Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Experience spectacular ocean views and the beauty of San Diego at its finest at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
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Discover the spectacular Sunset Cliffs!

The Surf Can Get Very Good at Sunset Cliffs Natural ParkThe Beautiful Cliffs at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a top tourist destination in San Diego, offering unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean. The 68-acre park borders the ocean, and runs 1 1/2 miles along the Point Loma peninsula. As the name suggests, the cliffs are the main attraction, but there are also cliffside trails, surfing spots like Nubes and Garbage & AB’s and secluded beaches to explore.

There are two sections. First is the linear section, which is 18 acres and runs on the west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard between Adair and Ladera Streets. The hillside section is a 50 acre conservation area, which also connects to the Point Loma Ecological Reserve.

Sunset Cliffs is an iconic San Diego destination for both locals and worldwide tourists. In addition to memorable sunsets, you can expect to see dramatic sandstone cliff formations, sea caves, tide pools, arches and bluffs.

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History of Sunset Cliffs

Early Days

The history of the area dates back millions of years, when dinosaurs roamed! Fossils of mosasaurs from the Late Cretaceous have been found in the vicinity, and they are on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum. The Kumeyaay people also inhabited the area, gathering seafood and vegetation.

Development

The opening of the Panama Canal brought a lot of development to San Diego. A developer named Albert Spalding spent over $2 million dollars building bridges, trails, benches and a stairway leading the ocean. Since then, ownership and control of the park changed multiple times, and the City of San Diego eventually acquired the property and dedicated it in 1983.

Preservation and Restoration

In 1988, the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Recreation Council was named as the official advisory group for the park. The name was later changed to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park Council, and this group continues to dedicate themselves to the restoration and preservation of this beautiful area.

A restoration plan has been in the works since 2005. Recovery and preservation of the park is the goal of this Master Plan, and slow but steady progress has been made over the years. Cliff viewers should be watchful for signs posted, warning of erosion and areas currently under recovery.

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Who can use a Go San Diego Pass?

Adults and children (ages 3 to 12) can use the Go San Diego Pass – All-Inclusive, Explorer or Build Your Own - to visit the area’s top attractions and activities.

Enjoy a Wonderful Day in Nature

The beauty of nature at Sunset Cliffs is absolutely spectacular! The panoramic views of the ocean and cliffs are breathtaking at any time of day.

Reptiles

In addition to the impressive scenery, there is also a healthy sampling of native wildlife who call this area their home. Reptiles include multiple species of lizards and snakes. Look out for a side-blotched lizard, or a gopher snake, two popular residents!

Birds

Over 100 species of birds have been observed at Sunset Cliffs. The area of Point Loma is a migration stop along the Pacific Coast migration corridor, and a great spot to bird watch. Finches, hawks, sparrows and gnatcatchers are just a few of the birds you can expect to see.

Plants

Plant life is a mixture of native and non-native plants. The Master Plan mentioned above includes revegetation of native plants. There are about 75 species of native plants, including coastal bluff scrub, sage scrub, and southern maritime chaparral.

Many people were upset to see the Australian eucalyptus trees and crown daisies removed, but the revegetation of native plants will help prevent erosion and reduce runoff. While the non-native plants may have been local favorites, they deplete the resources needed for the native plants to survive.

Enjoy everything Sunset Cliffs has to offer!

Enjoy the Cliffside Trail

For a family-friendly hike with an amazing view, head over to Sunset Cliffs! Experience the remarkable beauty of this stretch of the Pacific coast as you hike along the 3-mile cliffside trail, with the ocean straight below.

Expect to be surrounded by San Diego natives and worldwide tourists alike. This flat trail is great for people of all abilities. Although Sunset Cliffs has no official opening or closing hours, it's best to plan your hike during daylight for maximum visibility.

Parents should watch their children, keep them safe by steering clear of the edges of the cliffs, which are suffering from erosion at some spots. Look out for signage, which identifies areas that are dangerous or under restoration. Never cross any marked barriers and you will be able to safely enjoy this natural beauty.

Local Tips
Osprey a Must
The Osprey Street area is used for sunset viewing and weddings, which can be permitted for up to 50 people. There is a small parking lot at the park site, but parking is also available on the street. There are no restrooms available.

There are several access points along the trail, but the best place to start is at the corner of Ladera Street and Sunset Cliffs Blvd, in the Hillside section. Although it is not a strenuous hike, most people take their time to enjoy the expansive views or explore the stairs that lead down to the coast.

There are multiple staircases along the trail that lead down to sea caves just waiting to be explored, as well as secluded beaches or other offshoots of the cliffs. Popular viewpoints include the Sandstone Arch, known locally as "that great photo spot", and Cormorant Rock, which is part of the California Coastal National Monument.

Cormorant Rock is located near Froude Street and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. It was established as a monument by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

The Ladera Street staircase leads down to the coast, where you can check out tide pools and hidden beaches that only appear at low-tide. The 'secret' sea cave can be accessed from Luscombs Point. The rewards of reaching the open-air cave will be well worth climbing over slippery rocks and wading through tidal pools.

