The Coast News Group
The Lodge at Torrey Pines hugs the San Diego City-owned Torrey Pines Golf Course, which is dotted with the rare pines. The endangered species grows only on this section of California coast and on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands chain. Courtesy photo
Arts & EntertainmentColumnsHit the Road

Lodge a perfect gateway to the Torrey Pines State Reserve

Joe Vasquez has come full circle.

The University City resident was in the third grade when his class took a field trip to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and he was completely enchanted by the experience.

“I said, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do — work outside,’” he says as he leads us on a walk through the reserve on this drizzly February day. “’This is what I want to do as a job someday.’”

Vasquez followed through on his dream and eventually spent 32 years as a city, state and federal park ranger. Now, at 66, he comes to work at what is arguably one of the best offices anywhere — the five-star Lodge at Torrey Pines and the 2,000-acre reserve that hugs the spectacular La Jolla coastline. Thanks to early San Diegan and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps (1836-1932), who gave this land to the City of San Diego, this little strip of pristine coast should remain forever unspoiled.

We meet Vasquez in the spacious but invitingly cozy lodge lobby, and head north on a paved walk toward the reserve. On our left though the heavy mist: the Pacific and the spectacular city-owned Torrey Pines Golf Course. Even non-golfers are dazzled by these 192 emerald acres that stretch from the reserve on the north to the Salk Institute on the south.

University City resident Joe Vasquez, who spent 32 years as a ranger in city, state and federal parks, leads guests at the Lodge at Torrey Pines on guided hikes through Torrey Pines State Reserve. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

A sign marks our entrance to the reserve; a second sign tells us that we are walking on the old Torrey Pines Park Road, now on the National Register of Historic Places. A light rain does little to dampen Vasquez’s enthusiasm. Oddly, his official title at the lodge is spa attendant, but the job comes with the duty of leading twice-daily walks for guests through the reserve. His ranger background gives him plenty of material for his narrations about the rare and endangered Torrey pine, the area’s other native flora and fauna, and San Diego history.

Vasquez also emphasizes the difference between a park and a reserve.

“A reserve is not a park,” he says. “There are a lot more restrictions in a reserve. It’s a lot more protected than a park.”  (Of the 279 “units” in the California State Park System, only 14 are reserves and Torrey Pines is one of them.)

Most of the trails today are closed due to the previous week’s heavy rains, but there still is plenty to see, especially the views from several overlooks. These views so clearly illustrate the contrast between the reserve, which would have been developed without Scripps’ generosity, and the millions of once-pristine acres that have become a scramble of homes, commercial property and multi-lane freeways.

Vasquez must return to the lodge, so we explore further on our own, stopping to see the 100-year-old Visitor Center Ranger Station. As we return south to the lodge, the sun breaks through, and golfers and paragliders from Torrey Pines Glider Port waste no time in taking to the greens and the skies.

Rare and endangered Torrey pines have been planted on the San Diego City-owned Torrey Pines Golf Course, adjacent to the Lodge at Torrey Pines and considered one of the most beautiful courses in the country. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

After our 4-mile walk, we don’t feel guilty about claiming a couple of rockers situated at the lobby’s large picture windows and taking in the character of the lodge. Built in the early-California craftsman style that was popular during Scripps’ middle years, the 2000-2002 remodel brought in many unique features like the 200-plus Tiffany-inspired lamps that accent the lobby and guest rooms.

The hotel’s signature restaurant, A.R. Valentien, overlooks the 18th hole and displays the pottery, paintings and publications of Albert Robert Valentien (1862–1925), an artist and naturalist commissioned by Scripps to create “plant portraits” of California’s native plants, flowers and grasses.

Dinner here is not to be a rushed affair, and the restaurant’s reputation makes reservations a must. Also, Chef Kelli Crosson can adapt some of the menu offerings to special dietary needs.

For more photos and discussion, visit

Leave a Comment