Free things to do in La Jolla top most sightseeing itineraries because of quality rather than cost. We’ve outlined twenty of the best here from a must-visit museum to, of course, our fabulous beaches.

1. La Jolla Shores Beach

San Diego beaches: La Jolla Shores

When looking for things to do in La Jolla, the beach tops most lists and this is our favorite. The waves here are thought to be the most gentle in the county, making this an ideal place to paddle out in a kayak, learn to surf, scuba dive, and stand-up paddleboard. Plus, the ocean here is full of sea life due to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park located here.

There’s plenty of flat sand for families to sprawl out as well as lifeguards, showers, and restrooms. It’s one of the most family-friendly beaches in San Diego, definitely. Kellogg Park (below) is adjacent. See why we think La Jolla Shores is San Diego’s best beach.

La Jolla Shores Beach
8200 Camino Del Oro
La Jolla, CA 92037
(619) 221-8899

2. Kellogg Park

Kellogg Park playground for kids at La Jolla Shores Beach.

T his lovely little playground provides a nice space for kids to run and play steps away from La Jolla Shores Beach. Bring a picnic (or take away from one of the nearby La Jolla Shores restaurants like the Cheese Shop) and even exercise on the huge grassy area.

This playground perfect for the times that you want to go to the beach and not without the sand. Park in the sizable adjacent parking lot (though it can fill up quickly during the summer) or on the street. And, it’s next door fo La Jolla Shores Hotel and steps from La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

Kellogg Park
8200 Camino Del Oro
La Jolla, CA 92037

3. Torrey Pines Gliderport

Fantastic views at the Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla

The Torrey Pines cliffs’ long history of soaring aircraft dates back to the 1930s. Today, it’s a place people come to fly or relax while watching others take to the sky above Black’s Beach and over the ocean. Bring your camera as it’s a much cooler experience than it sounds.

Those who are daring can actually strap in and take a paragliding or hang gliding tandem flight (a cost applies). Casual food for purchase (sandwiches, salads, and soups) is available at the Cliff Hanger Cafe or bring your own to eat at the picnic tables there.

(Fun fact: Charles Lindbergh flew along the coast from Mt. Soledad to Del Mar in a Bowlus sailplane on February 24, 1930. So, that would be over Torrey Pines Gliderport.)

Torry Pines Gliderport
2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive
La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037
phone: 858 452 9858

4. Seals at the Children’s Pool

Free things to do in La Jolla: Children's Pool seals

La Jolla’s Children’s Pool was supposed to be a swimming area for kids, as its name implies. The seawall was built in 1931 to protect the area from rough waters. The protected area has gradually filled up with sand to form a little beach that seals and sea lions have called home since about 1992.

Though there is controversy regarding whether they should be permitted to stay, on any given day, locals and tourist can catch a glimpse of them sunbathing, swimming and nursing their pups. It’s pretty cute and kids love it. See my guide to visiting the La Jolla seals and sea lions.

Children’s Pool
850 Coast Blvd
La Jolla, CA 92037

5. La Jolla Cove

Free things to do in La Jolla: La Jolla Cove beach

La Jolla Cove beach is the postcard image of our seaside community for good reason. Calm water here makes it a popular entry point into the ocean for swimmers, snorkelers and kayakers. The patch of sand is tiny but you’ll see loads of families and beachgoers relaxing here in good weather. A permanent lifeguard station monitors the beach and water year-round.

Our sea lions typically rest on the cove’s point here, if not on the beach itself. It’s possible to walk out on to the rocks to see them, but please keep your distance as they are wild animals.

See also how to spend a day at La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla Cove
1100 Coast Boulevard
La Jolla, CA 92037

6. La Jolla Recreation Center

Whether you live in La Jolla or are just visiting, the La Jolla Recreation Center is a fabulous place to let kids blow off steam. The play area is sizable with three play areas including swings, monkey bars, play structures, basketball courts and plenty of grass.

Other amenities include picnic tables (perfect for groups—it’s not uncommon for local kids to celebrate birthdays here), decent bathrooms and free programming (check the schedule).

