Exploring the area’s hiking trails doesn’t have to be an all-day, exhausting endeavor.
Sometimes, you just need a light stroll to feel invigorated and accomplished – and what better way to soak in the sights than a hike with a seaside view.
While Orange County’s beaches can be crowded sometimes, there are open space areas near the coast set aside for strollers, joggers and hikers to explore. These stretches of pathways still offer the serene sights of the ocean and a cool, salty breeze to keep an outing pleasant.
We set out to find the region’s best ocean-view coastal trails to explore, a way to escape and feel like you’re on an excursion by the sea – even if just for an hour or two.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
There’s 40 miles of trails tucked away in the 7,000 acres of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. You can choose from pathways lined with oak and sycamore trees, and the trek pays off once you hit the rocky bluffs that overlook expansive scenic views, the glistening ocean in the distance.
Be warned, the further you get from the coast, the warmer it gets. Be prepared with plenty of water to hydrate.
Mostly untouched by human development, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park exists much like it did thousands of years ago, with coastal sage scrub abundant in the rolling hills.
As fall approaches, time your hike after a rain and you may see streams trickling down creek beds. You may even see a deer or bobcat drinking from the rivers.
Explorers can make the trek as easy or as challenging as they want, even connecting to other the trails that make up the 20,000-acre South Coast Wilderness area. You can connect to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Crystal Cove State Park or inland into Irvine’s open space network.
A good starting point is the Nix Nature Center, 18751 Laguna Canyon Road, where you can find trail information, including what’s allowed and not.
In some areas, horseback riding is allowed and you also may have to share the path with mountain bikers or trail runners. Dog lovers will have to leave their furry friends at home.
If you’re hesitant to explore alone, guided tours are available and suit many interests, such as those looking for a workout to those wanting to know about native plant and wildlife habitats.
Parking is $3 a day. More information: ocparks.com
Huntington Beach cliffs
A stretch between the busy Huntington City Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach offers a slightly elevated view down to the ocean and sand.
This area is particularly fun for canine fanatics who love to watch pooches frolic on the sand and in the surf at the dog beach down below.
The pathway is popular with joggers, walkers and bikers, especially because parking is plentiful at lots just steps from the path, located along Pacific Coast Highway, and at both the city and state beaches.
For a longer trek, follow the pathway along Bolsa Chica State Beach and cross over at Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway to the Bolsa Chica wetlands, offering an entirely new coastal landscape to explore with fewer crowds, while still enjoying the ocean views.
Dana Point Headlands
About three miles of trails sit high up on the picturesque plateau, perfect for taking in harbor views and maybe even spotting a whale spout in the distance.
There are four conservation parks within the 60 acres of the Dana Point Headlands: Harbor Point Conservation Park, Dana Point Preserve, Hilltop Conservation Park and South Strands Conservation Park.
Within the area, there are some 150 species of plants and animals native to coastal Southern California, including the endangered Pacific Pocket Mouse and Coastal California Gnatcatcher.
Step into the Nature Interpretive Center, 34558 Scenic Drive, to learn about the marine life that can be spotted in the distance. Don’t forget your binoculars to see the sea creatures out at sea.
The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, get information at 949-248-3527.
The parks and trails can be reached either off of Green Lantern or at Dana Strand Road, with street parking or in the Nature Interpretive Center parking lot.
No dogs are allowed on these trails because of the sensitive landscape and habitats.
San Clemente beach trail
The 2.3-mile trail that stretches from Calafia State Beach to North Beach in San Clemente is like no other stretch of Orange County, a dirt path that runs alongside the sea built about a decade ago.
Start at either end of the trail and stop at the iconic pier at the halfway point for a snack or cocktail from Fisherman’s Restaurant, or take a stroll on the wooden planks to hover above the water and see what fish anglers are reeling up.
It’s not uncommon to see dolphins feeding close to shore and the path passes several popular breaks, including T-Street, where surfers ride waves.
Closer to the state beach to the south is the more rustic, less crowded stretch of beach path. A bridge north of the pier near Mariposa Beach offers some great views of the Dana Point Headlands to the north.
If the 2.3 miles isn’t enough to satisfy, keep going along the concrete pathway to reach Doheny State Beach and the Dana Point Harbor, or cross over at Avenida Pico to the Sea Summit trails, which are rarely crowded and offer several paths and various inclines within 116 acres of habitat.
The Sea Summit nature preserve opened in 2015 and is still a bit of a hidden gem that offers ocean views at vistas throughout.
One last tip: Don’t forget the sunscreen, swimsuit and a beach towel, just in case you need to take a quick ocean dip to cool down during your coastal trek.
Source: Orange County Register