The 33 Best Things To Do In La Jolla: 2024 Guide

La Jolla is a beautiful coastal city that's worth exploring. Here's what we recommend doing while you're there.
April 18, 2024
One of the things you can do in La Jolla, California

La Jolla is one of the most naturally beautiful coastal cities in California, and it’s definitely a place you should visit if you’re in the area. And despite it not being a very large town, there’s plenty to do! 

This list of the best things to do in La Jolla will give you plenty of options for your trip. No matter what your hobbies are, there will certainly be something for you.

1. La Jolla Shores Beach

La Jolla Shores Beach

If you’re going to La Jolla, heading down to the beach is a must. La Jolla Shores Beach is a wide and sandy beach that’s perfect for swimming and sunbathing.

You can also catch some gentle waves if you like to surf. La Jolla Shores Beach is a great spot for beginner surfing lessons, offering you a chance to ride some manageable waves while you learn.

Adjacent to the beach you’ll find Kellogg Park, a nice area with a playground and grassy spots where you can relax or have a picnic. You can easily spend a few hours here alternating between the beach and the park.

2. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Experiencing the beauty of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the best things to do in La Jolla, California. This 2,000-acre reserve is a true gem, dedicated to preserving the rare Torrey Pine tree. You’ll also find dramatic cliffs, pine forests, sandstone canyons, and a pristine beach in the reserve as well.

You don’t have to be an expert hiker to enjoy this area. There are well-maintained trails for all levels that offer incredible ocean views. As you walk, you’ll feel the ocean breeze, smell the fragrant pines, and be able to see the stunning vistas.

3. Children’s Pool Beach

Aerial view of Children's Pool Beach

Children’s Pool Beach is a unique spot that was originally built to create a safe swimming area for kids. But it’s not just the kids who’ve taken a liking to this beach. Over the years, seals and sea lions have claimed the area as their own!

These marine mammals are often seen basking on the sandy beach or frolicking in the protected waters. There’s even a viewing area where you can watch these adorable creatures without disturbing them.

This is a spot where you’ll definitely want to bring a camera! 

4. La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a breathtaking sanctuary teeming with marine life for you to discover. It’s part of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, offering you a unique opportunity to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive in crystal clear water among a rich array of marine creatures.

This area is also a popular hangout for sea lions and seals. You’ll find them sunbathing on the rocks which always makes for a fun spectacle.

5. Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Entrance to the Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is one of the best things to do in La Jolla if you’re a fan of aquatic wildlife. It has over 60 tanks full of animals from sharks to jellyfish. There’s also a spot called the Tide Pool Plaza where you can get hands-on and touch hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, and starfish (kids love this exhibit).

Birch Aquarium is also full of interactive exhibits that bring ocean science to life while teaching you in an entertaining way.

And did we mention that the location is breathtaking? Set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of La Jolla while learning more about the underwater world.

6. Secret Swings

If you’re up for a bit of adventure, searching for Secret Swings in La Jolla is a unique way to explore the city.

The most popular one is the “Birch Aquarium Swing” which gives you an amazing view of the coastline. You can swing high above the Pacific Ocean in total peace!

The other secret swings can be found at La Jolla Natural Park and on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While this activity isn’t as under the radar as it used to be, it’s still rare that you’ll see someone else at each swing.

7. Kayaking

People enjoying kayaking in La Jolla which is a popular thing to do in the area

Hitting the water for some kayaking is one of the top things to do in La Jolla, and it’s not hard to tell why. The entire area and coastline is absolutely gorgeous!

And you don’t have to be an expert or have your own kayak to do this. There are plenty of options to rent or join a guided tour from La Jolla Shores or the La Jolla Sea Cave. you’ll be given everything you need, so it’s something that anyone can do (even if you have limited time).

Kayaking in this area will take you to stunning sea caves along the coastline. There’s also a chance to spot sea lions, seals, and a variety of seabirds.

8. Murals

A mural in La Jolla

Another fun thing to do in La Jolla is check out the murals that are scattered throughout the city. These aren’t your average street art. They’re a unique blend of public art and community storytelling. We were blown away by the amount of color the artists used!

If you want to see all of them, there’s a handy mural map online that you can use as your guide. This will also take you past a lot of the main attractions downtown, so it’s easy to do if you were already planning to explore the city.

9. Windansea Beach

Surfer at Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach is an enchanting spot that’s known for its great surf, beautiful cliffs, and iconic surf shack. This secluded beach has a special place in surfing history, and it’s even featured in the surf documentary “The Endless Summer”.

