La Jolla Travel Guide

We may have more than our fair share of multi-million-dollar homes and some of the city’s most beautiful beaches. Still, my community is also home to silly barking sea lions, the best restaurants in the county, and a spectacular underwater ecological reserve.

On this page, I’ve collected all my best La Jolla travel tips, guides to La Jolla attractions, and information about where to stay, what to do, and where to go in La Jolla, California, whether traveling alone or with kids. La Jolla (aka “The Jewel” of San Diego) has multiple neighborhoods you’ll need to drive between. Most tourists stay in The Village near La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Shores, or by Torrey Pines Golf Course near UC San Diego.

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STAY


THINGS TO DO


EAT


La Jolla Hotels


The best places to stay in La Jolla, CA are award-winning boutique properties and no-frills family-owned beach resorts. Pay attention to whether the hotel you choose is in the Village of La Jolla (our downtown area), La Jolla Shores, or the UCSD area because these areas are not walkable to each other.

You can refer to my list of best hotels in La Jolla, but my recommendations break down like this. I have VIP amenities at Estancia La Jolla and Virtuoso amenities plus a slight discount at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. If you’d like to play at Torrey Pines Golf Course, your best shot at a tee time is to stay at The Lodge.

If you’re looking for family-friendly beachfront hotels that provide a quintessential Southern California beach vacation experience, your two options are three-star La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club or La Jolla Shores Hotel. Both are not fancy, but they are fun and located on spectacular La Jolla Shores Beach.


Things to Do in La Jolla, California


I live in La Jolla, so I am your best guide to beaches, museums, tours, and other things to do. We have the prettiest beaches (each one is different), an urban seal rookery, snorkeling (rare in California), boutiques, and mild hikes. There is something for everyone, and the best activities are free.


Where and What to Eat


La Jolla hasn’t always been known for its restaurant scene. Still, today, it is widely recognized as a foodie hub where you’ll find some of the best seafood, California cuisine, and Japanese fusion, along with great pizza and the freshest tacos around.

It’s hard to choose the best La Jolla restaurants because there are many, but some of our favorites are George’s at the Cove, Catania, and Himitsu. I also have some good news for anyone traveling with kids: almost all La Jolla restaurants are family-friendly — even when looking at higher-end spots.

La Jolla Travel Tips

While La Jolla is often associated with the million-dollar homes that dot the cliffs overlooking San Diego’s gorgeous beaches, this neighborhood is actually laid back. Many tourists add it to their sightseeing itinerary as a day trip or spend their entire vacations here.

The vibe is relaxed, and you’ll be fine in your athleisure even though it’s notable for having the Rodeo Drive of San Diego (Prospect Street) and being an art incubator.

The Best Beaches in La Jolla

La Jolla has seven miles of rugged coastline — most of which is rocky, not sandy. That said, there are various sandy beaches here and there along the coast, and these include some of the best beaches in San Diego. As to which are the best beaches in La Jolla, it all depends on what you want to do.

Families tend to head to the Children’s Pool, where the seawall has created a beautifully calm spot, but not so much for swimming anymore. It’s a rare urban seal rookery since flocks of harbor seals now hang out here. The place to see sea lions is down the boardwalk at La Jolla Cove, a beach close to the Sunny Jim Sea Cave and awesome scuba diving and snorkeling spots. Both are located in The Village.

For swimming and calm surf (plus lifeguards, picnic spots, bathrooms, and showers), look no further than La Jolla Shores beach. There are play structures, kayaking tours, paddleboard rentals, great snorkeling spots, and even better, a big parking lot, which is a rarity around here (though it can fill up quickly in the summer). This La Jolla beach offers plenty of sand for a glorious San Diego beach day.

If you want to explore the famous La Jolla tide pools in winter, Shell Beach is a great choice. There are plenty of tide pooling spots in San Diego, but Shell Beach and Wipeout Beach (in The Village), a few paces south, definitely have some of the most colorful and interesting aquatic life. There are sea anemones, sea stars, crabs, and fish. La Jolla Shores is home to Dike Rock near Scripps Pier, a tide pool area studied by researchers and where Birch Aquarium naturalists lead public tide pool tours.

And for surfing, check out Windansea Beach, considered one of the best surf spots in San Diego. That said, it’s not exactly beginner-friendly because the waves vary with the tides, and it’s hard to predict what the swell will be like on any given day. La Jolla Shores near Scripps Pier is another hot spot where you can take a surfing lesson.

Visiting La Jolla with Kids

La Jolla with kids is easy, and I say that from much experience personal experience on this particular topic. The area has many excellent playgrounds, plenty of kid-friendly restaurants, and kid-friendly happy hours where the whole family can kick back and relax. My town is clean, and lifeguards patrol the beaches you’d take kids to. It’s safe and easy.

If your kids are interested in oceanography, we are the destination for you. Sure we have seals, sea lions, leopard sharks, tide pools, and an underwater park. Still, you can learn tons about all of the above thanks to fantastic programming at Birch Aquarium at Scripps at the aquarium and offsite through guided grunion runs, whale-watching tours, summer camps, and more.

The Most Popular Attractions in La Jolla San Diego

The most popular attraction in La Jolla is La Jolla Cove, where beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean are the backdrop against which sea lions frolic and gulls take flight. It’s a great place to take photos, but if you’re game to go in the water, it’s also a good spot for snorkeling. Home to the La Jolla Underwater Park, La Jolla Cove has orange Garibaldi (California’s state fish), sea stars, anemones, and lots of other animals to check out under the water. There’s also open water swimming under the watchful eyes of lifeguards, kayaking tours, and scuba diving.

