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When Spanish settlers arrived to this Southern California region in the 18th century, they changed the name to La Jolla, which means “the jewel,” or “Jewel City.” This very apt name perfectly describes the town that sits along the cliffs lined with magnificent multi-million-dollar homes that are surrounded by brilliant blue water on three sides. While few may be able to afford to live there today, it makes for an ideal vacation spot with its stunning natural beauty and wealth of things to do. If you plan to visit, here are just a few of the very best options.
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The La Jolla Underwater Park is one of the La Jolla’s top attractions. Ideal for the outdoor adventurer, it features a natural marine life preserve and aquatic recreation zone, that are spread across more than 6,000 acres of shoreline and shallow tidelands from Ellen Browning Scripps Park to La Jolla Shores. The underwater park hosts two artificial reefs, two underwater canyons, and a massive kelp forest, which creates an unspoiled protected marine habitat that allow a wide range of oceanic fauna and flora to thrive. The artificial reefs draw all sorts of marine life near the shore, making the area ideal for swimming and snorkeling among colorful sea creatures. If you’re into scuba diving, you can go beyond the reefs into the 600-foot deep La Jolla Canyon – a place where migrating whales are frequently spotted. Kayaking is popular here too, but as it’s a protected zone, fishing is prohibited.
Even if you have no desire to soar off the cliffs in La Jolla, visiting Torrey Pines Gliderport, one of the most historic aviation sites in the nation, is worth a visit to watch those who do. But it’s even better to try it yourself, with tandem rides offered via expert instructors who will teach you to fly solo. Most people come for the panoramic views that are even more stunning with the colorful gliders filling the sky. Bring a picnic and watch, or enjoy dining at the Cliffhanger Cafe.
While there are a number of popular beaches for surfing, Windansea Beach is one of the best, renowned for its excellent surf and other activities on the water. Its beauty is so breathtaking, it’s become a popular place for wedding and engagement photos, so just visiting to be immersed in the tranquility and scenery makes for a wonderful experience. Benches overlook the water and are ideal for watching the surfers too.
La Jolla Shores Beach is ideal for beginners as one of the top spots for learning to surf in the San Diego area, with the reefs resulting in more gentle waves. You’ll also find multiple outfitters such as Surf Diva that offer lessons, as well as the largest stretch of sands with plenty of room to stretch out and play or relax.
La Jolla Concerts by the Sea is a free concert series that’s hosted every Sunday from June through August. This family-friendly event is an ideal way to spend a pleasant afternoon in an especially idyllic setting that overlooks La Jolla Cove, filling it with the sounds of live tunes, food and fun for nearly 35 years. It features a wide range of music styles performed by local bands, from country and rock to jazz, swing and big band.
There are few chain stores in La Jolla. Instead, you’ll discover a countless array of unique, independent shopping opportunities which practically guarantee discovering that rare treasure you just can’t leave without, particularly along Prospect Avenue, Girard Avenue, and its side streets. There are also some fun places to check out in La Jolla Shores, about a mile from the village along Avenida de la Playa, like Surf Diva and Rusty Surfboards that offer some especially fun beach attire and other items.
In addition to diving, hang gliding and surfing, there are many other active pursuits available in La Jolla that will get you up and off that beach blanket and onto the water, like taking a kayak tour of the sea caves. No experience is needed – numerous expert guides lead tours that will allow you to paddle in one of the most scenic destinations in Southern California. Along the way, you’re likely to spot a myriad of wildlife, including sea lions and seals, leopard sharks and stingrays. Soaring overhead are pelicans, cormorants and other sea birds.
If you aren’t interested in kayaking, but want to check out a sea cave, head to Sunny Jim Sea Cave, the only one in the state that’s accessible by land. The old wooden staircase that leads into the cave is located inside the Cave Store on Coast Boulevard, and a platform inside the cave will allow you to hear and see the many barking sea lions as well as take in a beautiful view.
Visit the Birch Aquarium
If you’re looking for a family-friendly attraction, be sure to visit the exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The Birch Aquarium hosts more than 60 habitats of fish species and invertebrates from Mexico to the south all the way to the Pacific Northwest and even beyond. It displays the ocean, climate and earth discoveries of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and includes a variety of entertaining, hands-on exhibits. Kids especially enjoy the tide pool display on the outdoor patio, which also happens to boast a breathtaking panoramic ocean view. Here, docents reveal information about the creatures found in the tide pools, such as hermit crabs, starfish, sea cucumbers, and more – and, you can even touch some of them too.
Birch Aquarium: This small aquarium is packed with fascination creatures, and it won’t wear you out.
The La Jolla Playhouse is a Tony Award-winning theater company that’s located on the UC San Diego campus. It showcases a variety of productions that often make it big on Broadway, like “Rent.” Before you get to La Jolla, be sure to take a look at its calendar of events and plan to catch one of the performances as it makes for a really fun evening out.