La Jolla Neighborhood Guide
With its dramatic coastline and spectacular views, it’s no surprise that La Jolla was one of the first San Diego neighborhoods to be settled, and has since become some of the most prized real estate in the nation.
Surrounded on three sides by the sea and backed by the steep slopes of Mt. Soledad, La Jolla has a mediterranean feel and enjoys a unique microclimate which rarely drops below 50 degrees or exceeds 90 degrees.
The bustling business district offers one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, and the surrounding residential community is a charming mix of turn-of-the-century Spanish architecture, eccentric modern designs and everything in between.
La Jolla’s big draw, for locals and tourists alike, is the sea. In the summer and autumn months, the surf is relatively gentle, the water warms into the 70s, and the beaches at La Jolla Shores, The Cove and Windansea are busy with swimmers, scuba divers and surfers. In the winter and spring, the coast takes on an ominous mood with billowing fogs and powerful winter surf crashing on the rocks.
Start with a scenic drive or stroll along Coast Blvd. At the north end, just off Prospect St., you’ll find a dirt path leading to the top of Deadman’s Bluff, or you can descend a tunnel in the basement of the old Curio Shop to visit Sunny Jim’s Cave. Here you’ll find a variety of native sea birds nesting on the cliffs and sea lions sunning on the rocks below. Next is La Jolla Cove, a protected marine sanctuary with an idyllic crescent of beach sheltered from all but the worst of winter storms. The Cove is the best place in town for a safe swim or snorkeling. Continuing south you’ll pass through the grassy Scripps Park—staging area for family picnics, Fourth of July fireworks and free summer concerts. Around the corner is the Children’s Pool, a man-made beach protected by a sea wall. Here, and on the rocks just offshore, you can observe the California gray seals that make the pool their home. From December to March, you’ll also have a good chance of spotting California gray whales spouting just beyond the kelp beds during their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico. Finally, if you hit it on a good low tide, you can explore the tide pools at Hospital Reef, just south of the Children’s Pool.
When you’re finished with your tour of the coast, head one block inland and you’ll find yourself back on Prospect Street. Returning north again, you’ll pass the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, a popular public playground for children, and several of San Diego’s most beautiful churches. Soon you’ll arrive at the main business district, continuing for several blocks along Prospect and down the side streets of Fay, Girard, and Herschel. Here you’ll find the romantic old-world hotels, gourmet restaurants and upscale shops for which La Jolla is famous.
But there’s more to La Jolla than reefs and restaurants. Don’t miss La Jolla Shores, with its family-friendly sand beaches and Birch Aquarium at Scripps. To the south are the world-renowned surfing beaches around Windansea and Bird Rock. To the north are Blacks Beach, where you can watch the hang gliders soar above the cliffs as nude sunbathers let it all hang out on the beach below, and Torrey Pines, with its great hiking trails and world-famous public golf course. Adjacent to these natural wonders are state-of-the-art high-tech businesses and research facilities centered around the burgeoning University of California, San Diego Campus. Continuing inland you’ll enter the Golden Triangle region of La Jolla, an energetic and contemporary community of high-rise office buildings, high-density housing developments and high-end shopping malls.
Every season is the best time of year for a visit to La Jolla; watching the winter surf crash against your window at The Marine Room Restaurant can be just as rewarding for some as a summer picnic on the beach is for others. Not surprisingly, the busiest season is June thru August, when the population swells, hotels sell out and parking is scarce. The nicest weather typically arrives in September, just as the crowds thin, and lasts well into December. There are fireworks at the Cove on the Fourth of July and a holiday parade on Girard Avenue in early December. An open-air market is held every Sunday at the La Jolla Elementary School.
For accommodations, you can opt for the old-world luxury of the historic La Valencia Hotel in the heart of La Jolla’s Prospect Street shopping district, or from among several moderately-priced bed & breakfast inns by the beach on Coast Boulevard. Other lodging options can be found in the La Jolla Shores Hotel, The Lodge At Torrey Pines, and just off the freeways in the Golden Triangle area. Inexpensive family-style motels can be found on La Jolla Boulevard heading south into Bird Rock. With award-winning restaurants like George’s at the Cove, Prospect Street is ground zero for fine-dining, but don’t overlook the excellent options in Bird Rock and the Shores. The most popular offerings are fresh seafood and Mexican cuisine, but you can find anything from scrambled eggs to sushi among the many and varied eateries throughout La Jolla. What you won’t find here is nightlife; the whole town pretty much goes to sleep by midnight. If you are looking for a party, head to Pacific Beach or the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego. Shopping in La Jolla tends toward the unusual and upscale: designer fashions, expensive jewelry, ethnic artifacts, priceless antiques, oriental rugs and exotic cars. For more practical fare, try the malls at La Jolla Village Square and University Towne Center.
The adventurous will find plenty to excite them at La Jolla Shores, where dive gear, kayak tours and surfing lessons are available from the shops on Avenida De La Playa, and at the Torrey Pines Gliderport where you can fly tandem (with a professional pilot) or solo (with the appropriate credentials). Golf enthusiasts can enjoy a round at Torrey Pines Golf Course or watch their favorite pros in action during the annual PGA stop in February, while tennis players will like the competitive scene at the La Jolla Recreation Center on Draper Street.
