La Jolla (pronounced ‘la hoy-a’) is a neighborhood in San Diego, California, that takes up 7 miles of coastline along the Pacific ocean.
Nicknamed “The Jewel,” this coastal town is a beaming wonder on the west of San Diego, boasting breathtaking landscapes, temperate weather, and being host to renowned institutions and businesses.
You can visit beautiful beaches teeming with marine life, appreciate the landscape, visit unique buildings or just enjoy the many outdoor activities.
The best part is that most of these attractions are located close to each other.
Being the all-rounder it is, it’s no surprise that there are so many places to visit and lots of stuff to do which is why the following are 21 of the best and most fun activities to do to get the most out of La Jolla.
1. Windansea Beach
Located on the south end of Westbourne street is Windansea Beach.
This gem is in the heart of Neptune, named after the god of the sea; this coastline is undoubtedly otherworldly.
Set your eyes on the cascading cabins and palm trees as they lead into the best of LaJolla’s attractions; its inviting ocean.
Interestingly, the name ‘Windansea’ is shortened from the phrase “Wind-and-sea,” but the beach was also named after the Windansea hotel, an oceanfront accommodation that burned down in 1943.
The pristine spread of sand is perfect for sunbathing with the ocean blue in view; what’s more, is the reef break shoreline which ensures consistent wave breaks every time- truly a surfer’s delight!
With the beach open from 9 am to 5 pm, you can immerse yourself in its history by checking out the Friends of Windansea, a humble organization dedicated to preserving the beach area in all its glory.
Central to the organization is the shack, which was founded in 1946 and served as a venue to host youth gatherings.
It stands proudly near the sea as a memorial for the beach and all it symbolizes.
Mind that there is limited direct parking space, although street parking is ample.
When visiting Windansea beach, have everything you need because there are no public restrooms, water fountains, or showers.
Address: 6800 Neptune Place, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92083, United States
2. Ellen Browning Scripps Park
The picturesque Ellen Browning Scripps Park was named after the renowned journalist and philanthropist of the early 20th century.
A native to Southern California, her legacy lasts in the number of institutions and reservations she founded, which earnestly continue to share all the beauty and intrigue of La Jolla attractions.
The scenic park has been dubbed “The most photographed area in San Diego,” with numerous couples choosing it as an ideal wedding venue.
With the park being open to the public 24 hours a day, you’ll hardly wonder what to do as you can enjoy various activities throughout the day.
You can enjoy views of the park and ocean from a Belvedere at sunrise, sunset, or during the day.
There are three shelters built at the edge of the park with open sides that command a fine view of the waters and sky.
You can have a picnic, exercise, play a team sport, or sunbathe on the long stretch of lawn, although rest may be out of the picture once you hear the sea lions barking in the distance.
You can catch these sea lions resting on clusters of rocks at Point La Jolla, a few steps from the park.
If you’re keen on events, the park hosts La Jolla’s finest and funest, ranging from luxe affairs to car shows and fitness meetings.
Scripps park neighbors downtown La Jolla with restaurants nearby, only street parking is available, and there are restroom facilities.
Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
3. Visit Downtown La Jolla
Looking for some top places to visit in California?
Downtown is the epicenter of fun things to do in La Jolla; from luxury boutiques and exquisite dining to the beautiful scenery all around, you can relish all this coastal village has to offer in one place.
Also referred to as ‘The Village,’ the most popular places to go are on Prospect street and neighboring Girard Avenue.
Prospect Street is to La Jolla as Rodeo Drive is to Beverly hills.
Come here for the ultimate shopping experience with a wide selection of independent vendors to world-class brands.
With ample parking space available, you can leave your vehicle and stroll down from Fay Avenue to Cave street, where various shops, restaurants, and hotels line up after each other.
Even if spending isn’t on your radar, downtown is also cherished for its lively atmosphere; locals and tourists harmonize in awe of the architecture, great weather, and the general sights and sounds around.
