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At San Diego’s ‘mini Stonehenge,’ a mysterious circle of benches is actually a solstice clock

Twice a year, the installation—set along a path of public art—points out where the sun sets on the horizon

A dirt trail runs alongside Scenic Highway 75 in Coronado, California. If you’re just driving down the road, chances are you’ll never even know it’s there. But if you do manage to find it, the trail—known as Nature’s Bridge to Discovery—is full of surprises.

This pedestrian pathway gains significance—and visitor numbers—twice a year, during the summer and winter solstices, thanks to a circle of benches built along the trail. The benches form a solstice clock, designed by San Diego-based Schmidt Design Group and artist Paul Hobson. Stamped with the words “Time,” “Continuance,” and “Change,” the artwork marks the exact spot where the sun will set during the solstices.     

A circle of benches forms a solstice clock with the words "Time," "Continuance," and "Change" on them.
Lines in the concrete point to where the sun sets during the summer and winter solstices. | Photo: Sanna Boman

“The openings in the benches line up with some patterns in the concrete that point to where the sun sets on the winter and summer solstice,” says Glen Schmidt, president of Schmidt Design Group. He calls the installation a “mini Stonehenge.”

In 2021, the summer solstice—also known as the official start of summer—happens on June 20. The sun will be at its highest point in the sky, and we’ll experience the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Nature’s bridge

Scenic Highway 75 is also called Silver Strand Boulevard, named for the area that surrounds it. The Silver Strand is a narrow, 7-mile-long stretch of land that makes out the southern part of Coronado, an affluent resort city just across the bay from downtown San Diego. Silver Strand Boulevard runs straight down the center of the strand, connecting Coronado with Imperial Beach on San Diego’s southern coast.

Looking north along Natures Bridge to Discovery, with downtown San Diego on the right. | Photo: Sanna Boman

The Silver Strand packs a lot into a limited geographic area, including a state beach, a yacht club, two Navy bases, residential areas, resorts, campgrounds, and marinas. It encloses the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, home to several threatened or endangered species of birds and other wildlife.

In 1999, Schmidt Design Group was tasked with creating the pedestrian trail. “It struck us that Coronado has a physical bridge from downtown over to the city, but the Silver Strand is like nature’s bridge. And so we named this Nature’s Bridge to Discovery,” says Schmidt.

The trail runs right alongside a busy highway, but it somehow still feels secluded. Bunnies and lizards scurry off the path and into the surrounding vegetation, alarmed by the sound of shoes hitting the dirt.

The sun sets in this opening during the summer solstice. | Photo: Sanna Boman
A compass rose points out which way is north. | Photo: Sanna Boman

Walking north on the trail from its southern end, the solstice clock is the first of a number of art installations and overlooks you’ll encounter. A compass rose at the center of the circle points out which way is north, south, east, and west. Letters along a big X in the ground spell out which way the sun sets during the summer and winter solstices, respectively.

The installations along Nature’s Bridge to Discovery are designed specifically with this area’s unique natural features and cultural history in mind. There’s an overlook in the shape of a spiral, which symbolizes wind, in honor of the area’s Native American history. A sculpture documents the journey of the California least tern, an endangered, migratory bird that makes its way to San Diego from South America each year. And a deck in the shape of a blade of grass overlooks the marshlands surrounding the Silver Strand.

June Gloom

In Southern California, which typically experiences a summer-like climate year round, the summer solstice is sometimes an anticlimactic experience. June along the coast often means cloudy, overcast skies, and cooler temperatures—a weather phenomenon known as June Gloom.

June Gloom skies over the Silver Strand. | Photo: Sanna Boman

Schmidt points out that the solstice clock is more popular in the winter, when California sunsets are more reliably vibrant. “There are a number of people who meet there every year on the winter solstice,” he says. “They bring wine and cheese, and there’s usually someone that plays the bagpipes.”

With a little bit of luck, the sun will make an appearance on June 20. And if it does, a visit to the Silver Strand solstice clock is a great way to officially kick off summer.

“Start with a stroll an hour before sunset,” Schmidt recommends. “When the sun hits the Point Loma horizon, it should be lined up very close to the openings in the bench.”

If you go

Nature’s Bridge to Discovery is an easy 1.3-mile hike along a hard-packed dirt path. A paved bike lane runs next to it. It’s recommended to park in the public lot at Fiddler’s Cove Marina and walk north.