Catch a breath-taking sunset!

As a credit to its namesake, Sunset Cliffs offers spectacular sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. However, the secret is OUT!

If you're planning to view the sunset from the cliffs, the best advice is to arrive early to beat the throngs of people who arrive daily at dusk to catch a glimpse. Another suggestion is to plan your sunset viewing during the week, rather than on a weekend which is much more crowded.

There are multiple look out points from the cliffs to settle on, and many people arrive early to find parking and stake a claim on their cliffside spots. The panoramic views of the ocean and the cliffs are well worth the advanced planning required.

The park is popular among couples searching for a romantic moment, photographers and picnickers anticipating the beauty of the day's end. Grab a picnic dinner and blanket and be prepared to be amazed! Don't forget to bring a sweatshirt, as it often gets chilly along the coast.

Surfing and more

Everyone enjoys Sunset Cliffs! On any given day, you're sure to find hikers, ocean gazers, yoga enthusiasts, bird watchers and meditators enjoying the park.

It is also a popular spot for San Diego Surfing, and is well-known for having breaks all along the cliff sides. The Ladera Street staircase leads to a popular surfing spot. This area is called Luscomb Point, which is named after Happy Luscomb, who was a local surfer.

The ocean exposure in this area produces ideal conditions at low tide, which attracts surfers from all over Southern California. Surfers should always be aware of big swells and breaks close to the rocks.

There is also great scuba diving in the kelp beds of this area, which can be reached by taking a boat off-shore.

The jagged edges of the cliffs and crashing waves make this area unsafe for swimmers, and there is no lifeguard on duty. Cliff jumping off the cliffs into the ocean is also very dangerous, and strictly prohibited.

Book an Event

All three Sunset Cliffs coastal parks, Osprey Point, Pappy’s Point and Luscombs Point, are available to be booked for private events up to 50 people. The scenic background is popular for weddings, vow renewals and professional photo shoots. However, it is important to note that there are no restrooms available for use.

Applications for an event permit are processed through the San Diego Parks Department, and cost $187. Please note, permits are required for an elopement ceremony, even if it is only 3 people.

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How to Get to Sunset Cliffs

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Neighborhood Parking
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Street Parking
Street Parking

Sunset Cliffs is located approximately 9 miles west of downtown San Diego, and approximately 25 miles north of the Mexico border. Its coastal location makes it an ideal spot to soak in a stunning sunset, or expansive ocean view.

The park is very popular, and parking is typically difficult. There is a small parking lot located at the park's entrance at Ladera Street, but visitors should be prepared to look for street parking and walk a bit to the cliffs.

Visitors of the park should always respect local ordinances regarding parking, following signage. There is also no overnight parking in the park, neither in the lot nor in the street.

The Ladera Street area of the park is popular for ocean viewing, trail access and sunset visits. To get here, take Interstate 8 west to the end. Then, follow Sunset Cliff Boulevard through Ocean Beach to the cliffs, ultimately arriving at Ladera Street.

The Luscomb Point area of the park is also a great spot to take in a San Diego sunset, and is a favorite of surfers and kayakers. To get here, take Interstate 8 west to the end. Then, follow Sunset Cliff Boulevard through Ocean Beach to the cliffs where the street ends at Hill Street.

Sunset Cliffs is also accessible via public transportation. From downtown San Diego, take the trolley to Old Town Transit Center. Then, jump on the 35 bus which will take you to the beginning of the cliffs.

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Planning Ahead

Best Time of Year to Visit

San Diego and the Sunset Cliffs are world renowned for having great weather. The Fall, especially September and October, is our pick for the best time of year for a visit. The Sunset Cliffs are accessible year-round, just make sure to check the weather in advance as well as the sunset time when you plan to be there.

Arrive Early

Planning is key to having a stress-free experience at Sunset Cliffs. Arriving early will give you extra time to look for parking, and a spot on the cliffs. If you bring a picnic meal with you, plan to pack out your trash.

Stay Safe!

Every year, there are accidents and even fatalities at Sunset Cliffs, mostly due to visitors engaging in risky behavior and not following the rules of the park. The cliffs are constantly changing and eroding, and there are signs and barriers to alert the public.

To stay safe, always keep your distance from the edges of the cliffs, and never cross any safety barriers. Cliff jumping is also dangerous and prohibited.

Facilities

There are no restrooms available in the park. There are some port-a-potties along Sunset Cliff Boulevard.

Dogs Allowed (sometimes!)

As Sunset Cliffs is a county beach park, all dogs must be leashed at all times. There is no off-leash area at the park.

Leashed dogs are permitted on the beach, sidewalks and the park after 6pm in the summer (April 1st to October 31st) and after 4pm in the winter (November 1st to March 31st). They're also permitted in these areas during early morning hours until 9am. However, you may still see many dogs and wish you had brought yours!

Be aware of the laws before you decide to bring your canine pal, as it's really not a dog friendly area.

Preservation

The goal of the Master Plan is to restore and preserve the park. Do your part by leaving no trace! This includes not removing flowers, shells or disturbing the wildlife. All trash should be disposed of properly.

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