A San Diego sightseeing itinerary should include a visit to La Jolla attractions. I live in La Jolla so can tell you that my hometown delivers beautiful beaches full of marine life, spectacular views, fun edutainment, and, of course, plenty of outdoor activities so that you can enjoy our famous sunshine.
Whether you make it a day trip or stay in one of our hotels, just be sure to put these best things to do in La Jolla, California, on your list. The other good news is that many of these places are walkable from each other. This is the only list you need to read.
1. La Jolla Shores Beach
I direct travelers looking to spend a fun day at the beach to La Jolla Shores Beach. It’s the largest stretch of flat sand we have, which means there is plenty of space for everyone to spread out, even on busy days.
The ocean here is typically excellent for swimming, but surfing is allowed on the north side. It’s actually one of the best places to take surf lessons in San Diego, as the reefs cause the waves to break gently most of the time. Various reputable, licensed companies like Surf Diva can teach you how to hang ten here.
Adjacent to the beach is a playground and a huge grassy area called Kellogg Park. Several convenience stores and excellent restaurants in the La Jolla Shores business district are within walking distance. You could easily spend a whole day in this casual La Jolla beach area.
The parking lot fills up quickly during peak days, so arrive early. You may also park on the residential streets. Depending on the season, dogs are allowed before 9 a.m. and again after 5 or 6 p.m.
2. La Jolla Underwater Park Activities From Kayaking to Swimming with Leopard Sharks
La Jolla Shores Beach is also a point of access to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, a protected ocean area full of marine life, including magnificent kelp, orange garibaldi (California’s state fish), leopard sharks, rays, and more.
You can explore it by swimming out from the beach. Still, the experience is enhanced by snorkeling, scuba diving, stand-up paddleboarding, scuba diving, or kayaking around the park, including near our famous seven sea caves.
Certain areas permit fishing (you’ll need a fishing license). Bring your GoPro for some fantastic adventure photos. Kayak tours and snorkeling tours are popular outdoor activities in La Jolla and depart from La Jolla Shores.
And, if you come in the summer when leopard sharks incubate, you may witness the incredible spectacle above. Read more about how to see the La Jolla leopard sharks, one of California’s most unique naturally-occurring outdoor experiences. Yes, they’re harmless.
3. La Jolla Cove Beach and Sea Lions
La Jolla Cove is small but packs a punch. There’s a little beach here for sunbathing and swimming, flanked on both sides by rocky points where sea lions and birds hang out.
The combination of wildlife and beach, as well as an easy entry into the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park near the sea caves, makes this a must-visit on a trip to La Jolla, California. If tides are low, small tide pools reveal themselves here, too.
However, you don’t have to be on the beach to appreciate La Jolla Cove. A sidewalk along the coast wraps around La Jolla Cove and extends south to the Children’s Pool for a stroll with optimal ocean and wildlife viewing.
This pretty attraction in addition to its nearby beaches, sea lions, and nearby seals, are the things to do in downtown La Jolla that families and travelers from all over the world day trip in for.
4. Children’s Pool and the Famous La Jolla Seals
This is where the La Jolla seals mostly reside. The Children’s Pool sea wall was built in the 1930s by Ellen Browning Scripps to create a safe place for children to swim.
Over time, the area filled with sand, and the harbor seals moved in. A rope barrier on the beach seasonally protects the seals from humans, but you can capture some fantastic photos here from a respectful distance.
As you can see, people love looking at them sleep, hobble around on the sand, and the like. The scene is mesmerizing, and those seeking relaxation often sit here for hours. If the swells cooperate, you can walk onto the sea wall (not suitable for toddlers as it can be slippery). Visiting Children’s Pool Beach is, by far, one of the most popular things to do in La Jolla and a personal favorite pastime of mine.
5. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Home to the rare Torrey Pine tree (pictured above), our state reserve lies on the border of La Jolla and Del Mar.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a great place for leisurely hiking with kids or without. The park is perched on bluffs above gorgeous beaches, which means you may see dolphins or even whales during their annual migrations. At the very least, the view is spectacular.
