La Jolla Shores is a quaint and relaxed neighborhood surrounding a beach of the same name. Popular with locals and out-of-town visitors alike, it’s just a short drive from La Jolla Cove and perfect for a day at the beach.
It’s also a tight-knit community of locally-owned small businesses from surf shops to restaurants (that could use our support over the coming year). Some offer outdoor activities and tours that are up and running, even now.
Note from Katie: You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make bookings through the links in this post, I may be compensated. Also, please check the hours of operation before you go as things are changing rapidly right now.
La Jolla Shores Location
Contrary to what most people think, La Jolla Shores isn’t actually a part of the Village of La Jolla, which is considered our downtown area.
La Jolla Shores refers to the popular La Jolla Shores Beach, but the name also encompasses the business district and neighborhood that surround the beach.
This area is a little quieter and definitely has a more laid-back vibe than the more bustling Village.
The beach boundaries are roughly from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography to the La Jolla Shores Hotel. A few blocks away from the beach, there are also shops, restaurants, and tours on the water to enjoy (though a couple of places to eat are actually on the beach — more on them below).
Directions: To get to La Jolla Shores, you’ll need to take Torrey Pines Road to La Jolla Shores Drive. Depending on where you want to go in the Shores area, you can either head west on Avenida de La Playa (to the beach and hotels) or stay on La Jolla Shores Drive (to get to some restaurants and Birch Aquarium).
La Jolla Shores Beach
This is our favorite beach in all of San Diego.
La Jolla Shores has been described consistently as the best beach in the area (and one of the best beaches in the nation on TripAdvisor) for good reasons. With calmer waters, tons of water sports, and on-land activities, including a playground, it’s a fantastic spot for the entire family. There are options for everyone, from toddlers on their first visit to the beach to older children to adults looking for a fast-paced adventure.
Did you know there is also an underwater park here? Created in 1972, the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park was built as an ecological reserve to enhance sea life. It’s also what makes the waves usually small, so access to the park as either a snorkeler, kayaker or scuba diver is a breeze. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience as it’s even been known to draw migrating whales.
The beach is staffed by lifeguards from 9 a.m. to dusk.
If you’d like to go the beach here but don’t want to drag the gear, Surf Diva also has beach chair, umbrella and boogie board rentals in addition to soft surfboards, hard surfboards and SUP gear. Here is their list of Surf Diva’s rentals.
Tours and Water Sports
Many La Jolla Shores businesses offer tours, lessons, and rentals for those wishing to enjoy a day out in the Underwater Park. I’ve mentioned briefly who offers what in the sections below and have randomized them not to favor anyone. They’re all excellent. My personal experience is mostly with Surf Diva and Everyday California.
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Surfing is one of the biggest sports in San Diego, and it’s no wonder that La Jolla Shores is where locals come to enjoy the “stoke.”
With sandbars and easy waters, this is the place to get on a board, whether you’re a complete beginner or seasoned veteran. You’ll even see some little ones out there catching a wave.
Looking for a lesson? Surf Diva is a great option. The knowledgeable, fun staff will help you learn the basics if it’s your first time. If you’re more experienced, they’ll help you take your performance to the next level. In addition to individual and group lessons, they have weekend clinics and women’s retreats. Kids aged 5–17 can also take a lesson or attend one of the many camps offered during school breaks. There’s even an after-school program for the very dedicated young surfer. Menehune Surf is also popular for lessons and you can try Everyday California also.
If you just need to rent a board and wetsuit try:
Stand-up paddleboarding is a great alternative to surfing. It’s perfect for beginners and a little more easy-going than spending the day trying to tame the waves on a surfboard. You can take a lesson or just rent the gear. Check with:
- Surf Diva (group lessons and private lessons)
- Everyday California (SUP rentals)
- Menehune Surf (private lessons)
Kayaking the La Jolla Caves
Sea kayaking might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the beach, but as soon as you arrive at the Shores, you’ll see how incredibly popular it is. You can also book combo kayak and snorkeling tours.
Tours typically take you over to the La Jolla sea caves. It’s fantastic exercise and a great way to see sea life ranging from Garabaldi (our orange state fish) to the friendly and loud La Jolla sea lions.
I do recommend these tours to residents and active tourists. Some people have reported back that the experience was a trip highlight. Trust me, it’s neat.
