Desperately Seeking Torrey Pine Trees

I would have a bit of fun with this post today. You see, with all the exploring that I have been doing in San Diego County, I have been noticing the elusive Torrey pine trees while on my adventures.

What has me so intrigued is the fact that the Torrey pine tree is endangered and is the rarest pine tree in North America. The Torrey pine tree only grows naturally on a tiny strip of land on the bluffs of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (TPSNR). Because of this, I keep noticing them wherever I go around San Diego County!

I have tried to find any information on who planted all of these trees, but regardless I was ecstatic every time I saw a Torrey pine tree. So I did a little research and let me tell you, it was not easy.  There is plenty of necessary information, but other than that, not so much.

Torrey Pine Tree Information

torrey pine tree scientific information

First and foremost, the Torrey pine tree only grows naturally in two places Del Mar and Santa Rosa Island, off the coast of Santa Barbara, which is 175 miles away.

The Santa Rosa Island trees are a subspecies – Pinus torreyana insulavis and are usually shorter, more sprawling, have shorter needles, and broader cones compared to the mainland population.

1024px Torrey Pine at Santa Rosa Island wikimedia commons
Torrey Pine at Santa Rosa Island- Credit-Wikimedia Commons

Torrey pine trees that are found in Del Mar (Pinus torreyana torreyana) are wind-sculpted, more bent on the bluffs, and rarely reach heights over 39 feet (12 m). In contrast, inland trees in more sheltered areas are able to grow straighter and reach heights up to 108- 148 feet (33 m- 45 m) tall.

So, if established in a warm, damp climate, away from the coast, the Torrey pine tree makes an excellent shade tree.

Another interesting fact is that the Torrey pine tree has been planted as a plantation tree for forestry use in New Zealand, Australia, and Kenya.

Where is the World’s Largest Torrey Pine Tree?

Wardholme torrey pine tree landmark santa barbara county

The largest Torrey pine tree is located just south of Santa Barbara, in Carpinteria. The tree, which is named The Wardholme Torrey Pine was planted as a seedling by Judge Thomas Ward in 1888.  The story goes, that this tree was planted as part of a contest to see who could grow the largest Torrey pine tree.

Today, the tree is over 126 feet tall,  with a 130 feet branch spread, and more than a 20-foot trunk circumference.

I can not wait to visit this tree! The Wardholme Torry pine tree can be found in a vacant off of Carpinteria Ave, between Walnut and Maple Avenues.

Update- On July 10th, my husband and I were able to visit the Wardholme Torrey Pine tree! To learn more, click on the link provided!

Longest Needles of all Pines

torrey pine needles close up

One of the easiest ways to tell that you are looking at a Torrey pine tree is to look at the needles. Of all the pines out there, the Torrey pine has the longest needles (9 to 12 inches), and they are paired in fives.

If you take a close look, you will see that there is a grove in the center of each needle, which allows for the fog to accumulate and then drop down onto the tree, down to its roots.

Amazing Torrey Pine Tree Adaptations!

San Diego River Torrey Pine Tree
A Torrey Pine tree established in the rocks next to the San Diego River Channel

Did you happen to know that the Torrey pine tree is the only pine tree that can live on the coast of Southern California? Why? Well, seeing that we get less than 12 inches of rain per year, that is not nearly enough for most pine trees to survive.

So how has the Torrey pine adapted? For instance, say you have a 6-inch seedling, its taproot is already 2 to 3 feet long. So once this tree reaches 40 feet, the taproot is over 200 feet long!

The Torrey pine tree is extremely adaptable and is able to thrive in very poor soil conditions and drought.

How do you ask?

Fog.

The tree will absorb surrounding fog as well as feed on any water source found by its root system. Pretty incredible. And do not forget about those fantastic needles funneling water down to its base.

Where are all the Torrey Pine Trees in San Diego County?

san diego county map google map

So who am I writing this post for? Well, you! I thought that seeing how rare and endangered the Torrey pine tree is, wouldn’t it be fun to find out where they are all located across San Diego County?

I will be starting up in North County San Diego and making my way South. If I have any additional information on each site, I will be linking previous posts which have addresses linked to Google Maps.

Now is the time to start our adventure! Take a look and notice how all the trees look a certain way, the closer they are to the ocean shore.