If you can’t stay up on a board (like us), there are often some great surfers out on the water for you to watch. But even if you’re not into surfing at all, it’s still worth visiting the beach. You can have a picnic on the sandy shore or go for a walk to watch the waves crash against the cliffs.

It’s also a great spot to catch the sunset. This is when a lot of people like to grab a picture of the surf shack as well!

10. Scripps Pier

Sunset behind Scripps Pier in La Jolla

The historic Scripps Pier, built in 1916 as part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is an absolute must-see when you’re in town. The pier stretches a whopping 1,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean and offers some fantastic views of the area.

Because of this, it’s a popular spot for photographers. If you’re looking to get some nice pictures of the sunset or the La Jolla coastline, this is the spot to visit.

But here’s the catch:

Walking on the pier is not available to the general public. That’s why so many photos you see online are taken from underneath!

However, there are special events and tours that give you the opportunity to walk the pier. Keep an eye out for them when you plan your visit! 

11. Paragliding & Hang Gliding

Paragliders launching from Torrey Pines Gliderport

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, paragliding or hang gliding off Torrey Pines Gliderport is an activity for you. Charles Lindbergh himself flew gliders here in the 1930s!

You can book tandem flights with certified and experienced pilots, and the pricing is reasonable (we’ve seen tandem flights in other areas that are significantly more than this). As you glide, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Torrey Pines Reserve and the whole La Jolla coastline.

And if going for a flight isn’t your cup of tea, the Gliderport is still worth a visit. You can sit back and watch the colorful gliders soar along the cliffs with your feet planted safely on the ground!

12. Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Ellen Browning Scripps Park

If you’re looking for a tranquil spot to unwind near downtown, you can’t go wrong with Ellen Browning Scripps Park.

This grassy park is on the bluffs above La Jolla cove, and offers expansive views of the ocean (a great place to go if you like watching the sunset). It’s a popular spot for picnics, so grab a blanket and some snacks! It’s also a popular spot to do some yoga.

13. Coast Walk Trail

Overlook on the Coast Walk Trail

If you’re looking for things to do in La Jolla that give you great views of the ocean, you can’t beat the Coast Walk Trail. This trail winds along the La Jolla coastline and gives you a great view of the water, sea caves, and marine life that lives in the area.

The trailhead can be found near The Cave Store and gives you access to Goldfish Point and La Jolla Cove as well.

Author Note: The Coast Walk Trail isn’t strenuous either, so it’s a good hike for pretty much everyone. There are a few steep and uneven sections though!

14. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

The Museum of Contemporary Art is a modern art haven showcasing works from 1950 to the present by regional and international artists. It’s in the historic Irving Gill-designed former home of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, and offers more than just art pieces!

There are always rotating exhibitions, from traditional paintings and sculptures to more avant-garde installations and digital art. So even if you’ve been there before, you’ll see something new this time.

And the art isn’t just found in the interior of the museum. Outside there’s a sculpture garden featuring works from a number of renowned artists.

15. Geisel Library

Geisel Library

The Geisel Library is another architectural gem that’s definitely worth visiting in La Jolla. Named after Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), you’ve probably never seen anything like this iconic library!

Brutalist architecture is the style that applies to this building. Its distinctive geometric design is unlike any other, making it a standout feature compared to the rest of the city’s landscape. Inside, it houses over seven million books, manuscripts, and archives on its eight floors.

Don’t miss the chance to take a tour if you have the time. You’ll get to see exhibits showcasing the library’s extensive collections and learn more about its history. Plus, the building offers stunning views of the campus.

16. Scripps Coastal Meander Trail

The Scripps Coastal Meander Trail is a scenic walking path that winds its way through the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus. This trail provides you with some breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, the Scripps Pier, and the surrounding bluffs.

On this trail there are informative signs that explore the history and research of the institution. It’s a great way to learn more about scientific discoveries that have been made right around the corner.

17. La Jolla Underwater Park

A swimmer near a seal at the La Jolla Underwater Park

La Jolla Underwater Park is a vast 6,000-acre marine sanctuary, and is a haven for a diverse range of marine life. You’ll find fish, sharks, rays, seals, and sea lions here!

The sea caves, canyons, and kelp forests make it an excellent area for scuba diving, snorkeling, or kayaking.

