Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in La Jolla
Many believe “La Jolla” means “The Jewel” in English, and although the translation is a mistake, the nickname fits this beachfront community. Stroll the sand, look out for tide pools, and spy sea lions and migrating whales at La Jolla Cove, or see some of the region’s wildest, most beautiful scenery at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Hike the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail for sweeping views of the shoreline, or head to La Jolla Shores Park for more beachy splendor. Beyond its natural bounty, La Jolla also boasts top-notch restaurants, cultural stops, and shops; fashion lovers shouldn’t miss La Plaza La Jolla and downtown Girard Avenue and Prospect Street.
From kayak tours and bike trips to surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons, you’ll find plenty of ways to enjoy La Jolla’s picturesque coastline. Full-day tours from downtown San Diego also make visiting simple.
Things to Know Before You Go
- La Jolla’s waters are famed for their leopard sharks, a harmless highlight of local snorkeling trips.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, one of La Jolla’s main attractions, is currently closed for long-term renovation work.
How to Get There
To get to La Jolla, take the 30 bus from downtown San Diego—or drive north on I-5. If you’re traveling by train, get off at either the Old Town Transit Center or Sorrento Valley station, then take a taxi to La Jolla.
When to Get There
Summer is La Jolla’s peak season, when temperatures are warm enough for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Go late in the summer to avoid the crowds.
Top La Jolla Restaurants
After your nature excursions, discover La Jolla’s culinary delights. Must-visit restaurants range from NINE-TEN Restaurant & Bar to the elegant George’s at the Cove. Tip: San Diego Restaurant Week is held every January and September, and some of La Jolla’s best restaurants offer special prix fixe menus.
Nestled between La Jolla and the coast, Ellen Browning Scripps Park is often called San Diego’s most photographed spot and it’s easy to see why; it’s the park is home to three sandy beaches, a wide- open lawn for picnicking, and a scenic walkway along the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean with viewpoints for whale watching and beautiful California sunsets.
As the name suggests, this stretch of sand in San Diego’s upscale La Jolla neighborhood was once a swimming spot for families, thanks to a seawall that shelters the cove. Nowadays, Children’s Pool Beach is a favorite resting and breeding ground for harbor seals and a popular wildlife-watching area.
Along sunny San Diego’s La Jolla coast, there are numerous sea caves carved into cliffs rising from the ocean. What’s unique about Sunny Jim Sea Cave is that it’s the only sea cave there you can access by land in California. Walking through the man-made tunnel leads you to not only the cave itself, but also seven other natural caves carved by the force of the ocean.
The cave took its name from Wizard of Oz author Frank L. Baum, who noted its resemblance to a British cartoon character called Sunny Jim. The tunnel to the cave — which once smuggled liquor during Prohibition — took two years to dig through. Once you emerge into the cave, many more years of carving are noticeable…200,000 or so, in fact! Its estimated by fossil imprints and waterlines that the cave walls have been standing for up to that length of time. The cave walls are also decorated with many different natural colors from a variety of mineral deposits.
Explore the depths of the sea without getting wet at San Diego’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and see more than 5,000 species of fish and marine life. Learn about the ocean through interactive displays, hands-on exhibits, and daily feeding demons, and observe cutting-edge research, underwater photography exhibits, and art installations.
With 17 miles of coastline, San Diego is known for its scenic beaches. Everyone has their favorites, making it hard for visitors to choose. But if you’re a surfer, or just like to watch them in action, save time for a trip to Windansea Beach.
It’s one of the more crowded beaches, but for a good reason. Most locals agree it provides the area’s most consistent surfing conditions. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, a guy or girl, surfing is a part of life in San Diego.
Underwater reefs help create the surf breaks that surfers enjoy here. Swimming is also allowed at the beach, but swimmers need to be careful. Windansea Beach is also known for its moderate to severe shore break. That means there can be hard breaking surf near the shoreline, so swimmers need to use caution when getting in or out of the water.
A wild piece of the California coast just north of San Diego, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve encompasses more than 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of unspoiled beaches, hiking trails, oceanfront bluffs, Torrey pine trees, and other native vegetation. Visitors find a pristine environment treasured by local nature enthusiasts.
In a city known for its beaches, Mount Soledad stands out as the mountain worth visiting. The highest coastal point in sunny San Diego overlooks the palm tree–lined Pacific Beach and the bluffs of Torrey Pines. The mountain is home to the the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial, which honors living and deceased veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present day. On a clear day, 360-degree views of the La Jolla shores, the bridge to Coronado Island, Mission Bay, and even the mountains of Mexico can be seen.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the coastal bluffs of La Jolla, Torrey Pines Golf Course is not only a scenic spot to play a round of golf, but also one of the top courses in the country, having hosted the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour since the 1960s, among other tournaments. The municipally owned Torrey Pines is, in fact, home to two 18-hole courses, the north and the south courses, both designed by legendary course architect William P. Bell. Of the two, the south course is the most challenging and in demand among expert golfers; however, hole No. 6 on the north course is Torrey Pines’ signature hole.
The Salk Institute is a leading medical research facility known as much for its scientific breakthroughs as its unique structure and design. Named for Dr. Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, the building was commissioned by Salk in 1959 and designed to have a monumental feel and spiritual impact. Standing at the edge of the series of uniform buildings, one can really feel the expanse of possibility and the inspiration of the design.
The architect researched monasteries worldwide to build what he referred to as an “intellectual retreat,” which it certainly seems to be today. Standing mostly in concrete and glass, its symmetry and simplicity seems the perfect blank canvas for original thought.
The research undertaken here seeks to find a deeper understanding of biological processes, so that we might discover new cures to existing diseases. Through a spark in imagination and with three Nobel laureates on staff, the institute is breaking ground in immunology, genetics, and neuroscience. The structure itself and the institute both make for an inspiring visit.
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