My family and I live in La Jolla, so we are frequent visitors to beautiful La Jolla Cove, San Diego. I will cover why you should visit, what to do in La Jolla Cove, how parking works, favorite area restaurants, best spots for sea lion and seal viewing, nearby attractions, directions, and more so that you can maximize your day in my neighborhood.
Grab your camera and walking shoes. Let’s get started!
What Is La Jolla Cove?
La Jolla Cove is a small coastal inlet surrounded by picturesque sandstone bluffs that shelter the popular La Jolla Cove Beach. Gulls, cormorants, sea lions, and native plants line these bluffs above the ocean, making this one of the most pretty and photographed areas in Southern California. (La Jolla is referred to as “The Jewel” after all.) It is also one of the most popular San Diego tourist spots.
It’s located on the coast in the heart of downtown La Jolla or what we locals call the Village of La Jolla. This means that it’s an easy stop for anyone staying in La Jolla hotels or visiting our seaside community on a day trip.
In addition to being pretty and conveniently located, there are quite a few things to do at La Jolla Cove, San Diego — most of which are free.
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.
Because there aren’t usually strong waves, and it’s right in front of La Valencia and a few other La Jolla Cove hotels, it’s a popular spot for families with small children. The sandy area isn’t huge and can get crowded during the summer. Don’t let that stop you from dipping your toes in the water and snapping a few photos.
However, when the waves do break, they are very strong so be careful. You also need to be careful during high tides because the beach is small.
Once you walk down the stairs to the beach, you’ll see this little opening or cave but it’s not one of the famous La Jolla sea caves. Sea lions like to hang out on the rocks here, so give them space.
You can walk through to the other side of the cave at low tide but be careful. Waves here can be unpredictable. I wouldn’t recommend it unless the tide is very low, which happens.
Most people walk on to the beach to take a look around, check out a lounging sea lion, and leave. However, it’s completely fine to lay out a towel and let the kids play. Also, many people never step onto the sand and instead choose to enjoy the view of La Jolla Cove beach from the boardwalk.
La Jolla Cove Beach Amenities:
- Lifeguards staff the permanent lifeguard tower from about 9 a.m. to sunset daily.
- Showers and public restrooms are located on the bluffs.
- A few picnic tables are scattered throughout the adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
- Our coastal green huts along the boardwalk, the belvederes, also provide shaded seating.
Please note that boogie boards, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, and kayaks are prohibited at La Jolla Cove because it’s part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. I’ll get into more detail as to why the Ecological Reserve here is so special.
La Jolla Sea Lions
While they are mistakenly referred to as La Jolla Cove seals, California sea lions hang out all over the area but mostly on the south bluff called Point La Jolla. The sea lions’ more famous companions, the La Jolla seals (Pacific harbor seals) are just down the way at the Children’s Pool Beach. It’s funny how the two pinniped types mostly stay separated.
Love them or hate them (the area can get a little smelly), the sea lions are reason alone to visit La Jolla Cove. You’ll find them huddled up together, barking at each other, lounging on the beach, and playing in the water.
The coastal walkway above the Cove has entry points to the bluffs. In some spots, you need only to hop over a small wall 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 (I do), and I promise you’ll be able to enjoy their shenanigans from the boardwalk. They’re very cute 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 and a plastic bag in the car. You’ll want to bag up your shoes if you or the kids step in one of the brown puddles that may be sea lion poop mixed with water (it happens and will stink).
Read my guide: Exactly How to See the La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions
One reason why La Jolla Cove Beach is so popular is that it’s a gateway to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, a human-made and protected marine reserve. Snorkelers, divers, and swimmers enter the ocean here to exercise, sightsee, and explore sea life in this underwater park.
You can go kayaking here also, but most people enter the water on the La Jolla Shores Beach side. Otherwise, you’d have to carry a kayak down the stairs to enter the water at La Jolla Cove.
La Jolla Cove Snorkeling and Diving
La Jolla Cove snorkeling is actually some of the best in California. While the water isn’t crystal clear like you might see in an ad for visiting Hawaii, visibility can range up to 30 feet in the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park.
Good visibility allows divers and snorkelers to see bright orange Garibaldi (California’s state fish), guitarfish, kelp bass, sea stars, anemones, and more marine life that live in the kelp beds, sand flats, and submarine canyons. And, don’t be surprised if a friendly sea lion decides to keep you company.
Some companies offer guided La Jolla Cove snorkeling or diving experiences, which I would recommend to get the most out of your time here. Tours include the necessary gear as well. Kayak tours and many La Jolla snorkeling tours depart from La Jolla Shores Beach, but these start at La Jolla Cove.
- 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
To take advantage of La Jolla Cove snorkeling, you can usually rent gear in front of The Cave Store. Try La Jolla Outpost near the Cove on Girard (in between Prospect and Coast Blvd). They don’t have a website.
La Jolla Swim and Sport offers chair, wetsuit, boogie boards, umbrella, surfboards, and other beach rentals in addition to guided La Jolla Cove swim tours.
