Guide to La Jolla, CA – Southern California Destinations

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Visiting La Jolla along the southern California coast is everything anyone could want in an oceanside town with lots of beaches to choose from, sea life to view, restaurants for every taste, coffee shops and bakeries, shopping from the high-end boutiques to the typical beach shops and outdoor activities.

La Jolla, CA
Downtown La Jolla, CA view of the ocean.

What to Do in La Jolla

You can easily fill a day in La Jolla, but if you have the luxury to spend two or more days, I highly recommend it. With all the restaurants to try, shops to browse, beaches to comb, caves to explore, and waters to paddle, there is never a lack of things things to do.

Comb the Beaches

The beaches in La Jolla are fantastic, and some of the most diverse in terrain on the California coast. Within a handful of miles, you will experience beaches tucked into the folds of dramatic cliffs, rocky shorelines dotted with seals, and long stretches of sand as soft as silk.

Shell Beach

Shell Beach is accessible by a staircase leading down from the Ellen Browning Scripps Park at Rocky Point. This is a popular beach, harbored in the safety of the cliffs with gorgeous views. The crescent of sand is wider when the tide is low, with plenty of room to lay out a blanket and picnic under an umbrella. The water is clear and, as the name suggests, this is a great place to hunt for seashells in the shallows.

Shell Beach, La Jolla, CA
Shell Beach, La Jolla, CA

Boomer Beach

Boomer Beach in La Jolla is a more hidden beach popular with bodysurfers and seals. The surf here is strong, and though boogie boards and surfboards are not allowed, it’s fantastic body surfing. Access the beach through Ellen Browning Scripps Park near the east end of the park.

Boomer Beach, La Jolla, CA
Boomer Beach, La Jolla, CA

La Jolla Cove Beach

La Jolla Cove Beach is on the very east end of Ellen Brown Scripps Park and is popular with families, swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers because of the clear water and spectacular wildlife under the surface of the water. This a great place to see the California state fish, the Garibaldi – famous for its bright orange color and lack of predators. The fish looks like a giant goldfish because of the toxins it excretes through its skin, making it very unappetizing to any ocean stalkers who would normally prey upon it.

La Jolla Cove - Photo by Vasudha Jha on Unsplash
La Jolla Cove – Photo by Vasudha Jha on Unsplash

La Jolla Shores Beach

This beach has the softest sand I’ve ever squished my toes into! The sand is fine and silky and stretches for more than a mile. The beach is wide with lots of expanse for families to spread out in the sand and relax in the sun, build sand castles or frolic in the waves. The long flat beach makes it ideal for runners and walkers, and the waves attract surfers, boogie-boarders, and swimmers. Beyond the surf, long distance swimmers break through the water, along with kayakers and snorkelers. This waters off this beach are home to the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve and teem with wildlife. Leopard sharks are a common sight here, but don’t be afraid – they are small, gentle sharks and harmless to people.

La Jolla Shores Beach
La Jolla Shores Beach, La Jolla, CA

Tour the La Jolla Caves by Kayak

A tour of the La Jolla Caves by kayak will take a couple of hours, and is well worth the time. If you get a good tour guide (we had a great one!), you will learn all sorts of interesting facts about the city, the reserve, the caves and the history of bootlegging, and the secrets about the beaches. Our guide was Max at La Jolla Kayak, and the tour was top notch. He told us fascinating stories, pointing out landmarks as we paddled, such as the famous house where Dr. Seuss wrote many of his books.

The caves themselves are stunning and exhilarating. The day we toured the caves, the waves were rolling in and out of the caves, not dangerously so, but enough to make slipping around the rock columns at the entrance exhilarating. There are seven caves, and the one we toured by kayak opened up at the far end to reveal a vegetated cliff topped by a palm tree against the blue sky above.

La Jolla Caves
La Jolla Caves, La Jolla, CA

Shop Girard Street

Girard Street in downtown La Jolla is five blocks of high-end boutiques, designer stores, art galleries, toy stores, book shops, restaurants, and coffee shops. Whether you are a serious shopper or just like to browse and window shop, Girard Street won’t disappoint. I highly recommend a stop at Girard Gourmet for lunch or an afternoon pick-me-up of a sweet and coffee.

Girard Street, La Jolla, CA
Girard Street, La Jolla, CA

Dine on the Street on Avenida de la Playa and Browse the Shops

Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla, CA
Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla, CA

This stretch of shops and restaurants is only a couple blocks from the La Jolla Shores Beach, and part of the street is blocked off to allow for more spacious outdoor dining areas. It has a very European feel with the flower draped store fronts and bistro tables. The stores here are more of the traditional eclectic beach flavor than the downtown stores, which I actually prefer.

