La Jolla Cove Sea Lion Problem, California

By Pat – (San Diego)
La Jolla Cove is only 15 minutes from me, and I had LOVED snorkeling there. Not only are there bright orange Garibaldi and red sea hares, but the plants and algae are pretty, too. Bright green sea lettuces and surf grasses, yellowish sea sacs, reddish scouring pad alga, and iridescent algae anywhere from purple to yellow-green. I was surprised that in Hawaii, the fish are crazily colorful, but the underwater landscape was plain. Mostly the opposite in California!

However, in the past couple of years there has been a bit of a stink about the colony of sea lions that have taken over La Jolla Cove. They’d taken over Children’s Pool Beach years ago, and, due to their increasing numbers, are now occupying the Cove as well.

We used to take visitors along Coast Blvd. and walk around the cove and down to the tide pools. Now, just driving through you become aware of a powerful stench, far worse than ever before. If you do choose to park, you can look down to the cove and see dozens of sea lions, dozens of sea birds, and not nearly so many people as there used to be.

Can you still snorkel there? Yes. People do. But check out the situation (you can google it) beforehand, or check with a lifeguard about the water situation, it can get pretty polluted. I usually call the lifeguard’s San Diego City Beach and Weather report at: (619)221-8824 to listen to the recorded daily info of diving conditions, surfing conditions, and tide times.

If it is too crowded with sea lions at the cove, La Jolla Shores is worth getting in the water to check out the leopard sharks or just play in the waves. There is also a spit of rock with tide pools just a 5-10 minute walk north of the SIO (Scripps Institute of Oceanography) pier. I fully intend to snorkel those rocks someday when the conditions are just right. It’ll have to be calm, clear, and maybe half tide. I’ve seen beautiful sea stars on the rocks there, and know there must also be a colony of sand dollars out beyond. Anyone else ever snorkeled that spot?

Birch Aquarium (part of SIO) up on the hillside is a great way to start your day exploring the La Jolla ocean scene. They have an outdoor tide pool exhibit where you can learn what to look for, and there is a huge tank that will make you feel like you are diving the cove without even getting wet!

Last tip: check out the California Tide Pools App – you can download it onto your iPhone and it’ll tell you what you’re looking at! Very cool. Just wish it had more fish info on it – at least a photo of a baby Garibaldi. Saw one the size of my thumbnail in a tide pool – exquisitely orange and neon blue.

Comments Moved From Previous System

Nicole & Galen – Dec 24, 2015 – Useful Update

Hi Pat, thank you for this very useful update about the conditions in La Jolla Cove for snorkeling. The sea lions can definitely change things. And thanks for the other snorkeling and tide pooling updates for the area too!

Ryan Bigleman – Jul 13, 2016 – Problem?

I just came back from a trip to San Diego, and I snorkeled La Jolla Cove based on what I read on this site. I found the sea lions delightful, occasionally darting in and out of our group, very playful and fun and a nice addition to the fish we enjoyed.

Cindy – Dec 21, 2017 – Delightful Experience

I found the snorkeling around the sea lions to be an amazing unique experience! Not to be ignored is the odor which can be strong and kept two friends out of the water. Check water quality before you go as suggested.

Loved the bright garibaldi fish as well as a few other varieties. Visibility was OK as I saw fish and grass and kelp. A sea lion did swim by as I got a bit farther out and didn’t bother me, just seemed curious as we locked eyes for a few seconds.

I have snorkeled in other countries but this was an absolutely delightful experience I hope to repeat.

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