A photo of La Jolla Shores beach from the side of a cliff. The sky is overcast and gray.

What to Do in La Jolla for a Day

Interested in spending a wondrous day in La Jolla? You’ve come to the right place to learn what to do in La Jolla for a day!

If you’re searching for the next getaway location for a quick but rich 1-day trip, definitely consider visiting La Jolla.

La Jolla is a seaside community in San Diego, California, that experiences a huge influx of people once summer comes around, and for good reason. The weather is generally good throughout the year, but summer is when you’ll be able to experience most of its attractions and activities.

Keep in mind that La Jolla is packed with various gorgeous locations, beaches, attractions, historical sights, and a lot more, so planning a short trip can be difficult.

For example, the San Diego Zoo will take an entire day due to its size and number of exhibits, so you should generally look to visit it if you’re staying for longer than a day.

However, there’s a lot more that La Jolla offers; here’s a detailed overview of what to do in La Jolla for a day.

La Jolla Attractions

1. La Jolla Shores Beach

A photo of La Jolla Shores Beach. The sun is setting on the horizon, and there is one sufer emerging from the calm waters of La Jolla shores.

Because of the sheer number of La Jolla attractions, your best bet would be to create a personalized itinerary to visit as much as possible throughout your day.

Although La Jolla is best enjoyed over a longer period, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to feel and experience at least a part of it during your 1-day stay.

There’s no skipping La Jolla Shores Beach; it’s the prime destination for beginner surfers, casual beachgoers, and sunbathers in La Jolla. 

This gorgeous beach features warm, soft sand across 1 mile. There’s plenty of room for everyone, but parking may be limited, especially during weekends, so make sure to get there early.

Swimming is arguably the most popular activity here due to the gentle waves and warm waters.

Right next to the beach, you’ll find a playground and a very large grassy area - Kellogg Park. This location is excellent if you have kids since there are plenty of activities they can participate in under parental supervision.

There are also a couple of convenience stores and restaurants in the business district of La Jolla Shores that are within walking distance of the beach. Finally, if you have a dog with you, you’ll be able to bring them to the beach before 9 AM and after 6 PM.

2. La Jolla Cove

A California Sea Lion in La Jolla laying on top of a rock on its back by the beach.

Visiting La Jolla Cove won’t take you longer than 30-60 minutes, but it’s very much worth your time. The cove is small and has a small beach next to it as well, but it’s what’s in and around the cove that attracts hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors each day.

La Jolla Cove is home to sea lions that love to sunbathe on the rocks. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park is also close by, so make sure to pay La Jolla Cove a visit.

3. La Jolla Underwater Park

La Jolla Underwater Park is an area accessible either from La Jolla Shores Beach or La Jolla Cove. It presents a protected marine area packed with marine animals, including leopard sharks, rays, kelp, orange garibaldi (the state fish of California), and more.

The best way to experience this area is by scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding.

However, something that will leave you breathless is seeing hundreds of leopard sharks incubating and ‘dancing’ in the water. Don’t worry - leopard sharks are completely harmless and are used to being in the presence of humans.

4. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve lies on the border of Del Mar and La Jolla. It got its name from the Torrey Pine Tree that’s strewn across the entire area and is a pretty rare piece of flora.

This is the best area for hiking and a leisurely stroll through one of the best-looking natural areas in La Jolla.

The views are also absolutely incredible and, if you’re lucky, you may even see the annual migrations of whales and dolphins. Be mindful of the fact that this is a ‘reserve’, meaning many endangered animals and rare plants live there.

You’ll only be able to bring water with you (food is not permitted). Also, dogs are prohibited from entering the reserve.

5. Children's Pool

Aerial image of Children's Pool in La Jolla. There are California sea lions laying on the sand.

Despite its name, this area is no longer safe for children or adults to swim in. Instead, it’s home to hundreds of seals who spend their days basking in the sun, lying in the sand, and wobbling their way to the water.

It’s not uncommon for people who are visiting the Children’s Pool to sit for hours just watching the seals go about their day.

You will be able to take a walk on the sea wall (don’t bring toddlers and very young children as the walking area is often slippery due to the waves crashing onto it) and get an even better view of the seals - if the swells cooperate.

6. Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Did you know that Dr. Seuss lived and died in La Jolla? In fact, the windblown trees that live and grow in the Ellen Browning Scripps Park are what influenced the Truffula trees in The Lorax! There’s a lot of history surrounding this park, and it’s one of the most gorgeous spots overlooking a vast, open ocean.

There are plenty of activities to do in the park, including having picnics, playing frisbee or catch, taking your dog(s) for a walk, doing yoga, or just lying on the grass.