San Onofre Bluffs Campground

torrey pine tree san onofre campground entrance

At the entrance of the San Onofre Bluffs Campground, there are several large Torrey pine trees to see. They are quite large and notice that they stand more upright than compared to the trees right on the coastline. I love it here! If you like to hike, there 3 miles of sandy beach with six trails that connect the beach to the bluff.


Las Flores Viewpoint

Las Flores viewpoint torrey pine trees

Twenty miles south of San Onofre, there is the Las Flores Viewpoint exit off Interstate 5. Here you have a parking lot, and that is pretty much it. If you have to use the restroom, the Aliso Creek Rest Area is only 2.5 miles south of here.

The first photo is of a Torrey pine tree that is found east of the parking lot. As you can see, it too is more upright compared to the second Torrey pine tree shown in photo number two, which is found right on the bluff.


Aliso Creek Rest Area

aliso creek rest stop torrey pine trees

Here is the grand dame of Rest Areas, which you come upon right before Oceanside. As mentioned above, there are many restrooms here as well as snack vending machines and a large grassy area with and picnic tables.

There are several large trees to see within this lush grassy park area as well as a very tall Torrey pine tree in the center.


Oceanside Harbor

Oceanside Harbor Torrey Pine Trees

There are several Torrey pine trees scattered around Oceanside Harbor. But, in the northern section of the harbor, next to the Jolly Rodger Restaurant, there was a large dead Torrey Pine tree that had become a rookery for the Great blue heron, great egret, and the double-breasted cormorant.

You see that the tentative word here is “was,” because last year, this tree, like several others, was taken down. The birds were very messy, and the restaurant customers had complained, as well as boat owners about this mess. It was a rookery, so I am not sure what to say. If you were to ask me, I would say the mess was worth it.

I am happy that we were able to experience this roosting tree before it was gone. Do you notice again how tall this Torrey pine tree is due to being isolated by the coastal winds?


Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center- Oceanside

Buena Vista Lagoon torrey pine trees

The first time that I visited the Buena Vista Lagoon and walked around the nature centers loop trail, I was so pleasantly surprised to find Torrey pine trees. This area isolated them from the strong winds, and you can tell by how tall they are.

This was the very first lagoon and nature center that I visited, and because of this, I would ‘desperately’ look for Torrey pine trees at each lagoon and nature center after that. And let’s say that I was never disappointed.


Agua Hedionda Lagoon- Carlsbad

Agua Hedionda Parking lot torrey pine trees

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Nature Center

One of the first things that you notice when pulling into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Discovery Center’s parking lot is that there are several Torrey pine trees situated in and around the parking lot. The trees here are quite large compared to the other nature centers.

Bayshore Drive Trail

bayshore dr torrey pine tree carlsbad ca

In May of last year, I was able to explore a few of the northern trails of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. I have to say that my favorite was Bayshore Drive Trail. Can you guess why? Well, because there are several Torrey pine trees here. The trees are right next to where there are benches to observe birds foraging in the mudflats.

As you can see, the trees are growing up-right here.

“Tomato Fields” Carlsbad Abandoned Lot

Torrey pines rows tomato fields carlsbad ca

I found this spot, quite by accident. As I was driving north on Carlsbad Blvd, I noticed two rows of trees standing in an abandoned lot. To say I was intrigued was an understatement.

So I drove over to Manzano Dr, parked my car, and started my adventure! Ever since I have been here, I have desperately tried to find any information on this area, and so far, the only thing I have found is that there used to be a tomato field here in the past.

When, how, or who used to live here, I have no idea, but I will find out! Whoever planted these trees, they sure did an excellent job. Notice how full these trees are compared to bluff trees.

Carlsbad Tomato Fields torrey pine trees comparison

Updated-Whenever I am in the area, I like to stop by over here to see how the trees are doing. Here is a comparison from 2018 to 2020. It should be mentioned that we had an exuberant amount of rain at the beginning of 2020. Can you see the difference in growth?

November 19, 2018

July 2, 2020


Swami’s Seaside Park-Encinitas

torrey pine easter island statue swamis

If I had to pick my most favorite beach to hang out on, Swami’s State Beach would be it! There are several Torrey Pine trees to see here at Swami’s Seaside Park. You will notice that in the center of the park, there is an old Torrey pine tree stump that has been carved into an Easter Island statue!