For rentals and tours check with:
La Jolla Shores is one of the top spots for snorkelers. Sea life is abundant in the Underwater Park, and if you’re lucky, you might even see one of La Jolla’s famous leopard sharks.
Tip: Make sure to use the “stingray shuffle” when entering the water to avoid an unwelcome foot injury, since these animals have also been known to hang around the area.
Most of the outdoor activity shops in La Jolla Shores offer snorkeling tours, but some good places to check out first for tours are:
If you just need to rent some snorkeling gear try:
Want to go deeper? Dive in with a scuba tour. La Jolla Shores has unparalleled access to marine life and natural aquatic beauty, including a breathtaking 600-foot drop into a natural underwater canyon. There are options for tours if you’re not an experienced diver, too, including SD Expeditions.
Other Fun Beach Activities
Don’t worry, there’s plenty to do on land here, too.
Dike Rock Tide Pools
The Dike Rock tide pools are located just north of Scripps Pier on La Jolla Shores Beach. They reveal themselves during minus tides in winter and are fun for all ages to explore.
Common critters include hermit crabs, sea stars, sea cucumbers, small fish, rock crabs, the occasional octopus, and more. The Birch Aquarium leads guided tide pool excursions that I recommend because the naturalists are excellent at spotting sea life.
There are also tide pools south of The Marine Room restaurant. You can read my full La Jolla tide pools guide.
Bonfires and Barbecues
You can use any of the beach-side grills on the grass at Kellogg Park to whip up some burgers or hotdogs during the day. But the fun doesn’t have to end with the sunset. You can also use one of the fire pits on the beach to roast marshmallows over a roaring bonfire.
Just make sure to get there early enough to secure a spot since there are only six pits. Unfortunately, there’s no overnight camping, but you can have your fire going until midnight.
Other On-Shore Activities
The sand here is wide and spacious. There’s a lot of room to build sandcastles, set up a volleyball net, toss a frisbee, or just soak up the sun on your towel.
One of the best parts of La Jolla Shores is how kid-friendly it is. For youngsters who might be a little water-shy or just want a break from the excitement of the waves, Kellogg Park and its playground are steps from the sand. A huge grassy area here is also perfect for picnics, yoga, and games.
Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla
Right next to the playground, you’ll now see the brand new Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla. It’s a stunning tile mosaic of life-sized sea animals that live in the underwater canyons in the La Jolla Underwater Park.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Kids will also love Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public outreach arm of the famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Located on the northern end of La Jolla Shores, the aquarium offers exhibits, hands-on learning experiences, live shows, live tide pools on a stunning ocean view deck, and even a summer concert.
Children under two get in for free, so this is an affordable and fun way to spend a few hours if you’ve got some tiny companions with you.
La Jolla Shores Shopping
Don’t worry if you forgot to pack something. The casual shops of La Jolla Shores have flip flops, swimwear, sunscreen, sweatshirts, sundresses and more. They’ll have you looking like a San Diegan in no time.
Run by sisters and La Jolla natives Izzy and Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva is the boutique storefront for their popular surf school. They sell pretty much everything you can think of related to surfing or the beach, from surfboards (designed by Coco) and skateboards to Rainbow flip-flops and Hydro Flask water bottles. There’s plenty of “dude wear” for the male surfer, too, and swimwear for kids.
Ocean Girl is the one-stop-shop for stylish female surf fashion. The staff is always happy to help, and the store has a friendly and hippie-ish vibe. There’s apparel for all ages at this family-friendly boutique. You can even pick up a copy of a kids’ picture book authored by the owner.
The owners of Everyday California, Chris Lynch, and Mike Samner, started their business in 2008 renting kayaks out of a car. Now, they’re one of the most popular gear rental and tour businesses in La Jolla.
Everyone at this grassroots company is passionate and knowledgeable, so it’s a great place to book an adventure! You can book everything under the sun, from stand-up paddleboarding to whale watching. The store is full of high-end surf apparel, so check it out if you’re in the market for a warm hoody or pair of comfy shoes, too.
This independently-owned supermarket is a neighborhood favorite. Quaint and small, it’s known in the Shores for its friendly staff and good prices.
Although the selection is pretty basic, it’s great for visitors who have a mini-fridge to stock and has a nice stock of beer and wine. The real reason you’ll want to visit, though, is that you can build your own ice cream sandwich. For that reason alone we consider this little market a can’t miss!
