It’s no secret that San Diego is one of the top destinations for adventure and outdoor recreation in the United States. Southern California’s epic mountain ranges and coastal landscapes make the perfect destination to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature. From kayaking, hiking, surfing, and SUP boarding – there are plenty of recreation opportunities for every type of traveler.
If you’re a thrill seeker with a passion for adventure – your visit to San Diego is the perfect time to try paragliding. Paragliding is an extreme sport that involves leaping from incredible heights and soaring through the air attached to a lightweight glider aircraft. You launch yourself from a cliff with your feet and hang from a harness as you fly through the sky, taking in incredible views. If you’re looking for the experience of a lifetime, consider paragliding San Diego!
What is Paragliding?
There are motors or engines in paragliding – the aircraft soars simply from the pressure of air entering the vents of the large kite-like wings combined with the aerodynamics of the air flowing around the outside. The pilot steers the aircraft to gain lift and the best flights can last hours and cover hundreds of kilometers.
Paragliding aircraft have a soft wing that inflates and an elliptical shape that is very aerodynamic. When the wind conditions are favorable you can soar for miles and miles. There is generally no weight limit for paragliding.
If you’re in the mood for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, consider paragliding San Diego. You can enjoy panoramic views of the region as you fly like a bird at incredible heights. If you’re a lover of extreme sports and unforgettable excitement paragliding is perfect for you San Diego is a top destination for the sport with opportunities for beginners to expert paragliders to enjoy the sport.
Hang gliding vs Paragliding
Those who are new to free-flight experiences often mistake paragliding for a few other extreme sports activities. Hang gliding and paragliding are similar but hang gliders are much faster and can fly in more challenging conditions. Paragliding involves aircraft with larger wings, and it is considered safer than hang gliding because they glide at slower speeds.
Hang gliders are more rigid and have wings stretched over a mental frame, while paragliding aircraft involves a harness attached to a flexible fabric wing without a frame.
Paragliding vs Parasailing
Parasailing is another sport that is often confused with paragliding. Both are popular activities in San Diego. Paragliding is a free-flying foot-launched flight from land. Parasailing on the other hand involves being towed behind a boat, kind of like water skiing, while attached to a special parachute called a parasail – the speed from the boat catches the parachute and allows the parasailer to float in the air while being tethered to the boat. Paragliders are never attached to a vehicle, launch from land, and fly much higher than parasailers.
The History of Paragliding in San Diego
San Diego has a long history and tradition when it comes to free-flight paragliding, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the top destinations to experience paragliding in the world. One of the fathers of human flight, John Montgomery, took his first glider flight in San Diego way back in 1884. A few decades late in the 1930s, a gliding enthusiast named Charles Lindbergh began launching from Mt Soledad and the Torrey Pine cliffs along with his wife. Local students got involved in the fun, using the Black Mountain Open Space, or Little Black as the locals call it, to build gliders out of wood.
The sport really took off in San Diego in the early 1970s when The San Diego Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association was first established. To this day SDHGPA is the longest-running paragliding club in Southern California. It was originally called the Ultralight Fliers Organization, or UFO for short, and soon grew to include hundreds of members. The organization has pioneered the sport and has helped make paragliding San Diego one of the region’s most thrilling experiences for locals and tourists alike.
Paragliding San Diego for Beginners
Paragliding has continued to grow in popularity in San Diego since the 1970s and now several companies offer lessons, paragliding school, and experiences for beginners in the region. There is a certain level of knowledge and skill that is required to enjoy paragliding and choosing the right beginner training program is crucial if you plan to continue with the sport.
Torrey Pines Gliderport
Torrey Pines Gliderport is one of the best places to begin paragliding. Aviation enthusiasts have been taking flight for Torrey Pines for around 100 years and it is one of the most historic sites for aviation in North America. At Torrey Pines Gliderport, experts and beginners can enjoy a variety of paragliding experiences with the help of some of the world’s best instructors. Here you can book a one-time flight with an instructor or take classes that will help prepare you for your first solo paragliding experience.
Max Acro Paragliding LLC
Max Acro Paragliding LLC is another great option for beginners looking to learn about paragliding. Max Marien runs the school and multiple clinics each year. He is a well-known paragliding pilot who set the World Record for Infinite Tumbles in 2012. He competes around the world and has invented many new tricks. If you’re looking for an awesome teacher, Max is one of the best.
Skytoy holds paragliding trainings in both San Diego and Baja, Mexico throughout the year. There are different types of trainings for different levels of experience and for locals who want more adventure, the training packages are a great option. The experiences in Baja Mexico offer a unique experience without having to travel too far outside of San Diego.
Tandem Paragliding San Diego
If you’re brand new to paragliding and looking to try out the experience without investing the time or money in lessons for solo flights – a tandem paragliding experience is a perfect choice. Tandem flights help to make paragliding accessible to anyone. During a tandem flight, you will be paired with an expert instructor who will ensure that you have a safe and fun flight.
There is a lot less pressure in tandem paragliding than doing solo flights. You will be strapped to the aircraft together, and the instructor or guide will do all the important things while you can simply relax and enjoy the views. The instructor will act as the pilot, and you will be strapped into a separate harness just in front of the pilot.
Torrey Pines offers incredible tandem paragliding experiences for all ages. The pilots and instructors have undergone extensive training and are all certified. Flights are available 7 days a week depending on wind and weather conditions. Unfortunately, Torrey Pines is unable to take advanced reservations because the ability to fly is so dependent on conditions.
Daily tandem flights are on a first-come, first-served basis and it is recommended that you choose a few potential dates and then simply call in the morning. On the morning you’d like to fly simply call the Gliderport at 1 (858) 452-9858. Not to worry though, the weather is favorable an average of 300 days per year in San Diego!
