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La Jolla Mom

How to Spend a Day at La Jolla Cove

Things to do, where to eat, parking info, and more

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My family and I live in La Jolla, so to say we know a bit about this seaside area is an understatement. While we love exploring new spots around town, we are frequent visitors to beautiful La Jolla Cove, San Diego. 

It’s a small cove that surrounds picturesque La Jolla Cove beach where you can explore sea life below the surface or stick to the sand. These bluffs are usually lined with gulls, sea lions, and native plants. The gorgeous Pacific Ocean serves as a backdrop.

If you’re wondering what to do in La Jolla Cove, aside from the beach there are activities and attractions the whole family can enjoy. Grab your camera and walking shoes and let’s get started.

La Jolla Cove Beach

The highlight of the area is La Jolla Cove beach, though you can visit several other smaller adjacent beaches while here that also make our list of best La Jolla beaches.

The reason for its popularity is because it’s a gateway to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, a human-made and protected marine reserve. Snorkelers, divers, kayakers, and swimmers enter the ocean here to exercise, sightsee, and explore sea life in the underwater park. Here you can come face to face with all kinds of marine animals, from sea lions to kelp bass. The beach offers the best way of reaching the underwater park because the waves are typically gentle if they break at all.

Because there aren’t strong waves here, it’s a popular spot for families with small children. The sandy area isn’t huge and can get crowded during the summer. What’s more, at low tide, you can venture around these La Jolla tide pools and discover all kinds of sea critters.

La Jolla Cove amenities:

  • Lifeguards staff the permanent lifeguard tower from about 9 a.m. to sunset daily.
  • Showers and bathrooms are located on the bluffs.
  • A few picnic tables are scattered throughout adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park as are our coastal green huts.

La Jolla Sea Lions

La Jolla Cove sea lions rest on the rocks with the ocean in the background.
Sea lions are almost always on these rocks.

Love them or hate them, the La Jolla sea lions are reason alone to visit La Jolla Cove. You’ll find them huddled up together and barking on the bluffs, occasionally on the beach, and in the water.

The coastal walkway above the cove has entry points to the bluffs or a small wall to hop over for access. Getting close to the sea lions is possible but not recommended. They are wild animals and need space so please give it to them.

Bring a zoom lens, and I promise you’ll be able to enjoy their shenanigans from the boardwalk. Cute is an understatement and kids love them.

If you do walk on the bluffs when the sea lions are in the water or further afield, it’s wise to have an extra pair of shoes in the car in case you or the kids step in one of the brown puddles (it happens and stinks to high heaven).

The sea lions’ more famous companions, the La Jolla seals (harbor seals) are just down the way at the Children’s Pool Beach.

See also: How to See the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions

Water Sports

Come on in, the water’s fine. Whether you’re looking to take a dip or do a little exploring, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the water here. Paddle in the shallow area or try your hand at scuba diving.

Swimming

Many consider La Jolla Cove one of the best places in the world for ocean swimming. Some people swim here daily, even as far as the Scripps Pier (3 miles away). The La Jolla Swim Club offers excellent advice for what to know about water conditions here. Two ocean buoys mark 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile, but remember that you have to swim back!

La Jolla Cove Snorkeling and Diving

Garibaldi swims in sea grass at La Jolla Cove
Garibaldi is our state fish.

The snorkeling here is actually some of the best in California. While the water isn’t crystal clear, visibility can range up to 30 feet in the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. It allows one to see bright orange Garibaldi (California’s state fish), guitarfish, kelp bass, sea stars, anemones and more. And, don’t be surprised if a friendly seal decides to keep you company.

Some companies offer guided La Jolla Cove snorkeling and scuba diving experiences, which I would recommend to get the most out of your time here. Tours include the necessary gear as well. Many snorkeling tours depart from La Jolla Shores beach, but these start at La Jolla Cove. Try:

  • La Jolla Kayak: La Jolla Cove Snorkel Tour (they’ll let you keep the gear for the rest of the day)
  • Snorkel San Diego: La Jolla Cove Snorkel Tour
  • Snorkel and Scuba: La Jolla Cove and Caves Tour, daily 8 a.m. two-tank group diving, classes and more

Snorkel Rental

For those who would like to rent snorkel gear, try La Jolla Outpost. It’s a small souvenir shop with wetsuit rentals (which you’ll need during most of the year for extended snorkeling, summer possibly being an exception). It’s walkable in a few minutes from the Cove on the corner of Prospect and Coast. They don’t have a website but they usually do have a Groupon.

