Five Hidden Gems In San Diego

I have wanted to write this post for quite some time. Since starting this website, I have found some gorgeous hidden gems in San Diego while out in the ‘field’ doing research, and I am here to share!

San Diego Hidden Gems? 

So what do I mean by a hidden gem? Hidden in plain sight might be a better way to put it. Not much is known about it. Maybe locals are keen, but the average San Diegan and the new-to-town tourists have no idea.

Coastal Hidden Gems in San Diego

Also, today I will concentrate on the coastline of San Diego County- seventy miles of coast that stretches all of the way down to the border of Mexico.

I have also included a video featuring each hidden gem in San Diego.

Let’s look at the top five places on my list so far, shall we?

San Diego Coastline Google Mao
70 miles of coastline of San Diego County

Gem #1- South Ponto Beach

South Ponto Panoramic Batiquitos Lagoon

Carlsbad Blvd, Encinitas, CA 92024

#South Ponto Beach Video

South Ponto Beach is located in the southern portion of Carlsbad State Beach and is 31 miles north of Downtown San Diego.

So why do I choose South Ponto as a hidden gem? The first time I came here, I was amazed by how ‘rustic’ and ‘wild’ it was at this beach. Here in San Diego, it is scarce to have undeveloped beachfront property.

South Ponto Beach Amenities

South Ponto Beach has a relatively ample paid parking lot on-site and limited free parking off Highway 101 (Carlsbad Blvd.) A big plus is that there are restrooms and showers here also.

South Ponto Entrance hidden gems in San Diego

Let’s Explore!

Here we are at the entrance to the beach. The roped-off area is the back end of the Batiquitos Lagoon, a nature preserve.

South Ponto Beach is a sandspit that shelters the lagoon from the Pacific Ocean.

Beach Wrack Sign South Ponto Beach

evening primrose south ponto beach sand dunes
Beach Evening Primrose

 I appreciate this area so much! I am utterly impressed with plants that can grow in sand.

south ponto beach stairway hidden gems in San Diego

Here we have the staircase that will take you up to the overlook. I have to say when I saw this for the first time I was very excited. I love overlooks!

South Ponto Overlook Carlsbad State Beach

Do you notice the compass down below?

South Ponto Beach VIew hidden gems in San Diego
I was looking down from above.
Back of Batiquitos Lagoon South Ponto Beach
The Batiquitos Lagoon begins across the Highway from South Ponto Beach.

Flower Fields South Ponto Beach

Here we are looking toward the east on top of the overlook at fields of the non-native plant, the Algerian Sea Lavender. As you can see in several of the photos, this plant is everywhere on the coast.

Walking east, you come upon a semi-isolated sandpit covered in native plants. If you dare to explore, please ensure you do not step on any plants!

South Ponto back end overlook sand dunes

South Ponto Stair hidden gems in San Diego

*November 2019 update- I am unhappy to report that the above area I enjoyed so much is now under construction. A 130-room luxury hotel- The Encinitas Beach Hotel, is expected to open sometime in 2021. If you would like a little more information, look over here.

Gem #2- Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens

mediation garden hidden gem in San DIego

215 W K St, Encinitas, CA 92024

(760) 753-1811

Hours-9 am to 5 pm

#Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens Video

Self Realization Fellowship Center entrance sign

self realization Meditation gardens sign Encinitas California

The Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) Meditation Gardens is located in Encinitas, 26 miles from Downtown San Diego and adjacent to Swami’s State Beach.

All are welcome here as it is accessible to the public. There is also free parking available on the street as well as in the residential area.

Swami Paramahansa Yogananda

Swami’s State Beach received its name from the founder of SRF, Paramahansa Yogananda, the father of Western Yoga.

It has been said that many surfers would notice him on the bluffs looking down at his long dark hair and flowing orange robe. One day, the surfers started calling this beach Swamis in honor of him.

Swamis portrait trashcan swamis state beach parking lot
Swami Paramahansa Yogananda-the founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).

 In 1936,  Swami Paramahansa Yogananda designed the gardens himself. I took this to heart when I was walking around.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love old plants?

