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Sea Lions in La Jolla

3 Best Ways to View Sea Lions & Seals in La Jolla – Walk, Snorkel, Kayak

If you’re visiting San Diego then checking out the seals and sea lions is a definite must do! Cute, playful, adorable and an ever-present fixture along the cliffs of La Jolla. Below is our guide to the best ways to view the sea lions and seals in La Jolla.

Enjoy a gorgeous walk along the scenic, mile-long, sea lion trail. Jump into the clear waters of La Jolla Cove for an exhilarating snorkel experience. Or grab a kayak and head over to the most common haulouts. Don’t forget your camera!

Walk Along The Scenic Sea Lion Trail

The best way to view our sea lions and seals from the shore is to take a stroll along La Jolla’s famous sea lion trail. A one-mile scenic walk which starts at the Children’s Pool and ends on top of the majestic La Jolla sea cliffs. Plan at least an hour to enjoy the path including lots of photo stops and time to admire the breathtaking views.

Children’s Pool

Children's Pool Beach.

The first stop is the Children’s pool where the overwhelming cuteness of the harbor seal is in full view! The iconic sea-wall, constructed in 1931, was to protect the small beach from the incoming surf. The internal waters and beach were going to be a safe spot for children to swim. Over the years, these calm waters have also proved to be an excellent haulout for sea lions and seals.

The walking path along the top of the sea wall is open to the public. The wall is an excellent spot for viewing the pinnipeds when the ocean is calm. There is often a rope barrier limiting access to the beach. The limited access is to protect the harbor seals, especially during pupping season.

Shell Beach

Head north from the Children’s Pool on the paved sidewalk. You will pass an offshore rocky outcropping, Seal Rock, a great area to spot seals frolicking in the surf. At the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park is a staircase leading to Shell Beach. The small beach is fantastic for tide pooling at low tide when the ocean is calm.

Boomers’ Point

Boomers' Point.

At the north end of the park is the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club. Yes, we play cards at the beach in California! Across the footpath are the cliffs above Boomers’ Beach. Look below; these rocky cliffs are a favorite lounging spot for sea lions and seals.

Boomers’ Point is an excellent spot for photos. Climbing over the low wall to access the cliffs and tide pools below can be quite dangerous with high surf. Also, be sure to always keep a safe distance from the sea lions and seals.

La Jolla Cove Beach

La Jolla Cove Beach.

Following the walk around Boomer’s Point, you will soon arrive at La Jolla Cove. This stunning beach area is sea lion central! The waters below are part of the protected La Jolla Ecological Reserve and marine park. Sea lions love lounging on the sandstone cliffs framing the north and south ends of the beach.

A staircase next to the lifeguard tower leads down to the beach. Early mornings you may even find sea lions and pups right on the sand. If you’re adventurous, this is a great place to jump in and snorkel in the ocean with the seals and sea lions.

The Clam Cave.

The Clam Cave.

Continue walking past the Cove and uphill toward the caves area. Below on your left is the giant Clam Cave, a favorite swim through for sea lions. You can walk right out onto the top of this cave in a few minutes. The ocean inlet below is Emerald Cove. Named for the bright green seagrass growing below the waters. Look for sea lions and seals sunbathing on the small rocky beach and adjacent cliffs.

Around the next bend is the Cave Store. Inside the store, you can walk down a tunnel to Sunny Jim’s Cave the only land accessible sea cave on the west coast. Listen for sea lions barking below!

Behind the store, the path turns to dirt. Take the wooden staircase down to the observation deck for incredible views of La Jolla.

The Seven Sea Caves

Seven Sea Caves Cliffs.

Past the observation deck, and open to the public, is the rocky topside of The Clam Cave. The cliffs are unstable so be careful to stay away from the edges. The ocean area below the northern tip of the cave is Goldfish Point. Named for the hundreds of orange Garibaldi fish swimming in the waters below. The rocks below are a favorite hangout for sea lion pups.

To the east, you can see the rest of the seven sea caves carved into the giant sandstone cliffs.

La Jolla Cliffs Walking Path

Cliff Walking Path.

Leaving the top of the cave walk back up the wooden steps and take the dirt path to the left. From this point on you may not see many more sea lions and seals but get ready for some stunning ocean views! The trail wanders another few blocks along the top of La Jolla’s cliffs above the seven sea caves. Get your camera ready for some epic photos!

The path ends at the dead end of the street called Coast Walk. Following the street up to Torrey Pines Road, it is a quick walk back to the La Jolla Village area for a cold drink or lunch.

Snorkel at the La Jolla Cove

Sea lion at La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla is an excellent place to snorkel. The best spot to jump in and go snorkeling with the sea lions and seals is the La Jolla Cove. Access to the ocean is by the small beach at the base of the staircase. This area is part of the protected marine reserve. Sea lions and spend most days relaxing on the rocky cliffs that border both the north and south ends of the beach. The playful pinnipeds love to swim and fish in the surrounding waters. We recommend you join the fun! Grab some snorkeling gear or take a tour. The Cove is also a beautiful area to see a variety of fish.

Kayak the Sea Cave’s Haul-Outs

Kayaking sea lions haul outs.

Another great way to check out our local sea lion and seal population is by kayak. To launch or rent a kayak head over to the La Jolla Shores boat launch area on Avenida Del Playa. Enjoy a 1/2 mile paddle southwest toward the sea cave’s haul-outs.

The rocky ledges along the lower cliffs are very popular sea lion haul-outs. Gliding along the shallow ocean in front of the seven sea caves is also a great area to spot colorful fish below. The nearby rocks and waters of Emerald Cove are a favorite playground for the sea lion pups. Keep your cameras ready for some super cute pics.

Sea Lion or Seal, What’s the Difference?

Sea lion or seal comparison photo.

The coast of La Jolla has both sea lions and seals, but how can anyone tell the difference. Of course, they are both adorable with finned feet typical to all pinnipeds. And even though they have many similar features, their differences are easy to pick out.

Look at the flippers

Seals have tiny little furry flippers with claws. Sea lions front flippers are quite long, are more skin than fur and useful for “walking.”

Find the ears

Seals heads are very slick with tiny holes that are tough to locate from a distance. Seal lions ears are little, easy to identify, flaps on the side of their heads.

Listen for barking

Sea lions love to bark, and they do it a lot! Seals make only little grunting sounds that are quite hard to hear.

Notice their location

Sea lions prefer heights. They will climb up the cliffs to higher rock ledges. Seals like the soft sand covered beach or rocks closer to the surface of the ocean.

Watch for personality

Seals are quite shy and spend much more time alone. Sea lions a rambunctious, very social with each other often laying in big piles.

The sea lions and seals come to the shore to rest. They need to be on land, relaxing for at least eight hours a day. Disturbing these animals is against the law. For safety, please keep a safe distance when viewing or taking photos. Sea lions will bite when frightened.

Where to Park

Parking in La Jolla is terrible. Plan to arrive in the earlier morning for more accessible parking. Most street parking is free but time-limited, usually to 2 to 3 hours.

If you are walking the Sea Lion Trail or snorkeling at La Jolla Cove, then try parking along Coast Boulevard. If you can’t find an open spot on the street, head back up to one of the many pay lots in the village. There are three public parking lots on Fay Avenue alone.

If you are kayaking, then make your way over to Avenida Del Playa near La Jolla Shores for the closest parking.

By | 2018-02-10T02:06:19+00:00 March 12th, 2016|Categories: Scuba, Snorkeling|Tags: , |