La Jolla Swim and Sport is another option. They offer chair, wetsuit, boogie boards, umbrella, surfboards, and other beach rentals.

Other Things to Do at La Jolla Cove

Aside from La Jolla Cove beach, you’ll find a number of nearby attractions that certainly deserve exploration, including parks, sea caves, shops, and more.

The La Jolla Village isn’t big so anything on a list of things to do in La Jolla located here can be paired with a visit to La Jolla Cove. However, what I’ve listed below tends to be what people do when the beach or seals feature on an itinerary.

Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Girls walk on the grassy area at Ellen Browning Scripps Park which is adjacent to  La Jolla Cove.
Sadly, the tall tree has blown down since I took this photo.

An enormous grassy area called Ellen Browning Scripps Park offers outdoor fun adjacent to La Jolla Cove. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) who lived in La Jolla, could see the windblown trees here from his office and they’re said to have inspired the truffula trees in his book, The Lorax.

Pack a picnic, fly a kite, or do a yoga session while you’re here. Do bring a waterproof blanket as the grass can be wet in the morning and it takes a while to dry out.

Sunny Jim Sea Cave

Walk a few minutes north on Coast Boulevard to The Cave Store. Inside this souvenir shop awaits the entrance to the only sea cave accessible by land, Sunny Jim sea cave. It’s a sometimes-slippery walk down the staircase into the cave so be mindful of small children. Once inside, it’s fun to hear the echo of the ocean and occasional sea lion.

Along the way to The Cave Store, you’ll pass Clam’s Cave, another of La Jolla’s seven sea caves, which is the only sea cave in California that you can see from land. There is no need to plan a ton of time for this side adventure, maybe 30 minutes, including the walk from La Jolla Cove.

The Green Huts

Lining Ellen Brown Scripps Park are several green huts where people stop to take in the scenery. I even see people occasionally read books or toast the sunsets here. The beach and birds weather them a little, but they’re fun to sit in and make excellent props for photos.

Shell Beach

Looking to visit more La Jolla, San Diego beaches? Walk along the boardwalk south from La Jolla Cove toward the Children’s Pool and you’ll see a stairway leading down to the beach near a green hut. This is Shell Beach, aptly named as seashells often wash up here. People do sunbathe here as an alternative to La Jolla Cove if the tide permits. During low tides, excellent tide pools appear here at its south end.

Children’s Pool

Take the short walk from the cove and head toward the Children’s Pool where harbor seals hang out. It’s not a beach for swimming due to bacteria levels and people are seasonally prohibited from walking on the sand, especially during pupping season. However, watching the seals from afar or the seawall is particularly enjoyable. Many sit on the benches for hours just watching them sleep, flop around, and swim.

Behind the Children’s Pool is another favorite small sandy beach for tide pooling, sunbathing and swimming. From here, you can keep walking along the coastline, if you like. You’ll pass The Museums of Contemporary Art, La Jolla but note that it’s currently closed for a massive renovation. When it reopens, you’ll see it on this to-do list as it’s fantastic for all ages.

Tide Pools

Check the tide calendar during winter months for minus tides as La Jolla tide pools are some of the best in San Diego from La Jolla Cove to just beyond the Children’s Pool.

Shops

If your parking space allows for extra time, walk up to Prospect Street to browse the shops. It’s considered the Rodeo Drive of San Diego (albeit much less flashy) with mostly local boutiques and a few brand names sprinkled in. Ivanhoe and Girard Streets, which run perpendicular to Prospect Street also offer a myriad of boutique shops and restaurants.

See also: Where to Go Shopping in La Jolla

La Jolla Cove Restaurants

A server carries plates of food to guests at George's Ocean Terrace, which overlooks La Jolla Cove.
Excellent California cuisine at George’s Ocean Terrace.

Do plan to visit one of the nearby La Jolla Cove restaurants. These are my top picks for more casual dining (you’re visiting the beach after all).

Cove House

Head over to Cove House La Jolla for fresh California fare in a beachy atmosphere steps away from the cove. They serve breakfast and lunch. On the seasonal menu, you’ll find delicious avocado toast, fish tacos, ceviche and the signature “Sam I Am” Green Eggs (a tribute to Dr. Seuss who lived in La Jolla) to pair with various wines, beers, spritzers, and mimosas. Dine alfresco on their patio.

Brockton Villa

This restaurant has the best view of cove activity. The historic cottage serves breakfast through dinner and is particularly famous for brioche french toast called Coast Toast (yes, I have the recipe) and the several variations of Meg’s Eggs. Dinner and lunch feature a nice salad and seafood menu.