It is one of the few parks in our state system to have reserve status. This means that it is important to remember that many rare plants and threatened animals call Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve home.
Only water is allowed to be brought in (no food). Dogs are not permitted. Bring your camera. The park is open from 7:15 a.m. to sunset every day.
Kids can earn Junior Ranger badges here, and guests can join free small-group guided walks on weekends and holidays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and on Fridays at 10 a.m. (summer only). Check the schedule before going, as the walks do not occur if the trails are closed.
Plus, you can enjoy Torrey Pines State Beach when you’ve exhausted the hiking trails on your list.
6. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
If you’re looking for what to do in La Jolla with kids, put the public exploration center for the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego on your itinerary.
Many families take day trips to La Jolla specifically to come here. Birch Aquarium at Scripps is fun to visit for a few hours to see the over 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico and beyond.
The museum showcases the climate, earth, and ocean discoveries of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, including some fun hands-on exhibits.
There is a cool tide pool display on the outdoor patio (in addition to a spectacular panoramic ocean view) where docents share tidbits about the types of creatures living in them, like sea stars and sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, and more. You can even touch some of them.
PRO TIP FOR TICKETSBirch Aquarium at Scripps is part of the Go San Diego Card, which is a sightseeing pass with discounts to major theme parks, tours, museums, and other fun activities. It is also a part of the San Diego CityPASS.
See also: Best Guide to Birch Aquarium at Scripps
7. Sunny Jim Sea Cave
Sunny Jim Sea Cave is the only sea cave in California accessible by land. The old wooden staircase leading into the cave is actually inside the Cave Store on Coast Blvd. in the Village of La Jolla.
Work on the tunnel to connect the sea cave to land began in 1902. Sunny Jim was also named by Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, because the cave’s opening looked like a mascot for a British cereal, also called Sunny Jim.
A platform inside the cave allows guests to enjoy the barking sea lions and rumble of the ocean. The view is quite pretty as well. You only need about 15–20 minutes or less to buy a ticket, walk down, see the sea cave, and walk back up.
Be mindful that the stairway is old and can be slippery, so it isn’t great for unstable walkers, but it’s a quick side experience when visiting the nearby seals.
8. Ellen Browning Scripps Park
This wide expanse of grass is home to windblown trees thought to have influenced the Truffula trees in The Lorax, written by La Jolla’s most famous resident, Dr. Seuss.
Never too crowded (unless there’s a major event happening), it’s a great place for kids to run freely, picnics, frisbee, dog walks, yoga, and more. The little green huts lining the shoreline path here are called belvederes and are awesome to hang out in, too.
This park borders La Jolla Cove and its nearby little beaches (Boomer Beach and Shell Beach). The coastal walkway will lead you south to the Children’s Pool (below).
9. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) has a La Jolla branch on Prospect Street in a building that was the former home of local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps.
The ocean views from here are spectacular, as is the contemporary art collection — all housed in a newly renovated building.
Be sure to check the schedule in case a free public tour or other similar event is happening.
10. Scripps Pier
Head to La Jolla Shores Beach and walk north to the Scripps Pier. It is one of the world’s largest working piers. It enables scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to monitor changes in the Pacific Ocean and study marine life. The pier also pumps about 1.8 million gallons of seawater into the institution’s tanks.
Why go? This is one of the most popular places to take photos in La Jolla and the entire San Diego area for family portraits, Instagram, and the like. Snap a pic underneath the pylons or near the pier first thing in the morning or at sunset for a postcard-worthy shot.
Full Moon Pier Walks are occasionally available to the public through Birch Aquarium; otherwise, walking on the pier is impossible.
11. La Jolla Recreation Center
I’m learning to appreciate the La Jolla Recreation Center more and more as the years go by. For us, it was a great place to burn off steam after preschool. Now, my daughter and her friends still love the play structures and bolting across the blacktop to play wallball and other fun activities.
The thing is, adults can and should enjoy it, too. Shoot hoops on the basketball courts or practice tennis solo on the backboards. With your driver’s license, you can check out balls and other sports equipment from the office.