Then there is La Jolla Shores, the super relaxed neighborhood around the huge beach of the same name. It’s just about the best spot for a day out at the beach or a few hours of mellow exploration.

If visiting with kids, you must visit the Birch Aquarium, which showcases research by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in awesome aquarium habitats and hands-on exhibits.

But the most famous attraction in this neighborhood is probably the La Jolla seals and sea lions. These cute and noisy residents of the rocky coastline are a real treat to watch whether you’re watching them from the Children’s Pool, along Coast Boulevard, or by the Cave Store.

The Best Free Activities In La Jolla

Do you have to spend a lot of money to have a great time in La Jolla? Absolutely not. There are plenty of free things to do in La Jolla, and while going to the beach is one of them, that’s not all there is to do in the neighborhood.

If you’re traveling with kids, check out the playgrounds like La Jolla Recreation Center. It’s an amazing place for kids to let out some energy. La Jolla also has some of the best tide pooling in California—just be sure to bring rubber-soled shoes.

Want to relax? You can sit back in the grass and watch the parasailers lift off at Black’s Beach or have a picnic at Ellen Browning Scripps Park. I’d also recommend checking out the Stuart Collection sculptures at UC San Diego and taking a walking tour of the beautiful murals of La Jolla.

The Best Shopping in La Jolla

Beautiful beaches and gorgeous views aren’t all La Jolla has to offer. The shopping in La Jolla is some of the best in San Diego. La Jolla offers many upscale boutiques and high-end shopping destinations, so plan to enjoy some retail therapy during your stay.

You can, of course, shop for souvenirs, but you can also enhance your wardrobe with staples from American and European designers, both well-known and obscure. Most of the best shopping in La Jolla is in the Village. You can easily hit Prospect Street, Ivanhoe Street, Herschel Street, and Girard Avenue shops during a single pleasant stroll. Along the way, you’ll pass many wonderful cafes and restaurants where you can recharge your batteries in the middle of your shopping spree.

Need to Know

LANGUAGE
English

HOW TO SAY LA JOLLA
La Jolla is pronounced La HOY-ah

CURRENCY
US Dollar

TRANSPORTATION
Most people who stay in La Jolla, CA have rental cars but you can rely on Uber. Drive time to San Diego Airport is about 20-25 minutes without traffic.

BEST TIME TO VISIT
For weather, come between July–October. For price, come in shoulder seasons of September (after Labor Day)–beginning of November or January–beginning of March. Avoid major golf tournament dates.

ONLY BEACH & BOUTIQUE HOTELS
There are no big sprawling resorts in La Jolla. The most highly-rated hotel is The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

Frequently Asked
Questions About La Jolla, California

I live in La Jolla, California, and answer questions about it daily. Here’s some of what people want to know.

You can also read my popular What and Where Is La Jolla, CA Anyway, which has answers to even more FAQs.

La Jolla is a seaside community in the City of San Diego. It has its own zip codes with the main one being 92037.

So technically, it is the same as San Diego but, in reality, very different. And people passionate about it lobby to break the community away from the City (long story short).

La Jolla is special for many reasons but is most recognized for its special beaches. La Jolla Cove is one of the most photographed and popular places for tourists, no matter where they stay in San Diego County.

It’s also very pretty and well-kept, thanks to its affluence.

When people ask if La Jolla is close to San Diego, they typically want to know how long it takes to get here from downtown San Diego or the airport specifically.

Depending on where you are in La Jolla, it takes 20-25 minutes to get to the airport.

La Jolla means The Jewel in Spanish.

A lot of new restaurants have been popping up lately, but here’s a quick run-down of the places we frequent the most.

  • Puesto: Mexican street food that we also get delivered through Doordash.
  • Sugar and Scribe: For breakfast and desserts to-go.
  • George’s Ocean Terrace: The best place to take out-of-town guests.
  • NINE-TEN: Finer dining — excellent.
  • Isola: Great wood-fired pizza and casual for kids
  • El Pescador: A seafood market with excellent sandwiches.
  • Taco Stand: If you can handle the line or can go at off-peak times.
  • Bobboi Gelato: Dessert at The Cove.
  • Froglanders: Local kids love this fro-yo.

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Some of my favs


Luxury Hotels

Boutique and/or Beachfront Hotels

Value Hotels

  • Inn by the Sea
  • La Jolla Inn

Pet-Friendly La Jolla Hotels

The Best Restaurants

  • The Marine Room
  • Eddie V’s
  • Catania
  • NINE-TEN
  • Queenstown Village

Casual Dining

  • Beaumont’s
  • Brockton Villa
  • Piatti
  • Sugar and Scribe
  • Duke’s
  • El Pescador

To-Go and Fast-Casual

La Jolla Breakfast Restaurants

  • Brockton Villa
  • The Cottage
  • Harry’s
  • Sugar and Scribe
  • Cody’s

Artisan Coffee Shops

  • Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
  • Living Room
  • The Flower Pot

Nightlife (What Little There Is)

  • Eddie V’s
  • George’s Level2
  • The Spot
  • The Comedy Store
  • The Whaling Bar

Other La Jolla Entertainment

  • The LOT: Our only movie theater has a fantastic restaurant and bar inside and service at your seats during a movie.
  • Segway Tours
  • Electric Bike Tours
  • Surf Diva: Highly recommend for surfing or stand-up paddleboard lessons

La Jolla Attractions