La Jolla Road Trip from Los Angeles

Southern California offers spectacular beaches and a sunny Mediterranean climate year-round. It’s why many of us choose to live here!

But living in the daily hustle and bustle of traffic laden Los Angeles, can become stressful.

There’s plenty to see and do in Los Angeles but sometimes it’s nice to leave on weekend getaways for a few days.

Getting away occasionally is important, but you don’t always want to make a big deal out of your trip or can’t afford to travel far.

Luckily, one of the advantages of living in LA is that we have a ton of easy and quick getaway options nearby.

Whether you want the ocean, the mountains, the dessert or even another country – everything is just a couple hours drive away.

road trip from la

If you’re looking for a beautiful and relaxing weekend getaway or day trip from LA, La Jolla is one of my favorite destinations. 

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions Angelinos have about traveling to La Jolla.

We’ll cover how to get there, where to stay, and what to do while you’re there.

What is a good road trip from Los Angeles?

Living in L.A. means a relatively easy driving drive to SoCal’s best beaches, small towns, wineries and fantastic desert landscapes.

From kayaking in Santa Barbara, wine tasting in Temecula, vintage treasure hunting in Palm Springs or camping in Joshua Tree, all of these day trips from Los Angeles are worth taking for a quickie getaway.

La Jolla is located on the seaside of notoriously laid-back San Diego, just north of Pacific Beach and south of Del Mar and it can be the perfect day trip for those living in Los Angeles!

Why is La Jolla so popular?

La Jolla is one of the most popular destinations in California.

It’s known for its gorgeous views and laid-back atmosphere, but why exactly do people love this place so much?

La Jolla Road Trip from Los Angeles

It’s not just because of its natural beauty, but also for all the unique things you can do here.

Whether you’re looking to spend the day on the beach, go whale watching, or simply relax with a walk along La Jolla Cove, this coastal gem has something for everyone.

How long is the drive from La Jolla to Los Angeles?

It really depends on where you live in LA (it’s so big!). But if you’re coming from downtown LA, the drive is about 112 miles.

How long it will take you to get there is a whole other story.

As we all know, we rarely quote drives in distance in Southern California because of the sometimes gnarly traffic.

On a good day, it’ll take you about 2 hours if you try to avoid peak traffic hours.

If you don’t have a choice and will be driving in LA or San Diego traffic or on a holiday, it could take you up to 4 hours.

How Should I Get to La Jolla from Los Angeles?

The answer to this question depends on whether you’re in a hurry, and how independent you want to be once you get there.

Drive

The most obvious solution is to drive from Los Angeles to La Jolla. Depending on traffic, however, this could take you about 1.4 billion light years.

Honestly, this is the best option for time and convenience.

I don’t recommend any of the other methods unless you perhaps have a friend that can pick you up in downtown San Diego and be your personal chauffeur.

Fly

If you aren’t on a tight budget, you could drop your car off in an LAX parking lot and fly down to San Diego.

A nonstop flight to San Diego will take about an hour, but unfortunately puts you in downtown San Diego.

La Jolla Aerial by Rafael Rivera
La Jolla Aerial by Rafael Rivera

From the San Diego airport you will have to make your way back north and take a taxi, a shuttle, or a rideshare up to La Jolla which is a solid 30 minutes away.

Personally, I don’t recommend this route because it ends up being quite expensive, time consuming and stressful!

Train

The Amtrak Surfliner is an option if you want to take the journey a little more slowly and enjoy some great coastal views of the Pacific Ocean.

Upgrade to business class and enjoy a bottle of wine as you watch the surfers in the water as the train zips through Orange County and North County San Diego.

You’ll start at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, but like flying, will end up in downtown San Diego and have to make your way back north somehow.

Where Should I Stay in La Jolla?

The seaside city of La Jolla draws tourists from all over the world and as a result, there are plenty of places to stay in the area.

La Jolla Hotel

Home to some of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast, La Jolla naturally has several luxurious hotels that are perfect for those looking to stay close to all of this natural beauty.

La Jolla Luxury Hotels

If money is no object, try one of the local high end resorts:

La Valencia Hotel: This boutique hotel offers luxury accommodations as well as an onsite restaurant with ocean views and live music every night.

The best part about this hotel is that it’s right next door to one of the most popular beaches in San Diego – Windansea Beach.

Villa Monterey: Located just steps from Bird Rock and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Villa Monterey offers a relaxed and luxurious stay.

With ocean views from every room, you’ll feel like you’re living in a dream as you wake up to the sound of crashing waves each morning!