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! You can also check for organized open water swimming events to participate in.
Other Things to Do Near La Jolla Cove
A number of nearby attractions that certainly deserve exploration, including parks, sea caves, shops, and more are located just steps away from La Jolla Cove.
The Village of La Jolla area (our downtown) 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 their itinerary includes the beach or seals.
Explore Tide Pools (Winter)
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. Tide pooling is my favorite San Diego outdoor winter experience as it’s a great excuse to go to the beaches.
Ellen Browning Scripps Park
An enormous grassy area called Ellen Browning Scripps Park offers outdoor fun adjacent to La Jolla Cove. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) lived in La Jolla and could see these windblown trees from his office. These trees are 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. A small admission fee is required.
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 and it’s not necessary if you are short on time.
The Belvederes (Green Viewing Huts)
Lining Ellen Browning Scripps Park are several belvederes (green huts) where people stop to take in the scenery. I see people do everything from read books to toasting sunsets inside of these little historic gems.
The salt air and birds have weathered the belvederes a little, but they’re fun to sit in and they do make excellent props for photos against the ocean and (typically) blue skies.
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 on the sand. People do sunbathe here as a quieter alternative to La Jolla Cove if the tide permits. During low tides, excellent tide pools appear.
Children’s Pool Beach
Take the short walk from the Cove and head toward the Children’s Pool where the 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 during pupping season. However, watching the seals from the boardwalk or the seawall is a particularly enjoyable experience. Many visitors 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 called South Casa Beach. From here, you can keep walking along the coastline, if you like. You’ll pass the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 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.
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 Avenues, which run perpendicular to Prospect Street also offer a myriad of boutique shops and restaurants.
See also: Where to Go Shopping in La Jolla
Favorite La Jolla Cove Restaurants
Do plan to visit one of the nearby La Jolla Cove restaurants. These are my top picks for more casual daytime dining (you’re visiting the beach after all).
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.
If you’re in search of where to eat in La Jolla Cove with a close-up look at ocean and cove activity, Brockton Villa is your place. The historic cottage serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. It’s particularly famous for brioche french toast called Coast Toast (yes, I have the recipe) and the several variations of Meg’s Eggs in addition to nice salads and seafood. There is also 3-hour free public parking in front of Brockton Villa on Coast Blvd.
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.
For dessert or a quick snack to keep the kids refueled during your day out, it’s easy to walk up from the cove to popular Bobboi Gelato for authentic, housemade Italian gelato. You can opt for a common flavor like strawberry or go with something more outside-the-box like charcoal vanilla (I order this and it’s excellent). They usually have a vegan flavor on offer, too.
Best La Jolla Cove Hotels
Any La Jolla Village hotels or vacation rentals will place you with walking distance of La Jolla Cove. The following two La Jolla hotels are my favorites in the area and they happen to be across the street or just a few blocks away from the Cove.
La Valencia Hotel
“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 in addition also being a little closer to the Cove. 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.
Grande Colonial La Jolla
La Jolla’s first hotel is still one of its best. The European-style Grande Colonial La Jolla, 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 (like my favorite half-baked chocolate cake) 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
La Jolla Cove Address
1100 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA 92037
Type La Jolla Cove into Google Maps and it will pop up. You can use the above for an actual address.
It will take about 15 minutes to reach La Jolla Cove from the I-5 freeway.
Directions if heading south on I-5 (from Carlsbad, Del Mar):
- 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.
Directions if heading north on I-5 (from Coronado, Downtown):
- 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 Tips
Where to park at La Jolla Cove requires a little bit of strategy, especially on weekends and during the summer.
Limited free street parking is available along Coast Blvd. and nearby residential streets. It’s timed at 2-3 hours depending on where you are on the street. Do not exceed the time limit because our parking attendants are ruthless.
The best times of day, in my experience, to secure free street parking on Coast Blvd are:
- before 8 a.m. year-round.
- before 9:30 a.m. on non-peak weekdays.
- late afternoons before people need dinner parking during non-peak weekdays — roughly between 2–4 p.m.
In any season, it is worth driving on Coast Blvd between The Cave Store and Prospect Street to see if you can get lucky enough to snag a parking space, which does happen. You can also try some of the side streets.
Paid Parking Lots
Paid parking lots dot the nearby streets and are advised if you’d like to keep your departure time open-ended, if there isn’t street parking available, or if you don’t want to spend time driving around to find street parking.
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). If this is full, you can search for other La Jolla paid parking lots online. Address: 1200 Prospect Street, La Jolla CA 92037.
Alternatively, you can use La Jolla Valet in front of George’s at the Cove. This La Jolla parking option is available from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. and is, at the time of this writing, a flat $11 per day plus tip. This is the easiest option if you don’t mind waiting a little bit for your car to be brought out. Address: 1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla CA 92037.
Best Time to Visit and Other Tips
The best time to visit La Jolla Cove depends on what you’d like to do while here.
A half-day visit is typical unless you are heading out on a tour, planning to spend a day at the beach, or would like to spend a full day in downtown La Jolla. Most people who are visiting to only see the seals and sea lions need about an hour.