Address: Prospect St, La Jolla, CA, United States
4. La Jolla Historical Society
La Jolla Historical Society is a multifaceted organization committed to making the town’s diverse past relevant to contemporary society.
The society lists several La Jolla attractions on its website, with exciting places to visit, some near the main streets while others are on the outskirts or in other parts of California and San Diego but falling under the historical society.
The following sites are recommended things to see:
- The Historic Village
- The Heritage place
- The indigenous Mut Kula Xuy/Mut La Hoya Site
Consider these clubs and institutions for what to do in La Jolla:
- Coast Walk Trail and Devil’s Slide Footbridge
- Heritage Place La Jolla – Galusha B. Grow Cottage
- Scripps Institution of Oceanography
These few designated structures fall under the national register of historic places.
Many top tourist attractions are relative to La Jolla and the State of California.
Fortunately, the historical society has published tour maps detailing what to see for solo exploration and the guided tours they provide for the most valuable sightseeing experience.
The guided tours begin on one of La Jolla’s main streets, Prospect Street, at 2 pm, with dates listed on their website.
It costs $10 and is a walk led by the organization’s historian, Carol Olten, who shares insightful details about La Jolla’s architecture, history, and landscape.
Alternatively, you could do a self-guided tour with the help of the tour map provided on the society’s website.
Address: 780 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
5. The Cat Lounge
If you’re a cat-lover wondering where to go or what things to do in La Jolla with your affinity, The Cat Lounge has you sorted.
The Cat Lounge is the first and only non-profit cat rescue and adoption center in San Diego, so it’s definitely on the unique side of things to do in La Jolla.
Since its establishment in 2019, The Cat Lounge has saved 4,500 cats from euthanasia, providing an interactive environment for them to engage with the public.
Out of the many things to see in La Jolla, this melding of a safe and playful space for cats marks The Cat Lounge as a must-visit for feline lovers.
The lounge is located at the end of Torrey Pines Road, where it meets one of La Jolla’s main streets, Girard Avenue.
Along with cat adoptions, the lounge operates as a local hangout and a venue for private events like birthdays.
Walk-in visits are welcome from 12 pm to 6 pm, except on Mondays and Wednesdays.
While this fun activity is child-friendly, all children under 18 should be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Address: 1006 Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
6. The Salk Institute
If you’re more about finding a balance between truth and science, you’re probably looking for some unique things to do in California.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is an independent, non-profit research institution founded in 1960 by acclaimed virologist Jonas Salk.
His vision was to foster broader scientific collaboration to address humanity’s most significant issues.
Today the institution is known for its holistic approach across various boundaries of research, namely the fields of molecular biology and genetics, neurosciences, and plant biology.
Along with the breakthroughs in their research, the institute is among the popular tourist attractions because of its charming architecture.
The campus consists of two symmetric wings built atop a travertine-paver central plaza.
When visiting, you’ll find lots of open space between buildings with long open-air passages with the ocean and sky in view.
This design was meant to reinforce the institution’s values of boundlessness and creativity in pursuing truth through science.
What’s even better than reading about the institute’s pursuits is participating in one of its tours which includes; a self-guided campus tour and a docent-led tour.
Groups of one to seven people may participate in the self-guided campus tour by registering at the campus from Monday to Friday between 9 am and 4 pm.
This tour is free; however, if you’d like a more insightful tour from a researcher working in the institute, you can opt for the docent-led tours.
This tour is held weekly on Wednesdays and Fridays and is an hour long, starting at 10 am.
Group sizes aren’t confirmed, but anyone from the public can join the tour so long they pay the fee.
Address: 10010 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
7. Harry’s Coffee Shop
Harry’s Coffee shop has been a long-standing resident of Girard Avenue, La Jolla, California, dating back to 1960.
This family-owned diner is La Jolla’s oldest diner and is currently run by its second generation, who diligently serve patrons of all ages.
From article features in San Diego Magazine to a feature on Food Network, it’s no wonder that critics have lauded the eatery as the best diner in San Diego.