La Jolla Hotels and Resorts

If those options aren’t for everyone, there are plenty more hotels that offer lower rates but still have beautiful interiors:

Hotel La Jolla: This hidden gem is located in the heart of La Jolla Village and offers rooms with balconies that overlook either La Jolla Cove or La Jolla Shores Park.

Cottage Inn by The Sea: Another cozy hotel, it’s right next to La Jolla Shores Beach Park. It features guest rooms decorated like cottages, with private balconies and fireplaces.

La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club: This is the perfect hotel for families! It’s very close to La Jolla Shores Beach Park as well as La Jolla Cove where you can see all of the sea life that live in these waters.

If all the hotels in La Jolla are booked, try nearby Bird Rock or North Pacific Beach, just south of your destination.

Camping in La Jolla

If you love the outdoors and prefer to be closer to nature, how about camping?

You can spend the day at La Jolla Shores Park or try one of these overnight camping options:

Campland on the Bay: Campland on the Bay has been voted as one of San Diego’s best places to camp, including one of the 10 Best Urban Campgrounds by USA Today.

Mission Bay

The resort-style campgrounds are equipped with everything you could possibly need and more: a swimming pool, game room, basketball courts and even a skate park are all available for your entertainment needs.

Onsite laundry facilities offer clean clothes before heading home again.

The bayside location and variety of amenities make this spot not even really feel like camping.

Santa Fe Park RV Resort: This is a great camping spot for those with an RV. This RV park is close to Sea World, Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.

It has all the amenities like 20 and 30 amp electrical hookups, concrete parking pads, and free satellite TV.

There are also picnic tables and barbecues on site so guests can cook up their own meals cooked over an open flame grill.

Where Should I Eat in La Jolla?

It’s no secret that, as a culinary town, Los Angeles is one of the finest in the known universe. The entire world lives vicariously through food critics such as Bill Addison and the late Jonathan Gold.

So sometimes the food scene in other cities just don’t quite measure up to what you’re used to at home.

Luckily, the resort town of San Diego has an envious food scene that easily rivals that of LA. As a result, you’ll want to make sure you try the best restaurants La Jolla has to offer.

The cuisine is top notch and there are often beautiful views that go along with your meal.

Breakfast

I’m not the biggest fan of breakfast foods and really dislike spending my fun money on breakfast so I usually bring my own.

Instant oatmeal cups and fruit are easy to pack and tide me over til lunch. If my hotel doesn’t offer coffee, I may try to seek out some coffee shops nearby.

It’s difficult to decide on the first restaurant of the day, because there are so many wonderful places to choose from.

Lunch and Dinner

Some of the most popular and best restaurants in the area include the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar, George’s at the Cove for fine dining, The Marine Room, and Wayfarer Bread & Pastry.

If you’ve come to San Diego with tacos on your mind, try Oscars Mexican Seafood, The Taco Stand, and Don Carlos Taco Shop.

Octopus Galaxy Taco - Max Whittaker
Octopus Galaxy Taco – Max Whittaker

Of course, if you want really authentic Mexican food that tastes just like you’re south of the border, just pick any hole in the wall you see that ends in -bertos.

Seriously, there’s Aibertos, Humbertos, Albertos, Robertos – and they are all absolutely delicious and kind on your wallet.

Nightlife and Bars

If you’re looking for something to do after the sun goes down, La Jolla still has plenty of options.

The nightlife is pretty tame compared with Los Angeles or Las Vegas – there are no dance clubs here! However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

There are tons of great places to eat and drink, mostly along La Jolla Village Drive. There are even a few beer and wine tasting rooms.

What Should I Do in La Jolla?

If you’re looking for a beautiful and relaxing weekend getaway or day trip from LA, La Jolla is one of my favorite destinations for recreational activities. 

It’s perfect if you’re traveling with kids, friends, family or even as a couple!

La Jolla offers many of the amenities as Los Angeles, only far more focused on upscale relaxation.

The obvious outdoor activities include water sports like snorkeling, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, and sunbathing on the beach.

You can see lots of wildlife up close along this stretch of coastline – from sea birds to sea lions sunbathing in La Jolla Cove.

Seals in La Jolla Cove

Across the street from the beach and a few blocks inland, there are opportunities for you to go shopping, eat brunch, explore a farmers market and sample many of the craft beers San Diego is known for.

La Jolla is also home to a beautiful branch of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, although it is closed for a major renovation project until the spring of 2022.

Here are some of the most popular things to do in La Jolla by visitors and locals alike:

Hiking

From sea cliffs and tide pools at Windansea Beach to rocky arches, caves, and more than 30 miles of trails in Torrey Pines State Reserve, La Jolla has it all for outdoor adventure-seekers.

