It may seem like there are no stones left unturned in La Jolla – from off-the-beaten-path attractions to the most secluded restaurants, there is a lot of information out there about even the most supposedly ‘secret’ spots in La Jolla; which is why we’ve decided to go the other route!
Here are a few La Jolla “hidden gems” you may not have seen around town – but have always been there, in plain sight!
1. World War II-era bunkers
Remnants of WWII remain scattered throughout La Jolla (and all of San Diego; especially atop Cabrillo National Monument). During the 1940s, there were several military bases scattered from the coast all the way inland. Our unique coastal position, facing towards the Pacific, granted us endless lookout spots.
During these years, the military and many local citizens were preparing for a possible Japanese invasion on our own coastline. Cement-encased bunkers were built all around Mount Soledad, where they stood for several years.
Almost all of these WWII bunkers, including some in the Muirlands, were destroyed or removed over the years, though some say there are still fragments here and there on the hill (the locations of which are still a mystery but if you leave a comment we might just reveal one of the locations!)
2. Our own “Gravity Hill”
Gravity hills are a mysterious phenomenon, mostly because of the uncertainty that surrounds them. They are said to be particular locations where the laws of gravity don’t seem to apply; in virtually every case, a gravity hill involves a short section of road (usually no more than a few hundred yards long) that appears to go uphill. But does it really?
A true gravity hill appears to go uphill, but when you park your car at the base of the incline, put the transmission in neutral, and remove the brake, you will find that your car rolls up the apparent hill. This bizarre phenomenon occurs on one road in La Jolla, West Muirlands Drive between Nautilus and Fay Street.
3. An underwater cemetery
Not many people know that San Diego influenced modern diving in a big way beginning nearly 80 years ago. Just beyond the coastline, about 100 yards out from the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club and 35 feet underwater, lies an eerie underwater memorial is unofficially known as “Tombstones.”
There are no bodies as the name implies, only several markers that are dedicated to fallen spear fishermen and members of the “Bottom Scratchers,” the first documented diving and spearfishing club in North America. Over time, markers have been placed for other fallen free divers and locals. The tradition began all the way back in the 1940s and has continued up to present day.
4. Two old stone bridges tucked away in the hills
Also known as the “troll bridges,” the two old stone bridges built in the hills of Mt. Soledad in the late 1920s and early 1930s have become part of La Jolla lore. Their classic, arched look is similar to that of the larger Cabrillo bridge that passes through Balboa Park, though they still remain a bit of a mystery.
You can find the bridges quite easily. Follow Exchange Place onto Soledad Road and make a right on Al Bahr Drive for the first one, and by taking Hillside to Castellana Road for the second.
[Skeletons discovered in 1976 in La Jolla that date back 9,500 years; source]
5. Buried evidence of ancient Native American villages
It turns out there are multiple archaeological sites in La Jolla, the most well-known of which is the aptly named “La Jolla Complex” in the Torrey Pines, Scripps Estates, and Spindrift areas.
La Jolla is considered a prime spot to find prehistoric Native American hunting and other artifacts because of its soft soil, which helps preserve remnants from its cliff sites. These sites have revealed a cultural cross-section of evidence, and some of the most well-preserved bits of archaeological evidence in San Diego. [source] Archaeologists have found evidence that dates back 9,500 years beneath the soil here, meaning they are among some of the oldest remains ever found in the United States.
According to archaeologist well-preserved, “there have been units in yards in parts of La Jolla where (archaeological) deposits were a good 10-feet deep.” (La Jolla Light).
Further investigation of the remains have been thwarted by legal obstacles; it’s still uncertain what will become of them in regards to preservation or study.
6. The two oldest surviving examples of late-Victorian beach cottage architecture in the US
The Red Rest and the Red Roost cottages were built in 1894 and have been vacant for decades. Sadly, they have fallen into disrepair and more recently been a subject of controversy over “demolition by neglect” and the question of how best to preserve them.
The previous owner wanted to knock them down and build a resort in their place, but the request was denied. The windows have been boarded up and the land vacant ever since despite being sold in 2015 to a large apartment investment company.