Coast to Crest Trail-San Dieguito Lagoon

del mar racetrack san dieguito lagoon

While I was hiking the Coast to Crest Trail and the San Dieguito Lagoon, I was happy to see a row of Torrey Pine trees on the trail.

Adjacent to the trail, the Del Mar Racetrack has been rehabilitating the area by cleaning out non-native plants and replacing them with native plants.

The second photo was taken at the very end of the trail. It is not uncommon to see Torrey pine trees everywhere in Del Mar!


Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Maritime Chaparral torrey pines state natural reserve

If you are a lover of Torrey pine trees, then Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is ground zero! As stated above, here is the only place in North America where the Torrey pine tree grows wild. I can express how incredible this park is! In fact, nowhere on earth does any other tree species have such a small habitat as that of the Torrey pine tree.

In the 1980’s many of the Torrey pine trees in the park were starting to become infested by the Bark Beetle.

Over 30% of the trees died. It is believed that the trees became stressed out by drought.  In response, Bark Beetle pheromone traps were set up to get rid of the beetles.

The traps give off a scent of a distressed Torrey pine tree. It was a great success, and the traps were removed in the mid-’90s but were reintroduced in 2001.

Torrey Pines Gliderport

Gliderport Trail Torrey Pine tree Blacks beach below

Down about 2 miles south, up on the hill, in front of Torrey Pines Gliderport, there is a lovely Torrey pine tree that is full and upright.

It should be noted, that Torrey Pines Golf Course is just north of here and the infamous nude beach, Black’s Beach is directly below.


 La Jolla Bluffs

Goldfish point torrey pine trees la jolla

The bluffs of La Jolla are found just south of Torrey Pines State Beach, and due to its location, parts of La Jolla are sheltered from the winds. Case in point is the Torrey pine trees that are found at Goldfish Point and right in front of the Cave Store are very tall. It is not uncommon to see cormorants up in the trees.

La Jolla Coast Walk Trail

La jolla bluff torrey pine tree san diego

Just north of the Cave Store, on the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail, I found this lone tree on the bluffs. Can you even imagine trying to survive by hanging off a cliff? This shows you how deep the roots adhere to the bluff.


Torrey Pine Trees at Mission Bay

torrey pine tree sea world drive san diego
South Shores Launch Ramp

De Anza Cove

I can not tell you how many Torrey pine trees can be found scattered around Mission Bay! First off, let’s start at the most northern section of the bay, over at De Anza Cove. Here is a known rookery for the Great blue egret. Notice too how filled in these sheltered trees are.

Fiesta Island

Next, as we continue, there are a few small Torrey pine trees found at the entrance of Fiesta Island. Notice how windswept these trees are. You can easily guess that the wind is a strong influence over here.

Vacation Isle

Across from Fiesta Island, in the center of the bay, there are many Torrey pine trees over on Vacation Isle. Again, I was surprised by how healthy the trees look in this location.

San Diego River Channel

On the southern edge of Mission Bay, off of Seaworld Drive and parallel to the San Diego River Flood Control Channel, there are many Torrey pine trees to be seen. Again, do you notice how tall the trees are over here?


Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Torrey Pine trees point loma fort rosecrans national cemetery

Did you happen to know that the very best place in San Diego to go bird watching with the most variety of birds is at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma?

San Diego has the most extensive biodiversity of birds and plants in the nation. Located underneath the Pacific Flyway, thousands of birds visit the cemetery and utilize the vast selection of trees that are available here.


San Diego Bay- The Living Coast Discovery Center

living coast discovery center torrey pine trees

If you are ever in the area, I highly suggest visiting The Living Coast Discovery Center, down in Chula Vista. Here you can learn all about the San Diego Bay ecosystem as well as learn about native animals and plants.

While walking in the Native Garden, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had planted two Torrey pine trees. Seeing that we are over 24 miles south of Del Mar, to see Torrey pine trees over here was a great treat!


Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve 

Torrey Pine tree imperial beach border field state park

While hiking at Border Field State Park, which is found in the southwest corner of the Tijuana River Estuarine Research Reserve, I found a great surprise.  At the very beginning of the walking trail, a small Torrey pine tree is growing in the estuary!


