And off we go. This time in pursuit of hidden gems and best-kept secrets in San Diego. And the first place to visit here is the historic Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave.
How to Visit Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave: Access, Tips, and Endless Adventures Inside and Nearby
A small, charming cave nestles on the ocean shore in La Jolla, a quintessential neighborhood of San Diego. The dark hollow constantly attracts attention with its unorthodox look. From a distance, especially if you look at the cave’s opening from inside, it reminds of a head of an old man or a cartoon character.
The biggest allure, though, is that the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave is the only cave on the picturesque La Jolla’s shore that you can visit by entering from land.
Troubles Start way before You Reach the Cave
The entry from the land certainly won us over. A visit to any cave, let alone the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, with a toddler was out of question for us. But once we came across this hidden gem in San Diego, we made sure to get inside it, which became quite an adventure.
Locating a store with private access to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave was probably the easiest part of our visit. Finding parking, however, was not. After circling the closest to the shore streets, we gave up and drove into a parking structure nearby.
A $20-25 day parking ticket wasn’t unusual for such a popular seaside destination as La Jolla. And it was the price we had to pay for arriving around noon on a busy weekend.
Once we crossed the street and approach the Cave Store, our short excursion to the Sunny Jim’s Cave became a reality. Moreover, we finally got a lucky break.
While popular beaches in La Jolla already hosted large crowds, only a handful of beachgoers went out of their normal way and visited the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave from land that afternoon. And even these explorers left the small cavern after lingering around for 5-10 minutes. So we had the whole cave with the ocean waves splashing on its rocks all to ourselves.
Inside the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave: How to Visit and How Long does it Take
An average visitor spends anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes inside the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. Occasionally, the guests stay as long as 30 minutes and enjoy complete solitude interrupted by passing by boaters and kayakers.
Sneaking into the water from the cave is not allowed. At least, it’s not encouraged. A sturdy platform with wooden railings protect the visitors of the Sunny Jim’s Cave from the naughty waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Yet when nobody is looking (Cave Store’s staff certainly doesn’t follow you into the cave), some people try to venture out into the ocean. Whatever happens next is not a part of the visit they agreed upon while purchasing a ticket to enter a tunnel leading to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. The Cave Store is off the hook at that point and is not responsible for anything, good or bad.
With that said, you can visit the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave from water at any time. Be sure to have appropriate “transportation” as swimming all the way to this tiny cavern might be not the smartest idea.
How to Visit Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave from Land: Inside the Tunnel
Those who prefer a drier visit find the entrance to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave inside the Cave Store. This beach-themed gift shop sits across the street from an Ace parking lot, within walking distance of La Jolla Cove.
Once inside the store, head to a cashier station, set right in front of the door to the Sunny Jim’s Cave’s tunnel. Large black and while photos adorn a wall above the entrance, enhancing your short seaside excursion with a few rare throwbacks to the tunnel’s early days.
The underground passage is an adventure on its own. The narrow corridor that barely allows two people to pass by each other descends via 145 steps into the cave. Dim lights illuminate the tunnel. It’s too dingy to bestow on you a sense of mystery, yet bright enough to safely make it through the tunnel.
They say the stairs can be wet and slippery. We were lucky to have a pretty dry route. Roshan was carrying Dylan who felt uneasy in the dark underground passage. Normally, you would want to avoid venturing into the dim and often slippery tunnel with a baby.
People with disabilities may also want to skip a visit to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave while spending a day in La Jolla. But if the distinctive shape of the secret cavern calls you, make the trip through the tunnel at a slow but safe pace.
History in a Nutshell
The narrow, dark stairs present little to no inconveniences to those who visit the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave today. More than a century ago, accessing the area was harder. All daredevil visitors used ropes to get in and out of the cave.
Fast forward just a few year prior to this, the tunnel hadn’t even existed. A german artist, mining engineer, and entrepreneur named Gustav Schultz recognized the future appeal of the cave. He proposed to dug a tunnel that would connect his house, now the Cave Store, with the ocean shore.
Similar idea was born in the head of yet another entrepreneur, Thomas Diamond. The latter, however, intended to build a few tunnels: one that would run from his property and the other under Cave Street. The latter would connect all caves on the shore. The lengthy project, however, was rejected.
The luck was on Schultz’s side. In 1902, soon after approval of his project, the German hired two Chinese laborers to dug out the tunnel. The work took almost 2 years to complete.
Finally by the end of 1903, the tunnel connecting the Schultz’s original residence with the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave saw its first visitors. The early guests were charged a small fee for a chance to visit the dramatic cave.
The mysterious past of the secret attraction doesn’t end on it. Rumor has it that bootleggers frequently visited the Sunny Jim’s Cave during Prohibition. They used the touristic landmark to smuggle alcohol and opium into San Diego.
Why the Name Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave?
The name of the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, however, had nothing to do with these prohibited visits. Another tale connects the quaint destination with Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They say the famous novelist couldn’t help but name the minute cavern after a fictional character.
For Baum, one visit was enough to recognize something that previous guests of the now favorite Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave area had failed to notice. The unusual entrance of the cave resembled the shape of Sunny Jim’s head, a cartoon character that appeared on boxes of a British breakfast cereal in the early 1900s.
How to Visit Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave: Everything You Need to Know
Address: 1325 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037
To visit the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave from land, be sure to locate the Cave Store first. The gift shop sits on La Jolla’s oceanfront Coast Blvd, within walking distance from some of the popular beaches in the village.
The historic landmark has been a for-profit endeavor since the construction of the tunnel. The price to visit the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave from land has increased significantly over the years.
While the first visitors paid just about $0.50, a visit to the cave costs $10 per adult and $6 per child (17 and younger) now. The price has doubled since the time we descended into the Sunny Jim’s Cave just a few years ago.
The Cave Store is open daily, from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Self-guided tours through the tunnel are available from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm.
A small parking lot is located right outside the Cave Store. The parking spaces are limited, though.
The situation doesn’t get easier with street parking in business and residential areas between Torrey Pines Road and Prospect Street. The place is almost always packed. You have more chances of claiming one of the parking spots here if you visit the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave on a weekday.
A bigger parking lot, the Ace parking lot, sits across the street from the gift shop. With ample paid parking spaces, it’s your best option if nothing else works.
Places to Visit near Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave
A visit to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave is normally short, no longer than 30 minutes. The area nearby, however, can easily occupy you for a day or two. So if you have enough time and desire to see more of sunny La Jolla, check out the following destinations:
Known as a favorite sunbathing location of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals, the Children’s Pool enhances your visit to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave with the views of the local wildlife.
Green lawns of the park allure those locals and visitors that need a break from the splashing waves and a scenic place to have a picnic. On weekends, local merchants flock to the park, selling everything from stones, jewelry, and books.
La Jolla Cove
If after a quick trip to the Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave you long for more ocean-inspired adventures, visit La Jolla Cove. Apart from being a favorite beach destination, its rocks, towering above the untamed ocean, are another popular place to see the seals and sea lions soaking up the sun.