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La Jolla Reefs

Postcard perfection

Along La Jolla's rocky points and reefs in the space of a few short miles, you'll encounter peaceful bays and pounding surf, offshore kelp and near shore tide pools, sea caves and seal rookeries, sparkling azure water and gleaming white beaches.

Sparkling Waves and Pristine Beaches

If the streets and storefronts in La Jolla seem older than elsewhere along the coast, it's because they are. With its fantastic natural scenery, unique in all San Diego, it was a natural choice for the earliest settlers and Indians before them. Over the years, the rising demand for room with a view has set the market and shaped La Jolla into the affluent community reflected in the upscale restaurants, fine art galleries and Ferrari dealerships about town. To best appreciate the simple bounty that started it all, take a driving or walking tour along La Jolla's rocky points and reefs from La Jolla Cove to the Children's Pool, and southward to Windansea Beach and Bird Rock.

Where to go:

  • La Jolla Cove is the north facing point on the seaward end of the cliffs that form a small deep water bay here. The cliffs are riddled with sea caves of special fascination to kayakers who paddle over from La Jolla Shores Beach. For $5.00 ($3 for kids 16 years and under), you can descend a spooky tunnel in the basement of The Cave Shop (on Coast Blvd. just off Prospect Street) to Sunny Jim's Cave at the base of Deadman's Bluff, or snorkel over from The Cove on a calm day to explore the huge grotto beneath "The Clam."
  • La Jolla Cove itself is a fine little beach and just right to comfortably accommodate a few dozen beachgoers. Recently inundated with hundreds of sea lions (not the same ocean mammal as the seals at Children’s Pool), on busy summer days, a few hundred people will still somehow manage to squeeze their way in for the terrific swimming and snorkeling afforded by The Cove's sheltered waters and abundance of bright orange Garibaldi fish and other tame marine life (The Cove has long been protected from fishing of any kind). Scuba divers and ocean swimmers use The Cove as a safe point of entry and exit. No surfboards, boogie boards or rafts of any kind are allowed. There is an excellent grass park adjacent to The Cove with bathrooms, showers, picnic tables, a paved pedestrian walkway and several public gazebos.
  • Proceeding south from La Jolla Cove, the coast is exposed to the mercy of the sea. Boomers, a wave reserved exclusively for bodysurfing, is the first spot on the route. A stairway at the south end of the park leads to Shell Beach. The big draw here is Seal Rock, where California grey seals congregate when the tide is low and the surf is down. At high tide when Seal Rock is awash, you'll find the seals hauled out on the small sand beach inside the breakwall at the Children's Pool. There has been a great deal of debate over the issue of who should have the right use this beach—humans, seals or both. Check with the lifeguards on-site to find out the current ruling, but be aware that seals, though cute, are wild and unpredictable animals better left well alone. If you're feeling daring, you can walk out on the seawall and watch the seals from a closer vantage point, but remember that you're also closer to the waves.
  • The tiny beach on the south side of the Children's Pool is Casa Beach and its slightly larger neighbor to the south is called Wipeout. Both of these spots can be hazardous for swimming because there's a lot of moving water and rocks here. There are a few small caves on the beach, but they're often choked with seaweed and other flotsam. A long narrow band of grass park indicates that you've arrived at Hospitals. Hospitals is a great reef but a poor beach. At low tide there are wonderful tidepools and great shelling all along the coast here. The conditions don't often cooperate, but when they do, it's the best dive site in town, with dramatic undersea arches and ledges chock full of lobster. At the south end by the gazebo is the Hospitals surf spot, the northernmost of La Jolla's reefbreaks.
  • The road leaves the coast between Horseshoe and Windansea, which prevents most people from ever finding Marine Street Beach, the prettiest, whitest beach in all of San Diego. As such, the beach here is dominated by teens and locals. Marine Street's claim to fame is its wicked shorebreak otherwise known as "womp." Bodysurfers and bodyboarders get short, deep tube rides as the waves hit the steep shelf and unload onto the shore. There are several nameless surfbreaks on the reefs at either end of the beach—all fickle, all dangerous, all heavily localized, but also very, very, very good when they're on...
  • Windansea is the next beach traveling southward. Made famous by Tom Wolfe's story "The Pump House Gang," Windansea was and is all about fitting in. The break is an easy left/right peak that breaks on any tide, any swell and practically any day of the year. It's accordingly crowded, and the crowd accordingly competitive. It's not always a friendly scene in the water, but refreshingly familiar on dry land. The beach is broken by rocks, creating natural alcoves of varying size, perfect for private parties or private rendezvous. Swimming is best on the south half of the beach between Kolmar Street and Big Rock Reef. Lifeguards supervise near the grass shack at the end of Bonaire Street in summertime.
  • The remainder of the coast from Big Rock south to P.B. Point is characterized by forbidding cliffs and rocky shoreline. Lucky indeed is the beachcomber who stumbles upon the stairs at the foot of Bird Rock Avenue on a neap tide, and discovers the sea floor spread out before them like a magic carpet. These are the richest reefs in town, providing numerous surf spots when the swell is running, and great diving when it's not. Limited access, no beaches, no lifeguards and no facilities of any kind make Bird Rock a poor choice for swimmers and sunbathers, but it's definitely worth a snapshot on the way through.


  • The prettiest piece of Pacific Coast this side of Monterey. Excellent diving, expert surfbreaks, true white sand beaches, underwater reefs, places to stay, places to eat, places to shop and plenty to see. Call: 619-221-8899 for info about all La Jolla beaches and beach parks.


  • At least half of the coast here is rocky or otherwise unsuitable for swimming. And, with the exception of Marine Street and Windansea, the beaches are all small with submerged rocks offshore. Only La Jolla Cove and Children's Pool offer permanent lifeguard and bathroom facilities. There are no dedicated parking lots offering more than a few spaces, and there is fierce competition for street parking from residents and businesses. From The Cove north to Torrey Pines, ocean fishing, spearfishing and collecting is precluded by an Underwater Ecological Reserve. It is unlawful to harm or harass marine mammals (such as seals) anywhere in U.S. waters. South of Hospitals, it's mainly hardcore locals on the beach and in the lineups. WARNING: Submerged rocks and reefs abound, water depths drop off sharply, powerful shorebreaks, shallow reefbreaks and strong rip currents. Little or no lifeguard supervision at most locations. A great place to admire the ocean, perhaps best done from the shore.


  • From the northbound INTERSTATE 5 exit La Jolla Parkway west until it merges with Torrey Pines Road. From the southbound INTERSTATE 5 exit La Jolla Village Drive west, then left on Torrey Pines Road. Continue past La Jolla Shores Drive and turn right on Prospect Street. The first right off Prospect is Coast Blvd. which serves all the spots described in the first part of this guide. Beyond Horseshoe, Prospect Street becomes La Jolla Blvd. Heading southbound on La Jolla Blvd. turn right on Marine Street for Marine Street Beach, right on Nautilus Street for Windansea Beach, and right on Bird Rock Avenue for Bird Rock.

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