La Jolla translates into English as The Jewel. And this Southern California beach city certainly lives up to its name! Among the best things to do in La Jolla, CA, you’ll find some of the Golden State’s most beautiful beaches and finest outdoor activities.
As you roam around La Jolla, don’t miss out on attractions like the Cave Store and Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial as well as, of course, checking out La Jolla Shores Beach. The top tourist attractions in La Jolla are made for nature and ocean lovers. Dive beneath the ocean waves at the Underwater Park or soar high above the action at Torrey Pines Gliderport.
Not sure what to do in La Jolla? Get a head start by exploring this guide to the best places to visit in La Jolla, CA.
Best places to visit in La Jolla, CA
La Jolla Shores Park
La Jolla Shores Park is a mile-long crescent-shaped beach. It’s one of the most popular beaches in La Jolla for families and surfing. The beach is one of the city’s calmest, making it perfect for sunbathing and swimming.
As La Jolla Shores Park is one of the largest beaches in La Jolla, you’ll easily be able to find space to enjoy your time. The beach is also one of the few places in La Jolla that offers surf lessons.
Many travelers also enjoy stand-up paddleboarding, scuba diving, and kayaking in the calm waters. Beach bonfires are permitted at night, too. Grab some marshmallows and turn up the music for a night around the campfire.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Think that if you’ve seen one aquarium, you’ve seen them all? Think again. Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is a kid-friendly museum in an adult-friendly setting.
The Birch Aquarium is built high above the cliffs facing the Pacific Ocean. It’s the perfect place to enjoy time outdoors for feature events like weddings or have a fun day out with the children at the petting pools.
Indoors, the Birch Aquarium features tanks of all sizes promoting the science of oceanography and hoping to inspire a younger generation to take over the baton. Whatever age you are, come and enjoy the many habitats and you’ll leave mesmerized by the amazing life under the sea.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Looking for a bit of fun on the wild side? The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is three-square miles of wilderness in a coastal state park.
There are many hiking trails throughout the park—some easier than others! No matter what you prefer, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views along the rugged cliffs and throughout the piney forest.
You can enjoy many outdoor activities at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. There are lagoons for bird watchers, tide pools for beachcombers, and pristine beaches for sand lovers.
Ellen Browning Scripps Park
Head north on Coast Boulevard and you’ll find Ellen Browning Scripps Park. This park is a field of velvety green. So much so that AAA Magazine has said that it’s the most photographed spot in La Jolla and San Diego!
The wide-open space is perfect for picnics, pick-up sports, yoga groups, and so much more. There’s also a shoreline path with small beach huts, or belvederes, allowing you to pause and enjoy the ocean view.
Fun fact: the trees in the park have a very close resemblance to the Truffula trees in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and may have been the influence. Dr. Seuss was a resident of La Jolla after all!
Located in the Windansea neighborhood, you’ll find Windansea Beach, both of which are named after the oceanfront hotel. As the name suggests, the area is home to both the wind and the sea.
Be wary of swimming in the waters of Windansea Beach as the riptides are very strong. When the wind is blowing in the right direction, the surf starts to pump. These aren’t beginner waves so make sure you know what you’re doing before heading out to hang ten.
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For those looking to relax on the beach, there are hidden coves to sit back and read a book, watch the surfers, or just take a nap in the cool breeze.
Map and Atlas Museum
Paper maps and atlases may be becoming a thing of the past but knowing how to use one and appreciating the art that goes into making one is something to be admired. At the Map and Atlas Museum, you’ll enter a world of history just waiting to be discovered.
Maps have changed over time and to this day are skewed to the political purposes of the time. At the Map and Atlas Museum, you’ll see how the world has been mapped out over the course of history, how it’s been understood, and the biases of different perspectives.
The Map and Atlas Museum also offers activities for the children. Take a step back in time and see the world through a 2D lens!
Planning an outdoor wedding? Cuvier Park is the place along the La Jolla coastline. It’s so popular for weddings that it’s even been nicknamed ‘The Wedding Bowl’!
Cuvier Park is a small and secluded grassy knoll, just above sea level and just below street level. Views of the ocean are unobstructed and the views of the town and cars above are almost nonexistent.
If you’ve ever dreamed of tying the knot on a sunny day with a beautiful blue ocean backdrop, The Wedding Bowl should be at the top of your list.
Not planning any nuptials? You might just have to become a wedding crasher to enjoy this unique location and spectacular view!
The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Do you get tired of going to art museums that only have a small exhibition of modern art? If you love modern art, The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is for you.
For the last three years, the art museum has been closed for a multimillion-dollar restoration, expansion, and renovation. It’s now re-open to the public and welcoming modern art lovers to revel in its newfound glory.
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The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego only features art from the 1950s onwards as well as multicultural art, primarily from Mexico. You’ll find it one block back from the beach on Prospect Street.
The grassy park on the shores of La Jolla Shores Beach is Kellogg Park. It’s a beautifully maintained beachfront park with ample space to spread out. This park is certainly one of the best places to go in La Jolla for an enjoyable afternoon.
Kellog Park features several excellent playgrounds for the kids and a large water fountain feature. If you’ve brought Fido long, there’s also an enclosed four-acre dog park where you can let your dog run off-leash!
