This post may contain affiliate links for which we would earn a small commission at no cost to you. If you want to read more about it, check out our disclaimer.
La Jolla, California, also known as “the jewel” is a coastal town in Southern California known for its luxurious homes, seaside restaurants and beautiful beaches. It’s common to find luxury cars (I’m talking hundreds of thousands of dollars) throughout the village, and you’ll know you’re near the cove when you can smell sea lions a few blocks away.
Fun fact: Dr. Seuss lived in La Jolla from 1948 until his death in 1991. His children’s book, “The Lorax,” was inspired by a whimsical looking tree in Scripps Park. Unfortunately, the tree fell in 2019.
La Jolla happens to be one of our favorite places to take our family when they visit. A visit to the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, dinner at Duke’s and gelato at Bobboi Gelato. Our most favorite and very special memory in La Jolla was the birth of our daughter, Amelia. We love La Jolla so much, we actually had difficulty narrowing down our list to just 20 things!
1. Start your day with an award winning coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
Drink in your morning with a hot cup of coffee and a pastry. Bird Rock Coffee Roasters prides itself on high quality coffee beans and direct trade with farmers. It’s no surprise this popular roaster won Roaster of The Year in 2012. There are several locations within San Diego, however our favorite is in Bird Rock. Bird Rock is a quiet seaside neighborhood within La Jolla that is mostly residential with a single commercial strip with salons, boutiques and restaurants. Grab your coffee to-go and explore the main strip on La Jolla Blvd.
2. Hang out with wildlife at La Jolla Cove
The jewel of La Jolla is undoubtedly La Jolla Cove. When we have visitors, La Jolla Cove is almost always our first stop. At almost all times during the year, you’re sure to see sea lions and seals (sometimes hundreds). There’s almost always a baby sea lion or seal there as well. On any given day, these sea creatures are either (1) swimming, (2) sleeping in the sun or (3) barking at each other. What makes La Jolla Cove so unique is that you can actually get pretty close to the sea lions. (No touching though, please!)
While you’re at the cove, there are two small beaches where your kids can splash around or you can snorkel/dive from. The beaches aren’t large enough to spend the entire day, but sometimes sea lions will hang out there as well. If you also walk north up the hill, you’ll see where hundreds (maybe thousands) of birds hang out. You’ll also notice a few caves you can explore if you sea kayak around La Jolla (more on that later!).
The perfect time to visit La Jolla Cove is anytime during the day, really! However, we are suckers for sunsets here at Schloe Travels. You’re lucky that almost everywhere on the coast in San Diego, you’re due for a perfect sunset. However, at La Jolla Cove, you can watch the sun go down while being amongst wildlife, and then head on up to the commercial area for dinner.
P.S. No one tells you about the smell. You’ll know you’re at least a quarter mile away when you can smell the pungent odor of sea lions and seals. Although you’ll want to put a clothespin to your nose, visiting the wildlife in La Jolla Cove is my favorite thing to do in La Jolla.
3. Walk, drive, or bike to the top of Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
Mt. Soledad honors our nation’s veterans, living and deceased, from the Revolutionary War to present day. At 822 feet (the highest point in La Jolla), a large cross sits atop the mountain. Mt. Soledad offers breathtaking views of all of San Diego including Mexico to the south, beaches to the west and mountains to the east.
If you’re bringing kids, let them know 6 US Presidents are honored here at the Memorial– see if they can find them all! And if you do bike or walk up the mountain, there is a grassy area for you to have a picnic, relax, and take in the views.
4. Take a picture with the famous surf shack at Windansea Beach
In my opinion, the most beautiful beach in San Diego County is Windansea Beach, a smaller stretch of coastline in La Jolla. Because it is a smaller beach, it can often be crowded in the summer season. (Note: I have noticed that this beach is often visited by local high schoolers or young college kids which doesn’t always make it the most family friendly beach– although you definitely do still see families!) Windansea is, however, the most beautiful beach in my opinion.
Before you venture out with friends or family, check when high tide is for the day. The entire beach will be under water during that time making it inhabitable for beach goers!
While you’re visiting Windansea, make sure you check out the surf shack. It’s actually a recognized San Diego historical landmark. Andrew and I would come out here at sunset to get drone photography of the sunset, shack and surfers.
Windansea Beach is also known for its incredible surfing (see #20). You better be on your A game if you’re surfing Windansea!
If you’re visiting Windansea, parking is available on the side streets.
