Even if you’re not staying in a La Jolla hotel, it’s still worth visiting our seaside jewel for the day or even a half-day. If you’re wondering which of the many things to do in La Jolla to short-list and how to make it all work in a limited time, here are some suggestions.
I’ve laid out several choices during each time frame so that you can put together the one-day La Jolla itinerary that suits your interests best.
Note: The two La Jolla neighborhoods referenced here are La Jolla Shores (best beach and smaller business district) and Village of La Jolla (where the best shopping and La Jolla Cove are located). You’ll need to drive or Uber quickly between the two. If you make purchases using the links in this post I may be compensated.
Begin your day trip to La Jolla by driving in and securing a parking spot. If you plan to stay for the day, it’s easiest to find a paid lot with all-day parking otherwise you’ll need to move your car a few times to use free street parking.
Along Prospect Street near La Jolla Recreation Center and along La Jolla Cove, there are small stretches of three-hour free parking space but otherwise, you’re looking at 1-hour, 90-minutes or two hours at the maximum. Do not exceed the timed limits as they are strictly enforced. You may also valet park at George’s at the Cove (a popular choice) during restaurant hours.
Grab a Coffee and Head to La Jolla Cove
Swing into Better Buzz or Starbucks on Prospect Street for a cup of coffee. Take it down to La Jolla Cove to sip on a leisurely walk along the beach to at least the Children’s Pool, stopping to admire our La Jolla seals and sea lions along the way.
Wrap up your shoreline tour and stop for breakfast at one of the restaurants that overlook La Jolla Cove.
Where to Have Breakfast in La Jolla
Head to Brockton Villa, located in one of La Jolla’s original beach cottages, for their decadent Coast Toast (brioche french toast soaked in cream and other goodness), Meg’s eggs, mimosas, and cozy ambience.
Go for breakfast or lunch at Cove House on their beachy outdoor patio. Try the “Sam I Am” Green Eggs, a tribute to Dr. Seuss who was a La Jolla resident.
You can refer to my full list of best La Jolla restaurants.
Choose a Late Morning Activity
This is where you have a variety of choices depending on the types of activities that you seek so we’ll split into multiple tracks.
Go to the Beach
Families of smaller kids may want to simply head back down to the sandy area at La Jolla Cove or to one of the smaller La Jolla beaches in this area. On sunny days, La Jolla Cove gets packed so most people head over to the much larger La Jolla Shores beach for all-day beach-going. Here, you can rent chairs, umbrellas, and even a locker at Surf Diva.
Take a Tour
La Jolla tours are fantastic for active people who want to take advantage of our Mediterranean climate or the opportunity to get out on the ocean.
Tours on the Water
The ocean between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores is home to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, a man-made environment with four habitats, all full of sea life. The water here is also unusually clear for California which means that snorkelers and divers can see rays, leopard sharks, Garibaldi (our state fish), guitarfish, and much more. You can:
- Take a kayak tour to our sea caves.
- Take a kayak and snorkeling combo tour in which you kayak out to the best spots.
- Take a snorkeling tour (in summer these can include snorkeling with leopard sharks)
- Take a guided dive tour.
- Learn to surf or stand-up paddleboard
We have a variety of excellent vendors but you can use code lajollamom and click the green checkmark for a 20% discount on tours, lessons, and rentals at Everyday California. This includes private surf lessons, kayaking tours, SUP rentals, and more. I also very much like Surf Diva for surfing and paddleboarding lessons.
Tours on Land
- Join a Segway tour around popular La Jolla sights
- Ride an electric bike along the SoCal Riviera. The beauty of electric bikes is that you can manually pedal and switch to the electric motor when you’re tired.
Go to Birch Aquarium
Families may want to head up to Birch Aquarium, the public outreach center of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It’s a fantastic way to spend a few hours between the aquariums, daily events, touch tide pool, and other hands-on exhibits designed to fuel curiosity and a desire to protect our oceans. Head back to either La Jolla Shores or the Village for lunch.
La Jolla shops open at 10 a.m. Be sure not to miss:
- Balboa Candy for kids and those with sweet tooths and Geppetto’s for toys.