Author Note: Remember, the La Jolla Underwater Park is a “no take” zone. This means everything needs to stay where it is in order to preserve the delicate ecosystem and keep the park thriving for years to come.

18. Explore The La Jolla Art Scene

Exploring the vibrant and eclectic art scene in La Jolla is one of the must-do activities in the area. This city is brimming with art galleries, museums, and cultural institutions that are sure to pique your interest and stir your creativity.

There are a number of art galleries in the area that feature a range of pieces from local artists. We recommend popping into a few while you’re walking around in the city (it’s also a nice break from the sun).

If you’re a music and art lover, head over to the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library. You can enjoy concerts, lectures, and even art classes! And if you’re looking for some live performances, check out La Jolla Playhouse or Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.

19. Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

Sunny Jim's Sea Cave in La Jolla

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave is the largest sea cave in California, and can be accessed by land through a 100-year-old hand-dug tunnel.

It’s fun to climb down the old tunnel, and once you reach the cave you’re treated with a unique perspective. You’re standing inside a massive sea cave and get to watch the waves crash against the rocky walls right next to you!

The cave got its name because the opening resembles a cartoon from the early 20th century (Google it after you’ve been there).

20. La Jolla Playhouse

La Jolla Playhouse

Many of the best things to do in La Jolla are centered around the city’s cultural scene, and that’s especially true when you step into the Tony Award-winning La Jolla Playhouse.

The Playhouse is constantly presenting new plays and musicals (often before they hit Broadway). You’ll get a sneak peek of performances that may become the next big thing! We were blown away by the layout of the theater.

The La Jolla Playhouse also offers tours, workshops, and educational programs.

21. Torrey Pines Golf Course

Torrey Pines Golf Course

The world-renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course really lives up to its reputation. The golf course has two 18-hole championship courses and boasts stunning ocean views.

The greens are beautifully maintained and challenging, and each year it hosts the annual Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.

Beyond the fairways, there’s a driving range where you can practice your swing, a pro shop, and golf lessons offered for all levels.

22. Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial

Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial

Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial is another La Jolla attraction that you should consider making time for. This landmark cross and veterans memorial is perched atop Mount Soledad and serves as a tribute to veterans from all branches of the military. You’ll find walls adorned with plaques honoring these brave individuals.

It’s also an excellent vantage point to see panoramic views of San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, and surrounding mountains.

23. The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center

The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center

If you’re a fan of the performing arts, your visit to La Jolla should definitely include a stop by The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center. Opening its doors in 2019, this state-of-the-art complex is a confirmation to the city’s thriving arts scene. It’s home to the La Jolla Music Society and hosts a variety of concerts and performances year-round.

The center features a concert hall, a flexible performance space, and an outdoor courtyard. Each space is designed to provide an intimate and immersive experience, to help you enjoy whatever performance you’re there to see. Whether you’re into classical music, jazz, or dance, there’s always something going on that will fit your interests!

24. Tide Pools

Tide pools in La Jolla

Exploring the tide pools is another popular thing to do in La Jolla, especially during low tide in winter and early spring.

These pools give you a peek into the world of oceanic life. If you search long enough you’ll see a variety of sea creatures in their natural habitat, including crabs, sea stars, anemones, and small fish. The best spots to find tide pools are Dike Rock, Shell Beach, and Hospitals Reef. Each location offers a unique assortment of marine life and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Author Note: The tide pools are delicate ecosystems, so it’s important to avoid disturbing the critters or their habitats. Enjoy the experience, but leave everything just as you found it. That way, future visitors can enjoy the same wonder you’ve experienced.

25. The Cat Lounge Rescue and Adoption Center

If you want something a little different, stop by The Cat Lounge Rescue and Adoption Center. This is a place where you can sip your coffee while lounging with adorable, adoptable cats!

There’s nothing like settling into a comfy chair while being surrounded by playful felines. And it’s not fun for the visitors, but it’s also beneficial for the cats. That’s because the center partners with a local shelter to help socialize and find homes for them!

26. Black’s Beach

Black’s Beach which is a popular attraction in La Jolla

One of La Jolla’s hidden gems is unquestionably the secluded Blacks Beach, found at the base of the Torrey Pines Cliffs. This beach is known for its powerful surf breaks, and unparalleled scenery. It’s a showcase of La Jolla’s natural beauty, making it a must-visit spot in the area for experienced surfers and nature lovers.