5. Glide through the sky at Torrey Pines Gliderport
For Andrew’s birthday one year, I surprised him with a paragliding adventure at Torrey Pines Gliderport. If you are an adventure seeker, DEFINITELY check this out! It is truly an amazing experience as you quite literally run off a 350 foot cliff (with an experienced pilot!) and soar over million dollar cliffside homes, Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course and Black’s Beach, the nude beach here in San Diego. The flight itself is about 20-25 minutes. Just writing this makes me want to do it again!
If you do decide to fly, I would suggest calling ahead to make sure the wind conditions are up to par for flying that day. They also do not take reservations. If you’re bringing family to watch your flight, the Cliffhanger Cafe is there for lunch. Your family can also observe or take part in falconry classes at the Gliderport.
6. Surround yourself with Southern California’s sea life at the Birch Aquarium
If you’re interested in seeing Southern California’s sea life up close, visit Birch Aquarium at Scripps. The aquarium is a perfect family friendly spot with multiple exhibits including our favorite exhibit, the Giant Kelp Forest which is two stories high. There is even a touch tide pool for the kids with sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea stars, sea cucumbers and lobsters!
P.S. There is also a “hidden swing” off the aquarium parking lot and up the hill that offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. For better directions, type in “Hidden Swing Ruette Nice La Jolla CA” into Google Maps. See #11 to find all of La Jolla’s secret swings!
7. Find your dream home and your own secluded beach off of Camino De La Costa
Between Windansea Beach and the Bird Rock neighborhood, you’ll find Camino Del La Costa. One of our favorite things to do in La Jolla is walk around these neighborhoods and dream of how the other half lives. While walking down Camino De La Costa, you’ll notice a few footpaths to either the beach or cliffside. We loved exploring these “hidden” pathways, and oftentimes, we would be the only ones there. Although probably not recommended due to the strong waves, we were able to let our dog off leash and run through the water.
8. Eat some tacos (and churros!) from the famous Taco Stand
The Taco Stand! I am SUCH a foodie, and I am SO in love with The Taco Stand. There are several locations throughout San Diego, but our favorite is in La Jolla. We’ve probably had every taco on their menu, but we HIGHLY recommend the Sonora Taco. It’s an angus steak taco with cheese, beans, guacamole, onions, cilantro and salsa– it melts in your mouth!
Beware, though. There is always a very long line during peak mealtimes (we once waited outside for an hour in the cold). We recommend either ordering ahead to pick up, or going at a less crowded time. Either way, you MUST eat at Taco Stand when you visit La Jolla!
9. Go for a hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Ahhh, beautiful Torrey Pines. Home to one of the world’s rarest pine trees, Pinus torreyana AKA the Torrey Pine, this state park sits high above the Pacific Ocean and offers several easy-moderate trails (sorry, no dogs or drones allowed). There is a long steep trek uphill to the trails from the parking lot (if the lot at the top is filled). After you’ve finished hiking, take the beach trail down to the Torrey Pines State Beach to swim or surf. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve boasts one of the most spectacular views in San Diego.
10. Go clothing-optional at Black’s Beach
Beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines, you’ll find Black’s Beach where you’ll find some of the best surfers in San Diego, as well as a few sunbathers and swimmers in the nude. After all, Black’s Beach is San Diego’s nude beach. After a day at Torrey Pines Gliderport, Andrew and I headed down the cliff (a trek not for the faint of heart) to check out Black’s Beach. The southern part of Black’s Beach requires clothing (marked off by a cone which is where we were headed), however you do have to walk through the clothing-optional part.
Black’s Beach is an absolutely stunning beach with cliffs just behind you. While sunbathing, you can watch the soaring hang gliders and para gliders above you. Black’s Beach is also known for its large surf and fast breaking waves. Advanced surfers only at this beach!
11. Swing from La Jolla’s Secret Swings
La Jolla’s Secret Swings.. there’s not much information out there about them, and some locals don’t even know about them. From what we’ve seen and heard, there are 3 swings.
If you read #6, you’ll know there’s one tree swing hidden near the parking lot of the Birch Aquarium. For better directions, type in “Hidden Swing Ruette Nice La Jolla CA” into Google Maps. You’ll see a man-made trail off the side of the parking lot that will lead you up the hill for a beautiful view.
There is also a second swing near the Scripps Institute. Park at La Jolla Shore Drive and Discovery Way. You’ll see a gate, but don’t follow that road. Immediately turn right at the gate and head up the hill through some trees for a pretty view!
The third secret swing is a tire swing from a palm tree in a residential neighborhood of La Jolla. We’ve never been there, but you’ll find its exact location here.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve seen them all!