Get cozy in the glossy vinyl booths or look around at the Norman Rockwell paintings that evoke nostalgia and homeliness.
Above all, the main tourist attraction is the delectable breakfast and lunch meals served daily from 7 am to 2:30 pm.
Harry’s Coffee Shop specializes in sweet and savory pancakes, chicken fried steak, and salads.
Their most notable dish is The B.W. Benny, a heavy helping of a bacon-stuffed buttermilk waffle, topped with ham and a poached egg, dressed in their signature in-house hollandaise sauce.
Address: 7545 Girard Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
8. UCSD Stuart Collection
The Stuart Collection comprises unique sculptures meant to enhance the cultural and scholarly influence of UC San Diego and the broader community.
The sculpture collection was first conceptualized in 1981 by couple James and Marner Stuart De Silva.
By 1982 the Stuart collection signed an agreement with the University of California, San Diego, which has manifested into a 40-year legacy of artistic creations that have become a striking aspect of the university’s campus.
The Stuart Collection has prided itself in accruing a variety of national and international artists, namely; Niki de Saint Phalle and Tim Hawkinson.
The first sculpture commissioned for the Stuart collection was Saint Phalle’s Sun God in January of 1983, a 14-foot bird sculpture made of fiberglass perched on a 15-foot concrete arch.
The Sun God is meant to celebrate the diversity and beauty of the local landscape, displaying a fusion of Mexican and Indian cultures that underpin the University’s history and the state of California.
Concerning where to go to view the Sun God at UC San Diego, it is fixed on a grassy area between the Faculty Club and Mandeville Auditorium.
This artwork, along with pieces like Tim Hawiknson’s bear made of boulders, display how innovative the collection is as it is designed to meld in with the landscape and already existing structures.
Moreover, you can go on a self-guided tour of the Stuart collection with a downloadable app that features a printable map and videos describing the sculptures’ artistic process and meaning.
Also, these sculptures aren’t off limits to anyone, children and adults can touch and even climb on them, which adds an element of fun to this art expedition, and you and your companions can enjoy this experience for free.
Address: 9500 Gilman Dr, La Jolla, CA 92093, United States
9. Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
Founded in 1899, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library are one of 17 non-profit membership libraries in the U.S., making it a rare cultural institution.
The library provides resources to the public that regard music and the arts and presents over 200 cultural events and programs annually at two venues, La Jolla and Barrio Logan.
The artistic heritage encased in the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is unlike no other in San Diego.
Its ever-broadening collection of books, compact discs, DVDs, periodicals, librettos, and sheet music is available five days a week (Tuesday to Saturday) from 10 am to 5:30 pm.
You would have to pay an annual membership to relish all the library offers.
However, you can enjoy the books and live music completely free of charge.
Depending on the time of year, you can catch a live mini-concert on Monday afternoons at the Athenaeum.
While it falls under the “free things to do in La Jolla” list, you are highly encouraged to donate to the library and the preservation of the relics it safeguards.
Address: 1008 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
Planning a trip to Temecula, Santa Monica, and Santa Cruz? If you plan the trip, here are some fun things to do in Temecula, some cool things to do in Santa Monica, and some top things to do in Santa Cruz!
10. Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Along 2300 Expedition Way is the Birch Aquarium which invites visitors to ‘come curious and leave inspired.’
The aquarium is a public outreach center for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
Home to more than 3,000 animals and 380 species, the aquarium has over 60 tanks in its Hall of Fishes, three tide pools, a sea dragon conservation, and a blue penguin exhibit.
One of the aquarium’s greatest motivations is conservation, and they spread their message and research in ways that resonate with children and adults alike.
Their hands-on exhibits present captivating information on topics such as; renewable energy and the oddities of the ocean and ocean life.
Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (extended to 7 pm in July and August), the last hour for entry is 4 pm.
Tickets aren’t available on-site.
You will have to purchase a single-day ticket online.
