How to Explore Scripps Pier by Moonlight This Summer

Imagine – walking above the Pacific Ocean on a warm summer night, using only the moon’s glow as your guide while you explore one of La Jolla’s most fascinating landmarks. You can do just that during one of the Birch Aquarium’s Full Moon Scripps Pier Walks, which are held all summer long!

A working research pier still used by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the beautiful Scripps Pier is usually closed to the public. Every summer, however, visitors are invited to explore all 1,090 feet of this La Jolla treasure by moonlight. Attendees have full access to the pier and the chance to ask guides (naturalists from the aquarium and staff members from the Institute) all about the pier and how it’s used. A warm night lit by a full moon is the perfect time to explore one of La Jolla’s most prominent landmarks!

scripps pier full moon walks

How it Works

Your Pier Walk evening kicks off with a video about the history of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. As you head out on your walk from the Auditorium, you’ll learn about the 100-year history of data collection at Scripps. Once you arrive at the pier, you’re welcome to soak up the striking scenery by the moonlight, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, there are hands-on activity tables – where the staff may or may not ask if you’d like to dissect a squid or help dig through clumps of mussels.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate La Jolla Summer Bucket List!

Otherwise, the Birch Aquarium naturalists will be around to give you the 411 on subjects like shark teeth, the latest in plankton studies, and for the serious nature lovers, the unique donut-shaped brain of a squid.

An added bonus, especially for those with a penchant for photography: the event is timed perfectly so that you walk out of the Sumner Auditorium, down the campus hill, and right into the sunset ducking down beyond the pier. This is a rare – not to mention gorgeous – photo opportunity in La Jolla, so come camera ready!

Pier Walks 101

The pier walks are held twice a month from June through October. Tickets are $35 for adults ($30 if you’re a Birch Aquarium member), and can be purchased ahead of time on the Birch Aquarium website. The walks are from 7:00pm – 8:30pm.

Children must be at least 9 years old to participate, and attendees under 13 must be accompanied by a paid adult.

This year’s Pier Walk schedule:

June

  • Wednesday, June 27
  • Thursday, June 28

July

  • Friday, July 27
  • Saturday, July 28

August

  • Saturday, August 25
  • Sunday, August 26

September

  • Monday, September 24
  • Tuesday, September 25

October

  • Wednesday, October 24
  • Thursday, October 25

The original Scripps Pier was built in La Jolla between 1915 and 1916 as a 1,000 foot long facility for acquiring clean seawater for campus labs and Birch Aquarium. Ellen Browning Scripps provided all of the funds necessary for its construction. Extensive repairs were made to the pier in the 20s and 40s, though major concerns about its structural soundness led to the pier’s complete rebuilding later on.

The Bottom Line

Today, the pier is a remarkable and beautiful structure that is rarely available to be explored. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seen-it-all local, a Full Moon Pier Walk is the rare VIP event that’s both exclusive and completely unique; you’ll be hard-pressed to find another working research pier to explore under the moon’s glow!

For a similarly unique adventure, head down the 145 steps at The Cave Store to explore Sunny Jim Cave. For the slightly less adventurous, walk over to La Jolla Cove to watch the sunbathing seals, grab a bite to eat, and take in the stunning views.

For more information on the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla or other things to explore while you’re there, head to the aquarium’s website.

Everything You Need to Know About Snorkeling with La Jolla Leopard Sharks

Every year, thousands of leopard sharks head to the shores off the coast of La Jolla Shores to mate and then hatch their young. The warmer waters here provide an ideal temperature to incubate, and the sharks will typically stay for up to six months to complete the process.

The La Jolla leopard sharks are beautiful – and harmless – and snorkeling alongside them makes for an incredible afternoon out with the family. These little guys are hard to miss, and are distinctively marked with dark brown spots on a silvery, gray background that resemble a leopard print. Here’s the rundown on how to see the La Jolla leopard sharks; from where to go, when to go, and how to do it!

When can you see the La Jolla Leopard Sharks?

The leopard sharks are typically in their largest numbers from early June through the end of September or October, when thousands migrate to La Jolla Shores for their mating season. During the rest of the year about 100-200 local leopard sharks can still be seen, and some companies hold snorkeling tours through December or even year-round.

The leopard sharks congregate in the warmer shallow waters near La Jolla to look for food and find a mate; though they are a bit wary of humans, they typically keep to themselves and will gladly share the water with (respectful) swimmers and snorkelers.

When is the best time to go?

End of August and September are usually the best times to see La Jolla Leopard Sharks, as this is towards the end of the mating season and there are higher numbers of sharks. The ideal time to go is during the day, when there are calm waters and when it’s sunny (as they will be easier to spot).

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Where should I go?