Best Time of Day to Go
Some people let the availability of free public parking make that decision for them. If this is you, then the morning is the best time to come so that you can try to secure a 3-hour parking spot. We often pair breakfast at Brockton Villa with a visit to the sea lions. Park early, eat, walk, and get back to the car before the free street parking limit expires — easy.
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 and you can sit in one of the green belvederes, on the grass, or on the sand to see it.
There really isn’t a bad time to come but weekends and peak summer days are busy. Otherwise, I would recommend that you visit when it’s convenient for you. Drive down Coast Blvd. to see if you can secure free parking and to understand the lay of the land. If not, then circle back to a paid parking lot which has the benefit of letting you leave when you like. You can read my advice on how to spend a day in La Jolla.
When to See the Sea Lions
The popular La Jolla Cove sea lions and the Children’s Pool harbor seals tend to flock to the water if it’s raining or windy so it’s not likely that you’ll see them in inclement weather. I usually reliably see them mid-morning through the late afternoon, but there are always exceptions to the rule.
If it is low tide, they might huddle up on the rocks which are normally covered by the ocean in what I assume is an effort to hang out somewhere new or get away from the tourists. So, they will be further out than normal from view. But you should visit during low tide anyway because our tide pools are beautiful and a fun way to experience nature. Again, I get into lots of detail about this in my La Jolla seals and sea lions guide.
La Jolla Cove Weather and Water Temperature
La Jolla Cove weather is consistent with other San Diego coastal areas. Unless there is rain or clouds in the forecast, you should be treated to blue skies for outstanding photos which is the situation more often than not.
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 this seasonal phenomenon if you’re planning a morning visit during these months.
Year-round, you will see people enter the ocean from La Jolla Cove wearing full wetsuits because they are headed into the ecological reserve to swim, dive, or snorkel for long periods of time. The ocean temperature can be colder here in other parts of San Diego as while the water is shallow near the beach, it gets deep quickly. Most people here during winter season play at the waters’ edge so they’re not worried about cold ocean temperatures.
The ocean begins to warm in May with temperatures peaking in late August/early September and cools off again in October. It’s not necessary to wear a wetsuit for swimming associated with beach-going between late spring and early fall at the Cove.
Miscellaneous Beach and Ocean Tips
The water conditions at La Jolla Cove can occasionally have elevated levels of bacteria due to sea lion poop. The City of San Diego regularly tests the water and posts advisories when necessary. You can check online to see if any advisories are active during your visit.
Glass containers and alcohol are prohibited at San Diego beaches. Dogs are permitted at Ellen Browning Scripps Park and on the boardwalk. You can take them on the sand during certain morning and evening hours depending on the time of year.
Truthfully, the La Jolla Cove Beach isn’t a great place for dogs here because there are usually sea lions on it. I never take my dog onto the sand.
Frequently Asked Questions About La Jolla Cove
Whether you’re looking for a pretty sunset, a glimpse of the famous sea lions, or a picturesque spot for an ocean swim, hopefully, you now understand why La Jolla Cove is the perfect place for it all. To summarize, here are the most frequently asked questions that I receive that serve also as a little pop quiz for what you just read.
What’s the address for La Jolla Cove?
What is there to do in La Jolla Cove?
The most popular things to do at La Jolla Cove include:
- going to the beach.
- tide pooling in winter months.
- viewing the sea lions.
- snorkeling and scuba diving in the ecological reserve.
- ocean swimming.
- walking the coastal boardwalk.
- other things to do nearby.
You can also take advantage of adjacent things to do in La Jolla such as dining at restaurants that overlook the cove, the Children’s Pool seals, and much more.
How far is La Jolla Cove?
Estimated drive times to La Jolla Cove (without traffic):
- Downtown San Diego to La Jolla Cove — 20 minutes
- San Diego Zoo to La Jolla Cove — 20 minutes
- Balboa Park to La Jolla Cove — 20 minutes
- LEGOLAND California to La Jolla Cove — 35 minutes
- SeaWorld San Diego to La Jolla Cove —20 minutes
- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to La Jolla Cove — 17 minutes
- La Jolla Shores to La Jolla Cove — 7 minutes
Can you swim at La Jolla Cove?
Yes! As mentioned above, La Jolla Cove is one of the best spots in California for long-distance ocean swimming. Recreational swimming is also popular especially in the summer months.
Is La Jolla Cove open to the public?
Yes. La Jolla Cove is open to the public and it is one of the best free things to do in La Jolla.
Are there seals at La Jolla Cove?
Is La Jolla Cove safe?
La Jolla Cove is home to one of the nine permanently-staffed lifeguard stations in San Diego. Lifeguards are on duty from 9.am. to dusk.
Why does La Jolla Cove smell?
It’s true that you may smell sea lion waste at La Jolla Cove. The odor tends to come and go so you can’t predict whether it will be present during your visit. Most people acclimate to it within a few minutes of their visit.
Have questions about La Jolla Cove? Feel free to ask.