Together with the wonders of the sea creatures are the extra niceties in the aquarium, like the Splash Cafe, an open-air cafe that serves gourmet sandwiches and beverages and is right next to an ATM.
You can also grab a souvenir from the Birch Aquarium gift store to remember your visit.
The aquarium offers free parking for 3 hours in the lot.
Time extensions are only allowed with a parking permit which you can get at the visitor services office for a minimal fee.
Address: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
11. La Playa Gallery
The La Playa Gallery prides itself in curating ‘undeniable and nontrivial art.’
It has proven itself an advocate for the recognition of artists and the importance of art in the community by highlighting the conflict local artists have between their passion and livelihoods.
Open from Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, La Playa Gallery has a collection of intricate jewelry and fine paintings and sculptures on display which later feature in their exclusive shows throughout the year.
Address: 2226 Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
Looking for something to do this weekend?
Lajollacooks4you is a cooking program founded by Jodi Abel in 2007.
Abel is a certified culinary master chef and foodie who shares her wealth of culinary expertise in her gourmet cooking classes.
As part of her conscientious approach, Abel uses sustainable and locally-sourced ingredients in her cooking; this follows after a thrilling foodie tour through San Diego filled with unforgettable dining experiences.
These cooking classes are intimately sized and allow for private bookings, so you and a partner, travel buddies, or family members can share the enriching experience.
Address: 2094 Caminito Capa, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
13. Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial
The Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial is a significant landmark whose mountain measures 823 feet and encompasses interstate 5, the pacific ocean, and La Jolla.
Out of all the things to do in La Jolla, it is the only site tainted with controversy, but the mountain is a sentimental landmark.
Interestingly, the late Dr. Suess had his residence on the mountain.
Today, it maintains its observation tower and is currently listed for sale.
On the side of the controversy, Soledad mountain has had a 25-year litigation case over the propping up of crosses since the 1980s.
However, crosses have been placed on the mountaintop since 1913.
Since the Mount Soledad Memorial Association purchased large swathes of land from the government in 2015, the cross has remained.
Aside from the controversy, the memorial aspect of Soledade mountain, which lies at the base of the cross, makes the list of top things to see as it draws locals and tourists to pay their respects to military personnel.
Both living and deceased military members have pictures on a plaque and a paragraph on the service person’s role in the Revolutionary war of the 18th and 19th centuries through to the war on terror in the 21st century.
There are 11 walls designated as memorial plaques with honoree plaques commemorating Presidents, medal of honor recipients, and celebrity veterans.
If there are particular plaques you’d want to see, you can use the plaque locator available on Soledad memorial’s website.
Moreover, you can dedicate a plaque to a veteran for a fee with a ceremony courtesy of the association.
Regarding things to do on Soledad, you can take a hike or cycle on its trails free of charge and enjoy the panoramic view of La Jolla to the north, the community of Pacific beach to the south, and the interstate and the pacific ocean to the east, and west.
Address: 6905 La Jolla Scenic Dr S, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
Looking for more thrill? Why not check out Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and San Jose? If you plan the trip, here are some of the best things to do in Santa Barbara, some of the best things to do in San Luis Obispo, and some fun things to do in San Jose!
14. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
With neon lights glowing along Prospect Street, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego invites visitors to reflect on their lives, communities, and the ever-changing world through contemporary art.
Sitting on the Museum’s board are several acclaimed artists, many of whom are California natives, including; Mark Bradford and John Baldessari.
Along with its La Jolla location, the museum has a venue in Downtown San Diego, Barrio Logan, known for some of California’s best street art.
The venue downtown hosts events, exhibitions, and performances, which are posted on its website.
The museum in La Jolla hosts several themed tours that can be requested online.
These include; the general tour, the women artists of color tour, an architectural history tour, and a tour to introduce the basic elements of art to kids.
Every second Sunday, the San Diego location hosts a Free Second Sunday event where the museum is open to the public for free.
This weekend event showcases the gallery’s collection of contemporary and abstract art by artists from America and Europe.