The La Jolla leopard sharks congregate at La Jolla Shores,  where the water is warmer and shallower. It’s easier for them to search for food in the sand and kelp forests, which are protected by the La Jolla Underwater Park Preserve. Their diet consists mostly of smaller shellfish; including clams, crabs, shrimp, squid, and fish eggs.

During peak season, you can simply swim out into the water at La Jolla Shores and see the leopard sharks – they will often be that close to shore. Wade out up to your knees or hips, and you’ll see them swimming around your feet (which is quite an experience!). There’s no reason to be scared of these little guys, as they are completely harmless to humans and won’t bite or bother you.

How can I snorkel with the La Jolla Leopard Sharks?

There are a few different ways to really see the La Jolla Leopard Sharks. You can:

  • Swim out by yourself at La Jolla Shores and simply watch them through the water, which is usually pretty clear.
  • Snorkel out by yourself and get a better look at the sharks through a snorkel mask; either with your own gear or a snorkel rental. If you don’t have your own gear, many companies will rent you gear for the entire day at one price: Everyday California and La Jolla Kayak are just a couple.

Fun Facts About Leopard Sharks

  • Leopard sharks are only about four to five feet long
  • They’re found all over the coast of California, but they particularly like the warm water in La Jolla
  • During breeding season, females can produce anywhere from seven to 36 offspring, which measure 20 centimeters at birth
  • The maximum lifespan of this species is estimated at 30 years! They’ve lived up to 20 years in captivity, and are a popular attraction in many aquariums.
  • There is only one leopard shark attack ever recorded: in 1955, there was an unprovoked attack on a diver in Trinidad Bay, California. Fortunately, the diver was not injured and swam away unscathed.

Tips and Safety Guidelines

  1. Use common sense – keep an eye on the tide, watch out for rip currents, and always be aware of your surroundings.
  2. Always listen to the lifeguards.
  3. Treat the animals with respect; don’t try and touch them or interfere with they are doing
  4. Stay calm. Approaching the sharks quietly and calmly is your best bet to seeing them up close. If they perceive you as a predator, they may try and defend themselves.
  5. Wear appropriate gear; if you want to see them up close, have your fins and snorkeling gear ready.
la jolla things to do

Why Snorkeling in La Jolla Should Be at the Top of Your Bucket List

There’s a reason (okay, maybe several) that the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park is one of the top ten places in the world for snorkeling. Together, the Park and Reserve span 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands, from Scripps Park across La Jolla Shores all the way to Torrey Pines. From the seven sea caves to the variety of brightly-colored sea creatures, the Underwater Park and nearby La Jolla Cove have become destinations for snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world. Here are just a few reasons why snorkeling La Jolla Cove and the Underwater Park/Ecological Reserve should beat the top of your bucket list!

1. You never know what you might see.

La Jolla is home to an incredible variety of sea creatures and provides a rare opportunity to see marine life up close and personal. The warmer-than-usual water and protected cove attracts fish and mammals from all along the coast; snorkelers and divers have reported seeing Garibaldi, octopus, urchins, dolphins, sea turtles, leopard sharks, sea stars, shovel nose guitar fish, schools of fish big and small; and of course, playful seals and sea lions.

2. You can snorkel through some pretty magical sea caves.

Where else in San Diego can you actually swim through an entire sea cave? La Jolla Cove is home to seven caves, the biggest of which is Clam Cave (just offshore from Goldfish Point Cafe); when the tide allows, visitors can delight in snorkeling or kayaking through it to the other side. The other six are viewable from the water, and there is usually a plethora of marine life clustered near the caves at any time; which makes for some great snorkeling!

3. Leopard sharks: thousands of them!

Between the months of June and December, snorkelers can experience swimming among the largest annual gathering of leopard sharks along the coast of California. Each year, thousands of pregnant female sharks migrate to the beaches near La Jolla Cove, where the warmer, calm water helps their young develop faster. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t find anywhere else in California – it’s an absolute must-do if you enjoy snorkeling!

4. You can explore one of the region’s only underwater canyons.

Within the Ecological Reserve, the bottom takes a sudden and drastic 500-foot- plunge into the La Jolla Underwater Canyon (which reaches depths of up to 600 feet!). It’s exactly these unique features that make snorkeling in La Jolla such an incredible experience! Fun fact: a giant concrete map of the underwater park was completed in 2008 at La Jolla Shores; you can find it near the boardwalk between the restrooms and the children’s play area at the south end of Kellogg Park.

About La Jolla Underwater Park: it was created by the City of San Diego in 1970, and both the Ecological Reserve and the Marine Life Refuge lie within it. The Reserve is federally protected, and fishing or collecting of any kind is outlawed; because of this, marine life has flourished over the years – which makes for some fantastic snorkeling!

