Snorkeling in La Jolla: 5 Things to Know Before You Go

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La Jolla is great for a number of ocean activities – paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving, and our personal favorite – snorkeling! Snorkeling in La Jolla offers you the opportunity to see (up close and personal) hundreds of different ocean-dwelling species, including the state fish Garibaldi, leopard sharks, stingrays, and all types of different fish.

Many people wonder where to go snorkeling in La Jolla. La Jolla Cove is one of the best places to snorkel in all of San Diego; its crystal clear waters and warmer than usual temperatures make for a perfect underwater environment, though lately the seals have staked their claim there. Another great spot just out in front of the Marine Room and near La Jolla Shores. Here are some tips before you go!

1. You may not always see leopard sharks.

Many people go snorkeling in La Jolla expecting to see leopard sharks right away, but they do have a season – typically, they swim in La Jolla between June and early December with the peak being August or so.

But when you do go during the summer, head to the front of the tennis club and The Marine Room Restaurant (off La Jolla Shores), where the sharks typically hang out in groups of hundreds in about four to five feet of water. The waves are gentlest along that stretch of beach, so it makes for a good eating environment and easy swimming.  It’s easier to see them on a sunny day, so try to make it out there when it isn’t overcast.

2. You’ll probably need a wet suit.

Though La Jolla Cove is known for being slightly warmer than the rest of the waters offshore San Diego, the water during the winter is typically in the 50s/60s, which is chilly by our southern California standards! Some are able to go without, but if you’re susceptible to the cold, renting a short wetsuit might be a good idea when you’re snorkeling in La Jolla (a full one probably isn’t necessary).

3. Keep an eye out for shovelnose guitarfish.

We all know the usual things to look for when swimming or snorkeling in La Jolla – the Garibaldi fish, stingrays, kelp, and a few other smaller fish. But the shovelnose guitarfish is a special treat to look at; not to mention its bizarre name, which comes from its long, pointed snout and a guitar-shaped body. Compressed from belly to back, guitar fish bodies are attuned to life on the sand and generally hang out in shallower waters near La Jolla Cove.

The shovelnose guitarfish is actually a kind of ray, and is completely harmless – so don’t be put off by their weird appearance.

4. This is a great way to check out the La Jolla caves up close.

It takes a decent swim around the corner from La Jolla Cove and up the coast to get the seven La Jolla Caves (approximately 5-10 mins depending on your pace). A lot of fish like to hang around over there, which makes for some pretty great viewing. Swimming in and out of the La Jolla caves can be an incredible experience, but it’s best if you’re an experienced swimmer and are confident that you can handle shifting water conditions and a strong current. You’ll also see quite a few sea lions on the rocks – up close and personal!

5. Conditions will always vary when you’re out there.

Remember to always practice caution. Even with the best forecasts, weather conditions can change quickly and unexpectedly. A calm ocean in the early morning can suddenly change to rough water and a high tide. A generally good rule of thumb is to check with the lifeguards to learn about ocean conditions or look up tides online.

Ideal snorkeling conditions are usually 20 – 30 feet of visibility, though that can be pretty rare. But when they do happen, be sure and get out there for some snorkeling! If you need some ideas on all the places to go snorkeling in La Jolla, check out our guide to the best snorkeling spots.

Some La Jolla Cove conditions to check before you head out:

Air temperature
Ocean temperature
Winds and direction
Wave size
Tide level
Underwater visibility
Surge, which is the amount of wave motion under water.