Bring a picnic or walk to some of the nearby La Jolla restaurants for lunch after play. A lot of seasonal festivals happen here, too.

La Jolla Recreation Center
615 Prospect Street (at Draper Street)
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 552-1658

7. La Jolla Library Events

The La Jolla Library hosts free youth and adult events. Go online to check the calendar. Kids love the story time, baby yoga and sign language classes while adults can enjoy everything from creative writing workshops to yoga. Plus, it’s a nice space to read or study in.

La Jolla Library
7555 Draper Ave (between Pearl St & Kline St)
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 552-1657

8. Warwick’s La Jolla Events

One of La Jolla most beloved stores, Warwick’s Books, hosts events with well-known authors that you can take a look at on their calendar. While some are book signings (in which case you’d need to buy a book), other events include interesting talks with a variety of authors that are both local and not, including celebrities (we saw Ozzy Osbourne and Apolo Ohno there).

It’s the country’s oldest family-owned bookstore.

7812 Girard Ave
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-0347

9. Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla Edwards Sculpture Garden (Closed for Renovation)

(The museum is closed for a major renovation and expansion project but I’m leaving this mention here for when it reopens.)

While the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla has an entry fee, the Edwards Sculpture Garden is free to the public daily. The garden isn’t huge but kids will love it exploring it while you soak in the panoramic ocean views. It’s a lovely place to spend time and the museum overall is surprisingly family-friendly. Download the sculpture garden guide.

Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla
700 Prospect Street (between Draper Ave & Eads Ave)
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-3541

10. Shell Beach Tide Pools

Free Things to Do in La Jolla: Shell Beach

Located at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, find Shell Beach at the bottom of a small stairway. Visit when the tide is very low (1.0 is okay but minus tides are ideal) for best viewing of tide pools but there usually is a small sandy area here year-round.

Usually, December and January are the best months for La Jolla tide pooling along the boardwalk here. Sea slugs, starfish, fish and other sea life can be visible here. Kids love it and you can picnic at Ellen Browning Scripps Park.

Shell Beach  
Coast Highway at Ellen Browning Scripps Park
La Jolla, CA 92037

11. La Jolla Open Aire Market

Every Sunday from 9:00 am – 1:00 pm at La Jolla Elementary School, the La Jolla Open Aire Market is free to wander. Browse the selection of artisanal bread, gorgeous flowers, organic fruits, and vegetables as well as a variety of fresh food.

Loads of food vendors are on site to prepare everything from an early morning burrito to crepes. Should you choose to purchase, feel good that some proceeds benefit La Jolla Elementary School. Free family activities happen every third Sunday ranging from crafts to holiday-related activities.

La Jolla Open Aire Market
Corner of Girard and Genter Street

12. Picnic at Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Free things to do in La Jolla: Ellen Browning Scripps Park

AAA Magazine says that this is the most photographed spot in San Diego. Ellen Browning Scripps Park rests on a bluff above the beach with panoramic views and plenty of grassy areas to spread out for a picnic or a game of catch.

Also, the wind-blown trees here are said to have influenced Dr. Seuss’s truffula trees in The Lorax. His house in La Jolla overlooked this park (note that the tall one recently blew down and is no longer there).

It’s adjacent to La Jolla Cove and Shell Beach while also walking distance to plenty of places to eat up on Prospect Street.

Ellen Browning Scripps Park
Coast Blvd & Girard Ave
La Jolla, CA 92037

13. Windansea Beach

A beach in a residential area with great waves for surfing, Windansea Beach is a local favorite and much less touristy than other beaches in the county. There isn’t a ton of sand or tourist amenities but it is a gorgeous place to hang out and watch the sunset.

Windansea Beach
6800 Neptune Place
La Jolla, CA 92037

14. Stuart Collection

Fallen Star in UC San Diego Stuart Collection
Fallen Star (2012) by Doh Ho Suh
Stuart Collection
UC San Diego
Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann

The Stuart Collection, an internationally renown sculpture collection on the campus of UC San Diego, is free to explore with a map that can be printed online or via a brand new iPhone app.

