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.
Kid-Friendly La Jolla Hotels
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.
This boutique hotel is our nicest accommodation in the Village area and 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 swimming pool overlooks the ocean. (Location: Village of La Jolla)
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)
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. It’s also beachfront. (Location: La Jolla Shores)
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 that are normally open to only members including an Olympic sized pool, pitch-and-putt golf course, playground, and more. Parents will like the food and drink service to the sand. (Location: La Jolla Shores)
For times when the above two La Jolla Shores hotels are pricing high (i.e. summer and holidays), this is a good option for a lower price point that is walkable to La Jolla Shores Beach. (Location: La Jolla Shores)
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 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
La Jolla Beaches for Families
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.
One of the best beaches in San Diego 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.
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 on 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.
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.
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.
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.
As mentioned above, Kellogg Park is a beachside park with a small playground and also a huge grassy area for kids to run around.
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.
La Jolla Open Aire Farmer’s Market
La Jolla Open Aire Farmer’s Market, our Sunday Farmer’s Market, is an excellent La Jolla family activity. 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.
The only La Jolla sea cave accessible by land is Sunny Jim Sea Cave. You can enter it via a stairway inside of The Cave Store on Coast Blvd. A small admission fee applies and the experience just takes a few minutes.
Casual, Kid-Friendly La Jolla Restaurants
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 honestly 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.
George’s Ocean Terrace
George’s Ocean Terrace is where we take friends who visit La Jolla for lunch, especially if it’s 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 here. 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 for a view of sea lions (these tables are first come, first served). (Location: Village of La Jolla)
Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill is a general family restaurant offering things like messy sundaes, pasta dishes, wood-fired pizzas, salads, dumplings, and more on its enormous menu. (Location: La Jolla Village)
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)
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)
Our famous chain of fish taco restaurants, Rubio’s, has a rather nice dine-in space here with beer and wine options. Ralph Rubio is a La Jollan. Local kids like the kids’ meal with a folded up quesadilla and churro. I like the quinoa bowls and also have the guacamole recipe. (Location: Village of La Jolla)
Kid-Friendly La Jolla Happy Hours
Just because you’re visiting La Jolla with kids doesn’t mean you can’t have a great happy hour experience. These local favorites are on the upscale side, but like most restaurants and lounges in La Jolla, the vibe is still relaxed and welcoming. At these happy hours, kids can be kids, and their grownups can enjoy a cocktail or two.
Sushi on the Rock
Good value and good sushi go hand in hand at Sushi on the Rock. (though I will say my favorite roll, The Don, isn’t on the happy hour menu). (Location: Village of La Jolla)
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 — there will be families 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)
See also: Where to Go for La Jolla Happy Hour
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 home town. We do desserts extremely well here.
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.
Michelle Coulon Dessertier
The master behind my wedding cake keeps mini bite-sized desserts in the case like mini carrot cake, mini banana cake, macarons, and more. Michelle Coulon Dessertier also offers a light lunch menu and great coffee drinks.
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.
Bobboi Gelato offers outstanding housemade, authentic Italian gelato. It’s an easy stop to make after visiting La Jolla Cove or shopping on Prospect Street. Some of the flavors are artisanal mixes of herbs and fruits but I like charcoal vanilla (they also have plain flavors).
Tip: This was a bit of a running joke for a while at kids’ birthday parties. Moms would compliment 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.
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 offers music classes for all ages but we know quite a few kids who enjoy their lessons here.
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.
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.
We’re lucky to have access to two YMCA facilities who offer classes, camps, and after-school programming for kids. Check the Shepherd Firehouse in the Village and Dan McKinney YMCA in the Torrey Pines neighborhood.
La Jolla Library
The La Jolla Library hosts free youth events, and you can find out what will be happening during your visit on their online calendar.
La Jolla Museums
We have two fabulous family-friendly museums that you should visit when in La Jolla with kids and a historic memorial.
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.
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. Be sure to check the calendar for hours as they are not open daily.
(The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego – La Jolla is closed for renovation. I will add it back onto this list when it reopens.)
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 a visit to 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.
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.
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.
Kid-Friendly La Jolla Shopping
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.
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.
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.
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 actually want to own from pillows to totes. Hi Sweetheart also has stationery, party supplies. and an adorable online shop.
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. 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
San Diego Attractions and Museums
No trip to La Jolla with kids is complete until you’ve visited at least a few of the most famous San Diego attractions and theme parks that are located 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.
- SeaWorld® San Diego
- San Diego Zoo
- Fleet Science Center
- The New Children’s Museum
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park
- LEGOLAND® California
- Balboa Park (home to theNAT and other great museums)
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.
- G3Kids (locations in UTC and Pacific Beach – your closest options)
- Kid Ventures (excellent for La Jolla with toddlers)
- The Backyard at theNat (for ages 0-5)
- Rockin’ Jump (good for tots to tweens)
What are your favorite things to do in La Jolla with kids?