Whether you’re downtown or uptown, coastal, or inland, you don’t have to drive far to find a good hiking spot
Ahhhh…spending the day in nature…fresh air, green trees, a picturesque hike that will tire your kids so they conk out during the car ride home. SoCal is brimming with kid-friendly trails right in our very own neighborhoods so you don’t have to look far for some swell places to explore. These hikes are just a stone’s throw away from home, offer free parking, and feature paths that are easy to navigate. So no matter what part of the city you find yourself in, there’s a perfect place close by to hike the day away.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park - Point Loma
The Sunset Park Cliffs Trail stretched along the Point Loma Peninsula is one of the very best for small kiddos. This stunning coastal hiking trail is about one-mile out and back, making it easy peasy on tiny legs. Along your travels, you'll have access to the beach and tide pools which you can easily check out at low tide – so be sure to pack swimsuits for some serious exploring. As always, these are called "cliffs" for a reason, so pay extra attention that littles don't venture too close to the edge. We highly recommend catching the view at sunset if you don't mind a crowd—it tends to be the most popular time of day for a reason. It's also a swell place to spot grey whales on their way to migration, depending on the time of year.
Parking: Small lots and street parking with Ladera St. and Luscomb St. as good bets
Sunset Park Cliffs Trail
700 Cliffs Blvd.
Tecolote Canyon - Bay Park
This is a long canyon in Bay Park where you’ll find several good entrances to choose from. A great starting place for kids is the Tecolote Canyon Natural Park & Nature Center where you’ll find scheduled ranger talks, stories, crafts, and a host of exhibits on animal and plant life. Or you can kick things off at the recreation center where you’ll discover a fun playground with tons of shade. Pick a trail and start your day of majestic exploration. Just remember, they are out-and-back trails, so you’ll have to go back the way you came.
Good to Know: Remember that open spaces are home to rattlesnakes, poison oak, mountain lions, and other hazards. Stay aware of your surroundings, bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and wear good shoes.
Bathrooms: Yes, at the Nature Center and Recreation Center
Parking: Free parking lot
Tecolote Canyon Nature Center
5180 Tecolote Rd.
Tecolote Canyon Recreation Center
5188 Tecolote Rd.
Maple Canyon - Bankers Hill
A perfect combo of urban and nature can be found with this short and simple hike in the middle of the city. Start things off at the historic wooden Quince Street Bridge and you’ll find a trail entrance on the other side that will take you down into the canyon and under the bridge. This is an out-and-back, flat ground trail so only go half as far as little legs can muster so they can make it back to the bridge. This hike is perfect any time of year, but in spring, this trail really puts on a show with lush greenery and oodles of wildflowers. Bonus: Next to the bridge, you’ll find a Little Free Library so bring some old books to donate. Once you and the fam have worked up an appetite, stop by James Coffee and Extraordinary Desserts only one block away.
Parking: Free and metered parking
Maple Canyon at Quince Street Bridge
Fourth Ave. & Quince St.
Palm Canyon - Balboa Park
Located behind Mingei Museum is one of the most accessible and quick urban hikes at Palm Canyon in Balboa Park. Winding paths reward hikers with a shady and lush canyon filled with palm trees. In fact, the OG Mexican fan palms date back to 1912 so you can throw in a little history during your visit as well. There are some dirt trails that split upwards, but they eventually loop back around to each other. The garden also features a beautiful wooden footbridge leading from the Alcazar Gardens parking lot to across the street from Spreckles Organ Pavilion. This is a short hike, making it easy on little legs and even easier on parents' ears since complaints will likely be kept to a minimum. Bathrooms are conveniently located at the top of the steps.
Parking: Behind Spreckels Organ Pavilion
635 Pan American Rd. W.
Shepherd Canyon - Tierrasanta
This true urban hike is in a canyon that meanders between suburban housing developments. You’ll likely spot regulars from the neighborhood who come here for their daily walks, but it’s so wide that it never feels jam-packed. Some trails are lined with river rocks, sticks, or fallen trees, giving the area a great sense of community pride for being well-taken care of. You may even spy the occasional fort made of sticks and branches that kids will love to play in. There's not much elevation gain to the trail overall, so it will be a super easy hike for beginners and little ones. With several entry points into this out-and-back trail system, families will have plenty of swell options.
