Back in 1945, the state was saluting some of the best roads in the state and near the top of the list was the Torrey Pines Grade, still in use today and one of the chapters in Joyrides Around San Diego.

In rather flowery language, author J.D. Gallagher, the state’s associate highway engineer, recounts the history of the road and the improvements that had been made up to 1945.

“At Sorrento Creek, where the stream had cut a canyon through the mesa, the trail twisted and turned down the face of the bluff to sea level through a cluster of tall, windswept trees, the only grove of Torrey Pines,” he wrote in the September-October 1945 edition of California Highways and Public Works preserved at archive.org. “For over a hundred years, access between the level of the ocean at the mouth of Sorrento Creek and the top of the mesa was down this steep and twisting road and highway which evolved from the old trail of the Franciscans.”

Both roads are still in use today. The original road is the entrance to today’s Torrey Pines State Park. It’s a steep, winding and narrow road that leads 21st Century travelers to the park’s visitor center, located in what was opened in the 1923 as a lodge, dining room and auto service station at the top of the grade.

Brass-era cars on Torrey Pines Grade.
Old postcard shows brass-era cars on Torrey Pines Grade.

In addition to exhibits about the park, the lodge today displays relics from its service station days, including dishware from the dining room. Visitors can also walk on some original, concrete pavement.

In 1933, the current Torrey Pines Road opened, bypassing the twisting road. Even in those days before environmental regulations, a couple of rare Torrey Pine trees were saved by building concrete boxes for their roots. One of those boxes is visible in the photo at the top of this page; it’s still there today.

The road became U.S. 101 in 1926; Interstate 5 replaced and bypassed it in the 1960s.

With 1940s PR aplomb, Mr. Gallagher concluded his story.

“El Camino Real still carries the traffic, but the brown-robed Franciscans, ox carts and wealthy owners of haciendas have given way to fast moving streams of cosmopolitan traffic in high-powered cars and dual-wheeled trucks. Progress in travel is evidenced in speed, ease, and comfort, while the charm of early California living slips away to appear only in printed books,” he wrote.

And one of those books, here in the 21st Century, is Joyrides Around San Diego. Get your copy today.

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Explore San Diego County's backroads, beaches, mountains and deserts with Joyride Guru® and award-winning author Jack Brandais. Make them your San Diego day trip.
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