The name says it all: Sunset Cliffs Natural Park offers one of the best sunset views in San Diego. This 68-acre hillside park is comprised of sandstone cliffs stretching along the Point Loma Peninsula with gorgeous panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. While standing atop this piece of California coastline makes for a lovely photo op, the park has more to offer than just a postcard-worthy perspective.
What Makes Sunset Cliffs Special?
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park dates back millions of years, from when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Fossils of mosasaurs from the late Cretaceous era have been unearthed here, and can now be seen on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum. The area was later inhabited by the Kumeyaay tribe, indigenous people who believed the Sunset Cliffs to be sacred land and a place to be shared with all.
The land was first developed as a park in 1915, when sporting goods magnate Albert Goodwill Spalding invested $2 million to build walkways along the cliffs, pebbled steps and stairways, and even a saltwater swimming pool carved into the natural rock. The city of San Diego dedicated the space as a park in 1983.
Today its unique topography is still a work of natural art that includes intricately carved coastal bluffs, arches, and sea caves. And, like the name promises, it’s an excellent place to see spectacular sunsets over the Pacific.
What Else Can You Do at Sunset Cliffs?
You don’t even have to leave your car to enjoy the beauty of Sunset Cliffs. Folks have been known to cruise down Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, taking in the breathtaking views as they drive by. But if you’re inclined to stop, this is a great spot to hike, surf, or go tide pooling.
Start by parking at one of the free lots, such as the one on the corner of Ladera Street. The three-mile cliffside trail, accessible from Ladera Street, offers a family-friendly hike along the shoreline. The trail is mostly flat and suitable for all hiking abilities. While it may not present much of a challenge to experienced hikers, it is considered one of the best hikes in San Diego thanks in large part to the eye-catching cliff formations and coastal arches visible along the trail. Just steer clear of the edges of the cliffs and keep an eye out for signage warning of spots suffering from erosion. For that reason, it’s also best to hike during daylight for maximum visibility.
Sunset Cliffs also offers a nice way to spend a day at the beach. The Ladera Street parking lot connects to an access route down the sandstone cliff to the beach below. Visitors make the trek up and down this steep path daily, as it leads to “Garbage Beach,” a spot popular with surfers and experienced swimmers (there is no lifeguard). Don’t be turned off by the name, which some say comes from the amount of kelp that covers the rocks on the beach.
The best time to head to the beach is at low tide, when the tide pools are exposed. During a negative tide, head to Luscomb Point, a surfer’s spot that is also home to an open-ceiling sea cave. To find those low-tide times—when you can safely avoid getting stuck in any rising waters—check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tide Predictions table or use the apps Tides Near Me or My Tide Times. Look for the low tides by date, then visit two hours before or after that low tide.
How to Get to and Park at Sunset Cliffs
Tucked between the communities of Point Loma and Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is located along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, south of Ocean Beach Pier. You’ll know you’re close when you spot the Inn at Sunset Cliffs.
Your best bet for parking: Choose from two small but free public parking lots. The first is off Lomaland Drive, on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University. The second is at the corner of Ladera Street and Cornish Drive. You might also find street parking along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard or Ladera Street, near the stairwell that leads down to the shore below. Just keep in mind that spots are limited and can fill up quickly during the hours around sunset.
Where to Stay, Eat, and Drink Near Sunset Cliffs
For the easiest access to Sunset Cliffs, spend the night nearby. The 24-room Inn at Sunset Cliffs, a motel-style inn built in the 1950s, offers its own big views of the Pacific Ocean thanks to its huge deck and oceanfront suites. For more nearby options, consider hotels in the Point Loma or Mission Beach areas, such as Kona Kai Resort on Shelter Island or The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Plan your visit to Sunset Cliffs around a bite to eat, and take this as an excuse to experience some of the great dining options nearby. The Little Lion Cafe is a local favorite that offers brunch and lunch staples—eggs Benedict, salads, and sandwiches—as well as coffee drinks or local and Belgian beers. Head into Ocean Beach for crowd pleasers such as OB Noodle House and Rosario’s Pizzeria Ocean Beach No. 4, or enjoy more ocean views and San Diego beer from nearby spots such as Mitch’s Seafood and Ketch Grill & Taps.
Where to See More Sunsets
Whether you want a scenic day-hike or a blissful spot to watch the day end, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is an essential stop on any classic San Diego getaway. For more dreamy views of the SoCal city, check out these top San Diego sunset spots, popular sunset viewing around La Jolla, the county’s most romantic hotels, and great boat rides.