La Jolla is a sun-drenched city in San Diego that has so much to do you could make a whole vacation just hanging out there. I should know, we almost did just that recently having spent a majority of our 5-Day trip to the sunny, perfect-weather coast of San Diego on our first vacation in over a year.
La Jolla (pronounced lah-hoy-yah) is right in the middle of San Diego and has miles of rocky coastline to explore as well as tons of shopping, great restaurants, and incredible views that will stay with you for years. Here’s what to do in La Jolla, California.
Visit Rocky Coasts & Breathtaking Beaches
There are several beautiful beaches within the La Jolla city limits. While all are beautiful, some stand out a little more than others. I always try to visit the beaches that have some type of visual element that makes them unique. Below are some of my favorite beaches in town. Be sure to look up the tide charts on your visit as most of these beaches are best visited during low tide so you can access the beach and tide pools.
La Jolla Coves
This was the first taste of La Jolla I had years back. The Coves are a beautiful, rocky nook that many sea lions, pelicans, and cormorants, among other birds call home. The sea lions sunbathe and relax in the sun as the waves crash nearby and the birds nest along the cliff edges surrounding the cove. During low tide, you can explore the coves and small, rock-filled coast. Listen to the sea lions honk at each other and watch scuba divers swim out in the sea. I find the coves to be most enjoyable very early in the morning or later in the evening when the least amount of people are around as it gets very busy mid-day.
This is a long stretch of sandy beach with some rocky elevated plateau, a random but iconic palm-covered surf shack. Popular with surfers and sunbathers alike.
La Jolla Tide Pools
This beach is primarily covered in flat, rocky surfaces with many nooks, dips, and crevasse in which sea life gets left behind during low tide. Sealife ranges from the sea anemone, small fish, crabs, seaweed and, if you’re lucky, maybe a starfish or other larger sea life. Be sure to check when the tide is low as the higher the tide the less there is to explore.
Another round nook where you can observe many multi-colored Harbor Seals resting on the protected beach. There’s an observation walkway perfect to catch a sunset on and be in the middle of some wild, crashing waves.
La Jolla Shores Beach & Scripps Pier
Another long stretch of beach that has the famous Ellen Browning Scripp’s Memorial Pier perfect for photo ops. The surrounding area is full of beautiful plant life and a walkway perfect for ocean views.
Torrey Pines State beach
The drive along the coast heading south is one of the more breathtaking views you can have of the coast from the road. Known for its rare and protected Torrey Pine trees, rugged sandstone cliffs, and a beach full of round, polished stones, this beach should be on everyone’s must-visit list.
Other Beaches in La Jolla: Black’s Beach (bathing suit optional), Marine Street Beach (secluded with massive waves), Boomer Beach (hidden beach gem), Shell Beach (perfect for tide pools), Wipeout Beach (known for its caves and tidepools)
Love the west coast? Check out my post on My Top Coastal California Destinations
Eat Delicious Food
There are so many restaurants in town, here are a few I’ve been to and some on my to-visit list.
Sugar & Scribe
Delicious breakfast spot with a big outdoor patio and has a small bakery inside full of yummy treats. Huge marshmallows, rice krispy treats, and other baked goods. They have the prettiest pancakes you ever did see complete with flower petals and edible glitter. So nice we ate there twice!
A popular breakfast and brunch destination so be prepared for a wait. Tasty basic breakfast items.
A Mexican restaurant whose food is packed with incredible flavor. It’s the kind of meal I started to eat slower to savor longer as I didn’t want it to end. Up there with the few unforgettable restaurants we’ve been to in our travels.
Yummy Italian food, kitchy movie poster decor, in a chill part of the neighborhood where the street became a huge outdoor area for a few of the nearby restaraunts.
A small, independant shop serving up ice cream from New York’s Van Leeuwen artisan ice cream (yum!). We’ve had it in NYC and knew it was good so had to get a scoop while in town.
Places on my list I want to visit next time: Dukes, Piatti, Ciao Ciao Piadina, Galaxy Taco, Parakeet Cafe, Trilogy Sanctuary, Wayfarer Bread & Pastry, Cody’s, Cove House, Cheese Shop, Semola, Mary’s Gourmet Salads, Bobboi Natural Gelato
Other Things to Do
Visit Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave
Explore the tunnel once dug by laborers to connect a residence to a sea cave back in 1902, a piece of San Diego history. Be prepared to descend and climb back up 145 stairs to experience the sea cave for yourself. I’m not posting a photo of the cave, you’ll have to visit to see that.
Find the secret Swing(s)
I love secret swings! If a city I visit has one, you know I’m going to find at least one of them. We found one of the three secret swings I’ve heard of online on our most recent trip. The one we were able to find was a small hike up a hill for the Birch Aquarium. You can see more about this on Instagram with #lajollasecretswing. Expect a line of people waiting to take pictures and/or take a turn swinging.
Shop at one of the many specialty boutiques in town: Warwick’s independent bookstore, Geppetto’s toy store, Balboa Candy, Hi Sweetheart gift boutique, Sweet Paper stationery store, Gracie James artful living, and Everyday California just to name a few. There are also art galleries and familiar retail chains in town.
Find the Murals around town
Murals in La Jolla tend to sneak up on you and are pleasant surprises. Check out this site to find them all: Murals of La Jolla
Snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, surfing and beyond. The outdoors are huge in La Jolla, there’s so. much you can do and enjoy outside.
Even more things to do: Visit the Salk Institute for amazing architecture, check out the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, visit The Comedy Store for good laughs, book a Pop-Up Picnic to enjoy a premade picnic.
Be Sure to Photograph…
As a designer and photographer I tend to take pictures of just about everything. Here are some things from our trip to La Jolla I felt worth photographing, even if it’s just for us to remember and not for me to use on this blog.
Sea Lions & Harbor Seals
While you can find them in many coastal areas, La Jolla is known for their sea lions and seals.
Incredible landscaping & plant life
Especially if you live somewhere that you don’t have this kind of plant life – or you are just obsessed with the particular plant life that thrives in San Diego. I took more photos of cacti and plants than I will admit to.
Your hotel room
If it’s nice you’re going to want to remember it. We were fortunate to have an amazing ocean view room on our most recent trip which is certainly something I want to look back on.
Other fun details
Sometimes you’ll want to remember the little things. They may not be frame-worthy vacation photos but when you look back it will spark a memory or remind you of your trip.
There are so many things to do in La Jolla and this is just a small sample from my perspective. Hopefully this helps inspire your to-do list! Did I miss any La Jolla gems? Let me know in the comments.