12. Paddle out on a sea kayaking tour
One of our favorite water activities in San Diego was actually a gift for a sea kayak tour. Right from the very beginning, we had an excellent and knowledgeable tour guide from La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks. We set out from La Jolla Shores in our tandem kayak and made our way towards the Cove. During our 1.5 hour tour, our guide pointed out the “Sandcastle Mansion” on the coastline, fault lines in the cliffs and the tiny bright orange Garibaldi fish below us. We even got to kayak inside of sea caves! We enjoyed seeing Southern California from the water looking towards land instead of always the other way around!
13. Play a scenic round of golf at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course
Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course sits along the coast directly above the Pacific Ocean and offers two beautiful 18-hole courses. The golf course hosts the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open every year. Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course is nationally renowned to golfers, and many visit San Diego just to play this beautiful course. In 2021, Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course will be hosting the 2021 US Open Championship. For more information regarding reservations and tee times, click here.
14. Pretend you’re in Hawaii at Duke’s La Jolla
We had long heard about the delicious seafood at Duke’s. Located just up the hill from La Jolla Cove, Duke’s does not disappoint. This multi-tiered restaurant embodies Southern California and Hawaii’s surfing and beach lifestyle. With several locations in Hawaii and two in California, we were excited to finally enjoy some dinner with an ocean view. When making a reservation, ask to be seated on the patio if possible for the best views of the Cove. Also, we highly suggest the Hula Pie for dessert!
15. Get your shop on at Girard Ave.
Girard Ave and Prospect Street are the main streets in the central neighborhood of La Jolla. If you’re near the cove, you are wandering these streets already. La Jolla is San Diego’s luxury beach town, so you’ll either be able to (1) easily afford the luxury boutiques or (2) enjoy window shopping. We did a lot of window shopping! Regardless, Girard Avenue makes for an enjoyable promenade in an upscale neighborhood.
16. Wander through incredible art galleries
While shopping (or window shopping) in La Jolla’s central neighborhood, you’ll notice a few art galleries that are free to the public. Our favorite gallery is the National Geographic Fine Art Gallery that displays some really beautiful wildlife photographs. The Peter Lik Gallery, a nature photographer, is also incredible. If only we could afford some of his photographs for our home! For a list of other great galleries in La Jolla, check out this page.
17. Enjoy some delicious gelato from Bobboi Gelato
Whether you’ve just finished watching sea lions play on a hot day or you’ve enjoyed a meal at Duke’s, head to Bobboi Gelato. Although there’s almost always a line when we visit (it goes quick!), this small gelateria will fill your dessert needs with traditional and nontraditional gelato flavors. And who doesn’t love eating gelato with those tiny spoons?!
18. Relax on the beach at La Jolla Shores
Come enjoy La Jolla’s largest beach with the calmest waves. La Jolla Shores is a mile long beach that is typically filled with families. There are public restrooms, showers, volleyball nets, fire pits, a boat ramp and also a grassy area to cook out. You’ll notice surf classes and kayaking tours (like the one we took from La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks) take off from this point as well. Remember to bring your sunscreen because the Southern California sun is no joke!
19. Eat the best french toast we’ve ever had at Shore Rider
After a morning surf lesson or kayak tour at La Jolla Shores, head to Shore Rider, our favorite chill spot for breakfast. Just steps from the beach, we came across this restaurant after our kayaking, and we’re so glad we did! Andrew and I absolutely loved Shore Rider as it reminded us of the beachside shoes-optional restaurants in Australia. On the outside patio, we dined on french toast, topped with berries and powdered sugar. Our only regret is it was gone too soon!
20. Surf some waves at La Jolla Shores (or if you are really good, Black’s Beach and Windansea)
If you’re a “kook” (surfer lingo for newbie) interested in surfing in La Jolla, we suggest checking out La Jolla Shores for rentals and surf classes. The crowd here isn’t competitive, and you’ll feel comfortable falling off for your board for the umpteenth time just trying to stand up. Now, if you’re advanced and aren’t afraid of local competition, you’ll want to check out both Black’s Beach and Windansea Beach. Keep in mind some locals are pretty territorial over their waves, so just follow good surf etiquette.
It’s safe to say there are a lot of things to do, places to explore and food to eat in La Jolla. We actually had to narrow our list down to get our top 20. A beachside neighborhood in San Diego, you’ll get the best of both worlds with casual and relaxed beaches, as well as upscale shopping and dining.
We hope you love La Jolla as much as we do!
If you are looking for more things to do in California check out: The 5 Best Things To Do In Windansea Beach | La Jolla, California, Fall Getaway in Big Bear Lake, California, Lassen Volcanic National Park: California’s Forgotten National Park, and The Best Things to do in San Luis Obispo.