A San Diego sightseeing itinerary should include a visit to La Jolla attractions. 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.
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. A variety of 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. A number of 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 be sure to arrive early. You may also park on the residential streets. Dogs are allowed before 9 a.m. and again after 5 or 6 p.m. depending on the season.
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 to 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 sunset for a postcard-worthy shot.
Occasionally, Full Moon Pier Walks are available to the public through Birch Aquarium otherwise it isn’t possible to walk on the pier.
La Jolla Underwater Park
La Jolla Shores Beach is also a point of access into 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 definitely 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, however). Bring your GoPro for some fantastic adventure photos. Kayak tours and snorkeling tours are popular outdoor activities 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, which is one of the most unique naturally-occurring outdoor experiences in California. Yes, they’re harmless.
Sunny Jim Sea Cave
Sunny Jim Sea Cave is the only sea cave in California that is accessible by land. The old wooden staircase leading into the cave is actually inside of 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.
La Jolla Cove
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.
You don’t have to be on the beach to appreciate La Jolla Cove, however. A sidewalk along the coast wraps around La Jolla Cove and south to the Children’s Pool for a stroll with optimal ocean and wildlife viewing. This pretty attraction, 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.
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 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 here will then lead you south to the Children’s Pool (below).
Children’s Pool (La Jolla Seals)
This is where the La Jolla seals mostly reside. The Children’s Pool sea wall was built in the 1930s to create a safe place for children to swim.
Over time, the area filled with sand, and the harbor seals moved in. There is a rope barrier on the beach that keeps the seals protected 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.
Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (Closed for Renovation)
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. Be sure to check the schedule in case a free public tour other similar event is happening.
Not-to-be-missed is the Art Lab downstairs where you can channel creativity at leisure and the outdoor Edwards Sculpture garden. This is also a kid-friendly museum so do not be afraid to bring them along. They’ll love the pop culture art, especially.
We’ll keep you posted as to when this Village gem reopens.
Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla
The Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla is one of the things to see in La Jolla that is a hidden gem. The museum showcases a portion of collector and La Jolla resident Michael Stone’s over 500 rare maps and atlases that span the course of five centuries. He is a leading authority on cartography and it is a place that even kids will enjoy visiting.
They’ll love the celestial maps, the series of maps showing California as an island, and much more. The museum will do school tours and scout patches. The museum is located on the bottom floor of the Merrill Lynch building on Fay Street.
Do check opening hours before going. Right now, the museum is open every Wednesday and Thursday as well as the first and third Saturdays of each month from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (closed on major holidays). Admission is always free.
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 wall ball 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, it’s possible to check out balls and other sports equipment from the office.
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.
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.
TIPS 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.
See also: Best Guide to Birch Aquarium at Scripps
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 makes for an interesting outdoor scavenger hunt experience of sorts 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.
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 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.
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.
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 a leisurely hike with the kids or without. The park is perched on bluffs above gorgeous beaches which means that you may be able to 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 keep in mind that a number of 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. Do 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.
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 which is home 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.
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 on hand to answer questions and show you where the more famous honorees are.
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.
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. In the 500-seat performance hall with its incredible acoustics complement the variety of different music styles. You’ll also see new family concerts on the schedule in addition to free workshops and open rehearsals in the summer.
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 in addition to explaining how they live.
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 down 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.
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 come read, relax, fuel your Instagram, and play with cats. Feel good that all revenue goes to rescuing and caring for cats.
If you are looking to adopt a cat, what a great way to meet your future family member.
Those interested in architecture should visit the Salk Institute. The designated historic site was designed in part by Jonas Salk to foster creativity — it’s a biomedical research facility after all.
The collection of buildings are famous for their bold lines, unobstructed laboratories, and dramatic ocean views. You can take a self-guided tour or a docent-led tour, but either one requires reservations.
In La Jolla, Prospect Street, with its boutiques and art galleries, is known as the Rodeo Drive of the San Diego area, but 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 some of my favorite stores include Sweet Paper, Hi Sweetheart, and Warwick’s. Best sure to stop in one of our outstanding restaurants on these streets in between stores for a meal or coffee.
La Jolla Open Aire Market
Our Farmers Market is called the La Jolla Open Aire Market and happens 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 the 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 meals to-go.
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).
La Jolla Walking Trail
If you’d like to walk to La Jolla Shores from the Village, take 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 the 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.
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, in addition to a restaurant and bar inside. It’s a good option when you’re looking for what to do in La Jolla on the rare rainy day.
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 day trip in to dine here. Brockton Villa, also overlooking the Cove, is a historic cottage turned restaurant that is 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 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 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, Cavu is the one who makes beer here. 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.
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 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 a variety of themed walking tours including A Walking Tour of La Jolla Village, Historic Beach Cottages of La Jolla, and more.
EXCLUSIVE EVERYDAY CALIFORNIA DISCOUNTUse code lajollamom 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, 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, 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 a myriad of water sports opportunities for those in search of outdoor activities.
What is La Jolla famous for?
La Jolla is famous for:
- Seals and sea lions.
- Expensive homes.
- UC San Diego.
- Torrey Pines Golf Course (where the Farmer’s Open PGA tournament is held).
- Ocean views.
- Sparkling beaches and surfing.
- Leopard sharks.
- 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 (which are some of the best in San Diego) whether you’d like seafood, Mexican food, fine dining, or a good cup of coffee.
- visiting tide pools in winter.
What are the top La Jolla attractions?
The top La Jolla attractions are:
- La Jolla Cove.
- Children’s Pool Beach.
- La Jolla Shores Beach.
- Birch Aquarium at Scripps.
- Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
- Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial.
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, which 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.
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:
- Mission Bay.
- Downtown San Diego (USS Midway Museum, Little Italy).
- San Diego Zoo.
- Balboa Park.
- SeaWorld San Diego.
- LEGOLAND California.
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?