Did you know they have pickleball and bocce ball on a first come, first served basis? Fun!
Rest or refuel at the picnic tables, too. Of course, there are classes and other programming to take advantage of. The Museum of Contemporary Art is right across the street.
This isn’t a place to go out of your way to visit on vacation, but it’s a perfect stop if you’re staying at one of the La Jolla hotels in the Village area and the kids need to burn off steam. Locals should remember to check their calendar of events.
12. The Stuart Collection at UCSD
The Stuart Collection is an amazing series of public art to enjoy on the campus of UC San Diego (my alma mater). Once you park, it’s free to explore the collection, and it makes for an interesting outdoor scavenger hunt experience for yourself or with kids in tow.
The sculptures are enormous, with some integrated into buildings and existing landscaping. Download and print a map that will guide you around campus in more or less a circle to see the entire collection.
13. Torry Pines Gliderport
A somewhat hidden gem, the Torrey Pines Gliderport makes a worthwhile visit even if you have no intention of paragliding or hang gliding off the cliffs. But, if you are keen for extra excitement, there are tandem rides for those who want to try it and instructors to teach those who want to learn to fly solo.
It’s one of the most historic aviation sites in the country, with over 100 years of flying history. Most people come for the panoramic views made even more spectacular by colorful gliders in the sky. It’s quite zen up here, actually—the kind of place you don’t want to be in a hurry to leave.
You can bring a picnic, but the Cliffhanger Cafe sandwiches here are a pretty good lunch option. It’s a super casual experience with usually plenty of parking in the dirt lot. It’s also a nice place to seek relaxation after hiking Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve or visiting Birch Aquarium, as these attractions are also up here near UC San Diego.
14. La Jolla Playhouse
The Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse rests on the campus of UC San Diego and hosts a number of productions that eventually make it big on Broadway (I saw Rent here decades ago and was a season ticket holder until parenthood got in the way).
When visiting La Jolla, be sure to check their calendar of events to see if there are performances that pique your interest.
15. Torrey Pines Golf Course
When your search for what to do in La Jolla revolves around golf, this is the most exclusive and popular place to snag a tee time. Visitors come to La Jolla to follow in Tiger’s footsteps and play the famous Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course, home to San Diego’s prestigious annual PGA golf tournament, the Farmer’s Insurance Open.
The courses are owned by the City of San Diego and border the ocean for spectacular views. Non-residents can call for reservations 4 to 90 days in advance. San Diego residents with a valid City Resident Card and PIN can call 8 to 90 days in advance. Check rates and full tee time details.
SECURE A TEE TIME AND OTHER PERKSGolf Services at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, which I recommend as one of the best hotels in San Diego, helps overnight guests secure tee times. People stay at the hotel because they like being close to this championship golf course. And, I can add on benefits like complimentary breakfast for two and more.
16. Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial
One of the best views in all of San Diego can be enjoyed from the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial. Perched on the top of Mount Soledad, it’s a popular stop for the Old Town Trolley, several bike tours, and many other visitors and residents.
Unless there is heavy cloud cover, it’s possible to see over Mission Bay and down to Mexico, east over the mountains, north to La Jolla Shores, and even Del Mar beaches, the pretty Mormon Temple, and beyond. A grassy area provides a small space for kids to play on and for laid-back picnics.
However, it is a veteran’s memorial. Over 3300 black granite plaques honor living and deceased veterans from the Revolutionary War through current-day conflicts.
Honorees include President Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, General Patton, and many more. Docents are usually available to answer questions and show you where the more famous honorees are.
17. WindanSea Beach
WindanSea Beach is more of a local’s spot, but it’s worth mentioning if you happen to be staying in this part of La Jolla or like to surf awesome waves.
It’s quite scenic, and there’s a nice patch of sand for beachgoing (tides permitting). The iconic WindanSea shack has been there since 1946 (destroyed a few times in between) and is a historical landmark that generates a ton of nostalgia for people who grew up in La Jolla.
One of the fun things to do in La Jolla here is to take family, special occasion, and Instagram photos near the shack.
18. Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center
The new, state-of-the-art Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center is the permanent home of the La Jolla Music Society.
The 500-seat performance hall, with its incredible acoustics, complements various music styles. You’ll also see new family concerts on the schedule, free workshops, and open rehearsals in the summer.
19. Tide Pooling (Winter and Early Spring)
During winter months, when low tides occur during daylight hours, many residents and tourists flock to the best beaches for exploring our La Jolla tide pools. You’ll see a variety of sea creatures ranging from hermit crabs to octopuses.
A good rule of thumb is to check the local tide calendars online. If you see a minus tide, that’s your cue to head to the beach. Try just south of the Children’s Pool or north of Scripps Pier at Dike Rock.
Even better, book a Birch Aquarium Tidepooling Adventure, which we have personally enjoyed as naturalists have a knack for spotting critters and explaining how they live.
20. La Jolla Murals
Keep an eye out for our La Jolla Murals, a privately funded community art program by the Athenaeum designed to add a new layer of vibrancy to our seaside community.
They’re sprinkled around town on billboards and buildings. Each mural is on display for a maximum of two years. The Athenaeum hosts walking tours on the last Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. that last for about 90 minutes and cover roughly half of the fifteen murals.
Get reservation details and download a map should you like to take a self-guided tour.
21. The Cat Lounge
The idea behind this nonprofit organization is simple. Every cat in The Cat Lounge is rescued from a local high-kill shelter and ready for adoption.
You can pay admission (tax-deductible) to read, relax, fuel your Instagram, and play with cats. Feel good that all revenue goes to rescuing and caring for cats.
If you want to adopt a cat, what a great way to meet your future family member.
22. Salk Institute Architecture Tour
Those interested in architecture should visit the Salk Institute. Jonas Salk partly designed the designated historic site to foster creativity — it’s a biomedical research facility after all.
The collection of buildings is famous for its bold lines, unobstructed laboratories, and dramatic ocean views. You can take a self-guided or docent-led tour, but either one requires reservations.
23. Visit Bird Rock
Just a few miles from the popular Village of La Jolla, lies the cozy Bird Rock neighborhood. It covers several small blocks on La Jolla Blvd, roughly between Camino de la Costa and Midway Street. I live just up the hill, so spend a lot of time here. These are some spots to consider:
- Bird Rock Coffee: Locally famous place for your morning or afternoon cup.
- Wayfarer Bread: Go early for a loaf or croissant (they sell out) but they do offer sandwiches and pizza later in the day
- Dodo Bird Donuts: Go for a fancy donut or gourmet breakfast sandwich
- Beaumont’s: Neighborhood eatery for lunch and dinner plus brunch on weekends.
- Wheat and Water: Another neighborhood spot for good pizza and salads.
- Surf Shops: Bird Rock Surf Shop has been around for ages (pick up beach essentials, wetsuit, board or smoothie) and there’s the new Hermosa Surf (sustainable handshaped boards, lifestyle and smoothie shop).
24. Go Shopping
In La Jolla, Prospect Street, with its boutiques and art galleries, is known as the Rodeo Drive of the San Diego area.
Its intersecting streets, like Girard Avenue and Ivanhoe Avenue, also hold some shopping gems worth checking out.
The list of best La Jolla shopping is long, but my favorite locally-owned store for gifts and books is Warwick’s. Lululemon, Aviator Nation, Vuori, and other casual shops dot the streets.
Best sure to stop in one of our outstanding restaurants in between stores for a meal or coffee.
25. La Jolla Open Aire Market
Our Farmers Market is called the La Jolla Open Aire Market and happens on Sundays between 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at La Jolla Elementary School on Girard Avenue and Genter Street.
You can visit to procure produce, flowers, olive oils and spreads, freshly baked goods, handicrafts, and even seafood to cook at home. If you’re visiting La Jolla and looking for epicurean souvenirs, they’re here, too.
However, you can also go for prepared foods ranging from avocado toast to excellent burritos that you can eat at the market on picnic tables or the lawn. We also often take these meals to-go.
26. La Jolla Historical Society
Visit the La Jolla Historical Society’s exhibition galleries inside its Wisteria Cottage location on Prospect Street.