5. And there’s a secret underwater graveyard!

Two underwater canyons, two artificial reefs, and a kelp forest all span 6,000 acres underwater, making the Park and Reserve visually beautiful and geographically fascinating. There is one feature of the underwater canyon, however, that is especially unique: a secret underwater graveyard! 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.

Snorkeling La Jolla Tour Information

So the next time you’re in La Jolla, we definitely recommend snorkeling around La Jolla Cove and the La Jolla Underwater Park/Ecological Reserve! You can venture out on your own if you feel comfortable doing so (rentals are available from shops at La Jolla Shores), or you can take a guided tour with experienced professionals. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, try a combination kayak/snorkeling tour – it’s the best of both worlds!

Interested in more water activities while you’re here? Scuba diving and kayaking are also great ways to explore the underwater world of La Jolla!

Kayaking in La Jolla: Everything You Need to Know

La Jolla Kayaking

If you love the ocean and revel in exploring it, kayaking in La Jolla will be a magical experience for you. This activity is incredibly popular and is definitely one of the top things to do in La Jolla when you’re visiting. The local tour companies are experts, and know exactly where to take you and how to get you there so you get the most out of your experience. There are all kinds of things to explore; from venturing inside Clam Cave to the chance to see some wildlife, there is nothing quite like kayaking in La Jolla!

Whether it’s your first time out on the water or your fiftieth, here are some ways to get the most out of your kayaking adventure.

The La Jolla Underwater Park

This vast area of sea goes all along the La Jolla Coast and includes the ocean bottom and canyons that extend from it. 90% of this is protected as an Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve, meaning there is no fishing or scavenging of any kind and all wildlife and plant life is being preserved. This is part of their mission to protect the local, aquatic wildlife. In total, the park encompass approximately 6,000 acres. It’s particularly interesting because of its wide variety of landscapes; deep submarine canyons, rocky reef shallows, kelp bed, sand flats are all visible to snorkelers and on clear days, kayakers!

At times, the water will be crystal clear and provide you incredible views below the water’s surface; this is your chance to see all kinds of fish (especially the state fish, Garibaldi), leopard sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, and more.

Learn more about which areas you want to explore by kayak below:

The Seven La Jolla Caves

The timeworn cliffs of this coast have, over their 75 million years, had caves carved into the sandstone. Weather permitting, coast into these caves for a breathtaking experience. These seven caves are, from east to west:

White Lady
Little Sister
Shopping Cart
Sea Surprize
Arch Cave
Clam’s Cave
Sunny Jim Cave

All of the caves can only be explored by kayak, except for Sunny Jim, which you can hike down into. There is a small tunnel leading down from the Cave Store that you can go through by foot. During the 1920s Prohibition, it is said that illegal smugglings happened through here! Clam Cave is the only cave you can actually kayak into, but you can pass by the other caves quite closely and really see their beauty up close.

 

The Ecological Reserve

Tours run by companies like La Jolla Kayak often leave from this area, which can be accessed from La Jolla Shores. You can see buoys near the shoreside of Scripps Park, at the northeast point of La Jolla Shores and more again out into the canyons. Try to make out the invisible path between each of the buoys, and you have the perimeter of the reserve.

What plants and creatures can you look forward to seeing? There are often leopard sharks, dolphins, whales and, of course, sea lions hanging out here. Spot them swimming amongst the kelp and the reefs of the ocean arena.

The Marine Life Refuge

Head north of the reserve, and you’ll find yourself in the Marine Life Refuge. This space was set up in 1929 by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for research purposes. Though academic work is conducted here, you are also allowed to fish and play in its perimeters.

As with the Ecological Reserve, get ready to coast on the water and look down to sites of leopard sharks, garibaldi, sea lions and, depending on the day, dolphins!

Kayak Tours & Rentals

To learn the area and valuable kayaking techniques, there are certified guides ready to take you on your La Jolla kayaking adventure. We recommend booking as far in advance as possible, especially during the summer months. There are several companies that provide kayaking tours, and some are even combo tours (bike and kayak, snorkel and kayak, etc.). Some of our favorites are La Jolla Kayak, Everyday California, and Bike & Kayak Tours of La Jolla.

If you’ve already kayaked before, you may only the equipment and not a full tour. These companies, and local shops, also rent out kayaks and other equipment. For more information, check out our complete La Jolla Shores guide!

7 Reasons to Tour the the Salk Institute in La Jolla

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla California is a world-famous research institute that opened its doors in 1963 under the watchful eye of Jonas Salk, who is credited with developing the first safe and effective polio vaccine. He envisioned it as a collaborative environment where researchers could explore the basic principles of life and contemplate the wider implications of their discoveries.

To design the facility, Salk joined forces with famous architect Louis Kahn and directed him to “create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso.” And indeed, he did! The Salk Institute remains one of the world’s leading architectural marvels; its spacious, unobstructed laboratory rooms and sharp lines continue to stun architects and tourists alike. World-famous for both architecture and biology, here are seven reasons you need to a book a Salk Institute tour.

