From the beaches to the backcountry, so many of the views around San Diego are so enthralling that you just want to sit and savor them for a good long while. Luckily, the region hosts a legion of perfectly perched benches for you to settle in and enjoy the scenery. Here’s our roundup of San Diego benches that, well, set the benchmark. They’re worth a standing ovation — but please, do have a seat.
Torrey Pines North
Strung along a walking trail that traces the tops of the sea bluffs above Torrey Pines State Beach is a series of benches ideally situated to take in sweeping views of the beach, the trees and the shimmering Pacific. Here and there along the trail, which starts just north of where Peñasquitos Lagoon meets the ocean, you’ll also discover whimsical, open-air artworks. And then there’s a popular little stop that’s both bench and public art: “Sunset Seat,” a hulking piece that the Encinitas-based artist Tim Richards carved from the stump of a dead Torrey pine. The seat comes complete with the hand-hewn likeness of a red-tailed hawk, the official bird of Torrey Pines State Reserve. Seldom does a bench feel so much like a throne, and as you tarry here for a few blissful minutes, feel free to imagine you rule over the whole of this rare and beautiful realm.
A stunning skyline and natural wows are both part of the tableau you’ll see when you settle into a bayside bench at this cozy oasis in Coronado. Centennial Park sits right on San Diego Harbor along the eastern side of the island. It offers panoramic views of boat traffic gliding across the bay against a backdrop of Downtown San Diego’s gleaming skyscrapers and the gorgeous Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, rising from the far shore. But not that far — Downtown is only about a half-mile across the water. It’s a quick ferry trip from either the Broadway Pier or the San Diego Convention Center to the Coronado Ferry Landing, which boasts plenty of dining and shopping options and is just steps away from Centennial Park.
Scripps Coastal Meander
Scenery, science and a memorable stroll — not to mention lots of perfect perches — are all part of the experience along this aptly named pathway, which winds through the seaside environs of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. The trail includes numerous blufftop benches that afford beautiful views of the surf breaking far below alongside Scripps Pier. If you’re lucky, a paraglider might even swoop overhead as you sit (the Torrey Pines Gliderport is just up the coast). There are great little surprises here, too — such as the hidden-away picnic benches accompanying the artwork “Spring Stirring” by the celebrated sculptor Donal Hord.
Where the road ends at the southern tip of Shelter Island, near the gateway to San Diego Bay, a line of benches faces straight out toward the harbor entrance. It’s an ideal perspective on the place where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into the bay nearly 400 years ago and became the first European to set foot in what is now California. But there are even more sights to see and history to relish in the grassy park where the benches are situated — including the 6-foot-tall Friendship Bell, a brass bell presented in 1958 as a gift from Yokohama, Japan, to commemorate that metropolis’s bond with San Diego as sister cities. If you’re really lucky, as you sit here you might even get to hear the bell ring, which happens on special occasions a few times per year.
Mission Trails Regional Park
If we can bend the definition of benches a bit, the amphitheater at the Mission Trails Regional Park’s Visitor & Interpretive Center — with its terraced rows of stone — offers some of the best seating with a view in all of San Diego County. You’ll be treated to captivating vistas of Mission Gorge and the craggy backcountry peaks beyond. Other locations in this beautiful, 8,000-acre natural park offer bench benefits as well, including the seats overlooking the historic Old Mission Dam, a national historic landmark situated on the San Diego River.
Tucked under the eastern spans of the signature San Diego Coronado Bridge is a place that bursts with both fascinating history and dazzling creative expression. Established in 1970 after a successful protest against a government takeover of the site, Chicano Park now holds pride of place in the vibrant community of Barrio Logan. The park plays host to the largest concentration of Chicano murals in the world — more than 100 of them, spread across seven acres. And a collection of picnic tables, many of which are painted in the colors of the Mexican flag, are strategically placed for you to take in the artworks. Grab some food from a nearby favorite such as Barrio Dogg or Las Cuatros Milpas and settle in here for an enriching cultural experience.
Balboa Park Rose Garden
Sometimes you don’t want to just stop and smell the roses — you want to gaze at them for a good long spell. And if gorgeous blooms are your bag, the benches at Balboa Park’s Inez Grant Park Memorial Rose Garden are your place to be. They offer eye-pleasing perspectives on as many as 1,600 roses when the garden is in bloom, which is generally from March through December (peaking in April and May). And as you linger, you’re likely to catch a good whiff of the flowers’ natural perfumes, too. For a very different kind of botanical experience, the Rose Garden also connects with the park’s Desert Garden, which boasts its own benches from which to contemplate some prickly wonders.