I spent two years living on the UC San Diego campus, and I feel confident that I explored all the fun things the area has to offer. I never thought to write out a guide for them until after my year abroad in Barcelona, where I wrote up everything I discovered in every location I went, in the hope that it could help others find the same cool things. No reason why I shouldn’t do that back home! This selection skews toward the adventurous/dangerous, but that’s what I’m drawn to.
The Stuart Art Collection– This is the formal name for the collection of art that is scattered around campus. You probably already know the famous pieces – the talking tree, the Sun God statue, the Warren Bear statue. But there are many more than those. Some of my favorites are the Green Table in Muir, etched with dozens of quotes taken completely without context, The La Jolla Vista view, which is tucked away in Revelle and is a great place to look at the nighttime skyline, and Fallen Star, the blue house you may notice jutting off of the top of the engineering building. The pieces vary in excitement, but it is a worthy few hours to go around and check them all out of you haven’t yet.
The Philosophy Building’s West Staircase – You may be familiar with the famous Graffiti Hall, a staircase absolutely coated with paint of all kinds within Mandeville that was, sadly, recently painted over. But few people know about the western staircase of the Philosophy Tower in Muir, which is coated from floors 1 to 8 with very intimate scrawlings. It’s graffiti done not with a spray can but with sharpies and pens, meticulously scratched out in spindly script across the walls. There’s veritable diaries of people dating all the way back to the 70s, detailing a sad day they had, a quote that they like, or maybe just an impressive full size sketch of a monkey. It’s an hour well spent to take your time and read everything all along the staircase from the bottom to the top. If nobody’s looking maybe you can find some empty space to add your own
Old tunnels map from 1996
The Steam Tunnels – These are famed in myth and rumor, but they actually do exist, although they are not as exciting as you may think other than the fact that you’re not allowed down there. They run in a rough rectangle with the points at Geisel, Muir, Revelle, and the Biomedical campus. Last I heard, the manhole in front of Geisel and in the Biomedical area are still open, but you need a crowbar to open them and a time when absolutely nobody is looking, which is tricky. I wouldn’t use the Biomed one because theres a security camera right next to it. The manhole in Muir next to the hump in front of Main Gym doesn’t open up all the way, but you can get it wide enough to shimmy your way inside if you really try.
Once inside, you’ll notice that everything is well lit, and very very hot. You’ll sweat up a storm, and don’t touch the red hot pipes on the interior side. Other than that, have fun running down hundreds of meters of identical tunnel that are eerily quiet and still, except for the random odd industrial noises that will make you jump. Theres a smattering of graffitti down here, but not enough to make it worth the trip alone. Full size doors open out into the basement of AP&M, the basement of Geisel, and into the Revelle corner, but that last one is padlocked. Keep in mind that it is illegal to enter these tunnels and I hear you can be expelled if caught in there.
Salk Institute Road – There are plenty of goodies to be found on or around this little path just south of the road to the Gliderport. Walking down it towards the ocean you first encounter the Estancia hotel and spa on your left, a snazzy complex that includes a hot tub in the northwest corner that, while not open to non guests or at night, can be easily used if you don’t mind stealthily hopping the single fence that leads to it. It’s a classic midnight mission from freshman year.
Continuing onward, on your right you have the Salk complex, which is worth poking around at least once for the weird 70s architecture of the building. Many of the walls are see through, and the central courtyard looks like something out of that David Bowie movie Labyrinth. Keep walking straight past the car gate, and you’ll eventually arrive at a small utility platform that has a nice wall to sit on and look at the adjacent cliffs, the waves, or the decadent mansions in La Jolla Farms (one of which is a dead ringer for Tony Stark’s mansion in Iron Man).
Bonus points to you if you can figure out how to get underneath this utility platform, which actually goes down 4 stories into the ground. Again, there’s not much down there of interest, except for several huge industrial machines that switch on and off at random and give you heart attacks when you’re not expecting them. There’s no lights down there, so make sure to bring your flashlight (or a crowbar – this place is straight out of Half Life).
Continuing down the cliff past the end of the Salk Institute trail is what is popularly known as the Ho Chi Minh trail, a sketchy path used by surfers to get down to Blacks as directly as possible. The path wanders down sandy hills, through slot canyons, and includes both a spot that requires you to walk across a narrow beam and another that necessitates using a rope to rappel down the last 20 feet. Don’t use this trail to get to the beach if you’re carrying a lot of stuff, but it is a fun adventure.