1. It’s one of the top biology research facilities in the world.

Nestled in the hills and rocky bluffs of La Jolla California, the Salk Institute has been making impactful discoveries since its completion in 1963. The institute’s major areas of study are aging and regenerative medicine, cancer biology, immune system biology, metabolism and diabetes, neuroscience and neurological disorders, molecular biology, and plant biology. Its cancer center is one of the best in the world.

Salk research provides new understanding and potential treatments for a range of diseases, from AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease to cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Discoveries by plant biologists are paving the way to improving the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply and to addressing critical environmental problems, including global warming.

2. It has been deemed one of the boldest architectural feats of all time.

Pioneering architect Louis Kahn truly created an architectural marvel. His masterpiece consists of two mirror-image structures — each six stories tall — that flank a grand travertine courtyard. Three floors house laboratories and the three levels above them provide access to utilities. Towers jutting into the courtyard provide study space for senior faculty members. Towers at the east end contain heating, ventilating and other support systems. At the west end are six floors of offices overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In total, the Institute is comprised of 29 different structures.

In July 2017, Salk Institute announced with the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) that conservation efforts were complete for one of the key architectural elements at the Salk Institute — its gorgeous teak window walls. Now, the teak wood window walls will be protected and maintained for the next 50 years.

3. Research here has already impacted YOU directly.

The Salk Institute was started by Dr. Jonas Salk, the man who developed the first successful polio vaccine. The disease used to be a serious fear as many people, especially children, died of it. Thanks to the work of Dr. Salk, polio is now preventable.

4. Walking the establishment, you’re passing by some of the world’s top minds.

As the scientists and researches come in and out of offices, you never know what groundbreaking projects they’re working on. Research here has provided new understanding and potential treatments for a range of other neurological diseases, from AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s Disease to cancer and cardiovascular disorders. Discoveries by plant biologists and scientists are paving the way to improving the quality and quantity of the world’s food supply and to addressing critical environmental problems, including global warming. Its Center of Excellence in Stem Cells Genomics was created through a $40 million award by California’s stem cells research agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. It continues to deliver groundbreaking research in the field.

Salk said of his institute, “The Salk Institute is a curious place, not easily understood, and the reason for it is that this is a place in the process of creation. It is being created and is engaged in studies of creation. We cannot be certain what will happen here, but we can be certain it will contribute to the welfare and understanding of man.”

5. You may meet a Nobel Prize Candidate or Nobel Laureate.

One of those very people passing could’ve won or be currently up for a Nobel Prize. To date, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has produced six Nobel Laureates (including Elizabeth Blackburn and Francis Crick), one National Medal of Science winner, and countless others. View the full list of awards and accolades here.

6. It’s a beautiful spot for lunch.

On the ocean-facing side of the venue sits a small eatery called the CulinArt café; it’s open for lunch Monday-Friday. It’s the perfect place to grab a sandwich and enjoy views of the architecture, San Diego, and Pacific Ocean.

7. The view is unbeatable

The Gliderport is just north of the Salk Institute, so, if the wind’s are right, there’s a good chance you’ll seem some hang gliders or paragliders cruising the sky over the Pacific Ocean and San Diego. During the winter, you may be lucky enough to spot some whales or even dolphins as they make their migration south.

Ready to book your tour? Guided architectural tours are offered at noon Monday through Friday. It’s important to reserve your spot ahead of time; you can do so at the Salk Institute’s Architecture Tour home page.

If you’re interested in more than a tour, the Institute also offers free “Meet-A-Scientist” talks at 11:30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. All visitors are welcome, and they’re a great way to gain a more in-depth understanding about the latest scientific discoveries at the Institute with a Salk researcher.

5 Epic La Jolla Activities for the Outdoor Adventurer

La Jolla Activities for the Outdoor Adventurer

La Jolla, San Diego is a pretty great place to explore – especially for outdoor enthusiasts! There are plenty of La Jolla activities for the outdoor adventurer, from scuba diving to hang gliding and even snorkeling through the many sea caves along the coast. If adventure is your thing (or adrenaline!), these are five things to do in La Jolla that you won’t want to miss!

Paraglide or Hang Glide

Nestled above Blacks Beach, this cliff-high spot is the go-to-place for those craving a flying adventure! This 300 foot-high spot has been launching fliers for over 100 years, making it the most historic aviation site for non-powered flight on Earth. It’s been deemed a historic place by the state of California because of the many famous flyers and records that have been set here. The Gliderport offers an array of tandem flights and lessons, including:

  • Tandem Paragliding & Hang Gliding with a certified instructor
  • Paragliding lessons
  • Advanced clinics
  • Powered Paraglider lessons

Be sure to give the Gliderport a call before you head over there. Wind and weather conditions vary greatly, and on certain days they don’t allow people to fly. Visit their website for more information. Tip: Afterwards, visit the Cliffhanger Café for an epic cliffside dining experience! The full-service deli-cafe is open daily, offering lunch and snacks from 9am-4pm.