Torrey Pines has a great track record and over 150,000 accident-free tandem paragliding flights have departed over the past few decades. When you arrive, you will fill out some paperwork and waivers – this is an extreme sport after all! You’ll then receive some basic instructions from your pilot before you depart for your flight.
Tandem flights last about 20 minutes during which you will soar above the Torrey Pines Coastal Cliffs. You’ll be able to see the Torrey Pines golf course, incredible homes, and exceptional views of the San Diego coastline. Your flight will land gently on the famous Black’s Beach which is renowned as one of the best surfing beaches in Southern California. Afterward, you’ll take a quick 15-minute hike back to the top. You’ll also receive some amazing photos to remember your trip.
The cost for a tandem paragliding flight is 175 USD, and there is a slight discount if you pay in cash. For more information, check out the Torrey Pines website.
Solo paragliding experiences
If you’ve tried paragliding tandem before, you’ve probably fallen in love with the sport. San Diego is the perfect place to take the experience to the next level and prepare yourself for your first solo flight. Proper training and education is the key to safe, successful, and fun flying. Paragliding is a self-regulated sport, meaning that certifications look different depending on where you study.
At Torrey Pines Glideport, certifications are broken down into 4 levels. Beginners will start with a P1 certification which will include classroom learning, on-the-ground training, and 5-18 flights from the Torrey Pine Cliffs. The P1 certification program takes 5-6 days to complete and around 40 hours of training time. You’ll be flying your first solo flights by the end. The P1 certification program costs about 1400 USD.
The P2 certification is for new solo fliers and includes about 160 hours of instruction. It takes most students 15-20 days to complete. You’ll get hours of flight time with radio supervision from an instructor. You’ll start at the Torrey Pine cliffs before experiencing over 12 other flying locations around San Diego. Because of San Diego’s diversity, you can experience unique landscapes as part of this course. Flying in the mountains, desert, alpine regions, and even flat land will help prepare you for anything. The P2 program costs about 1,900 USD. Additionally, if you purchase your own gear from Torrey Pines, you can sign up for a P1 and P2 combo package for 2,800 USD.
Paragliding Lessons for Experienced flyers in San Diego
San Diego is also one of the best places for intermediate pilots to improve their paragliding skills. Torrey Pines offers P3 training programs which have helped certify more pilots than any other school in North America. It takes around 20 days to complete. At the end of the program, you should feel confident flying anywhere!
Best Places to Paraglide in San Diego
For most people, especially those new to the sport of paragliding, Torrey Pines Gliderport is an excellent choice for paragliding spots. It’s only about 20 minutes from downtown San Diego by car.
For more experienced paragliders with their own equipment, San Diego is a playground with so many unique sites and landscapes to explore. SDHGPA manages a variety of popular sites around San Diego and works with landowners and government agencies to allow free flights from those locations.
For travelers visiting the region to paraglide for the first time, it is recommended that you do not fly from any of those sites without a local pilot present and make sure to contact an active local pilot for conditions and protocols you should have your Technician Class amateur radio operator license to communicate in case of emergency.
The primary sites managed by SDHGPA include
Palomar – this is one of San Diego’s best mountain sites and has great conditions most days.
Big Black – located in the Cleveland National Forest, Big Black is a gorgeous mountain launch site in a protected area.
Little Black – a small mountain with great conditions from fall until spring.
Laguna – this is a sensitive site and you will need to fly with an active SDHGPA member.
Horse Canyon – this is a great winter flying site and offers incredible mountain views.
For more information on approved paragliding sites in San Diego, check out the SDHGPA website.
Parahawking San Diego – A One-of-a-Kind Experience
If you’re looking for a paragliding experience unlike any other, consider trying a tandem flight with Fly With A Bird. You’ll launch from the cliffs of La Jolla and soar over the stunning San Diego Coastline with a knowledgeable pilot. The best part of all is that you will be accompanied throughout your flight by a trained free-flying falcon! The gorgeous bird of prey will stay close and guide the way as you literally experience a bird’s eye view. Expect to pay around 400 USD for this unforgettable experience.
For more information and to request reservations, check out the Fly with a Bird
Is Paragliding Safe?
There’s no question that paragliding is a thrilling, fun, and life-changing experience. If you’ve never tried it before, you might find yourself wondering whether it is safe. Like any extreme sport – paragliding has its risks. You’ll be flying high above the ground in an aircraft and many things can happen. Dangers include faulty equipment, crashes, or landing somewhere remote and getting lost or stranded.
Knowing the risks and having a basic level of instruction are crucial. If you are flying in tandem, it is very important to book with a reputable company with highly trained guides. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from in San Diego.
Paragliding equipment has improved immensely over the past few decades and most of the time the sport is completely safe if you follow safety procedures. In general, it is considered a safe activity, and plenty of people of all ages enjoy the sport.
San Diego also offers some of the most favorable conditions for paragliding in the United States with an average of 300 days per with safe flying conditions.
Where to Watch Paragliders in San Diego
If paragliding has sparked your interest, but you aren’t quite ready to take to the sky, you can still enjoy the sport from the ground. There are some wonderful places around the San Diego area where you can watch the paragliders soar through the air and eventually land. You can visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport for free, there is a large parking lot, and there are some beautiful views. Pack a picnic or enjoy a nice meal at the Cliffhanger Cafe while you watch. Cliffhanger Cafe even has live music performances!
Black’s Beach and La Jolla are other wonderful spots to catch a view of paragliders during your visit to San Diego while you relax by the ocean or enjoy hiking the trails.