Exhibitions pay tribute to the people, events, and architecture that helped shape La Jolla into the vibrant community that it is today and are typically open between noon and 4 p.m. from Wednesday – Sunday.
Keep an eye out also for their two major annual events. The Secret Garden Home Tour (which I have volunteered at in the past) gives you a peek into spectacular historic and new La Jolla homes with outstanding garden design.
And there’s the La Jolla Concours d’Elégance car show at La Jolla Cove that celebrates historic automobiles and draws in visitors from all over Southern California and beyond. You can also take advantage of their themed self-guided walks that are great for residents and tourists (more on these below).
27. Coast Walk Trail
If you’d like to walk to La Jolla Shores from the Village, take the Coast Walk Trail (also known as the La Jolla Walking Trail) north, about a half-mile. You’ll find its entrance near The Cave Store on Coast Blvd.
The dirt path wraps along the coastline for gorgeous ocean and sea lion views. The trail is easy but could use some repair in spots, and there are benches to sit on so that you can stop to experience the view.
28. The LOT Movie Theater and Restaurant
Of course, La Jolla has a luxury movie theater where the plush seats recline and you can order food and cocktails before and during the movie.
The LOT was designed as a lifestyle space as it also offers an expansive patio, where we have attended several events, and a restaurant and bar inside. It’s a good option when looking for what to do in La Jolla on a rare rainy day.
29. Dine Out at Our Fantastic Restaurants
The list of La Jolla restaurants we love is long. Whether you’re coming for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or dessert, we have you and every dietary restriction covered.
Many La Jolla residents take visitors to George’s Ocean Terrace for casual alfresco dining and a menu focused on locally sourced seasonal ingredients overlooking La Jolla Cove. San Diego locals also come on day trips in to dine here.
Brockton Villa, also overlooking the Cove, is a historic cottage turned restaurant famous for Coast Toast (brioche french toast dipped in cream) and charming ambiance.
Visitors like Puesto for street tacos, and there are lines that form at the Taco Stand on Pearl Street for a reason. For date nights, we head to award-winning NINE-TEN for farm-to-table cuisine and good wines, but we also quite like martinis and oysters during happy hour with a view at Eddie V’s.
Craft beer is easy to find, and if you’re looking for breweries, try Eppig. Trilogy Sanctuary not only hosts outstanding yoga classes but is home to a vegan food restaurant that even non-vegans adore.
For desserts, try the artisanal gelato at Bobboi Natural Gelato near the Cove and any cupcake, cookie, or baked goods at Sugar and Scribe.
30. La Jolla Tours
Stay tuned for an entire post about this, but lately, people have been asking me for sightseeing tour suggestions.
In addition to the Athenaeum murals walking tour and a Salk Institute tour, both mentioned above, consider the following La Jolla tours.
I have affiliate relationships with some La Jolla tour companies, which means that I might be compensated if you book using my links.
- Socal Riviera Electric Bike Tour: San Diego Flyrides will take you up hills for panoramic views and down the coastline for ocean views, La Jolla Cove, and seal viewing.
- A guided La Jolla kayak tour of our sea caves: We have multiple companies that offer kayaking tour and snorkeling tour options, and they’re all great. You’ll get some exercise, see some fish and sea lions, and enjoy a great day out in Southern California’s sunshine. Some of these tours let you get out of the kayak and snorkel.
- Segway tour: If you’ve never driven a Segway, here’s your chance. It’s actually quite fun and easy to do after a quick tutorial. These tours take place across two hours, rain or shine, and pass by beaches, our murals, the seals, boutiques, and more.
- La Jolla Historical Society Self-Guided Walks: Tour at your own pace with various themed walking tours, including A Walking Tour of La Jolla Village, Historic Beach Cottages of La Jolla, and more.
- So Diego Tours: They have a NEW food walking tour of La Jolla that you should try! Use promo code lajollamom for $5 off.
EXCLUSIVE EVERYDAY CALIFORNIA DISCOUNTUse code LJMOM20 for a 20% discount on kayak and snorkeling tours, lessons, and rentals. Book now.