Snorkel & Swim

La Jolla Cove is an incredible place to snorkel, because the beach is sheltered from the waves due to its north facing location (this is one of the most popular things to do in La Jolla). Once you get your snorkel gear on, you don’t have to swim far to see a multitude of aquatic life. While the most plentiful are Garibaldi and sea lions, people have been known to see leopard sharks, octopus, stingrays, sea stars, urchins and many other fish species. You can also choose to swim at La Jolla Shores Beach or Windansea Beach. Several tour companies offer snorkel rentals and guided snorkeling tours, including Everyday California, La Jolla Kayak, and Bike & Kayak Tours La Jolla.

Tip: We recommend swimming at La Jolla Shores Beach for children and amateur swimmers due to its sandy bottom and smaller waves. Windansea Beach has a big shore break and a rocky bottom and is probably best-suited for adults and more advanced swimmers. Afterwards, visit the tide pools for further adventures!

D+B takes on kayaking 💪

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Kayak the Seven La Jolla Caves

If you love the ocean and revel in exploring it, kayaking in La Jolla will be a magical experience for you. The reason? The La Jolla Underwater Park, which is a vast area of sea that goes all along the La Jolla Coast and includes the ocean bottom and canyons that extend from it. Not to mention the incredible sea caves, a few of which you can actually kayak into! In total, the park’s perimeters encompass nearly 6,000 acres! It’s particularly interesting because of its wide variety of landscapes – kelp forests, deep water canyons, rocky shallows, beaches, and sky-high cliffs.

There are several tour companies down at La Jolla Shores that will take you on a guided kayak tour, or a combo kayak and snorkel tour; including La Jolla KayakEveryday California, and more.

Scuba Dive

If you have your scuba certification, there is truly no more beautiful place in San Diego to scuba dive than La Jolla. From kelp forests at La Jolla Cove to the canyon wall at La Jolla Shores, the La Jolla Ecological Reserve has it all – beautiful, diverse marine life and the chance of seeing something amazing. There’s even an underwater graveyard to explore!

During the summer, you can swim with the leopard sharks, and throughout the year marine life such as sea lions, seals, green turtles, sevengill sharks, giant black sea bass, toupe sharks and even dolphin have been seen by divers. There are a few different companies that offer guided tours, such as La Jolla Dive and San Diego Expeditions. Most tours meet at Kellogg Park or on the beach at the Shore

Rent a Bike and Explore on Wheels

There are several different options for bike rentals and bike tours in La Jolla, and for good reason! Beautiful, clear weather year-round and terrific views make for some great biking excursions. Bike & Kayak Tours offers bike rentals starting at $8 an hour, and La Jolla Kayak offers two pretty awesome combo bike tours: the Soledad Slide Bike Tour and the half-day Bike & Kayak Tour (which essentially combines the original Kayak Tour with the Soledad Slide Tour). Head to our Tours on Wheels page for more info!

Tip: Nearby, the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and the Salk Institute provide for some great informational activities after you finish with the outdoors. Call ahead for information, tickets, and tour dates. Both the Birch Aquarium and Salk are easily accessible from La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores.

La Jolla is a great place for families to spend the day outdoors; at just a 30-minute drive from downtown San Diego and other nearby attractions such as Balboa Park, northern areas like Del Mar (and the Del Mar Fairgrounds) and Solana Beach, and with so many attractions of its own (the sea lions, sea caves, beautiful beaches, and incredible restaurants), it’s definitely a must-do when in the City of San Diego.

Discover La Jolla on Foot With These Walking Tours

la jolla attractions

From kayaking and snorkeling to seal-watching and dining at world-class restaurants, there is definitely no shortage of things to do in La Jolla. Unfortunately, it can be hard to see everything in one or even two days; which is when guided and self-guided La Jolla walking tours come in handy!

Walking tours are a great way to get to know La Jolla – you can really experience everything up-close-and-personal and the best part is that most are free! Here are some of our favorite walking tours in La Jolla, California.

La Jolla Self-Guided Tours

Explore the Village

This hour-long tour of La Jolla focuses on cultural landmarks and offers a great perspective on the wide variety of architectural styles in the Village. You’ll get the chance to see everything from beach cottages to newer European architectural styles that characterized the 1920s; as well as a few more modern buildings.