During the summer, Kellogg Park often hosts public events including music festivals and zoo exhibits. The brick paved boardwalk circles the park providing ample space for walkers and joggers alike to enjoy local life.
La Jolla Tide Pools
There are a bunch of tide pools in La Jolla. Some of the best La Jolla Tide Pools are already mentioned at La Jolla Shores Beach, La Jolla Cove, and Windansea Beach, but there are more!
Explore Dike Rock, Shell Beach, South Casa Beach, and False Point. Check the tide times before you head out so that you don’t miss anything and bring the family for a jaunt across the rocks.
Discover crabs, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, and many more. If you’re planning a trip during the winter months, these are the locals’ favorite months for tide pool hunting.
Remember that you can’t take anything with you: The La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve prohibits the removal of any marine object from these areas.
The Cave Store
From the front, this ramshackle wooden shingled house might not appear to be anything special. But step inside The Cave Store and discover that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.
The Cave Store sells the usual trinkets and necessary oceanfront gear. Begun by Gustave Shulz, the key attraction at this store is the tunnel.
The tunnel leads to the amazing Sunny Jim Cave. You can take a self-guided tour of approximately 15 minutes to explore it, or you can also arrive at Sunny Jim Cave by kayak and then exit via the tunnel staircase. It’s an authentic and unique La Jolla nature experience.
La Jolla Underwater Park
An underwater park is so unique it’s hard to picture what it entails. That’s why La Jolla Underwater Park is a must-experience La Jolla adventure.
The underwater ecological reserve is a whopping 6,000-acres and is sectioned off by buoys to prevent accidental fishing inside the boundaries. Under the water, you’ll find kelp forests, fish schools, leopard sharks, and maybe even a baby whale.
La Jolla also offers a 500-foot underwater canyon to explore. You can rent snorkeling gear and wetsuits in La Jolla to check out the undersea park.
Keep in mind: the water in the La Jolla Underwater Park tends to be chilly—even in the summer months! So, wrap up and dive into this incredible marine reserve.
There seems to be an entire culture in southern California of hidden swings. Most websites may only share one of them in La Jolla, but there are really three!
To find each Hidden Swing, you need to strap on your hiking boots. At the end, you can enjoy a great view of the ocean from the seat. Two of them are wooden swings while the third is a tire swing.
You can find a swing near the Scripps Institute between La Jolla Shore Dr. and Expedition Way. There’s another swing close to the Birch Aquarium that you’ll find often posted on Instagram.
The third hidden swing is the tire swing. The hike there is more difficult and the slope under the swing is dangerous if muddy and slippery. You can find it by hiking along the Coast Walk Trail between Prospect Place and Torrey Pines Road.
No matter which swing you find—or if you find all three—enjoy the ride and the view!
Torrey Pines Gliderport
Do you enjoy being up in the air for a bird’s eye view? Torrey Pines Gliderport offers paragliding and hang-gliding off the coastal cliffs of Black’s Beach in La Jolla.
Imagine soaring out over the ocean, being able to see the dolphins playing and the whales beneath the surface. Swing back around for a glimpse of the city skyline from above.
To enjoy this breathtaking adventure at Torrey Pines Gliderport, you’ll be set back $175 for a tandem paragliding flight and $225 for a tandem hang-gliding flight.
Either way, you can’t go wrong. With an experienced flyer by your side, you can soar in the wonder of the life unfolding below.
Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial
During all the fun and play in La Jolla, it’s always good to remember why we are granted that liberty and freedom. Visit one of the more unique monuments in La Jolla: the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial.
The Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial is unique because it’s the only one to commemorate the veterans from the Revolutionary War onwards with a photo, whether they’re alive or deceased. There’s a small parking lot if the walk uphill is too much of a stretch.
There’s a weekly veteran honor ceremony and admission is always free. Walk along the 11 walls of plaques and remember the sacrifice made as you take in the 360-degree panoramic ocean view of La Jolla. This really is one of the best places to visit in La Jolla!
Children’s Pool La Jolla
It wasn’t the intended purpose, but if you love all things seals, then you must visit the Children’s Pool La Jolla. A sea wall was constructed in 1932 to prevent the waves from crashing. The wall allows children a safe place to swim in the Pacific Ocean.
The local seals discovered the safe haven and promptly moved in. In addition to the sea wall, you’ll find several large rocks that the seals love to sunbathe on.
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Swimming is technically allowed at the Children’s Pool but is discouraged due to the number of seals and corresponding quality of the water.
Even if you don’t take a dip, it’s worth the trip to see Seal Rock behind the sea wall.
La Jolla Cove
The real draw to La Jolla Cove is the seven sea caves. The cove is small, but it’s a deep one. There’s also a small beach where you can see local Garibaldi fish strutting their bright colors under the water’s surface.
One of the sea caves, Sunny Jim’s Cave, is accessible by land. If you finish up at Sunny Jim’s Cave, you can climb back through the tunnel to the cave store!
The other caves can only be reached by sea. If you want to explore under the water, there’s kayaking and snorkeling gear for rent as well as tours available.
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If you wish to stay on land, Clam’s Cave is the one cave that’s visible. Enjoy views of the sea lions and seals sunning themselves along the rocks.