Parking: Free, residential street parking
6126 Antigua Blvd.
Florida Canyon - Balboa Park
On the other side of Balboa Park off Park Blvd., you’ll find another primo hiking trail at Florida Canyon. This is a more moderate hike for longer legs that will take the stamina of a 6-year-old to trek out and back. The dirt trails split off every which way so just pick a direction and follow it until you want to go back. It’s easy to find your way because the brush is low enough to see where you’ve come from.
The best way to access the trail is to park in front of the Natural History Museum at Balboa Park and walk across the bridge toward the rose garden. Turn left and you’ll find yourself in the Desert Garden with paved trails, making it an easy nature walk for kiddos. To find the hiking trail, take the switchback paved trail down towards Zoo Pl. and cross the street.
Bathrooms: None nearby, but there are restrooms in Balboa Park
Parking: Next to the Natural History Museum
2125 Park Blvd.
Manzanita Canyon - City Heights
This scenic urban hike will have you feeling like you’re not in San Diego anymore. With its dried up river bed, large river rocks, and brush lining the wide trails, you're transported to somewhere totally new. During your visit, be on the lookout for wild animals and some serious bird spotting. There are several different neighborhood entrances to this out-and-back hike, but a good starting point is the Gathering Place (noted below). When you've finished hiking, check out the secret Azalea Park Water Conservation Garden, as well as a groovy playground behind the Community Center building.
Bathrooms: No, but you’ll find one at Azalea Community Park nearby
Parking: Free, residential street parking
Manzanita Canyon Gathering Place
Manzanita Dr. & Manzanita Pl.
Seven Bridge Walk – Balboa Park
Definitely, the most "urban" of all the hikes we've listed, the Seven Bridge Walk is a 5.5. mile loop that packs in some of San Diego's best sights and scenery, and it's definitely one your kiddos will never forget. This flat and easy path invites families to explore all seven bridges in Balboa Park and the surrounding neighborhoods of Hillcrest, North Park, and Banker's Hill. The highlight is the suspension bridge at Spruce St. built in 1912 - you'll definitely want a photo here. We recommend starting at the Park Blvd. Bridge on the east side of Park Blvd. at Village Pl. near the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden. While you conquer each bridge in your quest, there are plenty of charming eateries and coffee shops to refuel along the way.
Bathrooms: Public restrooms are located throughout Balboa Park
Parking: Numerous lots throughout Balboa Park, as well as a large (and free) public lot nearby at the San Diego Zoo
Seven Bridge Walk
E. side of Park Blvd. & Village Pl. (if starting at Park Blvd. Bridge)
Annie's Canyon Trail – Solana Beach
Located in Solana Beach, this fun 1-hour hike in the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve will treat kids to an epic exploration of the slot canyon, mushroom cave, and stunning sandstone formations. Annie's Canyon Trail begins in a residential area and is super popular, so you may want to visit during the week to avoid the crowds or at the very least go early on the weekends. At the end of the slot canyon is a 15 ft. high steel ladder that allows visitors to exit. If you visit on the weekend, please note it can get crowded making it near impossible to venture back the very narrow way you came in, so make sure all members of your family are able to climb the ladder out or can be carried up.
Good to Know: Given the narrowness of the trail and the ladder at the end, make sure to wear sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes
Parking: Street parking in the neighborhood
Annie's Canyon Trail
150 Solana Point Cir.
Hiking Safety & Tips:
1. Always bring more water than you think you need.
2. Wear sturdy shoes and hats and pack plenty of sunscreen.
3. Watch out for snakes and poison ivy along the trails.
4. With the exception of the Seven Bridge Walk, none of these urban hikes are stroller-friendly, but all are perfect for little legs to explore on their own.
Good to know: With so many fabulous urban hiking trails around the city, it’s hard to pick just one. So here’s an easy way to find a trail near you. Open up your phone’s map, zoom in to the green areas and look for the dashed green lines—those indicate trails. You can also type “hikes” or “trails” into your phone’s map and you’ll be surprised to see what pops up around you!
Additional reporting by Bonnie Taylor