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 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.
Need to Know
Most people who stay in Carlsbad have rental cars. Drive time to San Diego Airport is about 35 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–mid-March. Avoid major golf tournament dates.
THE BIG RESORTS ARE INLAND
Understand that the big, popular resorts are inland, which means you need to drive to the beach.
Whether you’re a day or overnight guest, here’s what you need to know about Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa before you go.
Learn why the La Jolla Underwater Park is one of San Diego’s best attractions, how to explore it, and what sea life might be visible.
Answers to FAQs about San Diego’s seaside community of La Jolla, California for those who are unfamiliar with its unique qualities and attractions.
Your guide to San Diego snorkeling including tips from experts at Everyday California who spend their days leading snorkeling in La Jolla tours.
The best hotels near UCSD in La Jolla on the beach, with kitchens, closest to the campus, and discounts for families, alumni, and medical center patients.
What to know before going to Windansea Beach, La Jolla including surfing, parking, directions, lifeguards, amenities and more at this sacred local spot.
We’re regular visitors to the La Jolla tide pools. I share everything to know from directions to visible sea life with tips from a Birch Aquarium expert.
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.
See why The Lodge at Torrey Pines is our top pick for La Jolla luxury hotels because of great service, variety of amenities, acccess to golf and more.
Guide to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve including hiking trails, wildlife, parking, directions, rules, beach, and more for your visit to this San Diego County gem.
How to tackle fabulous La Jolla shopping while finding the best one-of-a-kind boutiques, name brands and adorable souvenirs along the way.
Why La Jolla Shores Beach is one of San Diego’s best beaches for underwater park access, kayaking, surfing, pretty sand, free parking, and family fun.