Avenida de la Playa

Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla, CA

Hike Torrey Pines Reserve

The Torrey Pines Reserve is 1500 acres of land on the Southern California coast which has been protected from development. This is what the coast line looked like long before the cities from San Diego to Los Angeles were settled and built up along the beaches. The reserve is full of trails winding to the scenic cliff top overlooks down to the pristine beaches. Trails here are not terribly long, but some can be challenging because of the steep inclines – well worth the effort for the reward of sprawling views of the ocean, shoreline, and surrounding landscape!

Torrey Pines Reserve - Photo by James McCullough on Unsplash
Torrey Pines Reserve – Photo by James McCullough on Unsplash

Rent a Kayak, Surf Board, Boogie Board, Paddle Board, Snorkel Gear, or Bike

Whether you prefer a guided tour or to venture out on your own, you can find the equipment you need, and the guides, at any of the many rental shops in La Jolla. For the water, you can rent kayaks, surf boards, boogie boards, paddle boards, snorkels and scuba gear. Many of the kayak and paddle board renters are dog friendly and encourage you to bring your four-legged adventure companion along for the ride!

If you are looking for adventure on land, you can rent scooters, mountain bikes, beach cruisers, electric bikes, any other bike you can think of. The rental outfitters will provide you with maps and suggestions of where to go, whether you are looking to explore the beach, town, or the clifftop and hilltop trails.

La Jolla Cove Kayaking
La Jolla Cove Kayaking

Where to Stay in La Jolla

There are three main areas to La Jolla: La Jolla Village, La Jolla Shores, and Torrey Pines. Each has their own personality and offer plenty of options.

Torrey Pines Reserve and Torrey Pines Golf Course Area

Torrey Pines is a the northern most region of La Jolla and includes the Torrey Pines Reserve and the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course. The reserve is a beautiful setting overlooking the ocean with trails for hiking and beautiful views of the coastline, ocean, and cliffs. The Torrey Pines Golf Course, famously part of the PGA tour, is spread out over the clifftops just south of the reserve with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. If you prefer a less touristy area with a good dose of nature and hiking, then Torrey Pines is the area for you. There are several hotels near the reserve and golf course ranging from the luxurious, such as The Lodge at Torrey Pines, to the more affordable but still elegant Hilton – La Jolla Torrey Pines. If you prefer a private house over a hotel, a search on Airbnb.com or VRBO.com will bring up many options within walking distance of the reserve and the beach.

Torrey Pines Reserve, La Jolla, CA
Torrey Pines Reserve – Photo by Jon Doerr Jr on Unsplash

La Jolla Shores Area

La Jolla Shores is south of Torrey Pines but still north of the main La Jolla Village area. This area isn’t as busy as the main village, but it is still brimming with great restaurants, shopping, and plenty of activity. The beach in this area is gorgeous and the sunsets fantastic. The ocean here is perfect for swimming, kayaking, and surfing. The waves near the Scripps Pier on the north end of the beach are larger and more suited to surfers, while the waves on the south end nearer to the La Jolla Caves are a bit more gentle and great for swimming. There is one main hotel on the La Jolla Shores Beach, but many options for Airbnb or VRBOs, as well as several hotels a handful of blocks off the beach. Also within a short walk from the beach (about 3 short blocks) is my favorite dining and shopping area in La Jolla on Avenida de la Playa. The street starts right on the beach on the south side of La Jolla Shores Beach Hotel, so you can’t miss it.

Our last time in La Jolla, we stayed at La Jolla Shores Beach Hotel, located directly on the beach, and our room had a front row view of the sand and water. With the window open, we could hear the waves lapping at the shore. The hotel included restaurants with ocean views, so perfect for sunset dinners. Built in the 70’s, La Jolla Shores Beach Hotel has a classy retro feel to it. The tile details in the corridors, the patio gardens, and the decor of the rooms was all very charming. The only downfall was the sound from neighboring rooms was louder than I would prefer, but there were so many other great things about this hotel, that it was easy to forgive this one drawback.

For a great hotels in La Jolla at great prices, check out these options through aRes Travel.

La Jolla Shores Beach Hotel
La Jolla Shores Beach Hotel

La Jolla Village Area

This is the most lively area of La Jolla with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, delis, bakeries, beach shops, boutiques and high-end shops for as far as the eye can see. Not surprisingly, this is also the area with the most hotels and home rental options. You will find whatever your heart desires in accommodations in this are from luxurious condos to quaint inns to large hotels. And everything here is within walking distance of all the La Jolla hot spots with endless choices of cuisine, nightlife, and shopping.

Grand Colonial Hotel, La Jolla, CA
Grand Colonial Hotel, La Jolla, CA

For a great hotels in La Jolla at great prices, check out these options through aRes Travel.

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