The museum operates from Thursday to Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
It is closed from Monday to Wednesday.
Address: 700 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
15. La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is a popular spot for families with small children due to its accessibility and the numerous activities that await people of all ages.
The U.S. Travel News has listed La Jolla as the second best in California, especially for its cove.
The coastal inlet is surrounded by cliffs and is a walking distance from hotels like La Valencia and other La Jolla cove hotels.
Point La Jolla makes up the southern part of the cove, near Scripps park and the view of lounging sea lions.
The water is reportedly colder than the average beach in San Diego, but that doesn’t hinder it from being a hotspot for snorkeling, swimming, and scuba diving.
The cove belongs to an ecological reserve that has prohibited surfboards, inflatables, and kayaking; fishing and collecting marine specimens (whether fossilized, dead, or alive) are also not allowed, as all sea life is protected by law.
Constituting the north part of the cove are seven caves, one of which has been named ‘Sunny Jim Cave,’ which is a short distance from local businesses that operate above the shoreline.
An all-rounding activity of La Jolla’s cove is the snorkeling tour of its 600 ft deep underwater canyon.
As part of the tour, you can marvel at the verdant marine gardens, which boast stunning underwater rock formations, colorful plant life, and fish, namely the orange Garibaldi, California’s state fish.
Space is usually limited in the beach area.
However, there are amenities like shower areas and benches at the top of the cove.
Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, San Diego, CA 92037, United States
16. LJ Crafted Wines
The wines are made by Alison Green-Doran, who is one of the first and most esteemed female winemakers in the U.S.
Her zero-waste practice of bottling in reusable packaging has prevented over 130,000 single-use wine bottles from production and disposal and was recognized in 2019 by the City of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department.
LJ prides itself in its urban take on wine tasting, offering direct barrel services where you can avail yourself of a glass of wine straight from the barrel or have it poured into a growler for consumption off the location.
What’s more, is their wine tasting room where wine associates can guide you through the line-up of wines on the 13-item tasting menu.
Address: 5621 La Jolla Blvd, San Diego, CA 92037, United States
17. Torrey Pines Gliderport
The Torrey Pines Gliderport is where hang-gliders and paragliders, both experienced and novice, take off the perched cliffs to have the time of their lives.
Rated among the top gliderports in California, it is truly one of the most fun things to do in La Jolla, and pets can join in on the fun as well!
A sightseeing trove, the gliderport is located above Blacks beach, a mile-and-a-half section of beach notorious for its “optional clothing” policy.
Atop the gliderport, you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the sea and sky seven days a week from 9 am and 6 pm.
Other niceties that tourists and locals enjoy are the free parking space, live music from local musicians and bands on Saturday afternoons, and the Cliffhanger cafe.
The cafe operates daily from 9 am to 4 pm serving delectable sandwiches, ice cream sandwiches, salads, and snacks.
Note that they do not serve alcohol.
However, you can place food orders ahead, lending more time to other activities on the gliderport.
Of course, there’s no talking about the gliderport without mentioning the hang gliding and paragliding activities; on-site are people with gear who take off into the sky solo and experts who offer lessons on the basics to help you get a taste of what could be your new hobby.
A little FYI to dispel any safety concerns; the Torrey Pines gliderport hasn’t had any hang gliding or paragliding accidents in 20 years, so you will be in good hands.
Address: 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
18. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Another adventurous activity to consider is trekking through the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, which rests between Del Mar and La Jolla, north of San Diego.
The 1,500 acres of coastal bramble have many hiking trails open enough to give you a full ocean view.
You may hear some locals call the natural reserve Torrey Pines State Park, and while it is part of California’s park system, it is a conserved area for vulnerable animals, habitats, and plants.
With this in mind, visitors are expected to help protect the area and its flora and fauna.
Regarding touring the natural reserve, you can opt for a self-guided hike along the six demarcated trails or tag along for a free guided walk.
The six trails vary in length and difficulty and include; The Guy Fleming trail, a 0.6-mile loop that is easy to trek and filled with various cacti and wildflowers.
