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
Do you know where the best place to watch the sunset 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.
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
Ever heard of a little thing called the San Diego Zoo? Of course you have. It is world-famous. Before it was world famous, it was just a zoo. As only 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
In case ghosts of wild animals roaming the parks of San Diego aren’t unusual enough for you, there are 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 the city as well. What is also known is that there’s a life-size statue 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.
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.
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
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.
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.