Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove – San Diego

Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove in San Diego, California is pretty interesting and fun to do. It is not stellar snorkeling, but it is uniquely interesting.

Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove, San Diego

Here we share all the details of where to go and what to see.

La Jolla Cove is located north of the Pacific and Mission Beach areas (see directions below). You access the cove from the beautiful Ellen Browning Scripps Park that sits on the bluff and offers wonderful views and sunsets.

This is a very popular swimming and snorkeling spot and it was wonderful to see all the people who get in the water here.

Stairs down to La Jolla Cove.

Most people get in the water without wetsuits, but we rented some shorty wetsuits the day. And it was a good thing we did, because we were starting to get cold after only an hour in the water. What wimps we are! And of course we had our own snorkel gear, but you can rent snorkel masks and fins locally, or you can also book yourself a tour with a snorkel company and have a guided snorkel adventure.

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Snorkeling in La Jolla – Guided Tour or Not?

Ellen Browning Scripps Park, line of Palm Trees, La Jolla, California

We thought it would be interesting to have a guided tour for snorkeling in La Jolla Cove even though we are experienced snorkelers. We figured a guide would know where to go and that we would learn some fun ecology of the area. We did not get it together to organize one, so we did it ourselves. To learn about the area from locals, you could book a tour. It would also save you the step of renting snorkel gear and a wetsuit, as they are often provided. Check out TripAdvisor for reviews of the tour company you are considering.


Blurry Fish, Rotten Colors, Garbage Pictures

That does not look like what I saw! See our snorkeling camera pages for tips on selecting a good snorkeling camera, and how to use it for great pictures.

Where to Snorkel in La Jolla Cove?

Once you find a parking spot, make your way toward the north end of the park and take a look over the cove. It is not a big area. And most folks snorkel within the small confines of this area.

View of beach at La Jolla Cove

The second area for snorkeling in La Jolla Cove is to head straight out from the south end of the cove to the kelp beds. Underwater visibility can be better farther out if it is bad in the cove. But check with the lifeguards to make sure there are not any strong currents before you venture outside the cove much.

Besides the cove, and the kelp beds, the third area for snorkeling in La Jolla is down the coast to the north. There are several sea caves the kayak tours and snorkel tours advertise.

Kayaking and snorkeling at La Jolla Caves

We did swim down and check this out, but did not really see much. Apparently the tide has to be very low to even see the caves, and then you have to be very careful of wave surges. We do not recommend entering sea caves when snorkeling in La Jolla. Again, talk with the lifeguards about this.

So all and all, it is best to just snorkel within the cove itself.

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Snorkel kayak trip along La Jolla.

What’s to See Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove?

Bright orange Garibaldi fish seen when snorkeling at La Jolla Cove.

There are some fairly interesting things to see when snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. But most likely you won’t see very far. When we snorkeled at La Jolla we had only five feet of underwater visibility. And I talked with one of the local diving guides who said that that is not uncommon.

The underwater landscape is pretty much rocks, sea grass, kelp and a variety of underwater creatures. Rays are known to frequent the area, although we did not see any.

Fortunately there are a variety of beautiful fish that are very used to people and will come up close. The most interesting is the California state fish, the bright orange Garibaldi.

It was a surprise to see these bright colored fish in these subtropical waters. They grow to about a foot long at max. The immature version of these has beautiful iridescent blue spots (see below). These are pretty inquisitive and seemed attracted to our yellow fins.

Immature Garibaldi fish with sea grass

There were a few other fish that visited us up close as well. Although we are not sure exactly what they are. Here was a beautiful one.

Brown fish at La Jolla Cove.

Kelp is a neat thing to see when snorkeling in La Jolla. In the low visibility these beautiful algae plants would come shooting out of the depths, a golden brown of floating pods and leaves. It is pretty easy to get tangled up in the kelp if you do not watch where you are going. More a nuisance than a danger.

Fish and kelp at La Jolla.

We also were covered in pieces of sea grass that inundated the area. In fact the sea grass provided an unsettling experience for us. Normally when there is a surge or waves where we snorkel we look down at the ground to get a feel for our location and movement. It is very grounding to see a non-moving sea bottom when you are moving all over. But in the cove when a surge or wave would come through and we looked to the bottom, it was all moving, because of the flowing sea grass. That sensation, coupled with the low visibility, was pretty uncomfortable. It lead to an almost seasick feeling in both of us.

Kelp fronds on the surface.

Another treat when snorkeling in La Jolla is the local sea lions and seals. While you may not see them underwater, the sea lions and seals are commonly on the rocks of the north side of the cove. If we snorkeled too close to them they made some loud and entertaining complaints. You can see them on the rocks in the picture below.

Sea Lions and snorkelers, with kayakers in the distance La Jolla Cove California

Suggestions and Questions From Other Snorkelers

Safety When Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove?

There are normally several lifeguards on duty and they appear to keep a careful watch on people who are within sight in the cove. It is a good idea to check in with them about the current conditions. And be aware that if you swim out around the point to the south, or toward the sea caves to the north where they cannot see you, you are less likely to receive help if you need it.

Also keep in mind that while the cove does provide some protection from the common wave direction, you are still in open ocean. An occasional big wave can come in. Be aware of your proximity to the rocks and don’t let yourself get trounced on them by a wave or surge. If you are not an experienced snorkeler read our beginner and safety tips before venturing out.

Kid takes a beating from a wave along La Jolla.

This girl was having trouble with waves and the lifeguard gave her a hand.

Lifeguard helping a snorkeler at La Jolla Cove.

Renting Snorkel Gear for Snorkeling in La Jolla?

We chose to rent our wetsuits in Mission Beach area because the price was much better than in La Jolla. And we can only assume that the snorkel gear is also cheaper there.

When to Snorkel in La Jolla?

Summer to late summer is when the water is warmest. And appears to be the best time to go. But you may also have to contend with fog. Fog commonly covers the coastline in the mornings in San Diego, and tends to burn off or move out to sea in the early afternoon. But we also had fog come in suddenly in the middle of the day. And the only real problem with this is that it blocks the sun, so it makes things more difficult to see and colder.

Shoreline just south of La Jolla Cove.

Driving Directions for Snorkeling in La Jolla

The easiest way to get to La Jolla Cove is from Interstate 5.

  1. Take the La Jolla Pkwy exit.
  2. Follow La Jolla Pkwy to the coast. It turns into Torrey Pines Rd along the way.
  3. Take a right on Prospect Pl.
  4. You can take a right on Coast Blvd and park north of the Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Or continue on Prospect St until you take a right on Girard Ave to the park.

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