Sun, sea, and miles and miles of golden Californian sands… San Diego’s picturesque La Jolla neighborhood is famed for its wild, verdant hills and epic 11-kilometer stretch of Pacific coastline that’s perfect for surfing, sunbathing and seal-spotting. Add to that some fine boutique shopping and gourmet dining and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect sunshine break. Dive in to discover our favorite things to do in La Jolla San Diego.
Fun in the Sun
There’s much to enjoy in La Jolla, especially if you’re the outdoor type. This coastal neighborhood is set in pine-scented hills around 20 kilometers north of San Diego’s downtown, and is chock-full of great walks, sandy beaches and hidden coves. Hit the hiking trails through Torrey Pines Nature Reserve, 2,000 acres of wild plateau and rugged cliffs named for its incredibly rare Torrey pine, a species you won’t find anywhere else on the planet. Pop to the visitor center for guided hikes of the reserve or pick up a map and go it alone: there are a number of unchallenging walks along marked trails. In the best tradition of American nature reserves, you can expect colorful wildflowers, giant rock and sandstone formations and viewpoints with sensational panoramic views of the coastal bluffs and beach below. Head up to Yucca Point Overlook for what are generally considered the best in the park. If you’re lucky you may even spot whales and dolphins breaking surface out at sea and native bobcats, lizards and raccoons skulking among the cacti.
La Jolla’s mild climate makes time spent on the beaches here an absolute joy. Seasoned surfers can show off their board skills at the aptly named Windansea and Wipeout beaches, while beginners should head to the calmer waters of La Jolla Shores beach. The palm-fringed crescent of soft golden sand here is also great for family days out. There’s a huge grassy park bordering the beach and plenty of waterfront restaurants and snack bars; bikes, kayaks, surfboards and snorkeling gear are also all available to rent nearby. Don’t forget to grab a snap or two gazing out to sea from between the giant struts under Scripps Pier: it’s one of the most popular selfie spots in the area, and not without good reason. Visit at sunset for the very best views and Instagram-friendly shots like this one.
Under the Sea
Budding marine biologists can search for sea urchins, anemones and hermit crabs in the tide pools at Dike Rock, while the nearby Birch Aquarium at Scripps has residents including leopard sharks, a loggerhead Sea Turtle and the world’s biggest octopus species. Don’t miss the two-story kelp forest here, where bright orange Garibaldi fish dart among the enormous green tendrils. Or get even closer to some of the planet’s most amazing critters on a scuba diving tour to the kelp forests at La Jolla Cove and Point Loma, where you might come face to face with moray eels, blue sharks, sea lions and California spiny lobsters. Just round the coast, Children’s Pool is one of La Jolla’s best beaches for seal-spotting. You shouldn’t have to look too hard: a colony of around 200 harbor seals call this particular stretch of coast home.
Art and Culture
If there’s a better spot for a contemporary art museum than high on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific, we’ve yet to find it. Reopened in 2022 after a $105m renovation and expansion, La Jolla’s branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego runs the full gamut of Pop Art, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism, with a special focus on the city’s connection to Tijuana and Latin America in general. The museum boasts the world’s biggest collection of works by American installation artist Robert Irwin, while other highlights include Earth Bolts, a masterclass in dark abstraction by Dorothy Hood, Miriam Schapiro’s boldly feminist Big Ox #2 and a satanic marionette by Tijuanan Benjamín Serrano.
Outdoors, the Stuart Collection comprises over 20 astounding works of public art dotted around the La Jolla campus of the University of California in San Diego. Try to spot them all on the relatively short walking trail. Here, a 23-foot-tall teddy bear made from boulders looms into view as you come round the bed, there a tiny cottage teeters precariously on top of a university building. This astonishing collection also features trees that recite poetry and play music as you pass, as well as important works by the likes of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Kiki Smith and Robert Irwin.
Also on campus, La Jolla Playhouse is the place to take in a show. This multi-award-winning theater has birthed many plays and musicals that went on to find success on Broadway, including Jersey Boys, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and The Who’s Tommy.
Shopping and Leisure
Head down to La Jolla Village for some of the best independent boutique shopping in the neighborhood. No faceless department stores here: for those you’ll need to head out to the sprawling Westfield UTC complex, home to stores galore including the likes of Macy’s, LEGO and Apple, plus dozens of bars and restaurants and a whopping 14 (count ‘em) cinema screens.
Meanwhile, back in La Jolla Village it’s all about up-and-coming designers and one-off vintage thrift-store discoveries. Get your fashion fix on Girard Avenue and Prospect Street, pick up books and gifts on Ivanhoe Street and pause to recharge your batteries and people-watch over coffee and homemade cake at any one of the several laidback cafés here.
Golfers will be in seventh heaven at the Torrey Pines Golf Course. Here, a pair of courses unfold across undulating landscapes atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The challenging South Course has hosted the US Open Championships twice (most recently in 2021) and will test even the most seasoned swinger. The slightly more forgiving North Course has the better views although, up here in the clean California sea air, such observations are perhaps all relative.