With its Mediterranean-like climate, hidden beach coves, and top-rated museums, the seaside neighborhood of La Jolla is truly California’s crown jewel. Contributing to the 35 million tourists that visit San Diego each year, La Jolla is a popular attraction in its own right.
Photo Alert: With its shoreline views, rugged cliffs, and picturesque piers, the photo ops are endless in this magical seascape town!
Just 12 miles north of downtown San Diego, La Jolla occupies seven miles of winding coastline along the stunning Pacific Ocean. It takes visitors typically about 20 minutes to reach La Jolla from the San Diego International Airport.
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Famous for its dazzling ocean vistas, sea lions and celebrated tidal pools, the small community receives international acclaim. As La Jolla means “the jewel” in Spanish, this sparking enclave is filled with treasures to explore. There’s more to see and do in this small beach refuge than you may imagine, from the Pacific Beach to the south and the Del Mar border to the north.
La Jolla Top Attractions
Beaches & Caves
Beach activities include snorkeling, whale watching, or morning strolls along the Cove. Featuring ten breathtaking beaches, each one is a unique recreational destination.
- La Jolla Cove: This prime destination is surrounded by stone cliffs and azure ocean waves. Visitors can enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving. Swimming to the buoys and back is another cove past times. Most importantly, the Cove is home to the captivating sea lions who sunbath on the rocks just offshore. Some live in the nearby Children’s Pool.
Pro Tip: Plan ahead and reserve a fire pit to enjoy the La Jolla shore at nighttime.
- Shell Beach Tide Pools: La Jolla has one of the best areas for tide pool exploring anywhere along the Pacific coast. Check out this marine basin filled with sea critters such as mussels, anemones, sea stars, crustaceans, seaweed, and small fish.
Pro Tip: Check the tide charts to plan your tide pool visit, and take a jacket in the evening as the coastal winds can make for a chilly trip.
- Children’s Pool: This small beach, protected by a seawall, was initially built in 1933 as a children’s swim area to seclude kids from dangerous waves. Though now, it is now a famous home to area sea lions! Technically it’s okay to swim in the pools, but experts discourage it due to the high bacteria counts from the harbor seals.
Pro Tip: Check out the snorkeling and kayak tours or surf schools that will have you hanging ten with the pros.
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Other local beaches and caves to explore include:
- Windansea Beach
- Mushroom Beach
- Marine Street Beach
- La Jolla Caves
- Sunny Jim Cave
Pro Tip: The two large beach parking lots fill up quickly, so come early as street parking is limited.
La Jolla Parks & Trails
Beyond the sea, La Jolla has plenty of grassy parks perfect for picnics and outdoor activities.
- Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve: Located at the north end of La Jolla, is an exciting place for nature enthusiasts. There is much to see with dozens of hiking trails, sandstone cliffs, and magnificent pine forests!
- Ellen Browning Scripps Park: Here, visitors can explore marine life amidst the rocks and coastal pools.
- Ho Chi Minh Trail (also known as the La Jolla Trail): This popular trail descends from the La Jolla neighborhood to Blacks Beach. FYI: The north part of the beach is clothing optional!
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Other Park Attractions:
- La Jolla Shore Park
- Tourmaline Surfing Park
- Curvier Park – The Wedding Bowl
- La Jolla Underwater Park
Fun Fact: The late “Dr. Seuss,” author Theodor Geisel and his wife Audrey called La Jolla their home. Also, Grammy-winning songstress Alicia Keys and music producer husband Swizz Beatz bought the famous Razor House, a stunning cliffside mansion by architect Wallace E. Cunningham.
La Jolla Village Cultural Activities
Visitors in the mood for some art and culture can check out several museums, galleries, historic sites, and a world-class research aquarium.
Here are a few Village highlights:
- Legends Gallery: Guests can check out the artwork of famed celebrity Dr. Seuss.
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps: This award-winning marine research facility sits high on a cliff overlooking the sea. Perfect for a rainy day, visitors can check ocean scientists’ latest discoveries and participate in interactive exhibits. The aquarium is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Murals of La Jolla: Take a visual promenade down this section of vibrant outdoor murals painted on the sides of buildings throughout La Jolla Village.
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Other Culture Check Points:
- Soledad National Veterans Memorial
- Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
- Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla
- La Jolla Playhouse
- Salk Institute
- Geisel Library
Fun Fact: Many residents would like the neighborhood to become its own city, apart from San Diego.
La Jolla Downtown Sites & Activities
Experts say it takes three to four hours to take the La Jolla Village and all its splendor. Here are a few other sight-seeing destinations to squeeze into your itinerary:
- Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church
- University of California
- Girard Avenue and Prospect Street
- Open Air Market
- Spa at Estancia
The popular alfresco dining in town offers fresh farm-to-table menus from award-winning chefs. Loaded with luxury resorts and spas, art galleries and unique boutiques, the town also has fantastic cuisine. For world-class food, check out Prospect Street, Girard Avenue, and Fay Avenue restaurants. Before you leave town, here are three popular tourist stops to delight your palette!
Located in a historic downtown house, the Cottage is the perfect quick stop for a delicious brunch. The café offers a wellness menu with vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Caroline’s Seaside Café
With lovely views of the Pacific coast, this outdoor café will knock your socks off with its artisan Caprese sandwiches and curried chicken salad.
For the best king crab legs in town, check out this corner restaurant for delish seafood and stunning vistas.