weekend in la jolla sea lion itinerary
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Effortless Guide: Long Weekend in La Jolla

It’s time for a long weekend in La Jolla, California! Welcome to your ultimate guide for a perfect, and effortless 3-day itinerary! Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time explorer, La Jolla promises an unforgettable experience with its stunning coastline, vibrant culture, and endless activities. Let’s dive into your trip planning and make it easy to turn this into a longer or shorter adventure. We recommend you spend time in San Diego, especially if you are flying in and out of San Diego International Airport.

If you’re not familiar with La Jolla, let’s get you up to speed. La Jolla is a picturesque coastal community nestled along the cliffs of Southern California, renowned for its stunning beaches, upscale boutiques, vibrant cultural scene, and abundant population of playful seals basking in the sun along its shores. It’s quaint and perfect for a quick getaway through the easy access point of San Diego!

As with our other destination guides, we’ve crafted a seamless three-day adventure that combines relaxation, exploration, and coastal charm, making it easy for you to experience the best of this picturesque seaside town. What sets our itinerary apart is its curated selection of activities, dining options, and scenic spots, all designed to ensure a stress-free and memorable visit. From savoring fresh seafood at oceanfront restaurants to strolling along the shoreline at sunset, each day offers a perfect blend of leisure and discovery. With our carefully planned itinerary, all you have to do is relax, explore, and create unforgettable memories in La Jolla.

How to Get to La Jolla, CA

Getting to La Jolla is a breeze, especially if you’re flying into San Diego International Airport (SAN), which is conveniently located just a short drive away. From the airport, simply hop onto I-5 North and follow the signs to La Jolla.

Getting to La Jolla for weekend Palm Trees

Itinerary at a Glance: Long Weekend in La Jolla

Prepare for three days of exploration, relaxation, and coastal beauty. Here’s your 3-day itinerary:

Day 1: Arrival & Oceanfront Dining

  • Arrive in La Jolla and check into your accommodation.
  • Treat yourself to a delicious dinner at a local oceanfront restaurant
  • End your evening with a stroll along the picturesque coastline

Day 2: Exploration & Beach Day or Hiking Day

  • Start your day with a refreshing morning walk along the La Jolla Cove
  • Indulge in a relaxed lunch at a charming beachside cafe
  • Afternoon
    • Option 1) Explore the shops/art galleries of La Jolla Village, then one La Jolla’s beaches
    • Option 2) Head to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for a scenic, coastal hike
    • Tip: If you like both options, add a day to your La Jolla itinerary!
  • Catch the breathtaking sunset over the ocean before enjoying dinner at a cozy restaurant

Day 3: Nature & Farewell

  • Rise early to walk the routes with the best seal and sea lion viewings
  • Check out from your accommodation and take a stroll through downtown La Jolla
  • If time permits, visit the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Depart La Jolla

Optional: Extend Your Stay

Consider adding extra days to your itinerary to explore nearby attractions such as Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (if you didn’t already on day 2), the San Diego Zoo, or the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego.

Extending your trip to La Jolla to include San Diego is easy, especially if you’re flying into San Diego International Airport (SAN). Located just a short drive from La Jolla, SAN provides convenient access to both destinations. With its central location and excellent transportation options, including rental cars, rideshare services, and public transit, getting from the airport to La Jolla and onward to San Diego is a breeze.

Itinerary Details – What to eat and where to go

Day 1: Arrival & Oceanfront Dining

  • Dinner Options:
    • The Marine Room: Known for its upscale seafood dishes with oceanfront views, offering a fine dining experience.
    • Duke’s La Jolla: A casual yet elegant restaurant serving Hawaiian-inspired dishes and cocktails, with outdoor seating overlooking the ocean.
    • Brockton Villa: Located in a historic beach cottage, offering California coastal cuisine and stunning views of La Jolla Cove. This was our pick when we visited! It was devine.
  • Evening Stroll:
    • Ellen Browning Scripps Park: A scenic waterfront park perfect for a leisurely walk, with benches and grassy areas to sit and enjoy the view.
    • Coast Walk Trail: A paved pathway along the cliffs offering breathtaking views of the coastline and crashing waves below.
    • La Jolla Cove + Boomer Beach: A popular spot for sunset views, with rocky outcrops and tide pools to explore while taking in the sights and sounds of the ocean. This is a must-do during your visit, whenever you fit it in.