Taking in the Garden

Meditation alcove hidden gems in San Diego

Scattered throughout the gardens, you will come upon many alcoves to encourage you to sit and meditate.

Meditation Garden west dirt path trees ocean

Meditation Garden overlook hidden gems in San Diego

Here we have the original site of the SRF temple, which was built in 1938. Paramahansa Yogananda designed the Temple, intending to incorporate the beauty of nature as much as possible.

The Taj Mahal inspired the design. Inside, a large glass window facing the Ocean and a four-story glass observation tower to take in the view. Unfortunately, the Temple had to be removed five years later due to bluff erosion.

The Golden Lotus temple sign meditation gardens

Meditation Bench hidden gems

A beautiful place to sit and watch all the surfers below, and Swami’s State Beach is on the bluff’s edge.

Meditation Garden Overlook cacti ocean view

Fish Pond self realization fellowship meditation gardens

The Koi pond is another relaxing feature of the Meditation Gardens. I love the sound of the running water in harmony with the waves below!

Meditation path hidden gems in San Diego
Paramahansa Yogananda hand-planted these trees.

Meditation Garden Hidden Gems In San Diego

Gem#3- Del Mar North Beach-North Bluff Preserve

Overlook South View Hidden Gems In San Diego

3200 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92014

Del Mar North Beach Video

Del Mar North Beach is 22 miles north of Downtown San Diego in Del Mar, right behind the world-famous Del Mar Racetrack.

I came about this spot by pure accident. You see, I was going down the coast photographing all of the beaches in Del Mar. I have been to this beach prior, but I can not recall seeing the stairs going up the bluff. I might have mentioned earlier that I love overlooks! Especially wild, native overlooks.

Del Mar Dog Beach garden beginning beach
The entrance of Del Mar Dog Beach

At the beginning of the beach, there is this cute garden.

Scripps bluff sign James G Scripps Bluff Reserve

James G. Scripps Bluff Reserve is 4 acres on top of the coastal bluff that overlooks Dog Beach.

Let’s go up!

Bluff Overlook Stairs Del Mar North Beach

beginning of trail scripps bluff reserve
Do you see the San Dieguito River in the background?

Halfway up bluff hidden gems in San Diego

Del Mar Panoramic east view Del Mar Racetrack
Del Mar Racetrack

Del Mar North Beach Panoramic ocean view

Del Mar North Beach bluff view path

It is so fortunate that two philanthropists saved this piece of land from being developed back in 1971 to become a natural reserve. Nothing has been done in this area since.

The views from here are just breathtaking.

Overlook South View hidden gems in San Diego

The path that loops around the reserve is pretty short, but I enjoyed that it was still very wild.

Overlook Benches Del Mar North Beach Bluff

These benches would be ideal spots to sit and watch for gray whales passing by, not to mention spying dolphins swimming close to shore.

Gem #4- Scripps Coastal Reserve

Scripps Reserve La Jolla biodiversity trail sign

9400 La Jolla Farms Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037

#Scripps Coastal Reserve Video

The Scripps Coastal Reserve Biodiversity Trail is located in La Jolla, just 14 miles north of Downtown San Diego and south of Black’s Beach, up on the bluffs.

If you want to read more, I have written about this site in a prior post-La Jolla Shores Beach.

The Scripps Coastal Reserve is over 1000 acres and includes the shoreline and the upland area, referred to as the “knolls,” as well as the canyons on both sides of the Biodiversity Trail.

Let’s have a look!Biodiversity Trail Hidden Gems in San Diego

Scripps Coastal Reserve Information Kiosk Biodiversity Trail

I want to quote a bit from the placard below that I found fascinating.

“Our reserve is part of the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS). Although small, the terrestrial amount of the reserve accommodates over 200 plant species, 88 bird species, and a dozen mammal species.

San Diego County has the most extraordinary plant diversity in the continental United States. Still, it also has the highest concentration of listed rare and endangered plants (some of which are located here at Scripps Coastal Reserve).”