George’s Ocean Terrace

George’s Ocean Terrace is typically where we take out of town guests to lunch when the weather is beautiful (and it usually is). Located on Prospect Street, the rooftop restaurant boasts panoramic views and excellent California cuisine. Order the fish tacos and black bean soup. Don’t forget to make a reservation.

La Jolla Cove Hotels

Any La Jolla Village hotel will do if you’d like to be near La Jolla Cove. The following are two La Jolla hotels are my favorites in the area.

La Valencia Hotel

The pool at La Valencia surrounded by lounge chairs, overlooks La Jolla Cove.
The pool area overlooks La Jolla Cove.

“The Pink Lady” sits on a prime Prospect Street address overlooking La Jolla Cove. This Mediterranean-style luxury boutique hotel offers fantastic dining (try Sunday brunch at The MED) and is divided into rooms and villas. The latter are a bit more nicely-appointed and private. If possible, book the King Villa Ocean or King Villa Ocean Suite, which are the best accommodations on the property for views and ocean breezes.

See also: Detailed Guide to La Valencia Hotel and Spa

Grande Colonial

A large king room at Grande Colonial which overlooks the ocean at Children's Pool.
Rooms have been recently refreshed.

La Jolla’s first hotel is still one of its best. The European-style Grande Colonial, built in 1913, also resides on Prospect Street within a short walk of the cove and the Children’s Pool. One of San Diego’s best restaurants, NINE-TEN is located inside and some of its menu items are delivered via room service.

Many rooms offer ocean views while junior suites have kitchenettes. Residential-style studios and suites in a more private area of the hotel are also available for stays of any length. As an added benefit there are no resort fees.

La Jolla Cove Directions

Type La Jolla Cove into Google Maps, and it will pop up, but the actual address is 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037.

It will take about 15 minutes to reach La Jolla Cove from the I-5 freeway.

If heading south on I-5:

  • Exit at La Jolla Village Drive and head west.
  • Turn left on Torrey Pines Road.
  • Turn right on Prospect Street.
  • Veer right on to Coast Boulevard when the road splits.

If heading north on I-5:

  • Exit on La Jolla Parkway which merges with Torrey Pines Road.
  • Turn right on Prospect Street.
  • Veer right on to Coast Boulevard when the road splits.

You can’t miss it. Then, wish for good parking juju.

La Jolla Cove Parking

The parking situation is easily my least favorite thing about visiting this area and takes a little bit of strategy. Limited free street parking is available along Coast Boulevard and nearby streets. It’s timed at 2-3 hours depending on where you are. Do not exceed the time limit because our parking attendants are ruthless. Parking is usually okay during non-peak weekday late afternoons/evenings and earlier in the mornings during weekdays. Noon on weekends, for example, is tough.

Paid parking lots dot the nearby streets and are advised if you’d like to keep your departure time open-ended. The closest paid parking lot to La Jolla Cove is in the La Jolla Financial Building (from Prospect Street you can use a stairway on the north side of La Valencia Hotel to get down to the cove). Search for paid parking lots online.

When to Visit and Other Tips

Most people plan to visit La Jolla Cove before or after a meal. A half-day visit is typical unless you are heading out on a tour or planning to spend a day at the beach. It can be a quick stop for an hour or two to see the seals and sea lions especially if you don’t mind using the pay lots. You can read my advice on how to spend a day in La Jolla.

Mid-morning is one of my favorite times to walk along the coast when the sun is out and just starting to warm things up, but the golden hour at sunset is equally magical. The cove by far is one of the best places in San Diego to watch the sunset. There really isn’t a bad time to come but weekends and peak summer days are busy.

Keep in mind that the water is always chilly, no matter the time of the year. It does heat up during the warmer months, but many people still prefer to wear wetsuits if snorkeling, even in the height of summer. Also, San Diego experiences what locals call May Gray and June Gloom, when the coast becomes foggy from the marine layer. It usually burns off by the afternoon, but it’s good to remember if you’re planning a morning visit.

Be advised, the water conditions at La Jolla Cove can have elevated levels of bacteria due to the sea lions. The City of San Diego regularly tests the water and posts advisories when necessary. You can check online to see if any are active during your visit.

Glass containers and alcohol are prohibited at San Diego beaches. Dogs are permitted at the park and on the boardwalk but only on the sand during certain morning and evening hours depending on the time of year.

Whether you’re looking for a pretty sunset, a glimpse of the famous sea lions, or a picturesque spot for an ocean swim, La Jolla Cove is the perfect place for it all.

Have questions about La Jolla Cove? Feel free to ask.

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