Day 2: Exploration & Beach Day

  • Lunch Options:
    • The Cottage La Jolla: A cozy cafe serving breakfast and lunch favorites in a charming cottage setting, just steps away from La Jolla Cove.
    • Shorehouse Kitchen: A laid-back eatery offering farm-to-table cuisine and ocean views from its outdoor patio.
    • Harry’s Coffee Shop: A local favorite for classic American breakfast and lunch dishes, located near La Jolla Shores beach.
  • Afternoon Activities:
    • La Jolla Village: Explore the boutiques, art galleries, and cafes along Girard Avenue and Prospect Street for unique shopping and local artwork.
    • Windansea Beach: Known for its iconic surf shack and picturesque rocky shoreline, ideal for sunbathing, tide pooling, and watching surfers catch waves.
    • La Jolla Shores: A family-friendly beach with soft sand and gentle waves, perfect for swimming, kayaking, or simply relaxing by the water.
    • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Home to beatiful hiking along the rugged coastline.
  • Dinner Options:
    • George’s at the Cove: Offering three levels of dining with ocean views, featuring California coastal cuisine and craft cocktails.
    • The Shores Restaurant: Located inside the La Jolla Shores Hotel, serving seafood-centric dishes and cocktails with panoramic ocean views.
    • Eddie V’s Prime Seafood: A sophisticated steak and seafood restaurant with live jazz music and oceanfront patio dining.

Day 3: Nature & Farewell

  • Sunrise Viewing:
    • Do a final stroll through Children’s Beach, La Jolla Cove, and Boomer Beach.
    • Finish with coffee or a bite to eat at Queenstown Cafe.
  • Downtown Stroll:
    • La Jolla Village: Take a leisurely walk through the heart of downtown La Jolla, exploring the shops, galleries, and cafes along Prospect Street and its surrounding streets.
  • Optional Visit:
    • Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Learn about marine life and conservation efforts through interactive exhibits and educational programs. Plan ~1.5 hours.
    • La Jolla Cove: Take one last stroll along the coastline, soaking in the views and saying farewell to this beautiful coastal town.

Where to stay in La Jolla

Here are some suggestions for where to stay in La Jolla across three categories: luxury, boutique, and affordable charm:


  • La Valencia Hotel: Known as “The Pink Lady,” La Valencia Hotel offers luxurious accommodations with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. This historic hotel features elegant rooms, Mediterranean-inspired architecture, and top-notch amenities including a pool, spa, and fine dining options.
  • Pantai Inn: Nestled along the coastline, Pantai Inn offers luxury suites with Indonesian-inspired decor and ocean views. Guests can enjoy upscale amenities such as a courtyard garden, complimentary breakfast, and personalized service in a serene and intimate setting.
  • Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa: Set amidst lush gardens and Spanish-style architecture, Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa provides a luxurious retreat with spacious rooms, a full-service spa, and a heated saltwater pool. This upscale hotel offers a tranquil ambiance perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation.


  • Empress Hotel of La Jolla: This boutique hotel exudes charm and character with its European-inspired decor and personalized service. The Empress Hotel offers comfortable rooms, a cozy fireplace lounge, and a convenient location within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and the beach.
  • Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton: With its contemporary design and coastal-inspired decor, Hotel La Jolla offers a boutique hotel experience near La Jolla Cove. Guests can enjoy stylish rooms, a rooftop pool with panoramic views, and convenient access to nearby attractions.
  • The Shoal La Jolla Beach: Situated just steps away from La Jolla Shores Beach, The Shoal La Jolla Beach provides a boutique hotel experience with casual coastal charm. This recently renovated hotel offers comfortable rooms, a courtyard garden, and complimentary beach amenities for a relaxing stay by the sea.

