For many decades, the lookout point atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla was known for fantastic 360-degree panoramic views and a seemingly never-ending controversy over the cross erected at its apex.
Today, you’ll still visit this San Diego landmark for the scenery but also to take in the stories of men and women who have served our country at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial.
I live on Mount Soledad. In this guide, I’ll share the cross’s backstory, logistics for how to visit, what the views are like, and a handful of other things to do once you get here.
Three Crosses Over 100 Years
Three different crosses have resided at the highest point of Mount Soledad. The first was a simple wooden frame cross placed in 1913 by Pacific Beach and La Jolla residents, which was later stolen.
A sturdier cross of stucco and wood was built in 1934 by a private group of Christians from La Jolla and Pacific Beach. It succumbed to a 1952 windstorm.
The current 29′ concrete version was dedicated in 1954 as a memorial to Korean War dead and was originally known as the Mount Soledad Easter Cross. Easter has since been dropped from its name, and in 1998, the cross was transformed into the centerpiece of a Korean War Memorial.
In the late 1980s, the Mount Soledad Cross became the subject of seemingly endless litigation about whether building a giant Christian cross on government property violated the separation of church and state outlined by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the No Preference clause in the California Constitution.
The details of this multi-decade litigation, where both sides won and lost over time, made a lot of local news in their day. The upshot is that the Mount Soledad Cross remains standing more than 30 years after the controversy began.
It is still here because, in 2015, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association (a private group) bought the land from the Department of Defense for $1.4 million.
In 2016, the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling dismissing the case, declaring it moot because the legal argument had been based on the issues regarding the cross standing on public land.
Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
Mt. Soledad Memorial Association owns and operates the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial solely through the purchase of plaques and zero federal funding.
It’s the only memorial that pays tribute to deceased and living military members from any military branch.
Visitors can read the photo plaques that tell servicemembers’ stories from the Revolutionary War through the current War on Terror.
These plaques live on 11 walls at the base of the cross. The first six feature the five branches of the military that fought in World War II; Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force, and the Merchant Marines.
The remaining five walls feature every branch of the military. You can use the online plaque locator to find the one you’re interested in seeing during your visit or to read about historic acts of bravery from home. Five additional walls are scheduled for completion in 2023.
Honorees include Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Ford, and Reagan, twelve Medal of Honor recipients, Admirals Stockdale and Halsey, Generals Pershing and Patton, and celebrity veterans Audie Murphy and Jimmy Stewart.
A docent often sits near the flagpole to assist visitors and answer questions. If there is a veteran in your life that you would like to honor for service, plaque spaces are still available for those who received an honorable discharge.
Special Events Throughout the Year
Special events are held at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial for Veterans Day and Memorial Day. More than 40 individual honor ceremonies also occur throughout the year. Events are open to the public and free to attend.
If you aren’t planning on attending the two holiday events, skip visiting the memorial during these times, as parking will be difficult.
However, remember to take kids here around these holidays to remind them why they have a day off on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The memorial is absolutely a family-friendly and free thing to do in La Jolla.
Bring your camera because this is one of the best places to take photos in La Jolla. You can see south to Mexico, San Diego city and mountains to the east, and north to Del Mar (and beyond) on sunny clear days.
Of course, the Pacific Ocean is pretty much always in view and hard to miss unless it’s really foggy.
A grassy area called Mt. Soledad Natural Park surrounds the memorial. People take advantage of the many benches available, read books, and rest after walks or runs in this usually-quiet spot.
Leashed dogs are welcome, and you may picnic here, too. I recommend bringing a waterproof blanket because the grass can be wet. Keep an eye out for rabbits on the grass in the early morning and quieter evenings.
Things to Do on Mount Soledad
Is there anything else to do on Mount Soledad? Yes and no, depending on your interests. It’s almost exclusively a high-end residential area, though there are a few churches and schools.
Are you intrigued by radio, television, and cell phone towers? There are some of those, too.
But it does have the distinction of being the last home of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. His wife, Audrey Geisel, lived there with an observation tower referred to as the “Seuss House” until her passing in 2018. Sadly, before she died, someone stole a statue of the Lorax from the grounds of this property, making local news. Thankfully, it was found.
There are also rumors of a Munchkin House where actors from The Wizard of Oz movie were thought to live. These rumors are absolutely untrue, so don’t go looking for it.
Today, this point at just over 800 feet above sea level, is also connected to scenic bike routes in the area and motorcycle routes, and even a couple of hiking trails to experience.
Soledad Mountain Trail
You can very easily miss the fact that there’s a hiking trail. However, as someone who lives on Mount Soledad, I would tell you to hike here with caution.
It’s not a big or well-maintained trail that can be steep and slippery in spots. And, yes, we have rattlesnakes. A 5’6″ one slid through my backyard last year.
