please? Thanks!

  • Jenae Myers

    I would love to know where these spots are! Can you email me how to get there?

  • pleasantries

    How do you get to the Borrego Sandman?

  • Elmer

    Do you know we have our own Hollywood sign in San Diego?

    • Nope, where is that at?

  • Impressed

    That last photo is so beautiful!

  • Nina

    Have you guys ever heard of the shroom caves? It’s this really awesome place to adventure/hang out at, and once you get to the top, the view is awesome! It overlooks san elijo lagoon and the ocean in solana beach c:

    • Thanks for the suggestion, I have never heard of it so I will have to check it out!

  • Frances Cordelia

    Hi there! I was wondering if you could report the directions to the secret sea cave again, the link doesn’t seem to be working!

    • I updated the link so it should be correct again, thanks for letting me know!

  • Jacquelynn Russell

    I’m trying to find some new areas to explore. Three Sisters Falls in Descanso is amazing and by far one of my favorites. I’m researching Thunder Canyon for some cave dwelling/spelunking.. I heard there are caves similar To thunder canyon in North County SD/Pala/Warner Springs area. If you have any info please share. Thanks (:

    • Thanks for the comment, I still need to do Three Sisters Falls! I would recommend asked LastAdventurer.com about caves as he seems to know a lot more about the caves of the SD area then me.

      • Jacquelynn Russell

        Will do! You should try to get the falls in soon. All this rain is going to make them that much more spectacular.

        • Ya, good idea! I need to do this for sure!

  • Thanks for sharing!

  • Lisa Nasco

    Fallen Star on the UCSD campus

    • Thanks for the comment, this is a great recommendation!

      • Lisa Nasco

        It is really cool

  • Crystal
  • I just want to visit Secret Sea Cave.Thanks for mentioning it .