La Jolla’s Beaches and Caves are San Diego’s sparkling jewel, a picture-postcard Southern California village with several distinctive beaches along seven miles of coast against a backdrop of rolling hills and Mount Soledad.
La Jolla—with its many resorts, inns and hotels—is a great place to stay when visiting San Diego. Pronounced La Hoya, La Jolla is part of — and only fifteen minutes from downtown — San Diego. While the name is somewhat similar to “La Joya” —the jewel in Spanish—it is more likely a corruption of a Native American word for the area. In addition to its beautiful scenery, La Jolla offers fine restaurants, cultural activities, art galleries and a number of renowned institutions including the Stephen Birch Aquarium & Museum and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Salk Institute and Scripps Clinic.
La Jolla is home to the University of California, San Diego. Visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps—where you will enter the world of sharks, seahorses, living coral reefs, and more and dive into oceanographic exhibitions that showcase the mysteries of ocean, air, and the life through interactive displays and multimedia. Ellen Browning Scripps moved to La Jolla in 1896 and her impact is evident in the many institutions bearing her name that exist today as examples of the philanthropic legacy she and her family left in Southern California.
One of the first women to attend college in the U.S., Miss Ellen’s career in journalism coupled with an inheritance from her brother — George H. Scripps, who died in 1900 — enabled her to give generously to projects that stimulated her intellect as well as her love of nature, medicine and humanity. La Jolla Playhouse was founded in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer. The La Jolla Music Society began in 1968 as the La Jolla Chamber Players and changed its name in 1976. The first SummerFest La Jolla began its annual August chamber music festival in 1986.
La Jolla Beaches
La Jolla’s shoreline consists of rocky headlands separated by coves and sand beaches. There are Vacation home rentals right in La Jolla though there are many more a little south in Mission Beach. You can find a number of hotels and resorts in La Jolla that make beach combing convenient but be sure to book well in advance.
North Pacific beach extends from Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach to the south end of the community of La Jolla. Tourmaline Surfing Park is at the north end. Traveling north from here takes you to La Jolla Beaches. Windandsea Beach is at the south end of the La Jolla shoreline. A ‘sugar shack’ — Polynesian-style side less hut first built by pioneer Windandsea surfers in 1947 and authentically maintained by locals — supposedly takes its name from many romantic encounters that occurred there. While Windandsea Beach has a long reputation as a surfers beach it is also know for its shore break — a condition on steep beaches that results in hard-breaking surf right at the shoreline — that can be dangerous when entering the water.
Known as Casa by locals, Children’s Pool — a small cove protected by a man-made breakwater — is close to downtown La Jolla. Once an ideal spot for children to swim, the beach has been taken over by seals and sea lions. Swimming is no longer allowed because the marine mammals are protected from harassment by law, but sunbathing and watching the ocean and seals are popular pastimes.
There are grassy park areas to the north and south of Children’s Pool. Nearby small beaches include Wipeout Beach to the south and Shell Beach to the north. The area below Ellen Browning Scripps Park is a particularly accessible and popular tide pool. Tide pools are great places to explore and there are lots of them along the La Jolla shoreline. Tide pools are fragile, so look but don’t touch. And it goes without saying — visit during low tide and wear rubber soled shoes as they can be quite slippery. La Jolla Cove is one of the most beautiful, though smaller beaches in San Diego. A short walk from La Jolla commercial areas and adjacent to Scripps Park, La Jolla Cove still has an isolated feel because of the sandstone cliffs on either side. It’s always a good idea to check surf conditions with the lifeguard at any beach you visit in Southern California before entering the water.
Visibility in La Jolla Cove can exceed thirty feet making it a popular location for scuba diving and snorkeling. The underwater canyons and kelp beds off La Jolla provide some of the most breathtaking shore dives in the San Diego area. La Jolla Shores Beach is the widest and longest beach in La Jolla. Scripps Pier — in the distance in the La Jolla Shores Beach picture near the top of this page — defines the northern boundary of La Jolla Shore Beach. Novice scuba classes are often held at La Jolla Shores Beach because waves here are usually the most gentle of all San Diego beaches. There are a playground, boardwalk, bathroom, and showers at La Jolla Shores.
Other San Diego beaches are covered on my Mission Beach and Coronado pages.
La Jolla Caves
There are seven caves carved by wave action into the sandstone cliffs between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores Beach. All but one cave are inaccessible on foot except at extreme minus tides though you can visit all seven caves by sea kayak. One cave known as Sunny Jim Cave can be entered through a man-made tunnel completed in 1903. The cave was named — by Frank Baum of Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame — after a 1920s cartoon character used to promote breakfast cereal. Entrance to the Sunny Jim Cave through the Cave Store leads you to 145 steps that follow a steep descent through a narrow underground tube to a wooden deck that can be wet from the surf at high tide. There is a small fee charged to enter the tunnel and don’t forget you’ll need to climb 145 steep steps back up through the tunnel to get out.