Biodiversity Trail sign beginning of trail

Walking the Trail at the Scripps Coastal Reserve
Scripps Pier Background hidden gems in San Diego

California Sagebush Scripps Coastal reserve biodiversity trail

California Sagebush information sign hidden gems in San Diego

Biodiversity Trail 2 Hidden Gems in San Diego

Biodiversity Trail Coast View Coastal reserve la jolla

What a great place to watch the horizon for whales. Next winter, I plan on returning to this spot to wait for the Gray whales!

You really must experience San Diego whale watching; there is nothing like it!

Scripps Coastal Reserve Panoramic biodiversity trail

Scripps Coastal Reserve Ocean View bluffs ocean sky

Scripps Coastal Reserve Canyon native plants lone Palm tree
Scripps Coastal Reserve Canyon

Before we leave here, I want to share something I found. These Lady Fingers are over fifty years old! Realistically, they have been around for as long as I have. I love seeing old plants!

Lady Fingers Info Sign Scripps Biodiversity trail

Lady Finger Plant Biodiversity Trail

Gem #5- San Diego River Mouth Living Museum

Ocean Beach Dog Beach Panoramic

Ocean Beach, CA 92109

Dog Beach-Ocean Beach Video

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach was the first beach that I visited when I came down to live in San Diego to go to college. I love Ocean Beach City Beach because it reminds me of Toes Beach, the beach I grew up on in Los Angeles.

Look at all of the sand!

Dog Beach Panoramic large sandy shore

San Diego River Mouth

The San Diego River travels southwest for over 52 miles until it makes its way here and finally to the Pacific Ocean. As part of the Pacific Flyway, many migratory birds stop here on their way South. Above, I have included a link if you want to know more about the San Diego River.

Ocean Beach Bike Path San Diego River Mouth
Starting at Dog Beach, this bike path will take you to the mouth of the San Diego River.

Today we started our adventure at the Dog Beach parking lot and walked about .25 miles inland through the coastal dunes. I should also mention that a bike path runs parallel to the river if you do not feel comfortable walking in the sand for such a long distance.

Once I eventually reached the mouth of the San Diego River, I was amazed when I found this Living Museum set up. Many placards display exciting facts about native plants and animals seen here along the paths.

Let’s have a little look!

Ocean Beach Living Museum sign beginning trail

Ocean Beach Living Museum Panoramic Dog Beach
Including the marsh and coastal dune habitats, this area is over 15 acres.
Dog Beach Path Hidden Gems in San Diego
Looking toward Mission Bay.
Living Museum Path Ocean Beach Dog Beach
I fell in love with these roped-off paths! So much effort was put into this, and it shows.
Sand dunes ocean beach hidden gems in San Diego
I am so fascinated by coastal dune plants.

Ocean Beach path dog beach sunflowers

ocean beach dog beach sand dunes vegetation
Just over this hill, you can check out the Mission Bay Inlet.

Smiley lagoon path ocean beach dog beach

Smiley lagoon west hidden gems in San Diego

Through some research, I discovered that this body of water near the bike path is named Smiley Lagoon.

path ocean beach hidden gems in San Diego

End of the Road

So, which hidden gem in San Diego do you think you would like to visit? With over seventy miles of coast to explore, San Diego County offers almost limitless amounts of Ocean fun and wonder.

If I had to pick my favorite, I think it would be the San Diego River Mouth at Dog Beach in Ocean Beach.

I plan to return this winter just in time to check out all of the birds ‘wintering’ in San Diego. I can not wait to walk the bike path inland for a couple of miles to see the river channel.

Please check back regularly, as I will write about five more hidden gems soon!

Have any questions or comments? Please feel free to leave a message down below.

Until next time!

Five More San Diego Hidden Gems!










7 Replies to “Five Hidden Gems In San Diego”

  1. Absolutely gorgeous coastline, you would never ever get bored with so many new places to be discovered.
    You have found some real gems to be explored and I love how you have so much space, nothing seems to be over crowded.
    Some places to note and to be added to my ‘bucket’ list. Thank you for so much wonderful information you provide 🙂

  2. Nice Article Colleen, you really know what you are talking about and you have a personal connection to San Diego. Thanks for sharing all these gems, I will have to check it out one day

Leave a Reply

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