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La Jolla Reefs

Sea caves to tide pools, wildlife to white-sand beaches, it's all here

Kayakers, Beachcombers and Wildlife Watchers Welcome

For a unique California experience, stroll along La Jolla's rocky points and reefs from La Jolla Cove to the Children's Pool, Marine Street, Windansea Beach and on to Bird Rock. In the space of a few short miles, you'll encounter peaceful grottos and pounding surf, sandstone bluffs and rocky tide pools, sea caves and seal rookeries, sparkling azure water and gleaming white-sand beaches.

Where to Go

  • La Jolla Cove is a beautiful pocket beach set into dramatic bluffs. This scenic hideaway is consistently top-ranked in traveler surveys, including a No. 5 rating nationally in the Tripadvisor Travelers' Choice Awards for 2024. The nearby cliffs form sea caves of special fascination to kayakers who paddle over from La Jolla Shores. For $10 ($6 for ages 3-17), you can descend a spooky tunnel in the basement of the old Curio Shop (on Coast Boulevard just off Prospect Street) to Sunny Jim's Cave, or snorkel over from the Cove on a calm day to explore the huge grotto beneath The Clam. The Cove itself is a fine little beach that accommodates a few dozen beachgoers. On busy summer days, a few hundred will somehow manage to squeeze their way in for the terrific swimming and snorkeling afforded by the beach's sheltered waters and abundance of bright orange garibaldi and other 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. Boomer Beach, a wave reserved exclusively for body-surfing, is the first spot on the route. Note that both the beach area of Boomer and all of the adjacent Point La Jolla are now closed year-round to protect the sea lion population, although an ocean access point is provided for swimming and body-surfing only. A stairway at the south end of the park leads to Shell Beach. The big draw here is Seal Rock, where 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 seawall at The Children's Pool. There has been a great deal of debate over the issue of who should have the right to use this beach -- humans, seals or both. Check with the lifeguards on site to find out the current rules, but be aware that seals 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 Children's Pool Beach is closed to public access during harbor seal pupping season, Dec. 15 through May 15 yearly.
  • 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. 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 reef breaks.
  • The road leaves the coast, 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 surf breaks on the reefs at either end of the beach - all fickle, all dangerous, all heavily localized, but also very, very good when they're on.
  • Windansea is the next beach traveling southward; it was made famous by Tom Wolfe's story "The Pump House Gang." The surf spot is a 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. 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 him like a magic carpet. These are the richest reefs in town, providing numerous surf spots when 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.

Considerations

  • 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 the 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 Preserve. 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, and there are powerful shorebreaks, shallow reef breaks and strong rip currents. There is little or no lifeguard supervision at most locations.

Offerings

  • La Jolla is the prettiest piece of Pacific Coast this side of Monterey with excellent diving, expert surf breaks, white-sand beaches, underwater reefs, places to stay, eat, and shop, and plenty to see. Call city lifeguard services at 619-221-8899 for info about all La Jolla beaches and beach parks.

Directions

  • From the northbound 5 freeway, exit La Jolla Parkway west until it merges with Torrey Pines Road. From the southbound 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 Boulevard which serves all the spots described in the first part of this guide. Beyond Horseshoe, Prospect Street becomes La Jolla Boulevard. Heading southbound on La Jolla Boulevard, turn right on Marine Street for Marine Street Beach, right on Nautilus Street for Windansea Beach, right on Bird Rock Avenue for Bird Rock.

La Jolla Reefs

What to Love

  • La Jolla Cove gets big waves only a handful of times each year, but when it does, the crashing breakers are a sight to behold.
  • Sandstone rocks at Windansea Beach create natural alcoves of varying size, perfect for private parties or rendezvous.
  • At low tide, many of these beaches offer wonderful tide pools and great shell collecting.
  • Windansea's historic surf shack is a popular backdrop for wedding and sunset photos.

What to Know

  • Winter swells from Alaska bring six- to eight-foot waves and plenty of surfers to these beaches.
  • Because the water at La Jolla Cove is protected, surfboards, boogie boards and other floatation devices are not permitted.
  • During the summer, parking is at a premium. In addition, narrow streets and numerous pedestrians can make driving a challenge.

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

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