Affordable Charm

  • La Jolla Cove Suites: Offering affordable accommodations with ocean views, La Jolla Cove Suites provides a budget-friendly option for travelers seeking charm and convenience. Guests can enjoy spacious suites, a rooftop terrace, and easy access to La Jolla Cove and surrounding attractions.
  • The Bed & Breakfast Inn at La Jolla: This charming bed and breakfast offers cozy accommodations in a historic Victorian-style house. Guests can experience personalized hospitality, homemade breakfasts, and a quaint garden patio in a peaceful residential neighborhood.
  • Holiday Inn Express La Jolla: Providing comfortable and affordable lodging, Holiday Inn Express La Jolla offers modern rooms and convenient amenities including complimentary breakfast, a fitness center, and a heated outdoor pool. This hotel is located near La Jolla Village and within driving distance to local beaches and attractions.

These options cater to different preferences and budgets, ensuring a memorable stay in La Jolla, California. You’ll spend most of your day outside of the room, so no choice is a wrong choice.

Sunrise/sunset seal viewing walk

Follow our walking guide below to experience the top seal and sea lion viewing spots on day 3 of your weekend in La Jolla itinerary. If you need to head out early in the morning, no problem, fit this in during any other gaps in your schedule. You can be as leisurely as you want in La Jolla!

This entire walking flow should take about 10-15 minutes plus whatever stopping you do:

La Jolla weekend childrens pool
Children’s Pool
  • Children’s Pool (Casa Beach): Head to Children’s Pool (Casa Beach) for the best opportunity to view the seals and sea lions up close. Watch as these fascinating marine mammals bask in the sun and play along the shoreline.
  • Coastal Walk: Take a scenic stroll along the coastal path from Children’s Pool to La Jolla Cove, soaking in the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and rugged coastline.
  • La Jolla Cove: Spend some time exploring La Jolla Cove, admiring the crystal-clear waters, rocky cliffs, and abundant marine life. See seals and sea lions swimming in the cove or lounging on the rocks.
  • Boomer Beach: Continue along the coastal path to Boomer Beach, one of our favorite spots for sea lion viewing in La Jolla. From a safe distance, observe these magnificent creatures as they interact with each other and enjoy their natural habitat. They were the most playful on this beach when we did our visit!

Unique La Jolla Experiences

Here’s a list of off-the-beaten-path activities in La Jolla that offer a more relaxed and effortless adventure. You’ll get the vibe of La Jolla, and see the iconic seals, without going too much out of your way, so it’s nice to find some quiet while you’re here.

  1. Explore the Secret Swings: Seek out the hidden swings tucked away in various spots along the coastline. These swings offer picturesque views of the ocean and provide a peaceful place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
  2. Discover the Sunny Jim Sea Cave: Venture down the steep staircase inside the Cave Store to access the Sunny Jim Sea Cave, one of the only sea caves in California accessible by land. Marvel at the natural rock formations and listen to the echoes of the waves inside this hidden gem.
    • We did this on our visit, and while it’s not a long stop, it was a good one to snap a picture and take in the view. Tickets are not sold in advance, so purchase when you arrive during the open hours of 9am-4:30pm.
  3. Hike the Ho Chi Minh Trail: Embark on a moderate hike along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a lesser-known path that winds along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Enjoy panoramic views of the coastline and discover hidden tide pools along the way.
  4. Picnic at Wisteria Cottage: Pack a picnic and head to the historic Wisteria Cottage located within the La Jolla Historical Society’s garden. Relax under the shade of the wisteria vines and soak in the tranquil atmosphere of this hidden oasis.
  5. Visit the La Jolla Secret Swings: Search for the hidden swings scattered throughout the neighborhood of La Jolla. These swings offer stunning views of the coastline and provide a peaceful spot to unwind and enjoy the scenery.
  6. Stroll Through Mount Soledad Park: Take a leisurely stroll through Mount Soledad Park and admire the panoramic views of La Jolla and the surrounding coastline. Explore the memorial cross and enjoy a peaceful moment of reflection in this scenic hilltop park.
  7. Discover the La Jolla Underwater Park: Snorkel or kayak in the La Jolla Underwater Park, a protected marine sanctuary teeming with colorful fish, marine life, and underwater caves. Explore the kelp forests and tide pools while enjoying the tranquility of this hidden gem.
  8. Visit the Torrey Pines Gliderport: Watch the colorful hang gliders and paragliders take flight from the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Enjoy breathtaking views of the ocean and coastline while experiencing the thrill of watching these aerial athletes soar through the sky.

