Devil’s Slide and Dead Man’s Leap: A Slice of Historic La Jolla

The original “Devil’s Slide” Footbridge

If you descend the Coast Walk Trail (from Prospect) above the La Jolla Caves, you’ll spot a small, quaint white bridge that spans a deep gulch in a tall patch of Arrundanaria cane. This bridge, though unassuming, has actually been there since the mid-1930s and boasts a rather ominous name: Devil’s Slide; although it looked quite a bit different a hundred years ago. As with much of La Jolla’s past, the bridge has a connection to the caves below – and a bit of folklore to go along with it. 

During the Great Depression, the railroad industry in La Jolla became the cash cow that kept the town afloat during a difficult financial period. It was calling the shots, and employees were constantly struggling to keep tourists – and money – flowing into the village.

An area called Dead Man’s Leap, where sightseers in the 1890s took balloon rides and watched a showman named “Professor” Horace Poole leap from a springboard into the surf 100 feet below, sits just above the cliffs near the bridge. It was a favorite spot of many thrill-seekers for a long time, though it eventually gave way to a somewhat “safer” pastime: lowering visitors by rope over the edge of Devil’s Slide and allowing them to dangle and peer into the dark caves, which are somewhat difficult to enter from sea level because of the crashing surf. Some argue that it was partly this kind of treacherous activity that inspired Schulz to dig his tunnel into Sunny Jim, the largest of the string of caverns.


Today, you can still see an old bit of rope attached to a chipping block of cement, where visitors gathered before plunging (aka repelling) down a fifty-foot muddy pathway. According to some La Jolla Historical Society files, the trail and surrounding area may have served as a hunting path for Native American tribes in ancient times.

The bridge has its own bit of history attached to it. It was built by unemployed La Jollans as a public works project sponsored by the railroad during the Great Depression. Originally it was meant to provide access to the caves and generate tourism, as it enticed visitors to come to La Jolla and explore the tide pools and beaches. The original long wooden staircase descended down the steep cliffs from Prospect, and soon became a popular way to reach the shoreline to collect abalone. Why “Devil’s Slide”? One theory is that it’s named for all the rock slides that occurred before the land was so inhabited, a problem that made its descent all the more dangerous.

The new white bridge you see today was built over the gulch to become part of the Coast Walk Trail in 1991. Though now considerably less dangerous, the area is still undeniably beautiful – and steeped in its own bit of history.

[sources: “Pirates, Romance, Smugglers” by Jenifer Warren; La Jolla by Carol Olten] [images:,,]

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2 thoughts on “Devil’s Slide and Dead Man’s Leap: A Slice of Historic La Jolla

  1. I really enjoy these historical accounts of our unique seaside village really fascinating. Places and landmarks that I took for granted as a kid are now seen from a new perspective, and gives the reader a new appreciation for our village forebears. Thanks Emily, and LJBB!

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