However, if you like off-the-beaten-path trails in the moderate to difficult range, you can try the .8-mile loop called the Soledad Mountain Trail, which starts and ends at Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial. You will definitely want a map because people do get lost.
La Jolla Natural Park
La Jolla Natural Park is somewhat of a hidden gem on the northwest side of Mount Soledad. The 42-acre park is also called La Jolla Heights Open Space or La Jolla Heights Park. This hike is also challenging with a steep incline, so you’ll want to wear good hiking shoes.
You can take the trail out and back or use surface streets to circle back to your car. The latter is the most popular method and is about 1.3 miles in length. Most people enter the trail at its summit on Encelia Drive — the street ends at the entrance to the trailhead — by parking on Brodiaea Way.
You can also enter it on the downhill side via a marked trailhead on Al Bahr Drive. The upshot to doing this is that you tackle the uphill part first and then walk downhill on surface streets back to your car.
Dogs are welcome, but bring water and know that there are no restroom facilities.
Cycling enthusiasts bike up and down Mount Soledad because of its challenging terrain and panoramic views. You’ll often see them take breaks at the cross. In fact, one of the local bike shops sets up a table near the memorial’s entrance to hand out bananas, and I’m not sure what else to cyclists on the weekends. It’s what I assume is a good marketing strategy.
The mighty riders can take the steep 1.5-mile ride from Torrey Pines Road, up Hidden Valley Road and Via Capri. Or, you can take a gradual 3.5-mile ride up Soledad Mountain Road from Pacific Beach.
These two are the most popular, but since cycling is a popular outdoor San Diego activity, any street will accommodate you. Most have bike path lanes or signage for cars and bikes to share the road.
A few San Diego sightseeing tours pass through Mount Soledad and stop at the cross. If you book sightseeing tours using my links, I may be compensated.
Old Town Trolley Tours
Book the La Jolla and San Diego Beaches tour by Old Town Trolley Tours, which circles the cross. You’ll also pass by La Jolla Cove and other coastal points of interest that the hop-on, hop-off tours of downtown do not cover.
San Diego Fly Rides
Pedal up Mount Soledad easily on an electric bike on the guided SoCal Riviera tour of La Jolla. This is such a great way to enjoy our sunshine and get a little bit of exercise. They’ll also take you through the Village to see the La Jolla seals.
Best Times to Visit
The best time to visit Mount Soledad is on a clear sunny day or to watch a sunset. You won’t be alone on these days, however.
If it’s clear in coastal San Diego, it’s likely clear on Mount Soledad. Though, occasionally, there are rare times when throughout the year when we’re covered in coastal fog up on Mount Soledad and lower elevations, even in La Jolla, are not.
We sometimes walk our dog over here, and I don’t time my visits according to the weather. I’m rarely disappointed, and the Pacific Ocean is nearly always in view. And the war memorial plaques are available rain or shine for visitors to appreciate.
Parking and Directions to Mount Soledad
- Address: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Drive in La Jolla, CA 92037
- Hours: 7 a.m.—10 p.m. daily
- Admission: Always free
- Bathrooms: Portable bathrooms
Directions to Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
From 1-5 South (Carlsbad, Del Mar):
- Take I-5 South to La Jolla Village Drive.
- Turn right on La Jolla Village Drive to head west.
- Turn left on Torrey Pines Road.
- At the bottom of the hill, stay in the left lane. The road will fork. The second left lane will turn into Hidden Valley Road and take you up Mount Soledad.
- Turn right on Via Capri (Hidden Valley Road will come to a “t” — this is Via Capri)
- Follow Via Capri
- Left on Soledad Park Road (this is where Via Capri turns into La Jolla Scenic South)
From I-5 North (Downtown San Diego):
- Take I-5 North to La Jolla Parkway (the only way to go is west)
- Turn left onto Hidden Valley Road
- Turn right on Via Capri (Hidden Valley Road will come to a “t” at Via Capri)
- Follow Via Capri
- Left on Soledad Park Road (this is where Via Capri turns into La Jolla Scenic South)
A visit to Mount Soledad is convenient because you can head down the hill a few hundred yards on the west side to be in the Village (check my list of things to do in La Jolla) or down the south side to explore things to do in Pacific Beach.
As you enter Mt. Soledad Natural Park, you’ll notice a small parking lot on the left. Look to see if there are spots. As you drive toward the cross, you’ll see more parking spaces. Park where you can.
You can drive around the cross to circle back to the small parking lot. If no spaces are available, free street parking is the next choice.
In my opinion, the best place for street parking is on La Jolla Scenic South. As you exit the park and memorial, keep driving straight. On your left, you’ll see street parking (there is none on the right). Make a U-turn at the first light to grab a space. Your car will be parked facing the memorial, and you can walk on the sidewalk here to it.
Do you have questions about Mount Soledad? Feel free to ask.