15 Best Things to Do in La Jolla (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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La Jolla may well be one of the enviable postcodes in San Diego. You’ll find a wealth of things to do here, from wine tasting at top-notch restaurants to paragliding over the glistening waters of the Pacific Ocean.

This wealthy seaside community is known for its artistic locals and its great beaches. Thousands of visitors flock here every year for sun, sea, and culture.

A veritable haven for surfers, swimmers, and nature lovers, the coast here is well-protected by the local marine conservation operation, as well as La Jolla’s enthusiastic residents.

Here are the 15 best things to do in La Jolla, California.

1. Visit La Jolla Shores Park

La Jolla Shores ParkSource: Sebastien Burel / shutterstock
La Jolla Shores Park

La Jolla has many great beaches, but Shores Park is one of the largest and liveliest. With a special section cordoned off for surfers, and many regular events and parties on the beachfront, there’s lots going on here.

If you’re adventurous, sign up for a scuba diving trip, or rent snorkeling gear or paddle-boarding equipment from one of the beachfront shops. Alternatively, just kick back on the sand and watch the world go by.

In poor weather head to one of the many cafes and restaurants here, they make a great vantage point for watching stormy seas. Try the vibrant and colorful Galaxy Taco for beachside margaritas, or the Marine Room for an elegant beach house aesthetic.

2. Explore the Atlas and Map Museum

Atlas and Map MuseumSource: Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla / Facebook
Atlas and Map Museum

This museum is bound to please history lovers, travelers, and artists alike with its displays of over 200 maps from different periods of history. The exhibits here explore how cartography has developed over the centuries and includes some rare items and novelty maps.

Pour over charts made for adventurers, soldiers, and pilots, in this incredible private collection.

It’s free to visit and well worth the trip.

3. Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art, La JollaSource: Marben / shutterstock
Museum of Contemporary Art

La Jolla’s gentle coastline and glistening ocean views have inspired artists for over a century, and the town was established as an artists’ colony in 1894.

The Museum of Contemporary Art evolved from this avant-garde community in the 1960s, and it has since become one of the best museums in San Diego.

The museum’s core collection includes some groundbreaking works by artists from the American minimalist movement, as well as many photos and paintings from different postwar artists.

Be sure to walk through the lovely sculpture garden here if you visit in fine weather.

4. Spot Sea Creatures at La Jolla Tide Pools

La Jolla Tide PoolsSource: Darryl Hills Photography / shutterstock
La Jolla Tide Pools

This long flat plain of rock is covered with tiny pools that are filled with an array of marine creatures. Many families come here on the weekends to hunt for critters at low tide.

You’ll find a veritable underwater garden here, composed of sea anemones, limpets, and mussels, as well as small fish and minute crabs. Bring a bucket and a net to examine them up close.

Check the tide times before you come here to ensure the pools are accessible, then hunt ‘til your heart’s content.

5. Snorkel at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, CaliforniaSource: jessicakirsh / shutterstock
La Jolla Cove

This rocky, picturesque beach is one of the most popular in La Jolla. The waters of the cove are part of the area’s marine conservation project, a carefully curated patch of ocean that teems with life.

Rent some snorkeling gear and dive into these choppy waters to discover hundreds of species of fish and crustaceans, as well as large sea mammals. Exploring the kelp forest here is a truly surreal experience, and everything from leopard sharks to barracudas weave through this weedy patch of ocean.

If you don’t fancy getting wet, try nature watching from the shore instead, seals and sea lions like to sun themselves on the rocks here in the warm summer months.

6. Discover the Local Murals

La Jolla MuralsSource: meunierd / shutterstock
La Jolla Murals

La Jolla’s reputation as an artsy seaside town extends beyond its great local gallery. Many gorgeous murals have sprung up throughout the area, and the city has started to run art walking tours to help visitors find them all.

A far cry from your regular urban graffiti, the art daubed across the alleyways was painted by a selection of incredible artists and inspired by many contemporary art movements.

Recruit a guide or strike out on your own to find some of these stunning shoreside artworks.

7. Visit National Geographic’s Fine Art Gallery

National GeographicSource: Sahil S Mehta / shutterstock
National Geographic

National Geographic has a fantastic reputation for its glossy photos of far-flung deserts and majestic mountains. See some of their best prints all in one place in this permanent collection of the magazine’s photography.

The museum aims to inspire a new generation to protect the planet, and it is hard not to feel moved by the hypnotic selection of photographs in their collection. The prints on display here are truly enormous which adds to their powerful effect.

Buy a print of your own at the gift shop, or simply browse and admire the majesty of planet earth.

8. Try the Oysters at Herringbone Restaurant

OystersSource: Take Photo / shutterstock

La Jolla attracts many well-heeled foodies, and there are a great selection of world-class fine-dining restaurants here if you’re looking to splash out.

The Herringbone, in particular, is having something of a moment and consistently receives rave reviews, from even the harshest critics. Situated in an old warehouse and filled with olive trees, the décor has a lovely warm modern-Mediterranean feel. Their specialty is freshly caught local seafood, with classics such as zesty ceviche and spicy seared salmon regulars on the menu.