- Warwick’s, the nation’s oldest continuously operating family-owned bookstore which also has an excellent gift, kids, and office supply section.
- Hi Sweetheart for gifts and San Diego souvenirs you’ll actually want.
- Sweet Paper also for gifts, particularly paper goods and custom stationery.
There are many, many shops in between. Here’s a full guide to shopping in La Jolla.
Where to Eat Lunch in La Jolla
If you’re in the Village, our favorite lunch spot in good weather is George’s Ocean Terrace overlooking La Jolla Cove. Make a reservation. Get the famous black bean soup and fish tacos (the latter is a must when in San Diego anyway).
If you’re in La Jolla Shores and headed to the beach (or decide you’re hungry while already at the beach and don’t mind walking a few blocks), pick up a gourmet sandwich and famous oatmeal cookie at The Cheese Shop which has been a local staple since 1972. They also have a nice selection of imported candy and soda.
Shorehouse Kitchen is a casual spot (excellent after a tour on the water) for salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads also in La Jolla Shores or across the street grab a beautifully-plated taco made with thoughtfully-sourced ingredients at Galaxy Taco.
Choose an Afternoon Activity
See Choose a Morning Activity
If you didn’t squeeze all of the things to do in La Jolla that you’d like into your morning itinerary they, of course, can be added here.
If visiting La Jolla with kids who need to blow off some steam, the beachside playground at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores or the playground in the Village at the La Jolla Recreation Center are two very good options for a few hours.
Grab a Beer
Many visit to experience our famous San Diego breweries. If you’d like to try beer brewed in La Jolla, head to Cavu for Mexican Lager, West Coast IPA, Blonde Ale, and more.
Head to Happy Hour
Happy hour in La Jolla is one of the best times of the day. If in La Jolla Shores, the views from the elegant bar at The Marine Room can’t be beat nor can happy hour at CUSP inside Hotel La Jolla which overlooks La Jolla Shores from the top of the hotel. Still sandy? Head over to the outside patio at Shore Rider in La Jolla Shores for a pick-me-up cocktail especially if it’s Taco Tuesday.
In the La Jolla Village, happy hour is fantastic at We Olive‘s small, casual wine bar that overlooks La Jolla Cove. If you missed lunch at George’s Ocean Terrace, the bar below called Level2 offers weekday craft cocktail, wine, and beer deals, also with ocean views and an excellent food menu. We also like discounted Italian-inspired small plates at Catania, a convenient stop if you’re still shopping on Girard Avenue. If you like wine, NINE-TEN has one of the best lists in town (and also retail sales) with some at happy hour pricing.
Take Sunset Photos
Where to Eat Dinner in La Jolla
You can feel comfortable bringing kids to any La Jolla restaurant so choose based on the ambience and menu you crave.
Duke’s La Jolla is a favorite of visiting families for its Hawaiian-inspired menu and famous Hula Pie, kid-friendly vibe, views, and adult beverages.
Get your Mexican street taco fix at Puesto. Made-to-order favorites include chicken al pastor and Baja fish tacos paired with local or Mexican beer, horchatas, specialty cocktails, wine and more.
If it’s romance that you seek (and you’re not windblown or sandy), The Marine Room is set in the sand of La Jolla Shores beach and offers seafood with a French twist and waves crashing on the windows during high tides. In the Village, choose Eddie V’s for outstanding steak, seafood, and ocean views.
For any occasion, we also like the farm-to-table menu (especially the short ribs, Jamaican jerk chicken, and half-baked chocolate cake) at NINE-TEN inside Grande Colonial hotel. It can get busy, especially at happy hour, but Isola for woodfired pizza and salads is also very popular lately.
If you either don’t mind waiting in line during peak dining hours or can arrive on the early or later side of dinner, head to Taco Stand. Favorites include street corn, nopal taco, homemade churros, and more.
For a more authentic, San Diego Mexican fast-food experience, Don Carlos is where you can order a hearty machaca or carne asada burrito and then some to-go.
Head back to your home or San Diego hotel after a full day.