Every time we travel to San Diego, its coastal area screams for our attention, inevitably seducing us to spend the whole day in La Jolla.
Last updated: January 21, 2023
How to Spend One Day in La Jolla: Guide, Itinerary, Map, and Everything You Need to Know
Incredibly charming, surprisingly relaxing, and unapologetically luxurious, La Jolla is the most popular neighborhood of San Diego. “The Jewel” of the city is how locals nicknamed this small seaside paradise. Whether you search for crashing waves and abundant marine wildlife or long for upscale village atmosphere, the place has it all.
Packed with a myriad of iconic places to explore and various things to do within just the seven miles of the gorgeous coastline, La Jolla makes every day special. Be ready for a casual morning and busy afternoon that gradually slips into an unforgettable evening at a top-notch restaurant with breathtaking views of the ocean. One day in La Jolla makes your California dream come true. No doubt about it!
How to Spend One Day in La Jolla: Itinerary and Guide
After spending more time in this posh seaside neighborhood where laid-back beach culture edges with the luxurious lifestyle than in San Diego itself, I have prepared a complete One Day in La Jolla guide and itinerary.
This guide spills all the beans on what to do and what to see in one day in La Jolla. You will find helpful tips that concern everything from parking to your attire. Moreover, you can plan your own day adventures in La Jolla by using our detailed map below.
After spending just one day in this fairytale Village by the ocean, you will certainly long for more. When I took my brother to La Jolla for the first time, he wanted to move here. It didn’t happen, though. Yet La Jolla has become one of his regular destinations to spend one day immersed in the beach culture.
Without further ado, here is the ultimate La Jolla guide, including One Day in La Jolla itinerary, that contains the map, tips, and the best places to eat and play.
One Day in La Jolla: Meet Coastline
The quintessential Village of La Jolla spreads over seven miles of enchanting coastline along the Pacific Ocean within the northern section of San Diego. Surrounded on three sides by towering bluffs and pristine beaches, the place oozes style, an easy-going vibe, and the upscaled ambiance just minutes away from the salty water.
Mediterranean climate with average daily temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit further ensures memorable day trips to La Jolla all year round. All in all, the stunning neighborhood enjoys 266 sunny days a year. With this natural advantage, La Jolla offers a serious competition to flawless beaches in Laguna Beach and favorite sandy stretches in Malibu.
Some of the best lodging, dining, and shopping of San Diego are located in this impeccable Village. From more than 100 exclusive restaurants to a myriad of educational institutions, museums, and art galleries, La Jolla makes sure your day here is packed to the brim. Furthermore, you can’s fully enjoy a day visit to La Jolla without exploring its well-maintained scenic trails and exemplary wellness centers.
Famous for its rugged coastline, the area also lures every respectful surfer and scuba diver that spend the whole day conquering high surf and exploring the underwater world of La Jolla.
The sunny Village finds its admirers among marine animals as well. A large colony of local seals and sea lions claims a few beaches in La Jolla every day a week, 52 weeks a year. Once surprising encounters, the soaking up the sun marine creatures are one the main attractions in the area today. Thousands of visitors flock to La Jolla to spend a day admiring these large mammals as they awkwardly climb on the shore.
Getting to La Jolla
La Jolla nestles within the northern part of San Diego, about 14 miles from the city center. The easiest way to get to this coastal Village is by following Interstate 5. Exit at La Jolla Village Drive if you drive from the south. Visitors from the north wishing to spend one day in La Jolla should exit at La Jolla Parkway.
Arriving by Airplane
San Diego International Airport is located approximately 15 miles from La Jolla. Usually, it doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to get to the Village from the airport, giving that there’s no traffic. This close proximity along with the abundance of things to do in La Jolla inspire many travelers to stay here and explore San Diego and its surroundings during a few day trips.
Arriving by Car
The majority of the day visitors venture to La Jolla from the nearby areas. As San Diego almost borders Mexico, the daytrippers come mostly from the north. For those who drive from Los Angeles, head south on I-5 to La Jolla Village Drive. Take exit 28 and follow Torrey Pines Road to Fay Avenue. While getting to La Jolla by car is a one of the most convenient ways, parking in the Village is challenging.
How to Spend One Day in La Jolla: Map
What to Do in La Jolla in One Day
Although throughout this article we cherish the idea of spending just one day in La Jolla, the place certainly deserves more time. The locals should plan for a few day trips to this area. The foreigners and visitors from different states might skip some attractions in downtown San Diego for a chance to engage in more day activities in La Jolla. With that said, here are the best things to do in one day in La Jolla.
1. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Occupying 2,000 acres of land, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve sits off North Torrey Pines Road. Despite such a close location to the popular neighborhood of San Diego, the area remains one of the most unspoiled places on the Southern California coast.
Miles of pristine beaches rim the reserve, providing safe haven for migrating seabirds and other wildlife. The locals pride themselves on this unspoiled paradise. To them, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is associated with virgin California, a place that had existed before early settlers arrived.
Accessible all year round, the area offers an array of moderate hikes with panoramic views. The Torrey Pines Beach Loop is one of the most popular routes here. Running for 2.3 miles, it enhances your day with numerous opportunities to see some of the threatened La Jolla’s plants and animals.
Being a protected area, the reserve, however, imposes some limitation on your day adventures in this vast area of La Jolla. No picnics, no dogs, no smoking are allowed here. Moreover, be sure to pack your drones away when spending a day in this part of La Jolla.
Address: 12600 N Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California 92037
2. Torrey Pines Gliderport
It’s time to check out all thrilling adventures you can pack in one day in La Jolla. Perched on the cliffs above Black’s Beach, the Torrey Pines Gliderport ensures an adrenaline rush and a bird’s-eye view of San Diego.
From hand gliding to paragliding and tandem paragliding, this premier destination might easily become the highlight of your day in La Jolla. The Torrey Pines Gliderport invites both skilled gliders as well as beginners, offering some lesson and instructions for the newbies.
Paragliding, however, is one of the most expensive activities to do in La Jolla. For those who prefer to stay on budget or feel more conformable on the ground, the Torrey Pines Gliderport offers the astounding vistas and outdoor dining at Cliffhanger Cafe.
Address: 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr., La Jolla, California 92037
3. La Jolla Cove
The stellar views and abundance of beach activities fill your day at La Jolla Cove. This small, yet eye-pleasing beach crowns the coastal area of the Village. A primary destination for snorkeling, swimming, and scuba diving, it appeals to adults and children alike.
Apart from its scenic cliff-protectors that shelter the beach, La Jolla Cove is known as a part of the marine reserve. Its churning waters brim with all kinds of ocean inhabitants that entice you to spend the whole day exploring the rich underwater world of La Jolla.
Not all marine animals, however, test your scuba diving skills. An elevated walkway above the beach allows you to see the sea lions sunbathing on the cliffs and the sandy beach. You can also descend concrete stairs leading to the cove and enjoy a leisurely walk on the golden sand.
TIP: Remember, though, the naughty waves can’t help but “embrace” the locals as well as the day-visitors of La Jolla from time to time. Thus, you might want to keep closer to the cliff when the surf is high.
Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, California 92037
4. Sunny Jim Sea Cave
Sheltered by the towering cliffs and guarded by the powerful Pacific Ocean, the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave is one of the legendary hidden gems of San Diego. Indeed, the place does’t like excessive attention, unveiling its presence to the most resourceful day visitors of La Jolla.
The secluded cave has allured the locals and travelers for over a century. Accessible only by boat or through a tunnel running from The Cave Store, it first attracted attention in 1902. Gustav Schultz, a German artist and entrepreneur, hired two Chinese laborers to dig a tunnel that would connect his house (now the store) with the cave. They also say, the small cavern was used for bootlegging during Prohibition.
No illegal trading happens in in the cave when the sun goes down nowadays. Instead, the secluded area entertains the locals as well as the rare visitors who are fortunate enough to learn about the place prior to their day trip to La Jolla.
Spend One Day in La Jolla: Tunnel to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave
The connecting tunnel has become an enticing landmark on its own. Still accessible from the former house of Gustav Schultz, it descends via a narrow staircase to the enchanting cave. The original 145 steps remain intact, allowing for a convenient 5-minute journey to the seaside.
Such a secret location mostly reserves the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave to the use of the locals. The visitors, especially those who spend just one day in La Jolla, often have no clue about its existence. New regulations at the store further prevent from the spontaneous visits to the cave.
To check out the cave at any time, you should plan to visit La Jolla sometime during the day on Tuesday or Thursday. During these so-called walk-in days, the tunnel is open to the public from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm. Self-guided tours costs $10 for adults, $6 for children (3-17).
Once in the cave, you can spend as much time as you need. Usually, the visitors linger inside for 15-20 minutes. Occasionally, photographers get down the tunnel and spend nearly half a day by La Jolla’s seaside, photographing away the churning waters and flying seagulls.
Reservations are required to explore the La Jolla’s most intriguing cave and tunnel during any other day of the week.
Update: As of 2022, no reservations are needed. Furthermore, the tunnel is open for visits daily, from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm.