Above all, the Herringbone is known for its oysters, which are perfectly paired with crisp white wines and lashings of champagne. Sit at the bar when the oysters are on offer, or have a blowout meal with friends.

9. Try the Wine at LJ’s Craft Wines

LJ’s Craft WinesSource: LJ Crafted Wines - Wines & Tastings / Facebook
LJ’s Craft Wines

When you are finally worn out from all the walking, climbing, and watersports you can do in La Jolla, this great local tasting bar is the perfect way to unwind.

Come here to taste great wines made with grapes sourced from the Napa Valley, or simply pull up a stool and nibble on their small plates and selection of cheeses.

Sit at one of the curbside tables on a warm evening, or schmooze at the elegant bar with your choice of bottles. If all else fails they offer a growler service, so you can take a large jug home with you.

10. Learn More About the Oceans at the Birch Aquarium

Birch AquariumSource: Conchi Martinez / shutterstock
Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, is part of the wider marine conservation effort that the area is known for. Attached to the local Institute of Oceanography, it is an important research center for those interested in the world’s oceans.

The Aquarium itself has over 5,000 fish, from brightly colored and gem-like tropical species to small sharks and pufferfish. The huge variety of adorable seahorses living in the tanks is one of their most popular features.

Experience the touch tank, feed the giant sea turtles, and educate yourself about our oceans.

11. Spread Your Wings at the Torrey Pines Gliderport

Torrey Pines GliderportSource: Goff Designs / shutterstock
Torrey Pines Gliderport

This gliding station is located on the high cliffs to the north of La Jolla. Learn to fly here with the local paragliding instructors, or bring your own kit if you’re experienced. Alternatively, sign up for a tandem flight, where instructors take visitors aged 8 to 80 soaring over the coast.

If you’re scared of heights, or simply have no desire to plunge off a cliff, it’s still worth visiting this lovely bit of coastline. Many people come here to watch others float over the ocean, and the cozy Cliffhanger Café is a great place to warm up with a cup of coffee or cool down with an ice-cold beer.

12. Relax on Windansea Beach

Windansea BeachSource: Sherry V Smith / shutterstock
Windansea Beach

The fittingly, but lazily named, Windansea Beach in La Jolla is a mecca for surfers.

This exposed stretch of coast is known for its high-speed winds and rough waters, perfect for those looking for a rush out on the waves. Windansea has appeared in many surf movies and documentaries over the years due to its reputation for huge swells.

One of the smaller beaches on the coast, most people come here to surf or to storm watch. If tempestuous ocean scenery gives you goosebumps, this beach is for you.

13. Shop at La Jolla Market

La Jolla MarketSource: Oleg. / Flickr | CC BY
La Jolla Market

This massive open-air farmers’ market is a great alternative for food and drink if you find the posh local restaurants a bit much. The fruit and vegetables available here are locally grown and known for their quality.

Come here for the huge variety of hot food stalls, serving up everything, from pizza to vegan food.

When you’re done, pick up some local handicrafts or listen to the great tunes from the many bands who come to play here on the weekends.

14. Visit the La Jolla Historical Society

La Jolla Historical SocietySource: cultivar413 / Flickr | CC BY
La Jolla Historical Society

This tiny, free museum is set in lovely Wisteria Cottage close to the beach. The garden terraces here are quite beautiful when the flowers are in full bloom, and the museum itself has many interesting displays and exhibits.

La Jolla is known for its long history as a hub for artists, and the museum chronicles the lives of those who have been inspired by the area’s idyllic coastline.

Discover the popular walking tour routes around town, or ask the knowledgeable staff about La Jolla’s impressive architecture and famous residents.

15. Explore the Sea Caves Around Jolla

La Jolla Sea CaveSource: Jason Finn / shutterstock
La Jolla Sea Cave

La Jolla was once called “the holey-place” by the American Indians, due to the large number of sea caves that stud the coast here.

Many local outlets provide kayak tours so that you can explore these little inlets for yourself.

Don’t miss the chance to visit Sunny Jim’s Cave, which you can reach via land through The Cave Store. The shop has 145 steps leading down through this winding man-made cavern which gives spectacular views out to sea. The interior is brightly colored by the minerals that make up the cliffs.

Visit the cave via kayak if you don’t want to pay the small entrance fee.


15 Best Things to Do in La Jolla (CA):

  • Visit La Jolla Shores Park
  • Explore the Atlas and Map Museum
  • Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Spot Sea Creatures at La Jolla Tide Pools
  • Snorkel at La Jolla Cove
  • Discover the Local Murals
  • Visit National Geographic’s Fine Art Gallery
  • Try the Oysters at Herringbone Restaurant
  • Try the Wine at LJ’s Craft Wines
  • Learn More About the Oceans at the Birch Aquarium
  • Spread Your Wings at the Torrey Pines Gliderport
  • Relax on Windansea Beach
  • Shop at La Jolla Market
  • Visit the La Jolla Historical Society
  • Explore the Sea Caves Around Jolla