San Diego’s Best Surf Spots: La Jolla

With so much of San Diego life centered around the water, it makes sense that there’d be one, supreme aquatic hub, where everything we love about the ocean and the sand can be found in a single place. That place is La Jolla. With hidden beaches and coves, world class snorkeling, surfing, and rare glimpses of California sea life, La Jolla is a playground for those who’d rather spend a day immersed in salt water than on land. 

With Del Mar to the south and Pacific Beach to the north, La Jolla is partially centered around a rocky outcropping, extending west into the water. There you’ll find La Jolla Village, a walkable space filled with chain stores, the requisite boutiques and nail salons. But that’s boring.

The landscape is also dominated by sea cliffs—some as high as 300 feet. There’s Torrey Pines State Park to the north, where hiking trails wind through dramatic hills, past their famous Torrey pines, and along the coast.

Sandstone cliffs at Torrey Pines Bluffs.

Torrey Pines Bluffs Osbornb / Flickr

There are corridors carved through the bone white sandstone, known as slot canyons. Many locals have lost their lives trying to reach the wild waves of Black’s Beach at the base. Erosion, falling cliff rocks, and steep trails have made parts of this area impossible to traverse, but further inland, there are some amazing, easy hikes, great for a stroll or a day in the sun.

Hang glider hovering over sea cliff.

Chad Mcdonald / Flickr

Just south of Torrey Pines State Park, you’ll find the Torrey Pines Glider Port, where daring men and women strap themselves to hang gliders in a death-defying attempt to reach the sand below. It must be exhilarating and a little bit terrifying to soar through the air, depending on a small strip of cloth to keep you from falling.

Where to Surf: La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores isn’t for the local kids who were trained to surf since before they could walk. It’s not for the surf star who’s traversed the world, from Portugal to Waikiki, proving to the world that he can conquer titans without breaking his neck. It’s for the every man, the professional who wants a quiet moment after work, the outsider who finally learned how to stand on a board. The waves are small, 2-4 ft during the summer, making them perfect for a quick, easy ride.

That’s why we love La Jolla. The waves are gentle but fun. They’re great for anyone who wants to learn, and exciting enough for those who surf regularly. They’re also consistent. You can always paddle out, no matter what time of year it is. There’s always something to ride.

It’s really the only place with a consistent surf in the neighborhood unless you count the wildly dangerous Black’s Beach. But if you head down to La Jolla Cove, with its dark and bright contrasting waters, sometimes the waves will be high enough to surf. When they are, watch out. The water concentrates within the cove and creates unpredictable behemoths, small enough for beginners to ride, but still capable of throwing anyone off their board.

Scuba diver reaching up to touch giant blue fish in kelp forest.

mliu92 / Flickr

La Jolla Underwater Park

When we think of San Diego’s beaches, we think of taking a stroll, letting the kids run around, or grabbing the nearest beach chair and soaking up the sun. But La Jolla isn’t for lukewarm meaningless trips onto the sand. It’s not for people who want to avoid getting wet. It’s a playground for adventurers, hikers, swimmers, surfers, and scuba divers. It’s where you can see marine life, explore underwater canyons and tidepools.

La Jolla Underwater Park is a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else in San Diego. It’s made up of artificial reefs, kelp beds, sand flats, and submarine canyons. The park is just north of La Jolla Cove, and it extends about halfway through La Jolla Shores.

The reefs are responsible for the easy-going surf at La Jolla Shores. Snorkeling in California is usually difficult because of the waves and choppy water, but those looking to get a glimpse of life beneath the waves here will find a calm, navigable environment filled with sea life.

The kelp forests, which grow beneath the sea cliffs north of La Jolla Cove can reach up to 100 feet high. You can actually hear the fish making sounds up until late in the evening. Researchers at UCSD have been trying to analyze them to ascertain their significance. They could be a form of communication, but nobody knows for sure.

The largest aggregation of leopard sharks in the world appears in the shallow warm waters west of the cove every year. The sharks are actually harmless. You can swim right up to them. They may even let you pet them, though they tend to be a little skittish.

Swimmers approaching large group of pregnant leopard sharks.

Photo is courtesy of Birch Aquarium at Scripps

In the towering cliffs between La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove, there’s a series of 7 sea caves, most of which can only be reached by kayak. The Sunny Jim Cave, which was named after the opening’s silhouette by L. Frank Baum, the author of Wizard of Oz, was dug out by 2 Chinese laborers in 1902. It was mostly used by smugglers.

Silhouette cave opening shaped like a face.

Sunny Jim Cave Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia Commons

Sunny Jim Cave can be accessed through the Cave Store, a local touring company in the cliffs above. They give paid tours, and they’re relatively cheap. It’s worth a look.

Why La Jolla?

Why not La Jolla? There’s plenty more to see, including Scripps Pier, Birch Aquarium, restaurants, bars, and retail stores. Probably one of the best ways to experience La Jolla is to paddle out, grab a surfboard and go as far as the water will take you. Learn to swim, then learn to ride. With the area’s calm waters, you can go wherever you want. Why not jumpstart your surfing journey with Surf Lessons in San Diego provided by Pacific Surf School, at one of the city’s most beginner-friendly beaches?

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