Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is a popular destination for San Diego weekend warriors, and for good reason. It’s just a short distance from the city, but it feels much more isolated, especially compared to other San Diego hikes that have vistas overlooking subdivisions. The only evidence of civilization will be a few houses dotting the ridges and the occasional sewer vent along the trail.
Although the waterfall in the center of the preserve is the main attraction, it’s quite small, and it is eclipsed by the sheer beauty of the surroundings.
Starting at the parking area along Sorrento Valley Boulevard, follow the trail to the left and under the overpass. You’ll follow the South Trail along the southern side of the canyon. Wagon Wheel and Sycamore crossings permit you to cross Peñasquitos Creek if you want to make a shorter loop, but it’s worth it to continue to the waterfall so that you can cross to the North Trail there. The falls themselves may be anticlimactic, as the actual falls are mostly obscured by large boulders. But it’s a great place to dip your toes and cool off from the trip along the exposed trail. To complete the loop, use Wagon Wheel crossing to bring you back to the South Trail.
Keep an eye out along the trail for wildlife both large and small, and look for animal signs such as scat to get a sense of the population. And don't forget to bring binoculars to admire some of the 175 types of birds in the area.