There are 17 stops on this self-guided tour, and it’s the perfect option for first-time La Jolla visitors and anyone who just wants an overview of downtown La Jolla. You’ll stop by the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, La Jolla Rec Center, two of the Village’s most famous hotels, and more! Check out the map before you go.

la jolla architecture walking tour

Midcentury Modern Architecture

The 1950s and 1960s brought about an innovation in La Jolla’s architecture, and a group of modernist architects emerged to spearhead new, influential, and enduring ideas in building design throughout the Village. This self-guided tourhighlights residential, commercial, and academic buildings designed in the modern style and reflecting influences ranging from the Bauhaus to Frank Lloyd Wright. There are even a few “Case Study” homes built by famed architects Killingsworth, Brady, & Smith, which are remarkable testaments to the industry’s golden age of Midcentury Modern.

Historic Beach Cottages

The La Jolla Historical Society has a great map for this historic beach cottage self-guided tour. You can go at your own pace, and see all of them or just a few – either way, this is a great tour for history buffs! In its earliest days, La Jolla was a village made up of small cottages that lined the streets and were tucked away into the canyons along the cliffs. Craftsman-style beach cottages, with basic design and simple wood construction, were the major architecture style of the late-19th century and early-20th century and La Jolla was no exception.

The beach cottage tour has 28 stops, and should about an hour or two depending on how long you spend at each location. The tour includes more well-known gems such as Brockton Villa and the Redwood Hollow Cottages, as well as lesser-known historic spots like the Little Blue House and the Florence Palmer Cottages. Print out the full map and plan your trip before you go!

La Jolla Guided Tours:

Walking Food Tour

BITE San Diego guides you through some of La Jolla’s tastiest cuisine on this 4.5-hour guided walking tour, covering a 1.5-mile route with 5+ restaurant stops. From Hawaiian-inspired treats (sweet & savory) to apple pancakes, fish tacos with a sea view, Kobe beef sliders, organic superfoods & smoothies, AND the largest tasting selection of CA made olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The tour kicks off at La Jolla Cove (head here for directions to the Cove) and stops at BEAMING Cafe, Public House La Jolla, and We Olive & Wine Bar; to name a few! Tours happen every Saturday and Sunday at 12:30pm; tickets are $47.

La Jolla Cove + Downtown

This one-stop-shop tour covers all your bases! The 90-minute walk will take you from the coast to residential neighborhoods and everything in between, including major shopping districts and dining spots. The tour kicks off next to La Jolla Cove then meanders its way over to Prospect and Girard; later, you’ll get to explore Sunny Jim Cave and venture to a few lesser-known spots in the Village

[image courtesy of Birch Aquarium]

Scripps Pier Full Moon Walks

A warm night lit by a full moon is the perfect time to explore one of La Jolla’s most incredible landmarks. The Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, normally closed to the public, is still used for research purposes and important marine life observation. The Birch Aquarium offers free public tours of the Pier on certain evenings, where you’ll get to discover its 100-year history of pier-based data on an exclusive moonlit tour. Collect plankton, learn about bioluminescent organisms, and explore current research while engaging in hands-on activities. Tours only happen a few times a month; they also offer daytime tours. Check the full schedule for fall on the Aquarium’s website.

Salk Institute

The one-hour Architecture Tours at the Salk Institute happen Monday-Friday at noon and are led by trained and knowledgeable docents. Learn about the history of the Institute and what makes its architecture so unique, as well as more about the man behind its design, Louis Kahn; one of the great master builders of the twentieth century. According to some, Salk asked Kahn to design a research facility “to which he could invite Picasso,” which resulted in the stunning edifice it is today. Tours are $15 and you must pre-register online beforehand.

 

Itinerary for a Day at Birch Aquarium: Things to Do Already Planned

San Diego is a mecca for aquatic wildlife and oceanic ecosystems; it’s one reason you must visit the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla. This La Jolla aquarium has much to offer kids and adults, making it one of the top things to do in La Jolla for families.

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Birch Aquarium is home to more than 3,000 fish and 60 habitats, providing a unique opportunity to become immersed in an underwater world of sharks, seahorses, living coral reefs and more! Contained within the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the aquarium offers an immersive experience of the ocean sciences, conservation and research.

Here’s a planned itinerary for a day at the Birch Aquarium, so you can focus on enjoying the day – not worrying about the details of planning.

Buy Birch Aquarium Tickets Online

To make planning a trip to Birch Aquarium easy, we recommend buying aquarium tickets in advance online. It saves you time and even money vs. buying them upon arrival.

Head to this page on the Birch Aquarium website for special deals and discounts.

Check the Event Calendar

Before you go, make sure to check the calendar of events at Birch Aquarium. Each day, there are things to do at different times such as the Kelp Tank Dive Show. Check out the daily schedule for an updated list of everything happening each week.

Fuel Up with Breakfast in La Jolla

Eat before your trip to Birch Aquarium, so you and your posse can focus on the great exhibits – rather than stopping too often to snack.

We recommend local spots that open early, good no matter what time you & your family are hungry, and serve great food.