This collection is different from your average sculpture garden because some of the pieces are incorporated into buildings on site. The famous Sun God sculpture is part of the collection. The 18th sculpture installation, Fallen Star, is a crooked little house that kids will love on top of the engineering building called Jacobs Hall (open usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Note that if you are driving to campus, you’ll need to seek out metered parking or purchase a short-term parking permit.

Stuart Collection
UC San Diego campus

15. The La Jolla Caves

Free things to do in La Jolla: Check out Clam's Cave

It’s best to see them all by kayak, but La Jolla is home to seven sea caves between La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove. Most are only visible by kayak, however, you can see Clam’s Cave from Goldfish Point on Coast Blvd.

The caves are perched in 75 million-year-old sea cliffs. As you might imagine, everything from immigrants to contraband whiskey has been smuggled into the area via the ocean and hidden inside them. Most kayakers enter the ocean at La Jolla Shores beach and paddle out toward the caves.

If you don’t have a kayak, it’s easy to rent one or book a tour of the caves. (It’s possible to walk inside Sunny Jim’s Cave through The Cave Store though adults pay a $4 entrance fee.)

16. Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial

Free things to do in La Jolla: Mt Soledad Veterans Memorial

Not only does it boast one of the best views of San Diego, the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial honors veterans that have served our country with beautiful black granite plaques. Over 3000 of these granite plaques are spread across multiple 6 Memorial Walls and serve as mementos of the brave people who fought way back when in the Revolutionary War to the current Middle East conflict. Military supporters including celebrities and several U.S. Presidents are also honored on the walls.

Pick up a pamphlet from one of the onsite boxes or speak to a docent for additional insight. It’s a great teaching moment for kids. There is also a plaque locator online.

Two major Veterans events are held at the site on Memorial Day and the Saturday prior to Veterans Day on November 11th.

Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial
6905 La Jolla Scenic South
(between Soledad Park Rd & Via Capri)
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 459-2314

17. The Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla

Free things to do in La Jolla: Map and Atlas Museum

The Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla offers free entry in an effort to foster an appreciation of the geography, history, politics, and artistic beauty of antique collectible maps and atlases.

On display is the largest private collection of rare maps. The museum offers guided tours for schools and interested individuals as well as educational resources for teachers and the general public. The museum is open Wednesdays and Thursdays along with the first and third Saturdays of the month from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm.

The Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla
7825 Fay Avenue (Courtyard Level)
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 653-6277

18. Walk the La Jolla Murals

Katie Dillon writes La Jolla Mom, a luxury travel and lifestyle site covering things to do in San Diego, flying with kids, food and destinations around the world.

La Jolla’s now 16 murals (with more added periodically) started appearing in 2010 and have added significant character and color to our seaside community. Take a very Instagram-worthy self-guided tour using the map or sign up for a walking tour of the murals hosted by the Athenaeum.

19. Salk Institute

Photography and architecture enthusiasts should consider visiting the Salk Institute. Jonas Salk hired famous architect Louis Kahn to create awe-inspiring buildings using materials requiring minimal maintenance while allowing natural sunlight to flood into the labs.

Their tours used to be free but now have a $15 per person fee though you may walk into the Salk during business hours on your own. As it’s a working facility, they would prefer that you book a tour.

Salk Institute
10010 North Torrey Pines Road
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 453-4100 Ext. 1200

20. Snorkel with the Leopard Sharks

Free things to do in La Jolla: Swim with leopard sharks

Leopard sharks flock to La Jolla’s warm and shallow waters during the summer and it is possible to respectfully snorkel alongside them. One of the best places to do so is at La Jolla Shores beach near The Marine Room restaurant because the waves are gentle there.

Be calm, don’t make noise and they’ll stick around to swim with you. They do not typically like bubbles from scuba gear so snorkeling in shallow water is your best bet. This is one of the more unique things to do in La Jolla, so don’t miss it!

La Jolla Shores Beach
8200 Camino Del Oro
La Jolla, CA 92037
(619) 221-8899

Have other favorite free things to do in La Jolla that are not on this list? Leave us a comment.

The best things to do in La Jolla, California won't cost a cent.
Katie Dillon headshot

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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