Boomer Beach and Shell Beach are also very close so you can easily go down to them from the park. Definitely worth spending some of your time relaxing there.

7. Scripps Pier

Scripps Pier in San Diego. The sun is setting behind the pier and there is nobody in the calm waters of La Jolla.

If you’re up for seeing one of the world’s biggest working piers, then take a visit to Scripps Pier. This pier helps marine scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography understand the changes that happen on a regular basis in the Pacific Ocean. It also aids them in researching & studying all kinds of marine life.

Most people visit Scripps Pier for photography opportunities, including taking photos for Instagram or professional photos.

You generally won’t be allowed to walk on the pier but, if you get lucky when there’s a full moon out, you’ll be able to sign up for a Full Moon Pier Walk in the Birch Aquarium.

8. Birch Aquarium

Speaking of Birch Aquarium, it’s a stunning place that your kids (or yourself) will find truly breathtaking. Hundreds of families specifically book a stay in La Jolla so they can visit the Birch Aquarium and give their kids something unforgettable.

There are more than 60 fish and invertebrate habitats in the aquarium, ranging from species that live in the Pacific Northwest all the way to Mexico.

However, it’s not all about sightseeing here; there’s a lot of new stuff to learn as well, such as about the earth, climate, and ocean discoveries made by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. You’ll also be able to play around with a few hands-on exhibits as well.

9. Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach is primarily populated by locals, but if you’re a surfer and are looking for some gnarlier, bigger, and faster waves - this beach will do it.

The beach itself is quite scenic and there usually is a small patch of sand for non-surfers, but it isn’t always available due to the tides.

Additionally, you’ll be able to take some awesome photos in the iconic WindanSea Shack (that was built in 1946 and rebuilt a few times after).

10. Take a Tour and Other Activities

Whale watching in La Jolla, California. A whale's tale is pictured rising out of the ocean. The rest of the whale is out of view, underwater.

San Diego (and specifically La Jolla) is home to many different types of tours and water activities. Some are relaxing and take a few hours, while others are adrenaline-packed and can be exhausting if you’re not physically prepared.

But it’s all great fun! Here are a couple of things you can do in La Jolla that isn’t just sightseeing or visiting attractions:

  • Kayak Tours: Kayaking is a very popular activity across La Jolla’s beaches due to mostly calm waters and incredible sights. Kayak tours generally last for 90 minutes and it’s available throughout most of the year during the day. If you’re a beginner or want to learn kayaking, taking kayak tours is the best way to do so.
  • Snorkeling Tours: What better way to see what’s happening under the sea than by going snorkeling? Snorkeling tours will let you watch marine animals swim around and you’ll also be able to hang out with the rest of the group. Snorkeling tours last for 2 hours which is plenty of time to see the ‘depths’. Bring an underwater camera to document your experience as well!
  • Kayak Whale Watching Tours: Get to experience these gentle marine giants up close and personal by signing up for a kayak whale-watching tour! We promise it’s a lot less dangerous than it sounds because whales are not aggressive toward humans and kayakers always stay at a far enough distance. Keep in mind that sightings are not guaranteed but they most often happen from the end of November to the beginning of March. Most tours last for 2 hours and, if the conditions are right (and luck is on your side), you’ll get to see these spectacular animals in action.
  • Standup Paddleboards: Experience the thrill of learning how to use your standup paddleboard by renting one and visiting some of La Jolla’s best beaches. Standup paddleboards have been around for a long time, originally beginning as a sport & tradition in ancient Hawaiian times. Nowadays, it’s immensely popular among people of all ages because of how easy it is to learn. It also gives you a new way to experience the sea, plus it’s generally very affordable ($35 for 2 hours).
  • Surf Camp for Kids: If you have children who are eager to learn how to surf and make some new friends along the way, why not sign them up for a surf camp? Surfing camps are located on the best La Jolla beaches that exhibit calm waves that are the prime targets for surfing students. A couple of licensed instructors will be in charge of a group of kids (5-15 kids that can swim per group in most cases) and will go through all the hoops to ensure your kids learn to surf properly.

  • Conclusion

    The best way to enjoy everything La Jolla has to offer is by visiting for a couple of days. This lets you visit all kinds of attractions, beaches, and amenities that you’d otherwise potentially skip because of the lack of time.

    However, even if you’re visiting for a short time, knowing what to do in La Jolla for a day will help you plan the trip accordingly. While you probably will have to choose just a few attractions from a selection of dozens, there’s no doubt that the one day you have will be spent in the best way possible.

    The truth is, La Jolla has a little bit of everything for everyone. There are places where kids will have the time of their lives and where adults can experience the thrill of watersports. Whatever you choose will be worth it in the long run because of the unforgettable memories you’ll form.

    Enjoy your stay!

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