Things to do in La Jolla, CA
The magical, seaside enclave of La Jolla, CA is everything you think of when you think of sunny, beautiful California. There’s a reason it’s called the “jewel” of San Diego. It’s precious. Think ocean coves, shades of blue, cliffside views, and, in general, a setting so sublime you feel like you could be in a little slice of European Riviera.
I remember being smitten with La Jolla when I visited on a family vacation years ago, and it was just the same taking my own kids there for the first time. They loved it, and I even moreso than before was captured by its beauty. Whether you’re taking the kids, going on a romantic get-away, or visiting with friends, everyone loves La Jolla and its gorgeous SoCal scenery. In addition to the plethora of things to do outdoors, there are excellent restaurants, shopping, and a sophisticated vibe that makes it feel like an upscale Cali oasis.
Below is a list of the best things to do in La Jolla. As I was recently there on a family vacation it has a kids slant to it, but really this list could apply toward anyone, as everything on the list is fun for all ages. La Jolla is all about walking around its beautiful streets, parks, beaches and shore paths, and taking in the stunning setting.
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla’s centerpiece, looking out onto this idyllic cove is a must-do. It’s right in the heart of things, so you can’t miss it. Below is a scenic little beach for swimmers and sunbathers, with surrounding cliffs – making it a dramatic view from above – and sea lions and seals in the rocks and tidepools off to either side. There are many activities available, including kayaking, SUP, snorkeling and scuba diving. You can read more about the activities here.
You may also enjoy: Venice Beach with Kids
People love to go to the cove to see the sea lions and seals – there are hundreds of them basking in the sun or swimming in from sea. They are really cute, but beware! If you get too close, they can absolutely react and try to snip you. In fact, one sea lion almost bit my daughter. We were just playing among them like everyone else, when one lashed out at her leg, tusks and all. Thankfully she got away in time, but it was a fair warning that these animals don’t want you in their faces anymore than you would want them.
If you walk south along the coastal walk you’ll come to what’s called the Children’s Pool, another cove and pretty coastal setting. It’s called the Children’s Pool because in the 1930’s a sea wall was built to keep the waters calm and protected for children to swim in. There is a beach, as well as lots of seals. This is a great spot to take the kids seal-watching as well. We didn’t even go to the beach, but rather walked out on the stretch of land that takes you out to the ocean, and saw many seals from there. But if you want to take the kids swimming, this is the spot.
Ellen Browning Scripps Park
In between the Children’s Pool and La Jolla Cove is picturesque Scripps Park. This is the perfect little spot to let the kids run around, have a picnic, or take a walk. Its green grass set against the ocean blue makes for the perfect break. You can see snippets of the park from above in town, and your eye can’t help but lead you down the way to its setting on the sea. It’s right near a bunch of restaurants as well if you want to combine lunch with a park walk, which is what we did. We had a delicious meal at Cody’s, a funky restaurant with outdoor seating and bohemian vibe.
La Jolla Coast Walk Trail
There’s nothing I love more than a walk along the sea, especially from up above where you can get all those amazing views. The La Jolla Coast Walk Trail runs along the town’s coves and beaches and is not to be missed. Parts of the trail take you above to dramatic look-outs, while others take you right along the shore at sea level. We walked a fair portion of the trail, and be forewarned that parts of the path take you right up to the cliff’s edge. Be very careful with young children. But this was one of my favorite parts of our visit, just meandering along this path and taking in the beauty that is La Jolla.
You may also enjoy: A Day at Paradise Cove in Malibu
Sunny Jim Sea Cave at the Cave Store
Right along the Coast Walk Trail is the Sunny Jim Sea Cave, the only cave in La Jolla accessible by land. It’s an interesting set-up – you access it by a long, wooden staircase located inside the Cave Store on Coastal Blvd. At the bottom there is a man-made tunnel that connects the store to the cave, and the whole experience of descending the stairs and walking through the tunnel to the cave is a thrill for the littles. I’ll admit it’s totally touristy, but worth it for the kids. They had a blast. And once you’re there and inside it with the view looking out into the water, it’s pretty cool. The cost at the time of writing this is $5 for adults and $3 for kids.
La Jolla Shores Beach
A really fun part of La Jolla is La Jolla Shores, located outside of the main downtown. If you’re looking to spend a day or afternoon at the beach (not one of the small ones found at the coves), this is the place to go. It’s a big beach and perfect for swimming, boogie boarding and surfing. Next to it is Kellogg Park, where you can find grass to run around on, a playground and BBQ stations. We loved the vibe here. Lots of action, families about, groups of friends with coolers, beautiful setting. The surrounding restaurants and street life seemed chic and fun, and we could have spent the whole day here. Note parking is extremely difficult, and best to go first thing in the morning.
Next to Shores Beach is Scripps Pier, which is part of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. I didn’t think to visit it, except had read that it’s one of the most popular spots for photographs. I can see why! It’s a working pier and not open to the public, but take a walk on the beach and you can explore it from there. There was a bride and groom getting their photos taken, and it was nearing sunset and the perfect time to go.
And those are our favorite things to do in La Jolla. If there’s anything not on here that you think should be, please leave in the comments below.