There is no better authority on things to do in La Jolla with kids than someone who is raising a daughter here and also very involved in the local attractions scene — me.

You’re probably familiar with La Jolla’s reputation as an upscale seaside community, but what we residents can tell you is that the atmosphere is mostly down-to-earth.

We have some of the best restaurants in San Diego, and you can take your kids to any of them. We have beachfront hotels that welcome sandy feet and attractions that are some of the best things to do in San Diego with kids. You can base an entire San Diego family vacation here or simply drive in for the day.

In this detailed insider’s guide, I share my favorite La Jolla family activities, restaurants, playgrounds, beaches, shopping, and hotels. If you live here or visit, please chime in with yours, too. Let’s start with the top things to do.

La Jolla Beaches for Families

Harbor seals rest on the sand of the Children's Pool La Jolla beach.
Kids love our seals and sea lions.

La Jolla, California has some of the best beaches in San Diego. You can also read my more complete list of La Jolla beaches, but I’ve isolated my top three picks. Each is entirely different from the others.

1. La Jolla Shores Beach

One of the best beaches in San Diego for families is definitely La Jolla Shores Beach. There is quite a bit of soft sand on which you can set up camp or lay out a towel for a quintessential Southern California beach day.

The beach is divided into surfing and swimming. Plus, there are lifeguards, bathrooms, and showers. Kellogg Park playground is adjacent to the sand here for when kids want to hit the swings.

2. La Jolla Cove Beach (Sea Lions)

The protected La Jolla Cove isn’t a large beach, but it’s popular with families because waves often do not break here (but when they do, they are strong).

On the cliffs and the sand, you will hear and see the famous La Jolla sea lions. The picturesque cove is one of the most popular places to take photos in San Diego. There is a lot to do here that I have written about in my La Jolla Cove guide.

3. Children’s Pool Beach (Seals)

Among the most popular things to do in La Jolla with kids is viewing our La Jolla seals (yes, we have seals and sea lions in two separate places) at the Children’s Pool.

Despite its name, it’s not a place for swimming. People aren’t allowed on the beach between December 15 – May 15 during seal pupping season and must remain behind a rope barrier on the sand for the remainder of the year, which keeps the seals safe. They are adorable to watch flop around the sand.

A Note About WindanSea Beach

I see WindanSea Beach as a place to go in La Jolla with kids. Yes, local kids go there, but they know what to look out for. The currents are strong, and it’s not safe for most kids and adults to swim here.

Outdoor Playgrounds, Parks and Fun

We also have some lovely little playgrounds and parks where kids can run around and play when you need some downtime. Bring a blanket and a picnic, and let your little ones blow off some steam.

4. Play at La Jolla Recreation Center

The La Jolla Recreation Center center has not one but three playgrounds in addition to tennis courts, basketball courts, wall ball courts, a weight room, and a big grassy area. You can check out balls to play with using your driver’s license.

5. Play at Kellogg Park

As mentioned above, Kellogg Park is a beachside park with a small playground and a huge grassy area for kids to run around.

Adjacent to the park, you can also see The Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla Educational Plaza. It’s a beautiful mosaic showcasing underwater life in the La Jolla Underwater Park between La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove.

6. Picnic at Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Ellen Browning Scripps Park is located adjacent to La Jolla Cove and where the famous wind-blown trees are (one blew down) that are thought to have inspired Dr. Seuss’s truffula trees in The Lorax.

7. Walk into Sunny Jim Sea Cave

The only La Jolla sea cave accessible by land is Sunny Jim Sea Cave. You can enter it via a stairway inside The Cave Store on Coast Blvd. A small admission fee applies, and the experience just takes a few minutes.

8. Take a Tandem Kayak Tour

You can explore the underwater park and take a closer look at the La Jolla sea caves from a tandem kayak on a 90-minute tour. We use Everyday California.

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9. Learn How to Surf

Kids ages 5 and up can take surfing lessons at La Jolla Shores beach. And, yes, they’ll likely be able to stand up on a foam board after one lesson. I like to recommend Surf Diva for group lessons, private lessons, and summer camps.

10. Hike Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Located on the border of La Jolla and Del Mar, spend a few hours taking mild hikes amid endangered Torrey Pines trees with panoramic Pacific Ocean views.

11. Check Out Torrey Pines Gliderport

While kids are too young to take to the skies, you can watch the beautiful paragliders sail through the sky at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Grab a sandwich from the cafe and admire the Pacific Ocean views.

12. Shop the La Jolla Open Aire Farmer’s Market (Sundays)

La Jolla Open Aire Farmer’s Market, our Sunday Farmer’s Market, is an excellent La Jolla family activity whether you have babies or teens. Go shopping for fresh produce, plants, cheese, and other local wares.