La Jolla Shores Restaurants
Most of the La Jolla Shores restaurants are located on Avenida de la Playa which is only a few blocks long. So, park your car anywhere (be mindful of the timed street parking) and your place to eat will be easy to find.
The Marine Room
The Marine Room, winner of multiple awards including AAA Four Diamonds, is one of the most refined dining experiences you’ll find in San Diego. And, its building is set literally in the sand which means that the waves crash on the windows during high tides. Here you’ll find decadent options like Macadamia Blue Crab Cakes and Amarone Braised Lamb Osso Buco.
The Marine Room also offers fun events like cooking classes, High Tide Breakfast, Lobster night (which is, you guessed it, an all-lobster menu), and of course, happy hour. While it has its own entrance, The Marine Room has been a local institution since 1941 and is a part of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
The Shores Restaurant
The Shores Restaurant offers top-notch cuisine with fantastic views of the water. Part of the La Jolla Shores Hotel, it’s a sophisticated spot with a more casual feel than its sister restaurant, The Marine Room. Come during the day to watch the waves crash on the beach as you enjoy lunch, or visit at night for a glass of good wine and tasty appetizers at happy hour.
If you decide to drop by for the three-course Sunday brunch, don’t miss the Shores Benedict and the Tres Leches Cheesecake. For lunch or dinner, the Kaffir Lime Spiced Mahi Mahi is a must.
The Cheese Shop
Address: 2165 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037
Reservations: No (but you can call in an order for pick-up)
Serves: Takeout and Delivery
Locally known for their amazing overstuffed sandwiches, this deli is perfect for a quick lunch or to-go order, perfect for taking to the beach. The Cheese Shop crafts its sandwiches from their homemade slow-roasted meats served with a side of freshly made salads.
A must-try is their famous homemade flourless oatmeal cookies. They also have some fun vintage and imported candies and sodas that will bring you back a couple of decades, at least. You can also turn to them for box lunches and catering trays.
Piatti is a charming Italian eatery in the heart of La Jolla Shores. In addition to lunch and dinner, you can sometimes join them for a full Italian-style breakfast.
Everything on the mouthwatering menu is amazing, but the dipping sauce for the fresh bread is what you’ll be dreaming about for the next few nights. Top off the meal with one of their many artisan wines.
If you want to sit inside, you can see your food being made in the exhibition-style kitchen with includes a woodfired pizza oven, but otherwise, there’s plenty of outdoor seating on the cute covered patio.
Out of the three Italian spots on this list, Barbarella is definitely the most relaxed and kid-friendly. Filled with an eclectic collection of art built into the architecture, it’s a fun place that has something to offer everyone.
There’s lots of outdoor seating, where they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For dinner, they’re famous for their Earth Stone Roasted Whole Fish. If you’re there for breakfast, you’ve got to try the Brioche French Toast.
If you’re around during October or December, make sure to stop by because they completely transform the restaurant for Halloween and the Christmas season. Dogs are very welcome as they even have their own menu.
Sushi Mori offers fresh fish at a very reasonable price. La Jolla locals and visitors alike appreciate this little sushi bar for both the laid-back atmosphere and the creative menu.
Some of the top recommendations are the Pink Roll (salmon and tuna) and the Popcorn Lobster Roll (lobster, crab, avocado, and spicy mayo). There’s also a generous happy hour, where you can choose from beer, wine, and ten different kinds of sake.
With a whole “doggie menu,” Shorehouse Kitchen is another great place to bring your pup. Open for breakfast and lunch every day, this relaxed morning hangout kicks up your standard American fare a notch.
Luckily, if you’re looking for a La Jolla Shores breakfast restaurant, they serve it all day, so you can still get the Salted Caramel Waffle if you roll in at 1:30 pm. If you are feeling something a little more savory, definitely go for the LJ Burger.
Brick and Bell
Address: 2216 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037
Serves: Breakfast and Lunch
On your way to the beach bright and early? Brick and Bell opens at 6 a.m. every day and is just a 5-minute walk from La Jolla Shores Beach. They have a full breakfast menu, but in La Jolla, this cafe’s name is synonymous with one thing: scones.
Brick and Bell bakes them fresh every morning, and they sometimes sell up to a thousand of them in a single day. Ask to have one of them warmed up. You won’t regret it.