Address: 1325 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, California 92037
5. Shell Beach
La Jolla’s coastline is packed with the small, picturesque beaches, such as Shell Beach. Accessible via a concrete staircase, the sandy stretch sits right at the bottom of the cliff that houses Ellen Browning Scrips Park.
The name of the beach is rather literal. Tiny shells accumulate on the golden sand, giving plenty of natural “toys” to play with for the kids. Moreover, the young “marine biologists” keep themselves busy exploring tiny creatures that abound in tide pools on the beach.
The sandstone bluffs shelter the area on both sides. Yet it doesn’t protect Shell Beach from massive waves that splash on the sand, submerging almost half of the beach at high tide. While you can still enjoy the leisurely walks by the water any time of the year, the locals prefer to get down to the beach only at low tide.
Address: 1000 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, California 92037
6. La Jolla Coast Walk Trail
Are you fond of long walks by the ocean? La Jolla offers an activity that can occupy the whole day. Spanning the entire shoreline, the Coast Walk Trail unveils all the pristine beaches, towering cliffs, and abundant marine life of the upscale Village. The trail temporarily stretches along the sandy beaches before it climbs onto the bluff near La Jolla Cove Beach, never descending back to the water afterward.
The majority of the day visitors as well as the locals succumb to the indisputable natural beauty of the trail, spending from a couple of hours to half a day by the ocean. More sea lions, seals, and other marine creatures greet the hikers along the way. Normally, only the most persistent visitors conquer the entire La Jolla Coast Walk Trail.
Address: La Jolla, California
7. Ellen Browning Scripps Park
Arguably, one of the most photographed parks in the area, Ellen Browning Scripps Park invites you to relax on its green grass after an eventful day in La Jolla. Set on the cliff above the major beaches, the place gathers people from all walks of life.
Families with small children frequent the park, letting their youngsters crawl around and climb the trees. On weekends, the area is brimmed with local merchants selling everything from accessories to books and crystals. The park yet keeps its biggest entertainment for the Fourth of July when colorful fireworks festoon the sky above the ocean.
Address: 1100 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, California 92037
8. Children’s Pool Beach
We made a few day trips to La Jolla over the past few years. While our places of interest changed depending on the time of the year, Children’s Pool always toped our itineraries.
Sitting just south of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, the area has nothing to do with the kids. Instead of the active, young beachgoers, the place accommodates a large colony of awkward seals. Packing the short stretch of sandy land like sardines in a tin can, the mammals soak up the warm sun all year round.
Originally, the Children’s Pool was intended to provide a secluded location for the local kids to splash in the ocean water. A concrete breakwater wall was erected in 1931 to protect the kids from the incoming waves.
Yet the young beachgoers didn’t enjoy the place for a long time. Tempted by the calm waters, the seals moved in, permanently claiming the territory. To make their point, the mammals rarely if ever vacant the beach.
You can admire the marine animals all day long from the towering bluffs in La Jolla. For a close-up look, walk out along the seawall. Beware of the high waves, though. Splashing over the concrete barrier, they unsuccessfully aim at filling up the beach. Swimming during seal pupping season, however, is no longer allowed at the Children’s Pool.
Address: 834 Coast Blvd S, La Jolla, California 92037
9. Windansea Beach
You can spend a day in La Jolla testing its cold ocean waters on Windansea Beach. Located a short walk from the Children’s Pool area, the place is famous first of all for its surf shack. The old structure sits right on the beach, creating a dreamy backdrop for sunset photography.
Windansee is a short word for “Wind-and-Sea”. The beach owes its name to a hotel with the same name. Sadly, the hotel burned down in the 1940s. Nothing reminds of its existence but the catchy name.
The secluded beach survived, though, becoming a perfect spot to spend a warm day in La Jolla. Known for its high waves, the place is especially popular with the surfers. Swimming, however, can be challenging here. This drawback forces the majority of the beachgoers to stick only to strolling and sunbathing on the beach.
Address: Neptune Place and Nautilus Street, La Jolla, California 92037
10. San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park
La Jolla is a paradise for scuba divers. Brimmed with the marine animals and different habitats, the area suits experienced and beginner divers alike. For many visitors of La Jolla, the underwater world fills the whole day without leaving time for any other activities.
If you are one of these ocean devotees, be sure to explore the deep waters of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park. Spanning 6,000 acres of ocean floor and adjacent beaches, the place enhances your day visit with an array of marine species and incredible underwater terrain.