The cottages are an official San Diego Historic Landmark and are revered for being some of the best examples of the bungalow-style structure that influenced a generation of architects, including our own Irving Gill. Somewhat ironically, the structures were not built by architects, but by a few skilled carpenters.
7. A secret sea cave you can walk to
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to kayak (or take steps down to) the La Jolla sea caves. At very, very low – preferably minus – tides, you can hike to a couple of hidden caves via a path that begins next to the Marine Room. Just work your way south, across the tide pools, to a grotto that soars to heights upwards of 50 feet.
Inside, you’ll see sandstone walls stained with a rainbow of colors; in the back, there will be a low passage leading to another, smaller grotto. Be extremely cautious when walking, and always be aware of the incoming tide! Once it gets even slightly higher, you’ll want to start heading back out.
8. A street named after the discoverer of Uranus and two of its moons
Many of the street names in La Jolla were named after famous people, and much of the downtown was named to mimic New York’s financial district: Wall Street, Exchange Place, etc.
Herschel Avenue (formerly Lincoln), however, was named after Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), a German astronomer who is credited with the discovery of Uranus and two of its moons.
In the middle of an observation in March of 1781, he realized that the celestial body he had been looking at was not a star, but a planet. Uranus was the first planet to be discovered since ancient times, and naturally, Herschel became famous practically overnight.
As a result of this discovery, George III appointed him Court Astronomer. He continued to excel in his field until his death in 1822.
9. The site of the first black church in La Jolla
There was a time when an African-American community worked, lived, owned property and managed businesses in La Jolla; they contributed much of what La Jolla is today.
The black community attended services at the large white Presbyterian Church on Draper Avenue until the mid-1920s, when they received funds to construct a new church. In 1926, the La Jolla Union Mission Church, the first African-American religious congregation, opened on Cuvier Street; the same lot where Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Church stands today. It was a welcome home to black families that felt accepted in very few churches locally at the time.
10. A B&B that is comprised of several small historic cottages
Given La Jolla’s historic flair, it only seems natural that one would be able to actually stay in a place that’s more than a century old. And there is – the quaint Redwood Hollow Cottages, located a bit off the main drag farther along Prospect Street, have been there since 1915.
The property was first bought by a man named Walter Scott Lieber in 1907 when he decided to call it “Prospect View.” Over the years, the land underwent a few changes and rearrangements; but today, eleven cottages sit among its lush foliage and brick walkways – all with memorable names, including “Hemingway” and “Sea Biscuit.”
11. A self-proclaimed “Biodiversity Trail”
The Scripps Reserve, a part of UCSD’s Natural Reserve System, consists of almost 1000 acres spread between an underwater marine portion, a coastline area, and an upland cliff area known as “The Knoll” – which is where the Biodiversity Trail lies.
Tucked away amid some of the most expensive houses in La Jolla (off La Jolla Farms Rd.,) there’s a small opening in a gate with a sign that you might miss if you blink.
A short but incredibly scenic interpretive loop (in total it’s only about 0.6 miles long), the trail provides multiple posted signs along the way that inform visitors of the area’s natural history, including plant and animal life and geology. The views are some of the best in all of La Jolla – we aren’t kidding!
12. Secret Swings
Many of the famed secret swings in La Jolla have been torn down, but they always seem to reappear out of the blue at scenic locations. Our sources told us a new one has popped up just recently in the hills around Birch Aquarium! We won’t give away the exact location, but if you do find it, please be respectful so that others can find it and enjoy. Rumor has it another swing has been built down near La Jolla Coast Walk; we’ll leave it to you to find that one!
13. A block-lettered poem inscribed on an old lifeguard box by the sea
Legend has it that this box, which sits on the shores by La Jolla Cove, is a memorial to a legendary lifeguard and body surfer, David C. Freeman, who died tragically in 1994. The box was built by locals shortly after to commemorate his life, and today it contains a phone to contact lifeguards during the summer in case of emergency.
It’s unlocked only during those few months. Take a closer look, and you’ll see how beautifully the words mimic their surrounding atmosphere: “spray, waves, eelgrass, tranquility, spirit, adrenaline.”
Read downwards starting under the “E” of LIFEGUARD, and you will find the body surfer’s name spelled out in an acrostic puzzle: DAVID C FREEMAN.
How many of did you know existed?