From the North: Exit INTERSTATE 5 at La Jolla Village Drive, west on La Jolla Village to Torrey Pines Road left (south) to La Jolla Shores Drive and Prospect Street.
From the South and East: Take the La Jolla Parkway exit west where it meets Torrey Pines Road to La Jolla Shores Drive and Prospect Street.
La Jolla Beaches
Buried treasure on the sands of San Diego’s central coast.
If you’re on holiday in San Diego, a visit to La Jolla should already be on your agenda. This affluent community is known for luxury homes, fine dining and upscale shopping. But its real assets are the beaches, and these are freely available for the enrichment of all. The coastline varies dramatically in La Jolla. At its northernmost limit, fortified by 300-foot sea cliffs, is Blacks. The Shores is a mile-long crescent of prime sand beach favored by active beachgoers of all interests. The Cove, with its Mediterranean backdrop, is among San Diego’s most sheltered swimming spots, while the reefs southward around Windansea and Birdrock are among its most exposed.
Torrey Pines City Beach, better known as Blacks, can be found in the vicinity of the University of California San Diego campus. A gated private road, jointly-owned and maintained by the residents and the university, leads to the beach off of La Jolla Farms Road. Stately eight-figure mansions and state-of-the-art medical research labs now line the bluffs where stables and pastures once lay. Unless you can procure a much-coveted key to the gate, you will have to park above and walk down the road. A more direct but difficult route is the dirt trail beginning at the Torrey Pines Flight Park (the Gliderport) at the end of Torrey Pines Scenic Drive, a mile north of the Farms off Torrey Pines Road. There’s a spacious public parking lot by the Flight Center where you can watch hang gliders, paragliders and glider planes soar on the thermal updrafts created by the cliffs, or leave your car for the long trek to the beach. Blacks is famous among surfers for big winter swell, but is better known to the rest of the world as a nude beach. Nudism is unlawful in San Diego, but it has persisted at Blacks for decades, the only real deterrent being cold weather. The nudists (or ‘nakes’ as surfers call them) tend to hang out north of the Gliderport Trail, while surfers head south to the main peaks. For the most part, surfers and nakes are the only people motivated enough to make the mission to Blacks, so if these aren’t your motives, think about giving Blacks a miss and heading to The Shores instead.
There’s always something going on at La Jolla Shores Beach. The north end of the beach, better known as Scripps for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and its landmark pier (not open to the public), is favored by intermediate surfers and bodyboarders. By day the main beach is a busy swimming area popular among families, who set up elaborate base camps on the grassy park, while the children make forays to the shallow water to boogie board. At night it’s alive with the glow of beach fires and the nervous energy of young adults socializing. The south part of the coast here is largely shielded by La Jolla Bay, and is used as training grounds by scores of scuba diving students. Small boats can be launched directly into the sea from the end of Avenida De La Playa, and a block or two up the same road are shops that’ll rent you a kayak, fill your scuba tank or sell you a bikini. The La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club comprises the southernmost end of La Jolla Shores Beach. The club is private property but the beach itself is public. Beyond that, the sand abruptly ends in front of the Marine Room Restaurant, where harmless Leopard Sharks often congregate in the shallows, offering snorkelers an exhilarating encounter.
From the northbound INTERSTATE 5 exit La Jolla Parkway west to La Jolla Shores Drive. From the southbound INTERSTATE 5 exit La Jolla Village Drive west, then left on Torrey Pines Road to La Jolla Shores Drive. Turn left at Avenida De La Playa, right on Camino Del Oro and go two blocks to Kellogg Park.
At Blacks, expect only a distant walk and whatever you brought along with you. At The Shores, count on finding everything you didn’t, all within walking distance: surf shop, dive shop, kayak shop, rentals, instruction, snacks, gas, restaurants, hotels, lifeguards, bathrooms, showers, boardwalk, parking lot, grass park, play structure, fire rings, etc. The excellent Birch Aquarium at Scripps is nearby, with a huge selection of dining and shopping opportunities down the coast in downtown La Jolla. For more info on La Jolla Shores and other City Beaches call: 619-221-8899.
New roadways are making La Jolla easier to access from the freeway, but improving the traffic is not likely to help the parking situation. The lot at La Jolla Shores is big but not big enough to handle summer crowds. Most people arrive at noon and leave around 4 p.m. Come early for the beach or late for the sunset and you’re almost guaranteed to find a spot. No alcohol at The Shores anytime; at Blacks only between the hours of noon and 8 p.m. Designated surfing and swimming areas.
There are only three ways to access Blacks Beach: the paved road from La Jolla Farms, the dirt footpath from the Gliderport or the long walk up the beach from Scripps or Torrey Pines. You may come across other trails or imagine one of your own, but know that many people have died, been injured and become hopelessly stuck on these cliffs purely as a result of bad judgment. Once safely arrived on the beach at Blacks, one is still confronted with hazards. Just look around and you’ll see boulders the size of cars that have fallen from the cliffs above. Lay your beach towel at the foot of ravines, well clear of sheer cliff walls. Water conditions are also often unsafe for swimming at Blacks, compounded by the absence of regular lifeguard supervision. Finally, be careful where you look at Blacks; the scenery may not always be pleasing to the eye…