Pictures just don’t do Black’s Beach San Diego justice. The dramatic Torrey Pines cliffs and waves from the Pacific Ocean are nothing short of breathtaking.

Also known as Torrey Pines City Beach and Torrey Pines State Beach, the iconic coastal destination is situated right below the Torrey Pines State Park and near the Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course. The secluded La Jolla beach extends for nearly 2.5 miles and provides an abundance of recreational opportunities.

Arguably San Diego’s most interesting beach, this attraction is far more nuanced than most visitors realize. You’re about to learn what sets it apart.

The trail leading down to Black's Beach San Diego.
Photo Credit: Levi Clancy/wikimedia.com

1. Its official name isn’t actually Black’s Beach

While locals and tourists alike typically call this stretch of coastline Black’s Beach, it can actually be referred to by two separate names: Torrey Pines State Beach and Torrey Pines City Beach.

These monikers reference the split between the northern portion of the beach (managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation) and the southern portion (managed by the city of San Diego).

Boardwalks, jetties, bathrooms, and parking may not be easily accessible from Black’s Beach, but that doesn’t detract from its appeal to local enthusiasts.

In fact, the very lack of these features may be what convinces some people to spend so much time there. The natural scenery is truly remarkable for a beach situated so conveniently near the city — typically, such locations are overlooked by huge hotels, condominiums, and other beachfront properties. 

As a frequent visitor explains in a PBS documentary about the beach, “It’s a more spiritual vibe…because of the commitment it takes to get down there. That changes the experience and the feeling you have, ultimately, for that experience.”

People in a pyramid on Black's Beach La Jolla.
Photo Credit: Jason Scragz/wikimedia.com

3. The beach’s unofficial name is controversial, as is its history.

The “Black” from Black’s Beach does not reference the color of the sand or the bluffs. Rather, the beach is named for William Black — an increasingly controversial figure.

Born in Texas, Black made a fortune in the oil industry. He was also heavily involved in banking, philanthropy, and even breeding horses. He co-founded the Bank of La Jolla and eventually developed a 248-acre oceanside parcel into La Jolla Farms — an affluent residential area with a troubling history of excluding minorities. 

Ownership at La Jolla Farms was based on membership with Bill Black’s Beach and Bridle Club. As Stephanie Greene explained in a letter to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, this was only available to those of “Caucasian European ancestry, which by definition excluded all Jews and people of color.” 

These days, La Jolla residents are well aware of the area’s problematic history regarding race relations. Now, Black’s Beach is a welcome respite for people from all walks of life. Still, the issues surrounding its history have prompted an effort to have the beach entirely renamed, both officially and for casual use. 

4. Black’s Beach has a long reputation for attracting nudists as a clothing optional beach

Some of the controversy behind Black’s Beach relates to its tendency to attract Southern California nudists. This has long been a reality, even though public nudity was technically banned as far back as the 1970s. To this day, however, nudists continue to flout the rules.

The beach’s reputation as a nudist hangout doesn’t bother most visitors, but the possibility of seeing someone in the buff should be considered before visiting. That being said, there’s no guarantee you’ll actually see nudists when you stop by; the so-called nude beach is rarely crowded, and at times, it’s possible to visit without seeing anybody at all. 

The clothing optional portion of the beach is just south of the Gliderport trail beach access point.

Black’s Beach is accessible via four access routes that involve either brief, intense hikes or longer treks. Many visitors rely on the hike from the Torrey Pines Gliderport, which descends approximately 300 feet over the course of nearly one mile.

The terrain is rugged, and this route is not recommended, but if you are determined to tackle it be sure to wear high-quality hiking boots. Avoid after rainfall as the trail becomes slippery and unstable.

Keep in mind that the City of San Diego posts a “do not use” sign at this popular route due to the notorious instability of the cliff.

Photo Credit: Levi Clancy/wikimedia.com

Easier, safer, and less strenuous routes also lead to Black’s Beach at low tides. Given the reality of timing tides, the least challenging paths are often out of reach during high tides. Top options include:

  • Walk on the sand from the parking lot at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This beach trail extends two miles but may be blocked during high tide.
  • Head to the mesa at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. You’ll find clearly-marked trails, which lead all the way down to the beach.
  • Start at La Jolla Shores Beach, and walk north on the sand past Scripps Pier. Again, this may be unavailable during higher tides. When accessible, it involves a long walk of three miles.

Use a tide chart to help gauge the likelihood of walking to Black’s Beach on the sand.

6. Access by road is available to a select few people

While most visitors walk to Black’s Beach, access is technically available by an access route near La Jolla Farms Road. This is heavily restricted, however, with a gate keeping most vehicles out.

Exceptions are granted to those who are fortunate enough to have the elusive Black’s Beach key, which has been at the center of much speculation for years. 

University of California, San Diego Sport and Recreation Club Director Scott Berndes has referred to the key for the Black’s Beach gate as “the most valuable surf key in the U.S.”

He adds that possession of this key can represent a significant burden, with some people offering large sums of money —up to $10,000 — in hopes of getting their hands on it.

Surfline references the road to Black’s Beach as the preferred option for “squeamish surfers.” 

7. The beach is a birder’s paradise

Egrets on the beach with people and birds in the distance.
Egrets and other birds on Black’s Beach.

Avid birders make a point of visiting Black’s Beach, which provides an amazing habitat for many species. In the aforementioned PBS documentary, for example, one dedicated birder claims to have “set up shop down there,” often spending seven days a week on the hunt for feathered friends.

This birding enthusiast is especially passionate about watching peregrine falcons, “documenting their every movement” for up to ten hours every day. 

Peregrine falcons adore Black’s Beach, but this is just one of many types of birds spotted there. Other commonly seen species include the following:

  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Cormorants
  • Blue heron
  • Whimbrel
  • Sanderling

8. Black’s Beach is one of California’s most underrated surfing locations

UCSD surfers have long flocked to the southern end of this beach because it’s known as a prime surf spot.

Surfline highlights “three main peaks, shifting phantom peaks and sneaky insiders that work according to conditions.” They adore the conditions at low tide but also make a point of visiting for the awe-inspiring scenery.

Surfers in the water at Black's Beach San Diego.
Photo Credit: Levi Clancy/wikimedia.com

Many assume that the excellent surfing is a result of an underwater submarine canyon, but oceanography expert Kai Hally-Rosendahl explains that Scripps Canyon is “responsible for the small waves shoreward of the canyon head, and the larger waves north of the canyon at Black’s.”

The famous powerful swells and strong currents are not for novice surfers.

9. San Diego lifeguards patrol from a permanent station

Despite its relatively secluded nature, lifeguards are on watch at Black’s Beach from one of San Diego’s nine permanent lifeguard stations.

That being said, those who lack significant experience should avoid this surfing location. The riptide from Scripps Canyon can be difficult to overcome. Likewise, only strong swimmers should attempt to hit the water.

Regardless of experience with swimming or surfing, it’s important to remain within sight of a lifeguard at all times. These hardworking individuals are well aware of how dangerous the beach’s rough waters can be, as they often need to make rescues. While these typically involve rip currents, lifeguards also often rescue visitors who struggle to navigate the Torrey Pines cliffs.

From surfing to birding and relaxing in the nude, there really is something for everyone at Black’s Beach in La Jolla. This coastal gem is a must-visit destination, so set aside an afternoon to experience all it has to offer. 

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