A trip to La Jolla is a must do when visiting San Diego. Us long time residents regularly make the 20 minute drive to enjoy the fresh air, explore the coast, do some window browsing and grab a bite to eat. One of the best things about La Jolla is it can be toured without paying a cent. This is a guide to our 4-mile seaside stroll in Downtown La Jolla Village that also goes along the coastline. With seals, coastal rocks for climbing and several great restaurants and ice cream places this is a perfect exercise for the kids.
La Jolla is a community within the city of San Diego. It is technically, not a separate city, but a La Jolla address is about as exclusive as you can get in San Diego. La Jolla is actually quite a large area. In the north end there is the great hiking and beaches at Torrey Pines. La Jolla Shores is one of the most popular family beaches in San Diego, and has its own shops and restaurants. Slightly inland is the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and the large business and residential community University Town Center (UTC). Many first-time visitors mistake the high-rises in UTC for downtown San Diego. Overlooking all of La Jolla is its Mt Soledad area with its great views and multi-million dollar houses. The south part of La Jolla is the Bird Rock district, leading into the party area of the Pacific Beach district. All these areas are attractions in their own right, but the focus here is strictly on downtown La Jolla Village.
The center part of La Jolla is often called just the Village. However, Downtown La Jolla Village is actually a better description because there is a seperate area called La Jolla Village about a mile inland. Downtown La Jolla Village is a short 20 minute, 13 mile trip from the airport. Taking the I-5 exit west onto La Jolla Parkway will take you around Mt Soledad and up into the Village. Parking can be an issue, but for our walk we are starting in the less crowded Pearl Street area. Heading up Torrey Pines Road, turn left on Girard and make your first right onto Pearl.
Starting Point: Intersection of Pearl St and Girard Ave, La Jolla
Length: 4 miles
Elevation: 150 ft gain and loss
Along Pearl Street
At the corner of Girard and Pearl you will see the famous Comedy Store. This legendary comedy club has hosted almost every famous comedian. It was the place where David Letterman got his start back in the 1970s. Sadly founder Mitzi Shore (mother of comedian Pauly Shore) passed away in April 2018. For now, the Comedy Store is your cue to look for parking. You can almost always find free parking on the sides street off Pearl, either Fay, Eads or Draper Street. Once you park head to Pearl and our hike begins.
Walk down Pearl until you get to La Jolla Boulevard. If you are hungry there are many good places to get a bite to eat. The most popular is the Taco Stand which almost always has a line. There are also two excellent pizza places, Pizza on Pearl and, on La Jolla Blvd, the funky Carinos. For seafood there is the El Pescador Fish Market (Thrillist named it one of the 31 best sandwich shops in the U.S.). If you want you can grab food for a beachside picnic.
When you get to La Jolla Blvd you will cross the street and turn left. On the next block you will see dealers selling cars that cost more than many people’s houses: Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, etc. Window shop as much as you want, then continue ahead until you reach Marine Street. Turning right on Marine will take you straight to the Marine Street Beach. A staircase will lead you down to the beach. You want to turn right, heading north up the coast.
Along the Beach to Seals and Sea Lions
The beach ends in a rocky area that is home to tide pools. This area, known as Nicholson Point Park is great for exploring, climbing and maybe having a picnic lunch. You can continue north along the rocks as far as you want or at any point past Nicholson Point head up to Coast Blvd. It is possible to walk on the beach and rocks all the way to the lifeguard stand by the Children’s Pool. The rocks can be slippery and of course, you need to be careful. If you have small children it is probably best to walk on Coast Blvd.
The Children’s Pool is home to a spanky new lifeguard stand compete with changing rooms and restrooms. It was constructed in 1931 with a grant from San Diego philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. The pool consists of a large breakwall designed to keep the rough surf out so children can have a safe place to swim. Today, however, swimming is probably the last thing you want to do in the Children’s Pool. Since the 1990s, the Children’s Pool has become home to a large community of seals and sea lions. This has been the subject of much controversy, but as a visitor feel free to enjoy the animals without getting too close. Walking out on the breakwall is a great way to view the animals.
