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Pelican Cove Park: Terranea Discovery Trail

Pelican Cove Park (formerly called Pt. Vicente Fishing Access) is a 10.5-acre site whose main attractions are the Terranea Discovery Trail, an interpretive trail along the blufftop, and a small pocket beach and tidepools (not wheelchair accessible) below Vicente Bluffs. Plant life includes dune buckwheat (host plant to the endangered El Segundo blue butterfly), California bush sunflower, lemonadeberry, and coastal prickly pear. It’s a good place to spot marine life, and during our May visit we saw many California brown pelicans.

Sections of the trail travel through Terranea Resort, previously the site of Marineland of the Pacific Oceanarium. You’ll want to leave time for a leisurely stroll through the nicely landscaped property or to grab a bite at one of several restaurants.

Trail/Pathway Details

Terranea Discovery Trail

Trailhead: From the west parking lot, at the end farthest from the accessible spaces

Length: 1-2 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Gentle

Terrain: Firm

Near the trailhead are some soft spots where the decomposed granite has loosened, but I had no problem negotiating them in a motorized wheelchair.


Although it is called the Terranea Discovery Trail, locals know this as the Blufftop Trail, and as the name implies, you will travel high on the bluffs with unlimited ocean views. At the trailhead a detailed map shows six interpretive stations (all are accessible) along a mile-long stretch. The accessible route follows a circuitous path because of stairs in some locations, making it seem as if you’re on a scavenger hunt. After a slight downhill at the beginning, the trail levels out, and in about a quarter of a mile you reach the first station, Lady of the Light. Here you can see Point Vicente Lighthouse on the southwestermost point of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. A telescope for viewing the lighthouse is not accessible (a lowered telescope is at station 4).

After you pass the second interpretive station, to avoid a set of stairs, follow the spur trail to the left and down a slight hill, exiting onto an access road at Terranea Resort. From here you can either travel on the paved resort road several hundred feet downhill to station 3 or weave your way through the resort to reach the other stations (see map). When you reach the east side of the resort, look for the switchback ramp that leads to Cielo Point, a blufftop pool. The sight of this pool in its gorgeous setting instantly had me planning a return visit for a romantic getaway with my husband.

Beyond the pool is station 5 and the trail. Because of the detour around the stairs, you are now traveling backwards along the interpretive trail and will reach station 4 at two-tenths of a mile past station 5. Here, too, the trail ends at stairs. You’re close to the ocean at this point, and spray from the crashing waves may make you damp.

Retrace your steps to the pool, but for a delightful side trip—and to check out the source of the barking seals you may be hearing—turn right when you reach asphalt to follow the one-eighth-mile Beach Trail slightly downhill to a cove and small beach. This lovely trail provides a different perspective of the shore as it travels below the cliffs near sea level. At the beach, a small wooden bridge has a step down onto the sand; unless you can negotiate the step, you’ll need to turn around here.

To reach station 6, go back up the switchback ramp by the pool and turn right onto the wide walkway. Turn right at the first opportunity and follow the trail to the last interpretive station. From here you can continue on Flowerfield Trail, which leads to the parking lot at Terranea, or meander back through the resort.

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Accessible Parking: Yes

Two locations serve the trail: at Terranea Resort on Terranea Way, across from the golf course, and at the west lot off Palos Verdes Drive South (.25 mile from Terranea Resort), which can only be reached when traveling eastbound.

Accessible Restroom: Yes

Near the accessible parking space at the west lot off Palos Verdes Drive South is a paved route to the restroom; take that rather than the dirt path, which has a step at the restroom. I also used the restroom at Terranea resort, but the property is tricky to navigate.

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

At trailhead and by two interpretive stations: Lady of the Light and It’s So Diatomaceous

Other Things of Interest

The Wayfarer's Chapel, on Palos Verdes Drive South about 2 miles west of Pelican Cove Park, is an architectural gem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's son, Lloyd Wright. Inspired by the natural cathedrals of California's redwood forests, Wright set the chapel amid redwood trees and gave it a glass ceiling and walls; it is often referred to as the "glass church." Perched on a hill overlooking the ocean, the chapel has been featured in many TV shows and movies. Parking and restrooms are accessible.

Features icon key

  • hiking
  • picnic
  • wildlife viewing

Additional Information

View Map  
Managing Agency: City of Rancho Palos Verdes
Address: 31300 Palos Verdes Drive South
Phone: (310) 544-5260
Hours: Dawn to dusk
Fees: None
Dogs: On leash
Public Transportation: Metro
Reviewed by Ann Ruth, May 4, 2013
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
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