La Jolla’s Seven Sea Caves
The Seven Sea Caves of La Jolla are a remarkable creation and some of the best in Southern California. The seven sea caves in La Jolla are perched within a million year old sandstone sea, and as the North facing cliffs eroded we were left with this natural wonder. This type of cave system is called a Littoral Cave. These 7 unique sea caves that are filled with lots of local history. The most common way to access all seven caves is by snorkeling or kayaking.
The Westernmost cave of the La Jolla Cove is the Clam Cave, which is a cavern with multiple entrances and exits. The main entrances make the cavern a popular spot for both kayakers and snorkelers. The position of the cave in La Jolla Cove helps keep it protected from larger surf conditions. If you have rented equipment, you must be on a tour to explore the cavern. Join us on our tours with our expert guides to take you safely through.
The most famous of our 7 sea caves is Sunny Jim’s Cave. It is the only sea cave that has both land and sea access. The cave was originally owned by Gustav Shultz, who owned the home above the cave in the early 1900’s. To allow easier access to the cave, he hired 2 workers to carve out 138 steps through his living room floor to the back side of the cave, which took the men almost two years. The cave was completed in 1903 and became one of La Jolla’s largest tourist attractions. Around 200 visitors a day would pay 50 cents to enter. After Gustov passed away the mafia used Sunny Jim’s cave to funnel whiskey to San Diego during prohibition.
Arches is the 2nd deepest sea cave on the Californian Coastline measuring at about 680 ft deep. The most extensive cave in La Jolla cove, considered two of the original seven sea caves of La Jolla. After many years of erosion, the two caves are now connected with only the arch remaining between the two. Filled with different corridors and narrow passages throughout, this area can very hazardous due to active erosion, and is best viewed from water.
Shopping cart is a well known local spot for attracting the Spiny Lobster population, and was famous with local restaurants for trapping during the limited lobster season of October to March. Local restaurants would advertise the local delicacy as the bigger lobsters caught in the Ecological Reserve. There are no longer any traps within the Marine Protected Area, but you can still find many traps outside the area during lobster season. The Shopping Cart Cave being the only true west facing cave, it’s the best place to find lost items at sea due to local underwater currents. Our guides have even found cameras, sandals, and sunglasses while out on the water, so it’s important to keep all belongings securely attached!
Before the railroad boom of the 1850’s, a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Hathaway, were married in Los Angeles. After the ceremony, the couple took a stagecoach several hours to La Jolla for the seclusion of a hidden gem. The beautiful bride was looking for sea shells near the sea caves when the tide suddenly came in. Her newlywed husband heard a loud scream as she was swept away by the strong current. While searching for her, her brother noticed the far east cave where she was last seen. There he saw a striking resemblance her wearing her white wedding dress. The waves crashing on the cave and the calcite-coated sea anemones looked like the wreath she was wearing the day she lost her life. Since then, the cave has been named “White Lady” in her memory.
The smaller cave next to White Lady is called the Little Sister cave, similar to the shape of the White Lady but much smaller in size. In fact, it’s the smallest of the seven sea caves and it can often be difficult to spot. The best way to see this cave is on the water, with our knowledgeable guides to highlight the locations of the caves.
Grey Whales are one of the world’s largest mammals, at a length of 40-50ft, weighing in at 30-40 tons — about the size of a school bus! They are baleen feeders, using teeth made from a material similar to human hair to filter and to allow the smaller organisms to pass into their mouths. The Gray Whales were almost hunted to extinction in the 1800’s for their blubber until the International Whaling Commission banned the hunting of these animals in 1946 and their population has recovered, although not near the pre-whaling amounts.
They spend most of their time feeding off the Alaskan coast, but during the winter months they start the 12,430 miles round-trip to Baja California for mating season. The shallow lagoons in Mexico provide shelter for the mammals while they strengthen the calves for the migration back to the nutrient rich waters in the north.
The Grey Whales follow the Scripps Canyon through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve as a navigation route, kind of like the I-5. The depths of the canyon provide food for the whales as they often use their tail to stir up the sediment for the whales to filter feed off plankton. Grey Whales are a spectacular experience to see on the kayaks, and it’s a non-invasive way to witness these gentle giants swim by. Larger motorized vessels create noise pollution that can disturb these mammals.