La Jolla Cove
At this point you will probably start to notice the biggest negative regarding the La Jolla Cove area: the smell. The birds, seals and sea lions stink. When you get close to the official cove area the stench can be really bad, especially on hot days. From the Children’s Pool you will walk a short distance along Coast Blvd to reach Ellen Browning Scripps Park. This is a large open space area that is a great place for picnics. Often there are special events going on. Until 2017, there were free concerts in the park every Sunday. Unfortunately funding issues have caused those concerts to be discontinued, but hopefully they can raise money to bring them back.
You will notice many funky looking trees in this area. La Jolla was home to Dr. Seuss and many say he was inspired by the trees here. This is especially true of the large tree in the center of the park which many have dubbed the “Lorax Tree.” For more info see our guide to Dr, Seuss’ San Diego.
At the end of Scripps Park you come to more rocks that jut into the ocean and provide a great place for climbing. You also come to the official La Jolla Cove area. This includes a small, rocky beach reached by a staircase. This is a very popular area for snorkeling and kayaking. It is actually part of the 6000 acre San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. For marine lovers this place is a mecca and it is one of the greatest snorkeling and scuba diving areas in the world.
Right around La Jolla Cove you will see what are called the Seven Sea Caves of La Jolla. These are best explored by kayak. Most of the kayak rental places are a mile north in the La Jolla Shores area. For now, if you want to see one of the caves you can do so via the 145 staircase leading down from Sunny Jim’s Cave Store, a gift shop at the top of the cove. You will see this on your left as you head up Coast Blvd past the cove. With the many birds on the rocks this is where the stench is at its worse. The white stuff you see covering the rocks is not snow!
The Cave Store is a gift shop and it costs $5 to walk down the stairs to the ocean ($3 for children 16 and under). Back in the day, when it only cost a dollar we did this a lot more. It is pretty cool but I leave it to you to decide whether it is worth the money. Either way, make sure to head out on the bluffs beyond the cave store overlooking the cove. Take some pictures and then head on the coast walk trail that hugs the cliffside.
At this point you will be high above the beach and will be able to get a great view of the north San Diego Coast. We follow the trail to a small staircase right before the bridge that crosses over a ravine. Head up the stairs and you will be at a small parking lot on Prospect Street, near where it meets Torrey Pines Rd. The second half of our journey will take us through the shops and restaurants of Downtown La Jolla Village.
Downtown La Jolla Village
As you turn right on Prospect you will come to a crosswalk that requires you to cross three streets to continue on Prospect. Restaurants like George’s at the Cove, Eddie V’s and Crab Catcher have great views of the cove and ocean below. You will also find many art galleries. Are favorite is the Legends Art Gallery that showcases the artwork of Dr. Seuss. We have bought several of his paintings. For more info see our guide to Dr Seuss’ San Diego. At the corner of Prospect and Girard there is Bobboi Gelato, one of our favorite ice cream places in San Diego.
When you reach Girard you turn left, and continue past more shops. One of our long time favorites is Warwicks which claims to be the oldest family owned and operated bookstore in the country. They host many events and book signings so be sure and check their schedule.
At Kline Street we like to turn right and head down one block and turn left on Fay. At the corner of Kline and Fay is the Cottage, one of the area’s most popular breakfast and lunch spots. There are several other restaurants and drinking spots along Fay Avenue from Kline to Pearl. You will also see the Lot, a fancy entertainment hub with a restaurant, sports bar and movie theater.
Once you reach Pearl Street you are done. You should have gone about 4 miles depending on how many side detours you took. Overall this is a great hike because it gives you a good sense of Downtown La Jolla Village. One thing we should stress is that if you are into beach swimming this is probably not the best area. Downtown La Jolla Village is more about the scenery, shops and restaurants. When we do beach activities in the area, including kayaking and snorkeling, we usually head a mile north to the La Jolla Shores area. That being said, overall Downtown La Jolla Village is something we consider a must see attraction when visiting San Diego.