Caroline’s Seaside Cafe – This La Jolla cafe overlooks the Pacific Ocean, providing a great view and a variety of breakfast options including, but not limited to: pancakes, eggs (such as vegetable and Mediterranean egg scramble), greek yogurt parfaits and more.

The Daily Bagel – A local San Diego bagel shop known for great fare and a welcoming family atmosphere.

Bella Vista Social Club & Caffe – This oceanside cafe in La Jolla has a breathtaking view and a large parking lot. Nestled near the world famous Salk Institute, it has both indoor and outdoor seating. Breakfast includes options like decadent bagels, omelettes served with rosemary potatoes, acai bowls, black truffle quiche and more.

How to Get to Birch Aquarium (Details for Driving, Parking & Public Transport)

Address: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037

Hours of Operation: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Directions: You can drive yourself to the aquarium or – if you are visiting without an automobile or don’t want to worry about finding parking – here are options for public transport to Birch Aquarium.

  • MTS Bus Route 30 – Stops at La Jolla Shores Drive & Discovery Way. From there, walk 100 feet east to Expedition Way. Walk downhill .3 miles to the entrance
  • North County Transit District Bus Route 101 – Stops at Expedition Way. Walk down Expedition Way to the aquarium (15 minutes)

Parking: Free parking is available for three hours in the designated aquarium lot. After three hours, parking is $8 per every 24 hours. Handicapped parking is located in the traffic circle at the front of the aquarium.

What to Expect & Explore at Birch Aquarium

Whether you’re exploring one of the interactive exhibits, checking out the tide pools or participating in one of the numerous aquarium events, there are many things to do at Birch Aquarium.

Here are some of the top attractions at this La Jolla aquarium.

  • Elasmo Beach: Discover sharks and rays that are native to La Jolla’s waters in a 13,000-gallon tank.
  • Living Tide Pools:Take the opportunity to get close-up views of sea stars, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters and more.
  • Virtual Experience of Mexican Seas: A virtual and visual photographic experience of four biodiversity hot spots found in Mexican waters.
  • There’s Something about Seahorses: An up-close encounter with more than a dozen seahorse species.
  • Boundless Energy: Experience first-hand how we can use renewable energy from wind, sun and sea.
  • Giant Kelp Tank:  Arguably one of the most popular attractions at the Aquarium, this 70,000 gallon, two-story tank is an awesome display of an underwater forest ecosystem. You’ll see tons of leopard sharks, Moray eels, an endangered Giant Black Sea Bass, and more. Be sure to check out one of the Kelp Tank Dive Shows, too; divers actually feed the tank creatures and will answer any questions.
  • Animal Feedings:Ever wondered what it would be like to dine with fish, sharks and lobsters? Consider this your official invitation to dinner! Each day, aquarists feed the different animals within their live displays, giving you a front row seat to the action. For a schedule of feedings, visit this handy itinerary.
  • Infinity Cube **NEW**:  The Infinity Cube is now open! It’s a huge, immersive installation that explores bioluminescence in the marine environment. It surrounds guests in projected and reflected larger-than-life images of bioluminescence accompanied by soundscape. Definitely worth a stop!

Where to Have Lunch at Birch Aquarium

Pack a Picnic Lunch – After your day at Birch Aquarium or, as a break, bring a picnic lunch. Pack a cooler beforehand so whenever you and your family are hungry, it’s right at hand.

OR

Enjoy Lunch at Birch Aquarium’s Splash! Cafe – This La Jolla aquarium has a gourmet cafe with food by The French Gourmet, where you’ll enjoy sandwiches, salads and side dishes here.

Get an Amazing Oceanview Picture

Birch Aquarium is nestled above La Jolla Shores, providing an incredible view year-round. Make sure to head outside near the tide pool area to get picture of you and the family in front of the Pacific.

Hit the Beach After

After learning about the ocean and the ecosystems it holds, why not go explore it for yourself? It’s easy. Simply hop down to the beach below.

We recommend heading down to La Jolla Shores Beach – only 4 minutes away by car or 10 – 15 minutes using public transport to La Jolla Shores. This beach has equipment rentals, playgrounds and bathrooms – making it perfect for a kids day in La Jolla. It’s also great for a sunset walk on the beach.

Dinner at La Jolla Shores

The La Jolla Shores area offers a variety of great cuisine. Grab dinner at La Jolla restaurant spots such as:

The Shores Restaurant : Nestled on the 1st floor of the La Jolla Shores Hotel, this restaurant is a hidden gem in La Jolla. After a busy day of touring Birch Aquarium and visiting the beach, this elegant, beachside restaurant is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy a glass of wine. Make reservations at The Shores Restaurant here.

(If you can make in time for happy hour, you should. Learn about the amazing Shores Restaurant happy hour here.