Its venue is La Jolla Elementary School, and there’s a play structure in the corner and a big grassy field. However, La Jolla kids like choosing snacks, desserts, and takeaway meals from the various vendors.

13. Walk the La Jolla Tide Pools (Winter-Spring)

One of the best things to do in La Jolla with kids during the winter season is to head to the beaches. Gorgeous La Jolla tide pools filled with marine life become exposed when low tides happen during the day in winter. You can check the tide calendars for minus tides.

14. Swim With Leopard Sharks (Late Summer)

The largest annual aggregation of leopard sharks happens at La Jolla Shores Beach in the late summer/early fall when female leopard sharks come to our shallow warm waters to incubate and give birth.

Don’t worry; these sharks are harmless, and they will swim around your legs. People go snorkeling and swimming among them. They typically gather next to The Marine Room restaurant, in front of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.

15. Snap Instagram Photos in front of The Murals

Older kids and teenagers may enjoy our collection of murals. There are a few at street level where they can snap insta-worthy selfies. So much fun.

16. Go Shelling

Here’s another fun activity to keep all ages unplugged from mobile devices. While sea shells may wind up on any beach, head to Shell Beach to comb the shoreline for treasures. You’ll find it between the Children’s Pool and La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla Museums for Kids

We have two fabulous family-friendly museums you should visit when in La Jolla with kids and a historic memorial.

17. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public outreach arm of the famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This La Jolla museum showcases research findings in a fun, hands-on way that kids love. Start on the aquarium side where you can learn about the fish and kelp that live in our San Diego ocean and beyond.

Then learn about conservation via hands-on exhibits or head out to the back patio for one of the best views in San Diego in addition to a cool touch tide pool that is overseen by docents.

This is one of the best things to do in La Jolla with toddlers and elementary school-aged kids. Older kids still enjoy the aquarium but tend to participate more in the camps and outside programming.

18. Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla

A hidden gem and one of the best free things to do in La Jolla is the Map and Atlas Museum. Go to view a portion of a private collection of rare maps and atlases that span the course of five centuries. Check the calendar for hours as they are not open daily.

19. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) – La Jolla

This newly-expanded contemporary art museum strives to make art interesting and accessible to families. The second Sunday of the month offers free Prebys Play Days for families that includes hands-on projects and learning but check the calendar for even more events for ages.

Kids have always loved the sculpture garden, too. The museum also has a branch smaller in downtown San Diego.

20. Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial

It’s not technically a museum, but if you have a family with military history and are in La Jolla with kids, I suggest visiting the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial.

Docents are usually there to help point out the more famous plaques (Presidents and war heroes), and the view is spectacular.


Okay, so now that you know what to do in La Jolla with kids from an activity perspective, here are the best places to take them to eat and shop.

Casual, Kid-Friendly La Jolla Restaurants

Taco Stand restaurant in La Jolla
Taco Stand is a kid favorite.

When you’re visiting La Jolla with kids, there is no need to choose different restaurants than you would if you were traveling without children. I will tell you that you can take your kids to any of our best La Jolla restaurants, and you’ll be fine.

However, the restaurants below tend to appeal a smidge more than others to families for blending the best of both worlds, but it isn’t an exhaustive list.

Sammy’s

Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill is a general family restaurant offering messy sundaes, pasta dishes, wood-fired pizzas, salads, dumplings, and more on its enormous menu. (Location: La Jolla Village)

The Cottage

Go to The Cottage for a popular La Jolla breakfast. You might have a little line wait on weekends, but they put out coffee for you. The scones are delicious, as are the hearty Benedicts and cinnamon swirl french toast. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

The Taco Stand

The Taco Stand is a popular counter-order taco stand with limited indoor seating. Everything is made-to-order. We like the spicy shrimp tacos and al pastor tacos.

Kids like the homemade churros, paletas, corn on the cob, quesadillas, and many other things on the regular menu. Go early or mid-afternoon if you’d like to sit otherwise, plan on taking it to-go. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Duke’s La Jolla

Yes, Duke’s La Jolla is that Duke’s. Ours happens to have spectacular ocean views and the same menu of Hawaiian favorites that you know and love, even the famous Hula Pie. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Barbarella

Go to Barbarella for wood-fired pizza and mostly Italian options, but your kids will go bananas during Halloween and Christmas seasons when the over-the-top decor is everywhere in the restaurant and even on the roof. This family restaurant in La Jolla even offers a menu for dogs. (Location: La Jolla Shores)

Beaumont’s

Beaumont’s is a local’s restaurant with a good happy hour menu with wine, mules, flatbreads, and more. Eat inside or on the patio — families will be in both spots. I like the Taste of Bird Rock salad with grilled lettuce and duck tacos. Kids seem to always opt for Oodles of Noodles. (Location: Bird Rock)

George’s Ocean Terrace

George’s Ocean Terrace is where we take friends who visit La Jolla for lunch, especially on a sunny day. The open-air terrace on the roof of George’s at the Cove is the most kid-friendly spot of the three dining options.