Accessing this beach requires a little bit of work. The trail down from Torrey Pines Gliderport or La Jolla Shores are a bit rugged and steep, but you’ll have some fantastic views to take your mind off of it! We like that it’s not an easy trek down to the beach because it cuts down on the crowds.

27. Salk Institute Tour

The exterior of the Salk Institute

For architecture enthusiasts and history buffs, the Salk Docent-Led Architecture Tours offer a perfect opportunity to explore the Salk Institute, a masterpiece designed by renowned architect Louis Kahn. This tour provides an insider’s view into the history, design, and role of this architectural marvel in the field of scientific research.

Kahn’s genius shines through every aspect of the building, from the precise symmetry of its design to the way natural light cascades into the building’s famous travertine courtyard. The institute’s location on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean adds to the overall aesthetic appeal of the place.

These tours are offered Monday through Friday by reservation only, so you’ll get a personalized and intimate experience. The tour helps you gain an understanding of the thought process behind Kahn’s design and the institute’s significance in the world of architecture and science.

28. Bird Rock Neighborhood

Found in the southern part of La Jolla, the Bird Rock neighborhood exudes a laid-back vibe and surf culture that has become a magnet for both locals and visitors. This charming neighborhood is known for its unique shops, cafes, and restaurants along La Jolla Boulevard.

If you’re in the neighborhood, head over to Bird Rock Avenue. Dotting the avenue are bluffs that offer excellent views of the Pacific Ocean, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or a picnic.

29. The Stuart Collection

A piece at The Stuart Collection

The Stuart Collection is a unique assembly of site-specific sculptures scattered across the UCSD campus, and offers an immersive artistic experience. This outstanding outdoor museum is free to visit, and serves as a cornerstone of the university’s cultural life.

The collection includes works by internationally recognized artists such as John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, and Niki de Saint Phalle. Each piece is carefully positioned to interact with the surrounding environment, fostering a sense of discovery as visitors navigate the campus. Highlights include the vibrant “Sun God” statue and the “Fallen Star.”

The Stuart Collection offers a unique way to engage with contemporary art while exploring the gorgeous UCSD campus. The integration of art, landscape, and architecture provides a unique, thought-provoking experience that makes this one of the best things to do in La Jolla.

30. Shopping

If you’re looking to do some shopping, there are plenty of options in La Jolla! Popular spots are the La Jolla Village and Prospect Street that hold a variety of unique boutiques, galleries, and retail stores. You can find everything from designer clothing and jewelry to local art and souvenirs.

And there’s also the Westfield UTC outdoor mall. This is where you’ll find more popular retailers and department stores.

31. La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market

A Sunday tradition for many locals and tourists, the La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market is held weekly from 9am to 1pm at the corner of Girard Avenue and Genter Street. You can shop for fresh produce, taste artisanal foods, and explore handmade crafts in a festive atmosphere that often has live music!

There are also food vendors at the market in case you get hungry. You’ll have options from authentic ethnic cuisines to gourmet street foods!

32. La Jolla Historical Society

For anyone with an interest in local history and culture, the La Jolla Historical Society is definitely worth visiting. This non-profit organization is committed to preserving and sharing the rich history of La Jolla while providing visitors a unique insight into the region’s past.

Situated in the heart of La Jolla Village, the Society is housed in the historic 1904 Wisteria Cottage. Visitors can enjoy rotating exhibitions that showcase a wide range of topics related to La Jolla’s unique history. The Society also features a research library and archives, holding an extensive collection of photographs, documents, and artifacts.

The Society also offers guided walking tours you can take as well, which isn’t a bad idea if you have the time.

33. Dining

Coffee Cup restaurant in La Jolla, CA

And of course, we couldn’t forget the food! Boasting a diverse and high-quality dining scene, La Jolla is a great city for foodies. There are an abundance of eateries that serve everything from fresh seafood to Italian, Mexican, and Asian fusion cuisine.

Renowned restaurants such as George’s at the Cove, Nine-Ten, and The Marine Room all live up to the hype. These establishments are known not only for their delectable dishes, but also for their awe-inspiring ocean views and relaxing outdoor seating.

Many restaurants pride themselves on using locally-sourced ingredients, ensuring fresh and flavorful dishes while supporting local producers.

Conclusion

For a city that isn’t very large, there are plenty of things to do in La Jolla, California. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in nature, art, or architecture, there’s something here for everyone.

If you’re planning a trip to La Jolla, use this list to help you come up with a plan. You might not have time to do everything, but that just means you’ll have an excuse to come back!

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