Going, Going, Gonzales!

Discover Gonzales Canyon Open Space in Del Mar San Diego

Looking for some classic Southern California natural education? Look no further than the local high school of course! Situated very unassumingly behind Torrey Pines High School amongst the neighborhoods of inland Del Mar, find the secret geographical gem that is Gonzales Canyon Open Space. Explore a surprisingly large network of trails through not one, but two hidden canyons on a 3-mile loop that provides fantastic canyon views and a solid workout (375 feet of gain) through familiar chaparral and riparian habitats.

Named after Levi Gonzales, a Portuguese farmer who owned the land in the 1800s, the green space’s main trailhead sits adjacent to the Torrey Highlands Dog Park on the east side of the road (a wonderful post-hike spot to tire out those energetic pups!). Admire the immediate canyon vistas and take the narrow Torrey Pines Loop Trail (yes, you will indeed see the majestic trees on your journey) as it quickly descends through thick shrubs into the canyon, transporting you far away from the surrounding suburbia. You’ll trek through chaparral staples like sugarbush, sagebrush, and coyote bush.

Pass over a short footbridge and by some white sandstone cliffs, ignoring spur trials heading right that take you back for shorter loops. At just past the 1-mile mark, reach a junction with the Lagoon Trail; head right here for the riparian section of your adventure, passing by cactus groves and under towering sycamores as you parallel the creek along the soft sandy path. Pass by a spur trail that ascends to the right to a residential entrance, and loop back around. 

You will eventually reach a junction for the Torrey Pines Loop Trail and a Nature Trail. Take the “TPLT,” which heads south via a decent climb a mile back to the trailhead. This is where you’ll spot the namesake trees, which are always a welcoming, beautiful site. Finish the trek alongside a fence between the dog park and the high school grounds before being deposited at the west side of the road.

To get to the Torrey Pines Loop trailhead at Gonzales Canyon Open Space, take the I-5 to the Del Mar Heights Road exit and head east. After 1.5 miles, turn left on Lansdale Dr., just past the high school. Take an immediate left onto Torrey Highlands Park Road. Street parking and the trailhead will be on your right in 0.2 mile. Dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

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