These off-the-beaten-path activities offer a more relaxed and effortless way to explore La Jolla while avoiding the crowds and immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the area.

La Jolla Sunny Jims Sea Cave view

If you need to pick one of these off-the-beaten-path activities to start with, we suggest exploring the Sunny Jim Sea Cave. It offers a unique experience of venturing into a sea cave accessible by land, providing a sense of adventure without requiring extensive hiking or physical exertion. Plus, the cave itself is fascinating to explore with its natural rock formations and echoes of the ocean waves. It’s a relatively easy and accessible activity that offers a memorable glimpse into La Jolla’s natural beauty and hidden treasures. But hold onto the 145-step stairwell going down — I indeed took a stumble!

Spotting leopard sharks

Seeing leopard sharks in La Jolla is a highlight if you know when and where to look for them! During the summer months, particularly from June to September, leopard sharks gather in the shallow waters off the coast of La Jolla Shores. These harmless and docile sharks are attracted to the warm, nutrient-rich waters of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, where they come to feed and reproduce.

  • If you are a fan of snorkeling:
    • The best way to see leopard sharks in La Jolla is by snorkeling or swimming in the waters off La Jolla Shores. You don’t necessarily need to book a tour to see them, as they can often be spotted close to shore, especially in the morning when the water is calm and clear. Simply grab your snorkel gear, head to the beach, and venture into the water to observe these graceful creatures in their natural habitat.
  • If you prefer a guided experience:
    • Several tour operators in La Jolla offer guided snorkeling tours or kayak tours with knowledgeable guides. These tours typically provide equipment rental, safety instructions, and educational insights into the marine ecosystem of La Jolla.
    • We like this 2 hour tour of the five caves if you just want to kayak, but this 2.5 hour Kayak and Snorkel Tour gets you on the kayak and also snorkeling.

Overall, whether you choose to explore on your own or join a guided tour, encountering leopard sharks in the waters of La Jolla is an unforgettable experience. It’s not every day you even have the option to see one!

Most epic seal views in La Jolla

La Jolla Cove is one of the most iconic spots in Southern California, known for its pristine beaches and abundant marine life. As you explore the area, take a stroll along the boardwalk, where you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. From the coastal path, you can admire the rugged cliffs and sparkling waters that make La Jolla Cove a must-visit destination for nature lovers and beach enthusiasts.

Back up on the boardwalk, the coastal path will take you past the lifeguard tower to the southern rocky point, Point La Jolla, which helps divide La Jolla Cove from Boomer Beach. This scenic route offers an excellent vantage point for spotting marine life, including playful sea lions lounging on the rocks below. With the sound of crashing waves and the salty ocean breeze in the air, it’s the perfect place to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of La Jolla’s coastline and relax.

Continuing along the path, you’ll eventually arrive at Boomer Beach, a hidden gem nestled between rocky cliffs and crashing waves. Known as the best place to view sea lions, Boomer Beach offers a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent marine mammals in their natural habitat. From a safe distance, visitors can watch as the sea lions bask in the sun, play in the surf, and interact with each other along the rocky shoreline. It’s an unforgettable experience that captures the wild beauty and coastal charm of La Jolla, making it a highlight of any visit to this picturesque seaside community.

Tip: You can’t get on the beach anymore, so simply bring a camera with a good lens or be prepared to do some zooming. Your pictures will turn out great.

All about the La Jolla seals (and sea lions)

The seals at La Jolla Cove are a unique and cherished part of our coastal environment. Comprising a mix of California sea lions and harbor seals, these marine mammals can often be seen resting and basking in the sun along the shoreline and rocky outcrops. They typically form groups known as ‘rafts,’ where you might observe mothers nursing their pups or playful interactions among the seals. La Jolla Cove is part of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, providing a protected habitat for the seals to thrive.

While their presence varies throughout the day, you can usually spot them during daylight hours, particularly in the mornings and afternoons. It’s important to view them from a respectful distance and adhere to viewing guidelines to ensure minimal disturbance to the animals. Observing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is a special and memorable experience for visitors and locals alike.

Differences between Sea Lions and Seals

In La Jolla, both seals and sea lions can be found lounging along the coastline, but there are some key differences between the two species. The easiest visual difference to spot is their physical appearance.

CharacteristicSealsCalifornia Sea Lions
Physical AppearanceShorter, rounder facesLonger, more pointed faces
Small flippersLarger flippers
No visible ear flapsVisible external ear flaps
Spend more time resting on shore or swimmingGather in groups, known as rafts
HabitatPrefer quieter, secluded areasMore adaptable, found in various habitats
SoundsSofter, lower-pitched (grunts, growls)Distinctive bark-like vocalizations
Differences: Seals and Sea Lions

While both seals and sea lions are fascinating marine mammals to observe in La Jolla, their differences in appearance, behavior, and habitat make them easy to distinguish once you know what to look for.

Reminders: Seal Cove in La Jolla

When visiting the La Jolla Seal Cove, remember to check the tide schedule and aim for low tide to see the seals up close. Respect the wildlife by observing quietly from a safe distance and avoiding loud noises or close approaches. Bring binoculars for a better view and stay within designated viewing areas marked by signs or barriers. Wear sturdy footwear and be cautious of slippery rocks and incoming waves. Take time to read educational signage and learn about the seals and their habitat. Finally, enjoy the beautiful coastline and nearby attractions while taking breaks for picnics and relaxation.

Hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

One of our day 2 options on your weekend in La Jolla itinerary is hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This area offers a unique and captivating outdoor experience in San Diego. Nestled along the coast, this protected area boasts stunning ocean views, dramatic cliffs, and rare Torrey pine trees, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and hikers alike. With a variety of trails ranging from easy walks to more challenging routes, visitors can explore the reserve at their own pace while immersing themselves in its natural beauty. Whether you’re seeking panoramic vistas, coastal breezes, or a glimpse of local wildlife, Torrey Pines offers a memorable hiking adventure amidst breathtaking scenery and coastal splendor. We hiked this on our visit and loved every minute of it. Beware of rattlesnakes; however, we did see one on the trail!

La Jolla Hiking Torrey Pines weekend itinerary

The best time to find parking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is typically earlier in the day, especially during weekdays and outside of peak tourist seasons. Arriving in the morning before the park gets crowded can increase your chances of finding a parking spot in one of the designated lots. Take a rideshare if it’s outside of this window, or if you’re nervous about wasting time finding parking.


Embark on an effortless weekend getaway in La Jolla with our itinerary designed to make your stay both enjoyable and easy. On Day 1, settle into your accommodations before a delectable oceanfront dinner followed by a stroll along the picturesque coastline. Day 2 offers options for exploration, whether it’s a morning walk along La Jolla Cove followed by beachside dining or a scenic hike at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Don’t forget to catch the mesmerizing sunset before dinner! For Day 3, rise early to witness the best seal and sea lion viewings before bidding farewell to La Jolla. Extend your stay to explore nearby attractions like the San Diego Zoo or the historic Gaslamp Quarter.

We hope you enjoy this itinerary and have a fantastic time exploring the beauty and charm of La Jolla, California! Happy, breezy travels!

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