Still, on the Hunt for Torrey Pine Trees

las flores viewpoint 2018 torrey pine tree needles

I am going to have so much fun looking out for Torrey pine trees. every time I am on the coast of San Diego.

Another way of putting it, I am going to actively seek out the Monumental Torrey Pine trees in San Diego. A Monumental Tree, (heritage tree), are trees that stand out with great size, width, and age. It is a way to recognize and value urban and city trees.

Del Mar officially has named the Torrey pine tree as a Heritage tree for the city.  No one is allowed to damage or remove any Torrey pine tree in Del Mar without a proper license.

Where are the Monumental Torrey Pine Trees in San Diego?

There are a couple on Catalina Blvd, a few in Coronado, and one in Union Place Circle in La Jolla. Click on the above link for more information.

The city of Ocean Beach has had a long term affair with the Torrey pine tree. Over on Saratoga Ave, there are six heritage trees. Over on Long Branch, there is one more, as well an eighth Torrey pine tree on the corner of Greene and Ebers.

Please check back later, as I am going to visit all of these trees ASAP!

Until next time!

8 Replies to “Desperately Seeking Torrey Pine Trees”

  1. My father, who has lived in Del Mar since 1960, is trying to post information regarding how many of the Torrey Pine trees were planted. However, your Comment function doesn’t seem to be working.

    Would you please contact my Dad, Don Schoell at donschoell30@gmail.com so he may email you this information. We cannot find an email address for you on this website.

    Thank you, Kathleen

    1. Hi Kathleen! I have to say that it was such a pleasure to wake up to your comment this morning! I will definitely reach out to your Dad, as I would love to get more information in regards to the history of the Torrey Pine tree in San Diego. Thank you again for reaching out!

      1. I live at the very top of Pepper Dr in El Cajon, CA, and I am sad to say we had the largest Torrey pine tree on the hill. It was about 120 feet tall, and we had to have it cut down due to bark beetles last year.

        1. Hi Teri! Thank you so much for reaching out! I had no idea that there were Torrey Pine trees in El Cajon! We used to live near Granite Hills off of Jamacha Road over 17 years ago. I used to walk the neighborhood, admiring all of the trees. Know you have motivated me to visit again and see if I can find any Torrey pine trees to document. Wow, 120 feet tall, I sure wish I could have seen it. Thanks again for your response; I appreciate it more than you know!

  2. My family lived in Del Mar from 1960 until 2000. We purchased land and built a house that I designed at 342 Pine Needles Dr. The ocean facing site had several torrey pine trees. We collected tp seeds from our trees and distributed them for planting throughout our neighborhood. Our eagle scout son, Mark, planted many small tps which are now mature trees west of 101 and north of Los Penasquitos Lagoon. Our architectural firm, Schoell and Paul, made plans and presentations in 1974 to the State of California for the successful acquisition of 168 acres of property on the north side of the Lagoon. Now called the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension it preserved 1,500 Torrey Pine trees and provided trails to view and enjoy them.

    1. Hi Don! I can not tell you how much I appreciate your information. Thank you so much! Do you mind if I add this information to my post? So far, I have yet to hike over at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension, but it has been on the top of my list of places to explore. Now that I know a little more history of the area, it will make it that more special. Thank you again. Don!

  3. I live in South Carlsbad, (La Costa) and we have a huge Over 60’ Torrey Pine right in my backyard. Our backyard is very deep and right at The back is a hillside and we have the large one, a medium one and several babies -20’ babies that is. Many birds use these trees for nesting. We have had Egrets stop for a while to rest. Hummingbirds make many nests in the trees.
    Over the years many types of Hawks and birds have nested in the two larger Torrey Pines.
    Several years in a row we had Kites nest. In the fall of 2019 we had a Great Horned Owl nest.
    My neighbor put up a chain link fence and wants us to trim the largest Torrey Pine as one of the branches hangs over the top, but our trees were here first. I hope I do not have to trim it.
    I have many baby Torrey Pines growing too.

    1. Thank you so much for reaching out, Candace! I so enjoyed hearing about all of the birds that utilize your Torry pine trees. You sure are lucky to have so many baby trees too! I sure hope you do not have to cut anything off of your largest tree. Thank you again for commenting, you made my night!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *