Snorkeling in La Jolla - the best Tips

Schnorcheln in La Jolla – die besten Tipps
Snorkeling in La Jolla - the best Tips

La Jolla is Spanish and means in english "the Jewel". It really is a jewel and a paradise for snorkellers. Off the coast is a large marine reserve with one of the most diverse underwater ecosystems in California including kelp forests and sea lion colonies. You can easily spend several days here with various snorkeling tours. The underwater world is impressively diverse and snorkelling is always an exciting experience. A very special experience, however, is the snorkeling at the sea caves, the La Jolla Caves, or with the leopard sharks in the "Shark City". In my article you will get the best tips for snorkeling in La Jolla. Learn what you can see here and get photo tips as well as tips on equipment, access and accommodation.

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Table of Contents and Quick Navigation

Sightseeing under Water
Alone or with a guided Tour?
Before you go into the Water - Checklist
The Sea Caves La Jolla Caves
Leopard Sharks in "Shark City"
Sea Lions in La Jolla Cove
Kelp Forest
Garibaldi Fish
Photo Tips for your underwater Photos
Tips for
the Equipment for Snorkeling in La Jolla
Directions and Accommodation

Sightseeing under Water

In La Jolla you can experience the best that California's underwater world has to offer while snorkeling. Because it is home to an incredible variety of sea creatures and you have perfect conditions to observe them up close. You can also snorkel along the massive cliffs and explore the ancient sea caves. You can either discover the underwater world on your own or take part in a guided snorkeling tour.Most companies offer these tours between March and October. You can even combine your snorkelling tour with a paddle tour on a sit-on-top kajak. Again, there is the opportunity to do this on your own or with a guided tour. Tour operators are for example Scuba San Diego, Everyday California or Scubadivergirls.

La Jolla Underwater Park was founded in 1970 by the city of San Diego and includes both the Ecological Reserve and the Marine Life Refuge. This 6,000 hectare Underwater Park is one of the world's most biodiverse ecosystems in the world and is perfect for snorkeling and diving. Another important plus for snorkelling in La Jolla is that it is a restricted area for boats and surfers. There's no danger of you being run over as a snorkeler here. You can see the most beautiful snorkeling spots on the Hiking map .

To the best snorkeling experiences in La Jolla counts in my opinion:

  • The Sea Caves "La Jolla Caves"
  • Leopard Sharks in "Shark City"
  • Sea Lions in La Jolla Cove
  • Kelp Forests
  • orange Garibaldi Fish

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La Jolla Caves - Meereshöhlen
La Jolla Caves - the first of the sea caves is Clam's Cave. Sea lions like to stay here.

Alone or with a guided Tour?

I went on a discovery tour on my own. This is cheaper and it is much nicer to do it at your own speed. There are also maps that show the best snorkeling spots. I borrowed missing equipment from a shop in La Jolla. I started my snorkeling tour on the beach at La Jolla Cove, then snorkeled past the sea caves and went ashore again at the beach "Shark City". That was a longer tour of about 90 minutes and I was glad that my wetsuit warmed me up. Afterwards I walked back in my wetsuit to La Jolla Cove. Partly at the road, partly the "Sea lions path". By the way, it's not uncommon for people in wetsuits to walk along the streets. I was thought to be a local and asked for the way to the Cove Store.

A map of the snorkeling and diving spots off La Jolla can be found in the local shops or at Amazon**.

Die Meereshöhlen La Jolla Caves
The Sea Caves La Jolla Caves

Advantages of a guided tour:

  • The group offers snorkeling beginners safety, there is also a briefing at the beginning
  • The guide knows where the most beautiful snorkeling spots in La Jolla are and can give you more tips.
  • The equipment is provided. Some providers even allow you to keep the equipment for the rest of the day (just ask).

Disadvantages of a guided tour:

  • Cost between 60 and 80 euros
  • Group size diminishes the nature experience and you do not have the opportunity to snorkel at your own pace.

Tip: In summer, always Saturdays, the San Diego Council of Divers also offers various snorkeling tours. These tours are open to everyone and completely free of charge.

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Before you go into the Water - Checklist

Behind the lifeguard's stand in La Jolla Cove there is a large board with information about the water temperature and the waves. If the swell is more than 3 feet (about 1 meter) it is better not to snorkel into the sea caves. As you approach the rocks of the cave, you'll notice how hard the waves push you back and forth. Blue spots and possibly abrasions would be preprogrammed.

In the morning the waves are usually smaller than in the afternoon or evening. So it's best to start your snorkeling tour early. The best time for snorkeling is between 10 and 14 o'clock, because then the sun is high enough and you have more light under water.

The surf report with the forecast for the wave height can be found here when the bridge opens its lane for ships.


  • Complete equipment? (Neoprene, boots, fins, mask, snorkel, possibly hood, gloves, lead belt)
  • Waterproof camera with you? Battery charged?
  • Valuables safely stored? Leave it in your car or hotel. Alternatively, take it with you in a waterproof bag and tie it to your arm.
  • Wave height / weather report checked?
  • Is it low tide or high tide? This is important to know if you want to go through the shell cave, for example.
  • If the conditions are good and you want to snorkel into the caves, take a waterproof torch with you.

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The Sea Caves La Jolla Caves

To the right of the sandy beach La Jolla Cove are the sea caves of La Jolla. There are a total of seven caves, which were cut by the tides and waves here in the approximately 60 -meter-high sandstone cliff. From West to East they are known as: Clam's Cave, Sunny Jim Sea Cave, Arch Cave, Sea Surprise, Shopping Cart, Little Sister and White Lady.

You can snorkel beneath the sandstone cliff and explore the La Jolla Sea caves. In good conditions and with little waves you can even snorkel in some. Some you can explore on foot afterwards. The easiest way to get to the caves is La Jolla Cove beach. There should also be more access from the rocks, but there you have to climb with your snorkeling gear. I did not try these approaches. 

From the beach La Jolla Cove you get to the Clam’s Cave after about five minutes of snorkeling. It is the largest of the seven caves and is even visible from the Coast Boulevard. If the tide permits, you can snorkel or even paddle through the cave.

Clam's Cave (Muschelhöhle)  La Jolla
You can snorkel through the Clam's Cave

The other caves can only be seen from the water. Some of them are associated with old stories and legends. For example, it is said about the cave White Lady that here a woman was seized by the flood and washed into the water.

If you can not get into the caves because of the waves, you can still visit one of the sea caves by land. The Sunny Jim Sea Cave was opened in 1902 through an artificial tunnel with 145 steps.The construction of the tunnel lasted two years and was initiated by the German Professor Gustav Schulz. It has since become the only sea cave in La Jolla that can be reached by land. The entrance to the tunnel is in the Cave Store, the oldest shop in La Jolla. Around the Sunny Jim Sea Cave are stories about smugglers of alcohol, opium and immigrants from Asia. The entrance fee is $ 5. The entry into the water is not allowed from the observation deck of the cave, but you can explore the cave from the water and snorkel into it.

Tunnel zur Sunny Jim's Cave
Tunnel to Sunny Jim’s Cave

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Leopard Sharks in "Shark City"

In summer, thousands of leopard sharks (also called zebra sharks) arrive in the waters off La Jolla. Most of the animals are pregnant females giving birth to their young here. Because here in the shallow warm waters is the nursery of the sharks.The leopard sharks like to lie close to the ground on the sand and can already be seen from above when swimming or kayaking. Right behind the waves breaking on the beach you can see the first animals.

Especially many leopard sharks gather in front of La Jolla in „Shark City“.. Das ist der Strandabschnitt La Jolla Shores nördlich des Restaurants “The Marine Room”. Hier ist auch die Einsatzstelle für Kajaks.

The best season to see the sharks of La Jolla is from the beginning of June to the end of September.During the rest of the year there are about 100-200 leopard sharks that live here all year round.

You can easily spot the leopard sharks: On silver skin are drawn about 13 saddle-shaped bands over the back. They run over the entire length of the shark. Besides the leopard sharks in La Jolla can also see other shark species. These are corn sharks. Furthermore, there are stingrays that like to bury themselves in the sand. So watch out where you step.

The waves are a bit higher at the La Jolla Shores than at the protected La Jolla Cove. This means that just in the surf zone a lot of sand is whirled up and the visibility is slightly worse. The sharks you see in this case only when they are close to you.

The sharks of La Jolla are harmless. However, they are wild animals and you should bring appropriate respect and caution. Do not chase after the sharks and do not surround them. Do not even try to touch them or capture them for a photo (sounds unbelievable, but unfortunately I've been seriously suggested by a dive guide in La Jolla).

Leopardenhai in "Shark City" La Jolla
Leopardenhai in “Shark City” La Jolla

Facts about Leopard Sharks

  • Length: up to 2 meters
  • Weight: up to 18.4 kg
  • Distribution: Eastern Pacific from Oregon to the Gulf of California
  • Diet: Mussels, crabs, shrimp, squid and fish eggs.
  • Reproduction: each female produces between 7 and 36 offspring per breeding season, which measure about 20 centimeters at birth.
  • Age: up to 30 years
  • Status in the IUCN Red List: Least Concern. Unfortunately, those sharks are kept a lot in aquariums and are also fished and eaten.

Tip: The Scripps Aquarium also offers guided snorkeling tours to the leopard sharks from July to September. The tours are led by trained naturalists and are therefore a great opportunity to learn more about the sharks.

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Sea Lions in La Jolla Cove

The beach at La Jolla Cove is one of the most popular snorkeling spots in La Jolla. This bay is protected by high cliffs. This reduces the surf and improves visibility underwater. The bay is also popular with sea lions. The sea lions like to rest on the rocks that frame the bay on the right and on the left. And mostly some of them are in the water. Then you have the possibility to experience sea lions under water. They seem so clumsy and awkward on land. But under water they are fast and elegant. It is a real pleasure to observe the animals.

La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is popular with bathers and sea lions

Learn more about the sea lions of La Jolla in my separate blogpost.There you will get tips for watching and snorkeling with the animals and you can also see more photos of sea lions.

Spielende Seelöwen in La Jolla Cove -
Playing sea lions in La Jolla Cove - Snorkeling with sea lions is a unique experience!

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Kelp Forest

The California underwater world is known for its kelp forests. Snorkeling or diving in kelp is like experiencing the fourth dimension. It is especially nice to dive through the plants with scuba equipment. Personally, I found it even more beautiful than the colorful reefs in Egypt. And even as a snorkeler it is a great experience to see these gigantic forests from above.

Giant tangle grows in cold water where rocks are found on the seabed. There, the kelp is not rooted like other plants. Instead, he uses a kind of root structure that holds him to the rocks at depths between 12-25 meters. The plants grow up to 45 meters high and often reach the water surface. Air filled floats raise the tang and hold it up. Kelp grows up to 60 centimeters every day, preferably in the cooler winter months and when it gets a lot of sun.

Garibaldifisch im Kelpwald
Garibaldi fish in the kelp forest

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Garibaldi Fish

Every state of the United States has a state fish. These animal species are considered federal landmarks. The pretty orange Garibaldi fish is the State fish of California.It is found throughout the California coast and is hard to miss because of its color. Its color is particularly beautiful up to about three meters deep. Because here the red light is not so much swallowed by the water. You can see it everywhere at the snorkeling spots off La Jolla. But most often I have seen it in La Jolla Cove and on the rocky sections in front of the sea caves.

The Garibaldi fish is with up to 30 centimeters the largest species of reef perch and is protected in the USA. It lives in the cool waters of the kelp forests and on the rocky coasts of the eastern Pacific from Monterey to Lower California at depths of up to 30 metres.

In addition to the orange Garibaldi you can still sardines, stingrays, octopus, California toothpipes, yellow tails and other fish or, with luck, even discover turtles. You also have a good chance of seeing lobsters, crabs and lobsters.

Der Garibaldifisch ist der Staatsfisch in Kalifornien
The Garibaldi fish is the state fish in California

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Photo Tips for your underwater Photos

If you go snorkelling in La Jolla, you may have a small underwater camera with you to record your underwater experiences. Here you come to my Photo Tips for your underwater Pictures of the La Jolla Sea LionsThe tips are not intended for underwater photographers with high-end camera equipment. Instead, they are a few simple tips that can also be easily implemented with the small fun camera.

Seelöwe in La Jolla
I created this picture from a video

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Tips for the equipment for snorkeling in La Jolla

A wetsuit protects you from hypothermia and scuffs from involuntary contact with the numerous rocks. In addition, you get additional lift through the suit and can therefore snorkel longer and more relaxed. In summer, a 3 mm suit is sufficient. In autumn to spring you are well supplied with a 7 mm suit. However, then you have so much buoyancy that you should eventually wear a lead belt with 2 kg weight.

You can borrow missing equipment in one of the snorkelling shops in La Jolla, for example at Everyday California or La Jolla Kayak.

La Jolla Cove is the only stretch of beach in San Diego where swimming aids may not be used. The bay is designated as a bathing, snorkeling and diving area. The use of life jackets, boogie boards or other swimming equipment is not permitted.

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Directions and Accommodation

La Jolla is a district in the north of San Diego. Coming from Los Angeles, you can reach La Jolla in about 2.5 hours via Freeway 5.Follow La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road to Prospect Street and La Jolla Coast Boulevard. Parking is best right in front of the beach on La Jolla Coast Boulevard. Parking time is limited to 2 or 3 hours. You can also park at Prospect Street, Girard Street or one of the public parking lots.

By public transport you can travel from Los Angeles Union Station to San Diego Old Town by Pacific Surfliner 2 hours 45 minutes. From here, take bus number 30 to La Jolla and get off at Torrey Pines Road & Exchange Place for about 50 minutes. The last 800 metres to the beach are on foot.

During my stay in La Jolla I had booked into the hotel La Jolla Suit. The hotel was directly opposite the La Jolla Cove. Due to the location the hotel was a bit more expensive, but it had the following decisive advantages:

  • The path to snorkelling and the best sea lion observation points was not far and I did not have to carry my equipment far.
  • I did not have to worry about parking.
  • I was able to leave all my valuables in the hotel during my snorkeling trips.
  • After snorkelling I could go back to my room as I was and immediately take a warm shower.

So the closer the hotel is to the beach, the better.

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Book Recommendation for California

You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books* about California.

You can order these books at Amazon with a click on the pictures. If you buy a product via one of these affiliate links, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. The product will not be more expensive for you.

Have you ever been snorkeling in La Jolla yourself? How did you like it? Do you have any questions about my article or suggestions? If so, please write me a comment!

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