Then there’s the Parry grove trail, marked as moderately difficult due to its steep decline, and among the difficult trails is the Razor point trail which is 0.5 miles.
The guided walks are popular with families and small groups with a maximum of 10 people.
They take place from 10 am until 2 pm and are led by a park ranger you meet at the visitor center entrance.
Ideally, if you’re part of an organized group, schedule your hike three weeks before.
Address: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
19. Marvel at the Local Murals
Murals of La Jolla is an organization founded in 2010 that commissions public art as an initiative to enhance La Jolla’s community and infrastructure.
For an immersive activity, you can do a self-guided tour of the outdoor exhibitions that display an array of artworks by national and international artists.
These art pieces are usually indicated on the sides of buildings illustrating thought-provoking and skillful works of art.
A guide is readily available on the organization’s website, which details where the murals are located and what they mean to the community.
Currently, Murals of La Jolla has 42 artworks on display, with 15 murals available.
Bring out your inner art lover by attending the ‘Parking lot parties,’ open-air talks held at night, and hosted by the community with artists who discuss the rationale behind their murals.
Address: La Jolla, CA, United States
20. The Marine Room
Wine and dine at The Marine Room, where the enthusiastic surfside meets the sophistication of gourmet cooking for an acclaimed dining experience.
If you’re looking for romantic things to experience, this award-winning restaurant has been titled ‘The Most Romantic Restaurant’ by Open Tables making it a must-visit for couples.
It has also been certified by ‘visit California’s website’ and had its chef commended as the Best Chef in San Diego publications.
The Marine Room was established in 1941 with the seahorse as its symbol and has sustained an 80-year legacy of giving locals and tourists the best of La Jolla’s food, culture, and landscape.
The restaurant is divided into two sections; the main restaurant and the Lounge.
Both the main restaurant and lounge maintain the smart California casual dress code meaning should you wear denim, have your best pair of jeans on, but active beach wear like shorts, baseball caps, or flip flops are not allowed.
The Lounge is located in the heart of the main restaurant and serves as an exclusive space where you can get a better view of the scenery.
While reservations aren’t as required in the main restaurant, it is highly recommended that you make a reservation for the lounge because it can only accommodate between 2 to 12 people for two hours at a time.
The tables closest to the view are given on a first-come, first-serve basis.
At the heart of the restaurant’s appeal is its high-tide dinners.
Although the Marine Room is open from 5 pm to 9 pm, from Wednesday through Sunday, it often makes special exceptions when the tide is high and opens up to accommodate guests.
Accompanying the delicious meals is an extra special glimpse of the ocean’s power and majesty.
Dates for the high tide dinners are usually announced on their website.
Address: 2000 Spindrift Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
21. La Jolla Open Aire Market
La Jolla’s Open Aire market touts itself as a farmers market, unlike any other farmers market.
The Sunday affair has a heartwarming origin, having been started to fundraise for a school library.
In 1996 Sherry Ahern, a school mom of La Jolla Elementary, wanted to start an initiative to raise funds to buy books for the local school library and to find a librarian.
The community and San Diego’s unified school district supported the initiative.
The first Open Aire Market happened in October 1998 with 14 farmers and one craftsman.
As of present, the Open Aire market has become one of the top places to visit.
With no entry fee, it is one of La Jolla’s many free things to do, hosting 120 vendors every Sunday from 9 am to 1 pm.
Along with fresh produce from local farmers, entertainment for children is provided, and there is plenty of street parking along Girard Avenue for visitors to the market.
Address: 7335 Girard Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037, United States
Start Planning Your Trip To La Jolla
From the rush of Prospect Street and Girard Avenue to the tranquility of hiking down Torrey Pines nature reserve or mount Soledade, there are always places to go, activities to take on, and atmospheres to take in La Jolla.
It’s incredible how this coastal town can take on so many environments with the rest of California considered.
Still, it shows that there are many La Jolla attractions for anyone and everyone to enjoy.