The area comprises the Ecological Reserve and the Marine Life Refuge and includes 4 distinct habitats: kelp bad, reefs, sand floats, and submarine canyon. The park was created in 1970. Two artificial reefs were added to its territory to attract the marine animals. While the area might be out of reach for some of the day visitors of La Jolla, the divers always come back for more.
Address: 8302 Camino Del Oro, La Jolla, California 92037
11. Torrey Pines Golf Course
Golf lovers usually devote an entire day to tossing balls into loops at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Founded in 1957, the place boasts two professional 18-hole full courses.
Although it’s enticing, perfecting your swing on the bluff above the Pacific Ocean comes with a hefty price. The La Jolla’s visitors usually shell out more than $200 for a day at this superb golf club. Playing here on weekends and holidays comes with a higher price.
Address: 11480 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, California 92037
12. Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier
Relatively fewer visitors skip the main beaches to spend a day near the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, located just south of La Jolla Shores. A popular oceanography research site, it was built in 1916. The Pier never intended to impress neither the visitors nor the locals of La Jolla. Instead, it focused solely on study, research, and a variety of experiments.
Yet one of the largest active research piers in the world didn’t escape the distorting force of time. Luckily in 1988, it went though a major reconstruction that enabled it to carry on its scientific work.
On top of the underwater research, the pier serves as a boat launch today. Small vessels go off both side of the pier to catch food for inhabitants of Birch Aquarium at Scripps and collect data near the shore.
Despite its enticing finds, the Scripps Pier welcomes only scientists and oceanographers. The public is not allowed to visit, moreover spend a day on the pier. Yet the beach on the both sides of the structure is free and open to all beachgoers.
Bursting into colors in the evening, the place is especially popular with the photographers that use the long concrete structure as a main object for their sunset photography.
Address: 8650 Kennel Way, La Jolla, Ca 92037
13. La Jolla Village
Quintessential La Jolla Village provides a break from all beach-related activities. From shopping to dining and enjoying its epic wellness centers, the area keeps reminding why La Jolla is considered one of the most luxurious neighborhoods of San Diego.
Continuing with the prevailing trend, walkable La Jolla Village enables its day visitors to explore most of the sites, waterfront restaurants, and trendy boutiques on foot. The place also boasts a few movie theaters that allow for a short escape from the dreamy scenery to cinematic world.
The day visitors with children, however, might need to look for more kid-friendly places. Loaded with sweet goodies for all tastes and buds, Balboa Candy comes especially in handy. While you might long for exclusive dishes and ocean terraces, your young travelers will surely declare this store the highlight of their day in La Jolla.
The top-notch restaurants won’t make you wait for long, either. Located just a minute away, eye-caching La Plaza La Jolla invites you to have a feast on its rooftop patio. Popular restaurant George’s at the Cove is another great option to savor flavorful dishes with a jaw-dropping view.
Address: La Jolla, California
14. La Jolla Murals
Spend the rest of the day discovering eccentric La Jolla’s murals. Often, this activity takes the whole day, so plan your visit accordingly.
The idea of bringing art to masses dates back to 2010. A number of local artists were commissioned to bring their works to the streets. Shortly after that, the first murals adorned private properties throughout La Jolla. New masterpieces joined the collection a few years later. The goal of this unconventional mission was to make artwork accessible to larger audiences at all times.
While you can come across plenty of the murals on your own while spending a day in La Jolla Village, here are a few places to start with.
Murals to Enjoy on a Day Visit to La Jolla
- Playing La Jolla (for all it’s worth), 2015, by Terry Allen. Address: 7611 Fay Avenue, La Jolla, California
- Favorite Color, 2010, by Roy McMakin. Address: 7596 Eads Avenue, La Jolla, California
- Gamboa Seasons in La Jolla, 2020, by Beatriz Milhazes. Address: 111 Prospect Street (back of building), La Jolla, California
- Eclipse (Playtime), 2013, (detail) 2020, by Isaac Julien. Address: 7569 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, California
- In Chains, 2020, by Marcos Ramirez. Address: 7744 Fay Avenue, La Jolla, California
15. La Jolla Tours
Some day activities in La Jolla require assistance. Although you can comfortably explore the beaches by yourself, the underwater world might be more receptive of an expert diving with you.
Hiring a local guide or booking a city tours also helps uncover the best sites and hidden gems of La Jolla. Whether you need assistance for a few hours or the whole day, the abundance of unforgettable experiences is guaranteed. For those who find the guided tours useful, here are a few options to choose from.
One Day in La Jolla Itinerary
With plenty of things to do and places to visit, La Jolla fills your day completely. Start early, walk a lot, and see as much as you possibly can. The place ought to be visited, explored, and discovered again and again. Feel free to use the activities outlined above to plan your own One Day in La Jolla itinerary.