You’ll enjoy an excellent farm-to-table meal, craft cocktails, and more while the lively buzz makes it so that a squeal here and there isn’t a big deal. There is a kids’ menu.

Request a table near the Cove to view sea lions (these tables are first come, first served). (Location: Village of La Jolla)


Sweet Treats

One of the things to do in La Jolla with kids that should perk up the entire family is seeking out dessert. Whether your kids are craving cake, frozen yogurt, ice cream, or cookies, you’ll find plenty of sweet treats in my hometown. We do desserts extremely well here.

Froglander’s

This frozen yogurt spot has been a local favorite for decades. I like nonfat peanut butter. I have been eating Froglander’s since I was in college, except now they serve crepes and shakes, too. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Sugar and Scribe

Go for outstanding cakes, pastries, cookies, petit fours. and more by Chef Maeve, who is a Food Network champion. Sugar and Scribe is a restaurant, too, that is popular with locals for breakfast and lunch. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Bobboi Gelato

Bobboi Gelato offers outstanding housemade, authentic Italian gelato. It’s an easy stop after visiting La Jolla Cove or shopping on Prospect Street. Some flavors are artisanal mixes of herbs and fruits, but I like charcoal vanilla (they also have plain flavors). (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs

The Japanese chain has made it to La Jolla. Choose your shell and your filling and enjoy. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Scoops

My teen daughter and her friends go here quite a bit for ice cream when in the La Jolla Shores area. They serve New York’s own Van Leeuwan Artisan Ice Cream which includes vegan flavors in addition to the classics. (Location: La Jolla Shores)

Tip: This was a bit of a running joke at kids’ birthday parties. Moms would complement the cake or cupcakes, and then it would be revealed that it was actually from VONS La Jolla. If you’re looking to feed a crew on a budget, take a look.

See also: Where to Find the Best Desserts in La Jolla


Kid-Friendly La Jolla Shopping

Treat them, literally, at Balboa Candy

Perhaps you’d like to venture out to our boutiques in the Village, and the kids are wondering what’s in it for them.

Whether they are teens, tweens, elementary school-aged, or toddler shoppers, we do have some shops they’ll want to browse. Three of the four stores below are on Girard Avenue. All are located in the Village of La Jolla.

Geppetto’s

We have a fantastic family-owned toy store, Geppetto’s, where you can find birthday gifts, games, educational activities, and even rewards for long days of sightseeing on a family vacation. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Balboa Candy

Balboa Candy specializes in salt water taffy, but you’ll also find some vintage greats like Bazooka bubble gum. I personally like the fudge, and they give La Jolla residents a little discount. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Hi Sweetheart

Teens and tweens (and you) will love browsing the cute gifts here. There are some La Jolla, San Diego, SoCal, and beach souvenirs that you’ll want to own, from pillows to totes. Hi Sweetheart also has stationery, party supplies, and an adorable online shop. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Warwick’s

Yes, it’s a bookstore (the nation’s oldest, continually-operating, family-owned bookstore), but go ahead and send the kids straight to the back to the kids’ book section where they can sit on the rug or in a chair and flip through some prospective reads. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Aviator Nation

If you have a teen with a budget who is interested in retro California cool, grab some sweats here. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

They’ll enjoy some of the neat pens, gadgets, and more in the office supply and gift section at Warwick’s, too.

See also: Where to Go Shopping in La Jolla


Kid-Friendly La Jolla Hotels

A child runs with an inflatable flamingo around him behind parents carrying beach gear on La Jolla Shores beach.
Photo courtesy of La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

There are wonderful hotels in La Jolla, CA, and they all suit family travel needs. Some, however, do have more kid-friendly amenities than others.

The kid-friendly hotels I recommend to friends and family go above and beyond when it comes to keeping kids entertained, well-fed, and happy while also offering top-notch service for adult guests.