It’s a counter order spot that also has sandwiches, avocado toast, salads, and smoothies that you can take away or eat at one of their tables.
Address: 2168 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037
Reservations: No (it’s open seating so walk in and grab a table)
Serves: Lunch, Dinner & Sunday Brunch
Shore Rider describes itself as “an extension of the beach,” and it’s hard to find a better title. It’s the ultimate mix of surf and turf, with burgers, chips, guac, and poke tins. Don’t let the chill vibe fool you, though, because this is some seriously high-quality food.
The SHR Beach Burger is always a good choice, and kids (or you) dig into the Churros a la Mode. People also come here to sip cocktails at the bar, served by friendly staff.
Craving South of the Border, but want something a little different? Galaxy Taco, owned and helmed by Trey Foshee, Executive Chef at George’s at the Cove, is the fresh and funky take on Mexican that you’re looking for.
Their house-made blue corn tortillas are unique enough, but they also have adventurous options like the Grilled Octopus Tostada for the more daring foodie. They have all your basics covered, too, including a kids’ menu with simple quesadillas and tacos.
It’s also an amazing happy hour spot with specialty cocktails, multiple Margaritas choices, four kinds of Micheladas, and a full beer and wine menu.
Caroline’s Seaside Cafe
Address: 8610 Charles F, Kennel Way, La Jolla, CA 92037
Serves: Breakfast and Brunch
Sometimes all you want is simple, tasty food. Caroline’s is “California-style” food for when you’re looking for something on the lighter side. Try the Veggie Pesto, the Seasonal Chop Salad or treat yourself to one of their fresh-baked bagels.
Whatever you decide on, you’ll get to enjoy it with a fantastic view from their (seaside) patio. Caroline’s Seaside Cafe is open for breakfast and brunch only.
CUSP Dining & Drinks
CUSP Dining & Drinks boasts a top floor location inside Hotel La Jolla. This means it offers diners one of the best panoramic views in San Diego. Go for coastal cuisine with locally-sourced ingredients and lots of color.
They’re open for breakfast and offer happy hour at the bar (go early as happy hour is popular).
Scoops La Jolla
Address: 2179 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037
Those with a sweet tooth will want to head over to Scoops for delicious ice cream. It’s Van Leeuwan Artisan Ice Cream, made in Brooklyn, NY with only wholesome ingredients. They even have vegan flavors made with cashew milk.
La Jolla Shores Hotels
In my opinion, these hotels offer a quintessential San Diego experience and are often overlooked. La Jolla Shores has a central location with easier freeway access than many other popular tourist spots in San Diego. And, two provide an opportunity to stay right on the beach.
La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club
The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club is an exclusive, beachfront members-only club that has been around since the 1930s and has 99 rooms that anyone can check into. It’s a very casual and unique beachfront experience.
Speaking of the beach, it’s private. They will set up chairs and umbrellas as well as offer beach drink (including adult beverages) and food service. Depending on the season, guests can opt for a private beach BBQs or s’mores.
Guests have access to the tennis courts and pitch-and-putt golf course onsite. It’s the type of place that generations of families return to every year, and they do have accommodations for larger families as well. It’s not fancy, but it does appeal to luxury travelers because of the unique experience.
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La Jolla Shores Hotel
La Jolla Shores Hotel and La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club are owned by the same family. They’re located right next to each other on the beach.
The main difference is that the La Jolla Shores Hotel has more rooms and feels more like a hotel. They also set up beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas for guests on La Jolla Shores Beach in addition to beach barbecues.
Another perk is that they have a complimentary shuttle that takes guests to nearby spots, including the Birch Aquarium. I suggest booking beachfront rooms with balconies or terraces.
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Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton
Hotel La Jolla is about a 10-minute walk from La Jolla Shores Beach. While the other two hotels are in a beachfront location, Hotel La Jolla is a good choice for Hilton Honors members, those who like a newer feel to their hotel, or peak season when beachfront San Diego hotel rates rise.
Guest rooms have panoramic beach and ocean views. They also have a small outdoor swimming pool and lounge area, a small fitness center. Cusp Dining & Drinks, mentioned above, is located on the top floor.
Usually, the best place to book is direct through Hilton for the Hilton Honors discount and other package options.
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