Go Urban Exploring with the Murals of La Jolla

One of La Jolla’s best features is its role as a patron of the arts! Besides MCASD La Jolla and numerous art galleries, La Jolla also features its own series of outdoor murals maintained by the Athenaeum. Here’s our guide to planning your own Murals of La Jolla tour!

Currently, La Jolla hosts 16 mural locations maintained by private donations to the Athenaeum. You can view former murals in the online archive at the Murals of La Jolla Website, as 8 of the 16 have been updated with new murals since the start of the series in 2010. Each art piece stays up a minimum of two years. 2016 saw several additions, with 3 new murals and 2 new locations.

Planning Your Tour

If you want to take it easy, guided tours covering a majority of the murals are given by Athenaeum staff on the last Wednesday of each month at 4:30 pm. However, it’s usually more convenient to draw up your own tour. You can even customize it for accessibility, walking distance, and snack stops.

Firstly, you’ll need to know where the murals are, which you can easily find with this printable map. If you only have a short bit of time or are looking for the most wheelchair-friendly route, we recommend going from Prospect St, to Herschel Ave, to Girard Ave for the most murals (and best sidewalks) in the shortest distance.

Special Murals of La Jolla

Oldest mural – Favorite Color by Roy McMakin at 7596 Eads Ave (2010)
Newest mural – Landing by Heather Gwen Martin at 7724 Girard Ave (2016)
Cutest Mural – Opening by William Wegman at 1162 Prospect St (2014)
Most Instagrammable mural – One Pointed Attention by Kelsey Brookes at 7835 Ivanhoe Ave (2014) (cover image)
Most out of the way mural – Walking in the Cityprojects by Julian Opie at 5535 La Jolla Blvd (2013) (side image)
* This one is a real trek but is just a few steps away from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, which is arguably the best coffee in La Jolla. If you’re up for it, it’s a nice one to catch.

About the Murals

The Murals of La Jolla project began in 2010. Over the past few years, large-scale artworks have appeared in a variety of locations throughout the village of La Jolla; many are tucked away in more discreet locations, which makes them even more fun to find.

The project was founded by the La Jolla Community Foundation and continues to demonstrate that commissioning artists to create works for public spaces brings energy and vitality to a community. Here’s the list of artists whose murals are on display right now:

  • Kota Ezawa
  • Steven Hull
  • Heather Gwen Martin
  • Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia
  • Byron Kim/Victoria Fu
  • Terry Allen
  • Marcos Ramirez ERRE
  • Mel Bochner
  • Jean Lowe
  • William Wegman
  • Kelsey Brookes
  • Fred Tomaselli
  • Mark Bradford
  • Julian Opie
  • Roy McMakin
  • John Baldessari

Overall, 24 murals have been commissioned since 2010, and the Foundation plans on continuing to commission local and international artists.

Favorite Restaurants Along the Way

If you want to eat on the go, you can get tacos from Puesto or burgers from Burger Lounge and look at both the Hamilton and Blochner murals across the street in the parking lot.

If you’re in the mood for a treat, grab some Haagen Daz and eat it while gazing up at Wegman’s Opening.

If you’re looking for a sit-down meal, Brain/Cloud can be seen from the outdoor patio of George’s, and Sexy Cash can be seen from the patio of La Jolla Brewing Company.

Happy touring, and let us know in the comments which your favorites were!

One Pointed Attention and Walking in the City images from muralsoflajolla.com

Dolphin Sightings in La Jolla

Dolphin Pods off the San Diego Coast

The beaches of Southern California are full of awe-inducing aquatic wildlife. From smaller creatures like Garibaldi fish you’d see at Birch Aquarium to much larger ones…like dolphins!

Burnz Eye View captured this beautiful pod of dolphins near La Jolla, off the San Diego Coast using their high-tech quadcopter. We thank them for filming this and sharing it with the virtual world.

Want to Meet Dolphins Yourself?

Dolphins are incredible creatures, and many folks would probably like a closer look. Head out on the water and find yourselves eye-to-eye with them by going kayaking or snorkeling. If you’re new to these activities, you may be unsure if you’re heading to the right spots. La Jolla is home to multiple guides who are very experienced in leading people through kayaking and other tours. Tours truly are a great way to see the sea with ease and confidence. (Plus, they provide all the equipment, which is great for all of us who don’t regularly purchase scuba diving gear!)

See them up close…On Dry Land

If you prefer to stay on dry land, no problem. You can see these beautiful creatures up close at nearby the Sea World Aquatic Park. Simply head into the main entrance, turn left and walk until you hear their squeaking laughter! At Dolphin Encounter, they don’t simply look pretty either. They are trained to swim up close to guests and let you pet their playful heads.

Not Enough?

If you’re love the coast and are interested in other ocean activities, check out our Ocean Page to learn more. Keep calm and swim on!