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 public art to, of course, our fabulous beaches.

1. La Jolla Shores Beach

A girl walks her dog on La Jolla Shores Beach.

When looking for things to do in La Jolla, the beach tops most lists. It’s actually our favorite of all San Diego beaches.

These waves 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 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.

This 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 is 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 to 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

As its name implies, the Children’s Pool was supposed to be a swimming area for kids. The seawall was built in 1931 to protect the area from rough waters.

The protected area has gradually filled with sand to form a little beach that California harbor seals have called home since about 1992.

Though there is controversy regarding whether they should be permitted to stay, on any given day, locals and tourists 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

For good reason, La Jolla Cove beach is the postcard image of our seaside community. Calm water here makes it a popular entry point into the ocean for swimmers and snorkelers.

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, if not on the beach. 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 has 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 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 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’s 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. Coast Walk Trail

Wildflowers bloom near the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail on a sunny day.

You’ll find the trailhead to Coast Walk Trail just north of The Cave Store. This is a lovely, mild hike (more like a walk) above the sea caves toward La Jolla Shores, which is about .6 miles long each way.

It’s kid-friendly and the views are spectacular. You may hear some chatty sea lions, see some colorful kayaks on the water, bird watch and then some.

10. Shell Beach Tide Pools

Free Things to Do in La Jolla: Shell Beach

Find Shell Beach at the bottom of a small stairway at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Visit when the tide is very low (minus tides are ideal) for the 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

Sunflowers and produce on display at La Jolla Open Aire Market

Every Sunday from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 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, vegetables, and a variety of fresh food.

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
7337 Girard Ave
La Jolla, CA 92037

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 above the beach with panoramic views and plenty of grassy areas 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 within 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

Windansea shack and beach on a summer July day.

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 at UC San Diego

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 an iPhone app.

This collection differs from your average sculpture garden because some 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.

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 Sea 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, renting one or booking a tour of the caves is easy. (It’s possible to walk inside Sunny Jim’s Cave through The Cave Store though adults pay a small 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 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 before 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

If you have a group of four or more interested people, make an appointment to visit the Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla. 

You’ll gain 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 and educational resources for teachers and the general public.

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 murals started appearing in 2010 and have added significant character and color to our seaside community. They change periodically, so there may be a new one each time you visit.

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. Get the details.

19. Salk Institute

This is the money shot, especially if you can snap yourself walking over the water line.

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.

Self-guided tours are free though you may pay for a docent-guided tour. As it’s a working facility, you need to make a reservation for a self-guided 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
Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium

Leopard sharks flock to La Jolla’s warm and shallow waters during the summer, and it is possible to snorkel alongside them respectfully.

One of the best places to do so is La Jolla Shores beach near The Marine Room restaurant because this is where they tend to congregate in the largest numbers.

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 free 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.

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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