Fun Fact: Whale’s milk is rich in fat, helping the calves build up weight for the journey to Alaska. Once the calves are strong enough to make the journey back to Alaska, the migration route becomes closer to shore, making La Jolla a unique location to see these animals up close.
La Jolla Cove is the destination for one of the world’s largest migration of Leopard Sharks. Leopard Sharks are named for the prominent spots on their back. As year round residents of La Jolla, they usually reside in the deeper waters feeding off squid and crustaceans, but in the summer/fall months pregnant females will migrate to the warmer shallow waters in La Jolla Shores. This helps during their gestation period to produce 4 to 33 pups, as the warmer water acts as an incubation for the mothers.
Leopard sharks are very timid creatures and will swim away from noise such as splashing. The best way to view these animals is by snorkeling above them as they swim by.
Fun Fact: The Leopard Sharks can reach lengths of 5 feet, and are completely harmless to humans. They are found all over the globe, but the migration in La Jolla is known to be one of the largest migration of these animals in the world.
California Sea Lion
The California Sea Lion is one of the most iconic mammals of La Jolla Cove. These marine mammals are playful and have distinct personalities. The sea lions are very social animals, often huddled up on each other on the rocks near the sea caves. They huddle in groups to regulate body temperature. Most can usually be seen sunbathing during the day and hunting throughout the night. The primary diet of the Californian Sea Lion consists of a variety of small fish and squid. The juvenile pups are curious animals, swimming most of day to learn their environment and interacting with kayakers and swimmers.
The females can reach the size of 5.5 ft weighing in at 110-600 pounds while the males are about 7.25 ft ranging from 440-2,200 pounds. The demographic of the sea lions in La Jolla Cove are almost all female, with a few males and one very large alpha, locally known as “Bruno”.
Fun Fact: A group of sea lions is called a raft. California Sea Lions can reach a depth of up to 900 ft, and the deepest recorded dive was 1,760 ft! They are able to perform these dives by slowing their heart rate for diving about 10 minutes.
Harbor seals are an endangered species in California and are protected by both state and federal law. In the La Jolla Cove we spot them by the Children’s Pool, sunbathing on the sandy beach or swimming around the area. Their primary diet consists of a variety of small fish and shellfish.
They are often confused with the sea lion, but are different in many ways. The harbor seals are better suited for life in the water, more hydro-dynamic and heavier with smaller flippers. They will sometimes sunbathe on the sandy beach, although you will never see them on the rocks because their bodies cannot climb over the rocks. They do not have ear lobes like the sea lion, but have holes for better hearing underwater.
Fun Facts: The Harbor Seal’s pups are born instinctively knowing how to swim only a few hours after birth!
The common dolphin is a frequent visitor in the La Jolla Ecological Reserve. The average size of an adult is about 8 ft at 300 pounds. They are highly social and intelligent animals that swim in pods consisting anywhere from 6 to over 1,000 dolphins!
By utilizing many different vocals, they communicate with other dolphins and use echolocation to discover underwater topography and uncover potential threats. Dolphins use a very complex hierarchy based on a variety of factors such as age and size. The social dynamic of dolphins is seen by their behavior and their playful interactions. Using the highly developed social behavior of the pods, they will herd large schools of fish into tight balls for eating. They’ll typically feed on a variety of different fish and squid here in La Jolla, often seen near our kelp forest and Scripps Canyon during feeding and even closer to the beach for breeding. They will often travel in pods of 8-12 dolphins, occasionally with sea lions tagging along to benefit from the bait balls formed by the pods.
Fun Facts: The common dolphins aren’t a migratory species and live in La Jolla year round, only to swim to other areas when food is sparse, but they will always return home after feeding.
The La Jolla Marine Protected Area, also known as the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park, encompasses 6,000 acres of underwater life. Starting from the Seven Sea Caves to the south, it extends westward past Seal Beach, reaching as far North as the Scripps Pier.
The wildlife diversity in La Jolla Cove is made possible by the support of 4 distinct micro-habitats. Each habitat has unique characteristics that give different animals the resources to thrive and call our underwater park their home.
The unique shape of La Jolla Cove protects much of the area from larger surf, making it an ideal environment for wildlife to raise their young. And since all this diverse wildlife being protected, La Jolla Cove is a perfect location for an ocean kayak adventure!
Fun Fact: Only 2% of the world’s ocean water is protected by State and Federal Law, making La Jolla one of the few places to see protected wildlife in their natural habitat.