How to Spend a Day at La Jolla Cove
What to do, where to eat and more tips for visiting the popular La Jolla attraction
La Jolla Cove is by far the most popular La Jolla attraction. It’s a small cove surrounded by bluffs usually lined with gulls, sea lions, and native plants with the gorgeous Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.
Bring your camera and walking shoes as there is a lot do to in this little area.
Table of Contents
- La Jolla Cove Beach
- La Jolla Sea Lions
- La Jolla Cove Water Sports
- Other Things to Do at La Jolla Cove
- La Jolla Cove Restaurants
- La Jolla Cove Hotels
- Directions to La Jolla Cove
- La Jolla Cove Parking
- When to Visit and Other Tips
La Jolla Cove Beach
The highlight is La Jolla Cove beach, one of the best La Jolla beaches, though you visit several other adjacent beaches while here.
The patch of gritty sand isn’t huge and can get crowded during the summer. 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, and swimmers enter the underwater park from here because waves usually break gently in the cove, if at all. This also makes it incredibly popular with families.
Low tides reveal rocky tide pool areas full of sea life that are fun to explore.
La Jolla Cove amenities:
- Lifeguards staff the permanent lifeguard tower from about 9:00 a.m. to sunset daily.
- Showers and bathrooms are located on the bluffs.
- Picnic tables are scattered throughout Ellen Browning Scripps Park
La Jolla Sea Lions
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 La Jolla Cove has entry points to the bluffs or a small wall/curb to hop over for access. Getting close to the sea lions is possible but not recommended. They are wild animals and need space.
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.
La Jolla Cove Water Sports
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). 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!
Snorkeling and Diving
La Jolla offers the best snorkeling in California. While not 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. Don’t be surprised if a friendly seal decides to keep you company.
Some companies offer guided snorkeling and diving experiences, which I would recommend to get the most out of your time here. Tours include 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 8:00 a.m. two-tank group diving, classes and more
- SD Expeditions: La Jolla Cove Sea Lion Snorkel Tour, shore dives, night dives and more
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 La Jolla Cove on the corner of Prospect and Coast. They don’t have a website.
La Jolla Swim and Sport offers chair, wetsuit, boogie boards, umbrella, surfboards, and other beach rentals. As they’re located on Torrey Pines Road, it’s best to stop on the way to the Cove.
Other Things to Do at La Jolla Cove
The 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
An enormous grassy area called Ellen Browning Scripps Park awaits outdoor fun adjacent to La Jolla Cove. 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 The Lorax.
Things to do here include picnics, yoga, outdoor games, small kite flying, walking and more. 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 Blvd 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, you’ll pass Clam’s Cave, another of La Jolla’s seven sea cave, which is the only sea cave in California that you can see from land. No need to plan a ton of time for this side adventure, maybe 30 minutes, including the walk from La Jolla Cove.
Enjoy 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.
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.
Take the short walk from La Jolla Cove at least as far as the Children’s Pool where La Jolla 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.
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.
If your parking space allows for extra time, walk up to Prospect Street to browse 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 La Jolla restaurants.
See also: Where to Go Shopping in La Jolla
La Jolla Cove Restaurants
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).
Cody’s La Jolla
Cody’s serves breakfast and lunch all day. Find delicious french toast, crab Benedicts, fish tacos, fish and chips and even lobster roll to pair with various wines, beers, spritzers, and mimosas. Dine alfresco on their patio.
This La Jolla Cove restaurant has the best view of it. 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 La Jolla Cove restaurant boasts panoramic views and excellent California cuisine. Order the fish tacos and black bean soup and 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 two La Jolla hotels I like most happen to be steps away.
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. If possible, book the King Villa Ocean or King Villa Ocean Suite, the best accommodations on the property for views and ocean breezes.
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 La Jolla Cove. 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. No resort fees.
Directions to La Jolla Cove
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.
If heading south on I-5:
- Exit off on La Jolla Village Drive.
- Turn left on Torrey Pines Road.
- Turn right on Prospect Street.
- Veer right on to Coast Boulevard.
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.
You can’t miss it. Then, wish for good parking juju.
La Jolla Cove Parking
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* O.K. 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 La Jolla 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. ACE runs the paid parking lots. Search for them online or by using the ACE app.
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 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. Spending the entire leisurely day in La Jolla is also easy to do.
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, as is sunset. La Jolla 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.
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 like La Jolla Cove and Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
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.
Have questions about La Jolla Cove? Feel free to ask.