La Jolla offers a wealth of opportunities to find relaxation and excitement. Few places combine these qualities as effectively as the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail.
The 0.6-mile hike offers some of the best views in La Jolla, but without the exertion that typically accompanies other hiking trails in Southern California. Many skill levels are accommodated here, thanks to the people who keep it well maintained.
Hiking La Jolla Coast Walk Trail is most enjoyable when you understand its history and the role it plays in the lives of La Jolla residents. I’ll share why this oceanfront trail is unique and what you should watch for when making this short, but memorable journey.
La Jolla Coast Walk Trail Location And Key Stops
La Jolla’s most underrated trail is conveniently located near La Jolla Cove, as well as many of the area’s top boutiques and restaurants. Most people will take the trail out and back, starting at the trailhead just north of The Cave Store. You’ll walk the trail to Torrey Pines Road and then retrace your steps.
While you could easily walk the trail’s entire length in just fifteen minutes (and keep going to La Jolla Shores), this approach means missing out on the many gems that make the walk so special.
Instead, dedicate at least an hour to this journey so that you can take it all in. Many benches are conveniently placed along the mostly dirt path. So, you’re always welcome to take a break and rest as you observe the flora, fauna, and ocean views over the La Jolla Ecological Reserve (which some refer to as the La Jolla Bay). Plus, you’ll see impressive real estate along the shoreline.
Despite its accessible location and short length, this trail is surprisingly peaceful. Locals adore the short stroll, but many tourists have no idea it exists. As such, it’s a great destination when you want to escape the hustle and bustle without committing to a long or strenuous hike.
No matter your preferred pace, you’ll want to hit the key stops below along the way.
La Jolla visitors sometimes assume that “Goldfish Point” refers to the nearby café. While the cute waterfront eatery is popular for its brunch, it’s named after a viewpoint where bright orange Garibaldi fish swim beneath the bluffs just south of the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail trailhead.
You may park nearby, so that’s why I suggest stopping here first, even though it’s technically not on the Coast Walk Trail.
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the fish as you gaze over the water. If so, you’ll quickly realize why they’re sometimes referred to as marine goldfish — and why this scenic spot has been named after them.
Even if you’re unable to observe the fish, you’ll love the rugged appearance of the cliffs. Between December and April, gray whales can occasionally be spotted from the trail.
Underneath Goldfish Point lies Clam’s Cave, the only La Jolla sea cave you can see from land.
Sunny Jim Sea Cave
No stroll on the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail is complete without visiting the acclaimed Sunny Jim Sea Cave. Famously named by Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, the cave is thought to resemble the cereal mascot, Sunny Jim.
The fun begins at a cute shop known as The Cave Store, where you can score all kinds of interesting souvenirs. If you choose to walk the trail both ways, consider saving your purchases for the return trip.
While past visitors needed to use a rope to enter the cave, today, it’s far easier to walk inside. You’ll pay a small admission fee ($10/adults and $6/ages 3-17). Still, you’ll want to be prepared to navigate 145 stairs each way, which, at times, can be pretty slippery.
Once you reach the viewing platform, take some time to enjoy the view and the peaceful sound of the water. That is unless there is a barking sea lion in the cave with you, a hilarious sound I enjoyed during my last visit. (Tip: The rest of the La Jolla caves can be seen from kayak or snorkeling tours.)
Dr. Seuss Tribute
Keep an eye on the fence along a portion of the trail;. At the same time, the barriers are typically unremarkable, you will eventually come across a touching tribute to the famous children’s author Dr. Seuss.
As a La Jolla resident, he found inspiration for many of his most iconic works throughout the San Diego area. If you’d like to learn more about his life in La Jolla, don’t hesitate to check out the Legends Gallery on Prospect Street or the Geisel Library at UC San Diego.
While excellent scenery abounds along the Coast Walk Trail, the best views can be found at the appropriately named Vista Point.
This gorgeous spot provides sweeping views of the rocky cliffs and the waves. In the distance, you may see people kayaking, paddle boarding, or enjoying other outdoor activities.
This will likely be the final stop on your stroll unless you choose to revisit any of the previously mentioned landmarks as you retrace your steps towards the Sunny Jim Cave.
Extending Your Hike
While the official walk begins with Sunny Jim Sea Cave and ends with an intersection on Torrey Pines Road, you can easily extend your stroll in either direction.
South to La Jolla Cove and the Children’s Pool
Finish your walk on La Jolla Coast Walk Trail at its trailhead by The Cave Store. Keep walking south on the sidewalk that hugs the coast. You’ll pass top-notch La Jolla beaches, including La Jolla Cove (and its chatty sea lions), Ellen Browning Scripps Park, Shell Beach, Seal Rock in the ocean, and end at the Children’s Pool beach where the La Jolla seals hang out.
North to La Jolla Shores Beach
When you hit Torrey Pines Road, keep walking left (or northeast, basically). Turn left on Princess Street, which will turn into Spindrift Street.
When you get to The Marine Room restaurant, there’s public access to the beach on the south side of the restaurant’s building. It will take you about 10 minutes from the end of the trail to reach this part of La Jolla Shores Beach.
Ready to take on the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail and enjoy stunning views of the Pacific Ocean? The following details will make your hike as easy and enjoyable as possible:
Getting to the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail is easy. The trailhead is behind The Cave Store, conveniently situated on Coast Boulevard which is lined with timed parking spaces.
If traveling from the south (downtown San Diego), you’ll likely take I-5 freeway, followed by the La Jolla Parkway. Turn right on Prospect Place and veer right at the fork to Cave Street (park on the street here) which turns into Coast Boulevard.
