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, but 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, whether you’re traveling alone or with kids. La Jolla (aka “The Jewel” of San Diego)is made up of multiple neighborhoods that 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.

La Jolla Hotels

The best places to stay in La Jolla 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, La Jolla Shores, or 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 Grande Colonial and Virtuoso amenities plus a slight discount at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. If you’d like to play 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 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, but today it is widely recognized as a foodie hub where you’ll find some of the best seafood, California cuisine, Japanese fusion, along with great pizza and the freshest tacos around. It’s hard to choose the best La Jolla restaurants because there are so many, but some of our favorites are George’s at the Cove, Herringbone, Catania, and Himitsu. I also have some good news for anyone traveling with kids, which is that pretty much all La Jolla restaurants are family-friendly — even when you’re 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 for 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 that’s close to both 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 La Jolla’s famous 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 has 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, which is considered one of the best surf spots in all of 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 and 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. There are lots of excellent playgrounds in the area, plenty of kid-friendly restaurants, and kid-friendly happy hours where the whole family can kick back and relax. My town is clean and the beaches you’d take kids to are patrolled by lifeguards. It’s safe and easy.

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

The Most Popular Attractions in La Jolla

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, which is 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 all of San Diego. La Jolla offers lots of 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 the shops on Prospect Street, Ivanhoe Street, Herschel Streets, and Girard Avenue during a single pleasant stroll. Along the way, you’ll pass lots of wonderful cafes and restaurants where you can recharge your batteries in the middle of your shopping spree.

La Jolla Attractions

Best Restaurants in La Jolla: Where to Eat Now

Best Restaurants in La Jolla: Where to Eat Now

This best restaurants in La Jolla list is based on where we locals eat Mexican, Italian, seafood, breakfast, and more from takeout to fine dining — and often with extraordinary ocean views.