I think most San Diegans would agree that the two most unique spots in La Jolla are the La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Underwater Park. You could spend hours, days, and even months here without getting bored. Living here, I’ve had some time to sufficiently explore both, so read on for some advice on how to explore La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Underwater Park.
The La Jolla Cove is one of my favorite spots in San Diego. When I came for my first visit, the cove and Sunset Cliffs were the two areas that made me fall immediately in love with America’s Finest City. The views are spectacular, the wildlife is ever-present, and there are enough restaurants to satiate any culinary desires.
The cove is beautiful no matter how you want to experience it. You can feel free pop down onto the sand in many different spots to wade in the waves, or you can stay on the cliffs and stroll on the sidewalks. The grassy cliffs are great for picnics or just watching the sun go down over the water.
“What do you see down there?”
“Just another world.”
This was how the La Jolla Underwater Park was casually explained to me by my friend before he took me diving. If you’re ready and willing to get into the water, the cove itself is home to a remarkable 6,000 acre underwater park. There is no shortage of wildlife in this park. Protected areas are sectioned off by buoys, so no fishing within. If you are feeling adventurous, head out into the water to explore a 500-foot underwater canyon, kelp forests, and schools of Garibaldi fish.
If you’re not ready to hop in the ocean, the good news is you can see most of the wildlife from the land–if you know the right views.
What can I see?
Depending on the time of year, your own desire for adventure, and method of exploration you can see a remarkable variety of sea creatures, kelp forests, and caves. It’s even great for birdwatchers! Throughout my years in La Jolla I’ve seen leopard sharks (don’t worry, they’re docile!), massive schools of fish, dolphins, and even a baby gray whale.
Winter is one of the most active times as the leopard sharks are mating, gray and humpback whales are migrating about a mile off of the coast, and the surf is kicking. Of course, you’ll probably want a wetsuit if you’re swimming at this time. Late spring can be equally exciting as the seals begin to birth their pups and pile onto the beach like adorable little blubber burritos. And in the summer, you’ll benefit from our most California-y weather. This mean you’ll probably be willing to stay out a bit longer.
This small beach is frequently home to heavy population of seals. Originally built for human children, the seals decided to co-opt the space and raise their kids in the area. Humans and seals share the beach, so you’re even able to get up close and personal (no petting though!). There are a lot of interesting stories about this place, ask a local!
The word “shark” can certainly cause alarm for visitors to the cove. These skittish bottom feeders are totally docile and incredibly cool to watch! Come to the cove from June-January for optimal viewing of leopard sharks. They are typically not hard to find and pretty easy to see from the surface!
Because of the massive 500-foot drop in La Jolla Underwater Park, it is not uncommon to see whales off of the coast of La Jolla cove. The best time for this activity is the winter because gray and humpback whales are on their migration route from the Arctic towards Mexico. Your best bet is stake out some high ground like Mt. Soledad.
Where do I go?
Luckily, the La Jolla cove isn’t a massive area, so it’s pretty easy to figure out without any planning. Parking isn’t always the easiest in the area, and in the summer it’s easy to get lured down into a traffic jam on Coast Blvd by Google maps. Do yourself a favor and pay the $6 bucks for a parking garage, or look in the neighborhoods near Torrey Pines Road for free street parking. The walk isn’t too bad! If you’re choosing to check out La Jolla Shores first, street parking is the way to go down there.
Ways to Explore
You’ve made it this far! Let’s figure out the best way to see everything you want to see. Keep in mind your own comfort level when considering these options. There is plenty to see whether you want to explore by land or by sea. You more likely to have a good time and experience more if you feel safe!
With so much to see, why walk when you can bike? If you’re a landlubber, but want to make the most of your time this is the way to go. There are plenty of bike shops in the area offering rentals, but why not make it easier on yourself and go electric? The California coastline is surprisingly hilly, so you won’t be sorry!
Again, the best way to see what you want to see is to take a tour. Make sure to do some research on which is the right one for you!
Paddleboarding is how I first got out on the water in La Jolla Cove. Kayaking and paddleboarding are both great ways for those who want to be on the water, but would prefer to stay on top of it. You’re likely to pass a few seals, sea lions, and maybe even some dolphins. If you look down into the ocean, some days you can even see fish and leopard sharks swimming below you. My favorite place to grab a kayak from is Everyday California. They’ll hook you up with a map, 2 hours of kayak time, and a life vest for a reasonable price.
I’d paddleboard if you’re looking to do a few free dives, and I’d kayak if you want to stay above the water.
For top swimmers, snorkeling could definitely be the way to go. You’ll definitely get up close and personal with the wildlife, and you’ll get a great workout! Don’t forget to bring a wetsuit! The water stays cold even in the summer.
Enjoy exploring this beautiful area! Cheers!
Author: Scott Nickley
Scott Nickley is a writer, actor, cyclist, runner, and cafe loiterer living in Los Angeles. You can find his work on the Fly Rides website and find him in the flesh following all cycling laws in your nearest bike lane.