If your drive begins in the north (Carlsbad, Del Mar), you can enjoy a scenic journey along North Torrey Pines Road, passing La Jolla Shores until reaching Torrey Pines Road where you would veer right. From there, you turn right on Prospect Place and veer right at the fork to Cave Street and park here or along Coast Boulevard.
Coast Walk Trail is accessible on foot from several La Jolla hotels. It’s a nice way to walk to the Village and La Jolla Cove from the La Jolla Shores hotels (La Jolla Shores Hotel, La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, and Hotel La Jolla are the most popular).
Parking can be tricky at times, although a lot depends on your determination to avoid fees. If you’re lucky, you might be able to score one of the very few spots by the Sunny Jim Sea Cave — but don’t count on it. Limited street parking is also available along Coast Boulevard, a bit further south.
The easiest solution on a busy day? Park in the Coast Walk garage, where you’ll need to pay a modest fee for the privilege of keeping your vehicle so close to the trail. Additional paid parking can be found in the lots at 1247 or 1231 Cave Street.
If your hotel is too far away to make walking practical, but you don’t feel like dealing with the commute or parking, consider taking the bus instead. Route 30 should take you just a short walk from the hiking trail. Some visitors have also found luck arranging for rides via Uber or Lyft.
This trail’s exceptional views can be enjoyed all day — or in the evening, if you prefer. Options abound, as there are no set open or closed hours. The views are spectacular no matter when you visit, although you’ll be most impressed by the scenery if you stop by during sunset.
How Long to Spend at the Trail
How much time you dedicate to this hike depends on how leisurely a stroll you desire. Birdwatchers and history buffs can easily spend several hours on the trail, even though it only spans half a mile.
Active types may prefer to quickly navigate the trail before moving on to other La Jolla attractions. However, in most cases, you can experience the best of this short hike within one or two hours.
Unique Facts About the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail
The La Jolla Coast Walk Trail isn’t just beautiful; it boasts a fascinating history and a lot of current intrigue. It reflects all that is special about the La Jolla area.
The more you know about this mesmerizing route before you begin your trek, the more enjoyable you’ll find your journey. These La Jolla Coast Walk facts will take your adventure to the next level:
It Was A Former Hunting Trail
Historians believe that this walk was used by the Native Americans who resided in the area thousands of years ago.
However, the trail as we know it was developed in 1932 and formally named three decades later. According to the Friends of Coast Walk Trail, the trail would have been used as an access point for hunting and fishing.
Some People jumped from Dead Man’s Leap
During the late 1800s, local daredevil Horace Poole attracted attention with antics that some spectators viewed by hot air balloon. While these feats made jaws drop, he truly made his mark with an 1898 stunt that involved dousing himself in flammable liquid — and igniting it to create an “illuminated dive.”
Poole certainly wasn’t the only daring person during this era; another thrill-seeker parachuted off a hot air balloon. Sadly, the son of the San Diego mayor at the time perished in an attempted dive. As a result, cliff diving in La Jolla was banned.
Or Climbed Down to Devil’s Slide
If Dead Man’s Leap is any indication, La Jolla visitors have long been willing to risk it all for the sake of a spectacular view and a few thrills.
The effort to reach the tough to access shoreline and its caves became slightly safer with the addition of the stairway to Devil’s Slide built in 1899. The white bridge that you pass over on Coast Walk Trail is called Coast Walk Bridge or Devil’s Slide Bridge.
A new trail to this rustic shoreline is currently in progress at the end of Princess Street, northeast of the Torrey Pines Road entrance to Coast Walk Trail.
Rose Canyon Fault Shakes Nerves
Seismic activity can be credited with creating the dramatic bluffs at which you’ll gaze from the convenient vantage point of the trail. There may be more to the local fault than you think.
San Diego residents have long taken comfort in assuming that the Rose Canyon Fault is dormant. Recent research, however, indicates that the fault produces seismic activity every 750 years.
Paleoseismologist Drake Singleton explains that the Rose Canyon fault is a vast system with segments throughout La Jolla. However, one of these can be found beneath the Coast Walk Bridge.
Passionate Residents Care for the trail
La Jolla locals adore this trail and are determined to preserve it for the sake of both current visitors and future generations. The Friends of Coast Walk Trail works hard to make the path as safe and beautiful as possible. The nonprofit was formed in 2010 and has since made significant progress. Top initiatives include:
- Planting Torrey pines near Goldfish Point.
- Replacing invasive plants with native species.
- Installing gabions to control erosion and preserve the cliffs.
- Adding QR codes to the informational signs to provide additional insight into the trail’s history.
You may visit their website to make donations, learn how you can volunteer, and download the trail brochure that served as a resource for this post.
It’s a Habitat for Endangered Birds
Birdwatchers adore this short hiking trail, which is an excellent place for viewing the endangered California Brown Pelican. This bird came alarmingly close to going extinct several decades ago.
Today, these pelicans can be identified by their long bills and thin necks. They often nest on bluffs or other extreme slopes, making La Jolla an accommodating place for them to call home.
You can also see beautiful black cormorants, gulls, and other birds.
It’s Part of the California Coastal Trail
The half-mile commitment to this particular coastal walk may seem insignificant. But, it joins an impressive expanse of trail that once complete will span all the way from Oregon to Mexico.
Known as the California Coastal Trail, this interconnected series of public trails is approximately 70 percent complete. The goal is to provide trails as close as possible to the coast, allowing pedestrians to enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean.
See La Jolla From a New Perspective on the Coast Walk Trail San Diego
Can’t handle Yucca Point or Black’s Beach? No problem. You don’t need to dedicate an entire day to hiking to experience the joy of meandering a beach trail in the San Diego area.
Instead, hit up the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail, where you’ll find spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and plenty of historic appeal. This easy walk is more than worth an hour or two of your time during your La Jolla adventure.