To bring this coastal Village closer to you and show what you can possibly do in La Jolla in one day, we have included this sample itinerary. Use it as it is or change it to suit your preferences. So here is how your day in La Jolla can look like.
One Day in La Jolla: Morning Itinerary
- 8 am. Start your day with a healthy smoothie or juice along with some baked goods from Beaming Organic Superfood Cafe. You can enjoy your breakfast on the site while watching the city slowly resuming its day activities. Better yet, order your breakfast to go and venture to the oceanside.
- 9 am: Spend the first half of the day on the beach sunbathing, swimming, surfing, or simply enjoying the company of the seals and sea lions. For that reason, head to Children’s Pool. While going down to the water is out of question here, you can spend an hour or so admiring the big mammals and making friends with the local seagulls.
- For more seals and sea lions, walk along the bluff to La Jolla Cove. It’s a perfect place to finally get down to the beach, spread your towel on the sand, or swim in the cool ocean. Filled up with the tiny creatures transported here by the strong waves, the abundant tide pools allow you and your kids spend half a day examining La Jolla marine life up close.
- The coastal area, brimmed with small sea caves and rocks of irregular shapes, also allures photographers who use soft morning light to their advantage. For sunrise at the beach, you might want to get here a couple of hours earlier.
One Day in La Jolla: Afternoon Itinerary
- 12 pm. Have a picnic with the view at Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Located just above La Jolla Cove, it offers plenty of the green spaces to enjoy the second meal of the day. Spread your blanket and take in the gorgeous views or check out the tent-shops of the local vendors.
- As an alternative, head to Don Carlos Taco Shop and load up on hearty burritos. The place offers a variety of dishes, ranging from classic bean burritos to build-your-own-meal options. Vegan customers can’t stop raving about their soyrizo burritos.
- 1 pm. Reserve the rest of the day to exploring La Jolla Village. Start with the secluded Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave and slowly take your party onto the streets of the Village. Shop at the posh boutiques or collect some gifts from the small shops decorated in ocean themes. The visitors who don’t mind to walk a lot might want to devote the rest of the day to finding the famous murals scattered throughout La Jolla.
Alternative Afternoon in La Jolla Itinerary
- The nature enthusiasts can spend the rest of the day further enjoying the enormous treasures that coastal La Jolla has to offer. Go to the Torrey Pines and see how long you can walk before returning back to the Village for dinner.
- Take a guided tours and relish in history and architectural details of La Jolla or spend the rest of the day in the underwater world.
One Day in La Jolla: Evening Itinerary
- Dinner. Check out the stunning views from the Ocean Terraces at George’s at the Cove while enjoying its seafood delicacies. The place also delights La Jolla’s vegan and vegetarian day visitors, offering an array of plant-based dishes, ranging from fresh salads, roasted vegetables, and meatless burgers.
- Sunset. Finish the day in La Jolla with sunset magic near the remote Scripps Pier.
Helpful Tips for Spending One Day in La Jolla
Ditch the Car
I love spending a day in La Jolla. What I don’t like about it is looking for parking. Parking lots as well as streets fill up quickly, especially on weekends. We found it’s best to use paid day parking and explore La Jolla on foot. Use User if you must visit the farthest corners of the area after you “abandon” your car for the day. It won’t break the bank but saves you plenty of time and energy.
If you still prefer to drive around La Jolla, look for free spots on Coast Boulevard or near Prospect Street. Drive around until a spot opens up.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
You will spend a good part of the day visiting some of the popular and lesser-known places in La Jolla on foot. A comfortable pair of shoes is non-negotiable here.
Bring Towel and Clothes to Change
The untamed waves don’t spare anybody, including those who don’t plan to swim or surf. Thus, bring extra clothes and a small towel unless you plan to spend the whole day shopping, dining, and doing other “safe” activities in the Village of La Jolla.
La Jolla nestles in the southern corner of California where sun shines brightly most of the year. Take care of your skin and be sure to use sunscreen all day long when in La Jolla.
This concludes our guide to the best things to do and the top places to see in one day in La Jolla. For more information about the San Diego area, please check out the following guides:
- 18 Irresistible Day Trips from San Diego
- Weekend Guide to San Diego: 1 to 2 Days Itinerary, Tips, and Maps
- First Time in San Diego: What to Know and Do, Tips, and Map
- How to Visit Balboa Park: Directions, Tours, and Free Attractions
- Top 17 Things to Do in Balboa Park: Bucket List and Photography
If you found this post useful, don’t forget to pin it for later and share it with your friends.