FAQs About Things to Do in La Jolla, San Diego
Get more information about La Jolla, CA, including why you should visit, places to see around town, the best beaches, and advice for your trip.
What can you do in La Jolla for a day?
The short answer is a lot, but what you choose depends on the type of adventure you seek. I have listed ways to structure a day in La Jolla, broken down into morning, afternoon, and evening with suggestions for activities and restaurants in the neighborhoods you might find yourself in.
Refer to how to spend a day in La Jolla for more information.
Is La Jolla worth visiting?
As a resident, I would definitely say yes, you should experience La Jolla. Its name means “The Jewel” in Spanish, which fits a community surrounded by stunning coastline.
We have some of the best restaurants in all of San Diego, beautiful beaches, boutique shopping, art galleries, ocean views that even many locals day trip in for, and a fairly laid-back vibe for an upscale community.
Once you park in the Village of La Jolla, and admittedly this can be challenging in summer, you can easily walk to La Jolla Cove, restaurants, and shopping.
The same goes for La Jolla Shores, as you can park, go to the beach, and walk to lunch, happy hour, and more in the business district. We also offer many water sports opportunities for those searching for outdoor activities.
What is La Jolla famous for?
La Jolla is famous for:
Seals and sea lions.
UC San Diego.
Torrey Pines Golf Course (where the Farmer’s Open PGA tournament is held).
Sparkling beaches and surfing.
Residents such as Dr. Seuss and the myriad of entertainers and politicians who have homes here (Mitt Romney, Alicia Keys, and more).
Ecological Reserve tours to see the sea caves and marine life by kayak, SUP, or snorkeling.
WHAT ARE THE TOP LA JOLLA ACTIVITIES?
The top La Jolla activities are:
La Jolla Cove (home to our sea lions).
Children’s Pool Beach (where the harbor seals hang out).
boutique shopping in the Village.
La Jolla Shores Beach.
Enjoying La Jolla Restaurants (some of the best in San Diego) whether you’d like seafood, Mexican food, fine dining, or a good cup of coffee.
visiting La Jolla tide pools in winter.
What are the top La Jolla attractions?
What are the best things to do in La Jolla with kids?
As a mom in La Jolla, I have written an exhaustive list of what to do in La Jolla with kids. The most popular activities for children include:
La Jolla seals and sea lions.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps.
La Jolla Shores Beach.
Parks and playgrounds like Kellog Park and La Jolla Recreation Center.
Family hikes at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
Visiting the La Jolla tide pools during the winter.
What are the best free things to do in La Jolla?
I have written an extensive list that details what to do in La Jolla for free. Many people take day trips to La Jolla specifically to see our seals and sea lions in addition to our pretty beaches, which are completely free outdoor activities.
You may have to price in a little cash for parking if free street parking isn’t available. Otherwise, it’s definitely possible to enjoy a visit on a budget.
Where Can I Walk Around in La Jolla?
You can walk around the Village of La Jolla which is our downtown area. This is where the best shops and restaurants are. It’s one of my favorite fun things to do in La Jolla when I have free time.
It’s also nice to walk around the La Jolla Shores business district though it is significantly smaller.
Is La Jolla Beach Swimmable?
Certain La Jolla beaches are swimmable, while others are not. The best places to swim are La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores beaches.
Truthfully, I don’t recommend swimming at the other beaches because they are either too rocky or surf conditions make them unsafe for non-locals.
Is La Jolla beach free?
Yes, it is free to spend a day at La Jolla beaches. Our fantastic weather makes the beaches usable year-round. Be mindful that free parking in peak months is limited, so you may need to find a paid parking lot.
What are the best things to do near La Jolla?
If you’re staying in a La Jolla hotel, its central San Diego area location provides easy access to sights in other parts of the county that people commonly visit, including:
Those taking day trips to Orange County or Los Angeles can drive or take the train. We catch the train to Disneyland from the Old Town Transportation Center. The same Amtrak train will pass through downtown Los Angeles.
What are your favorite things to do in La Jolla, California?