La Valencia Hotel

This boutique hotel is our nicest accommodation in the Village area and is popular with families who want a more upscale getaway. I like the King Ocean Villa Suites, which are quieter and closer to La Jolla Cove. The La Valencia Hotel swimming pool overlooks the ocean. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Grande Colonial Hotel

A local institution since it opened in 1913, I very much like Grande Colonial for its newly-refreshed European-style rooms and onsite NINE-TEN restaurant. If you’re looking for a little more space and a kitchen, they also offer vacation rentals. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

La Jolla Shores Hotel

Located next door and owned by the same family as La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, this casual hotel is another good option for families who don’t require fancy accommodations. La Jolla Shores Hotel is also beachfront. (Location: La Jolla Shores)

La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

This is the La Jolla family beach hotel with the most robust list of offerings. It’s right on the sand and guests get to use the private club facilities normally open to only members, including a junior Olympic-sized pool, pitch-and-putt golf course, playground, and more. Parents will like the food and drink service on the sand at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. (Location: La Jolla Shores)

Hotel La Jolla

When the above two La Jolla Shores hotels are pricing high (i.e. summer and holidays), Hotel La Jolla is a good option for a lower price point that is walkable to La Jolla Shores Beach. (Location: La Jolla Shores)

Estancia La Jolla

Many families who need to be near UC San Diego stay at this gorgeous Spanish-style hotel with its stunning gardens, spa, and pool. The dining is also good at Estancia La Jolla, and I am a fan of organic margaritas at Mustang y Burros. (Location: UC San Diego/Torrey Pines)

See also: Best Kid-Friendly Hotels in San Diego

Classes and Events

There are all kinds of fun and educational structured activities for children in La Jolla, from classes to storytime to seasonal craft workshops. I’d recommend these activities as a starting point.

Nightingale Music

Nightingale Music offers music classes for all ages, but we know many kids who enjoy their lessons here. (Location: Bird Rock)

La Jolla Recreation Center

Check the La Jolla Recreation Center calendar for seasonal workshops and events. They offer kids’ cooking classes and all sorts of neat-themed activities. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Surf Diva

Do your kids want to learn how to surf? This is where I would take them. You can enjoy La Jolla Shores Beach while you watch. They can join group lessons, private lessons, or camps at Surf Diva. (Location: La Jolla Shores)

YMCA

Dan McKinney YMCA in the Torrey Pines neighborhood offers classes, camps, and after-school programming for kids. Membership is inexpensive, and the pool is quite nice. Many local kids take swimming lessons there. (Location: UCSD/Torrey Pines)

La Jolla Library

The La Jolla Library hosts free youth events, and you can find out what will happen during your visit on their online calendar. (Location: Village of La Jolla)

Birch Aquarium at Scripps

I am constantly reminding people to check the Birch Aquarium at Scripps event and summer camp calendars for experiences outside of the aquarium. These can include Scripps Pier walks to learn about what the scientists do, guided grunion runs, and so much more.

San Diego Attractions and Museums

No trip to La Jolla with kids is complete until you’ve visited at least a few famous San Diego attractions and theme parks in other parts of San Diego.

We have one of the best zoos in the world, and there are so many amazing children’s museums in San Diego — along with great museums for the entire family. Here is a short list of favorites.


Nearby San Diego Indoor Play Gyms

We don’t have indoor play gyms in La Jolla. Sometimes you just need to find a contained indoor space where kids of all ages can run, bounce, or climb off some of that endless energy… and adults can take a breather. These indoor play gyms aren’t too far away from La Jolla and will keep kids busy for at least a couple of hours. 

What are your favorite things to do in La Jolla with kids?

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3 Comments

  1. Hi! Thanks for all the helpful information! I keep reading that the tide pools are a great seasonal thing in winter, but can you still see some of the sea life in the tide pools at other times of the year (specifically August), even if it’s not as much as during the winter months? My son has been learning all about oceans and sea animals the past few months and one of the things he wants to do most is explore tide pools. But it’s not likely we will be able to go during the winter months. I would hate to go all the way there and not be able to discover anything in the tide pools. Thanks for any insight!

    1. Hi! I looked at the tide calendar and there are low tides in the early morning hours but it will be dark outside so you wouldn’t be able to see much. There is a tide pool area at Birch Aquarium on the patio (I am not sure what touching rules will be when it opens again on July 1). I’m not sure how old your son is but we have leopard sharks that come to La Jolla in August. You can see them in the water sometimes when you are just standing in it or you can kayak/snorkel with them. Again, it’s an annual natural occurrence so tough to predict exactly when they’ll be in their largest numbers but it is usually August. Either way, definitely go to Birch Aquarium and check their event calendar for activities outside of the aquarium which hopefully they will have this summer. Our seals and sea lions will still be here, too.

      1. Thank you for the quick reply! We are hoping to be there in August so would definitely love to check out the leopard sharks – my son will be almost 6 and would be thrilled. Thanks again.