Inside a small wood-shingled building on oceanfront Coast Blvd lies a beach-themed gift shop and access to one of La Jolla’s coolest attractions. In fact, tourists who wander into The Cave Store to browse might be surprised by the dark tunnel leading down to Sunny Jim Cave—the only sea cave in California accessible by land.
Sunny Jim Cave History
This particular sea cave has an interesting story. A German engineer and philosopher called Gustav Schulz arrived in La Jolla from his native land of Germany to enjoy his golden years.
But his fascination with the sea caves called him out of retirement. He thought that if there were a tunnel to the bottom of what would soon be named Sunny Jim cave, people would pay to access it.
Work on the tunnel began in 1902. It took two laborers two years to dig it with a shovel and pick. First, guests paid to access the cave via a rope.
A few years later, stairs were deemed a better idea and, today, there are 145 of them leading down to a platform that provides guests with one of the most unique Pacific Ocean views on the West Coast.
Sunny Jim was given its name by Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, because the cave’s opening looked like a mascot for a British cereal, which was also called Sunny Jim.
What It’s Like Inside
If you have some time to spare in La Jolla, a quick trip into the cave is well worth a few dollars and maybe 15-30 minutes (at the most).
My daughter and I paid the entry fee inside Sunny Jim’s Cave Store and were directed to the entrance.
RESERVATIONS TEMPORARILY REQUIREDMembers of the same household can make a reservation to enter the cave online.
Leave bulky bags and strollers outside of the cave because you should hold on to the rails with both hands.
Because of the moisture and tides, the wooden steps can be very slippery. The woman in front of us lost her footing and slipped.
For the same reason, I’d only take a baby in a carrier strapped to me. Holding a baby while navigating the steps might be a bit difficult.
But the fact that the tunnel is dark, musty, and slightly mysterious is part of its appeal. Kids will think this part is really, really cool (I did, too).
On the small viewing platform, it’s possible to watch the water flow in and recede—the sounds of the ocean echo around you.
Guests of Sunny Jim’s Cave Store are prohibited from entering the water from the viewing platform. I caught a photo of a rogue snorkeler who snuck into the cave from the ocean side.
Funny story —I posted the above photo on Instagram. Because social media can be such a small world, I learned that the kayaker is not only a guide with Bike and Kayak but that she snapped a similar photo at the same time.
Crazy, right? Even more interesting is that the sea cave was used to smuggle booze during prohibition.
Don’t forget that you have to walk back up the 144 stairs, too. Stopping for a breather is totally normal. Rest assured that cameras are keeping an eye on guests for safety reasons.
Pick Up Some Souvenirs or Snorkel Gear
Don’t forget that there is more to The Cave Store than visiting Sunny Jim sea cave. You can pick up some beachy souvenirs like shell jewelry and even some beach essentials, should you be headed out to sunbathe or swim.
This is also a convenient place to rent snorkel gear. Some of the best San Diego snorkeling is steps away from the store in La Jolla Cove.
Don’t Forget Clam’s Cave & the Seals
I like to suggest that visitors add Sunny Jim sea cave and a visit to The Cave Store with a walk down the boardwalk south to the La Jolla seals.
Not only is it a beautiful way to spend a day and get some exercise, but the walk passes by some of my favorite La Jolla sights, including Clam’s Cave.
Walk to the left (if facing the ocean) of The Cave Store to catch a glimpse of Clam’s Cave, the only sea cave that is visible from the shore.
It’s called Clam’s Cave because it’s double-sided—meaning that you can enter it from either direction.
If you keep walking south, you’ll also run into:
- La Jolla Cove (see my La Jolla Cove guide for why this is so popular)
- Ellen Browning Scripps Park
- Shell Beach
- Seal Rock
- Children’s Pool Beach (where the harbor seals hang out)
Directions to The Cave Store & Sunny Jim
There is 3-hour street parking along Coast Blvd, but you’ll need to arrive early to snag it. Otherwise, check Prospect Street or park in one of the all-day lots.
You can walk down to Coast Blvd via a walkway next to La Valencia Hotel or stairs in the complex that the Crab Catcher restaurant is in.
A stop into Sunny Jim is a perfect way to round out a visit to our coastal town. Don’t forget to make a reservation to go inside of this La Jolla sea cave.
The Cave Store
1325 Coast Blvd
La Jolla, CA 92037
Kids (ages 16 and under) – $7
Adults – $10