Torrey Pines State Reserve: These hiking trails are very popular and considered among the best in Southern California for hiking, walking and jogging and offer stunning views.

Torrey Pines hiking trail

With six varying trails that range from mild to difficult, Torrey Pines State Reserve has something for every level of hiker.

For those who want a really intense workout, the Guy Fleming Trail or The Beach Trail will take you down to the sandy beach (but you’ll hake to hike back too!)

Check out the visitor’s center for more information on their free guided nature tours on weekends.

Bird Rock Bike Path: Don’t let the name fool you, this trail isn’t just for bikes.

If you’re looking for a hidden gem to avoid the crowds at Torrey Pines, the Bird Rock Bike Path is a beautiful seaside option.

You can use it to head south to Pacific Beach and spend the afternoon enjoying the neighboring beach city.

Coast Walk Trail: Best for families or those who just want to enjoy a leisurely walk.

The Coast Walk Trail takes you along the central coastline of La Jolla, from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores.

It’s an easy, beautiful walk, that is not difficult or strenuous with awesome views of our California coast.

I highly recommend it as an after dinner stroll to enjoy the sunset!

Whale Watching

La Jolla is one of the best places for whale watching during winter months, especially if you have kids!

The best time to go whale watching in San Diego is from mid-December through April.

San Diego Whale Watching Kayaks - San Diego Tourism Authority
San Diego Whale Watching Kayaks – San Diego Tourism Authority

With a bit of luck and good timing, it’s possible that you’ll see whales frolicking just a few hundred yards off shore or breaching in the distance.

This is also a great opportunity to see dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions in their natural habitat.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

If you’re looking for an even more immersive experience with the marine life, scuba diving or snorkeling are both fantastic choices.

La Jolla Cove is known for its abundance of sea life and is the perfect place for beginners or experienced divers alike.

Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding

If swimming isn’t your thing but you still want to get out on the water, renting a kayak or stand up paddle board is an excellent choice.

La Jolla Shores Beach and the surrounding coastline offer many opportunities (like 7 La Jolla Sea Caves!) to hop into your kayak or on your SUP and explore.

Surfing and Windsurfing 

With its gorgeous sandy beaches, La Jolla has long been popular with surfers looking for excellent surfing and prime waves during certain seasons of the year.

La Jolla Shores: A picturesque public beach with reliable and predictable waves make it the most popular spot for surfers of all levels.

San Diego Surfing - San Diego Tourism Authority
San Diego Surfing – San Diego Tourism Authority

The sandy shoreline is usually fairly busy with sunbathers and families.

Parking is ample and you’ll find lessons offered if you need some pointers on how to ride these puppies!

La Jolla Cove: The Cove is one of the most famous surf spots in La Jolla, but don’t expect to ride waves here all year long.

Every once and awhile you will find a powerful swell that breaks outside The Cove’s protected area, called “outbreaks.”

La Jolla Cove waves

Definitely not a spot for beginners but fun to watch on a big day. They can be great for photos due their size and wildness!

Black’s Beach: San Diego’s most notorious (it’s a nude beach too!) and dangerous wave.

Black’s Beach is considered by many to be San Diego’s best wave.

It can only be accessed by hiking down a cliff with your surfboard or a LONG walk from La Jolla Shores.

Hikers beware, if you go down the cliff with your surfboard it can be rough on both of you!

Hard core surfers find the risk worth the reward, and some times you may even have the waves all to yourself.

Theme Parks

San Diego is home to some of the best theme parks in the nation.

The San Diego Zoo: Whether you’re traveling with kids or not, the San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous attractions in Southern California.

The zoo houses over 4000 individual animals representing more than 800 different species!

Some of the highlights include giant pandas, giraffe and jaguar.

San Diego Zoo Jaguar Cub - Photo_ Ken Bohn
San Diego Zoo Jaguar Cub – Photo_ Ken Bohn

If your family loves lizards like mine does, then definitely check out the reptile house!

The San Diego Zoo is involved in conservation efforts around the world which has earned it numerous awards.

It’s home to the most endangered animals in the world including pandas, red pandas, snow leopards and other rare cats.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park: A sister park to the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park offers a more safari-like experience with over 1,800 acres to explore.

Exhibits include giraffes lounging on the savannah and rhinos cooling off in mud pits. 

san diego zoo safari park

Check out my detailed blog post about why I love the San Diego Zoo Safari Park so much.

SeaWorld San Diego: One of the most popular family attractions in San Diego. It’s a must see for kids and adults alike with thousands of animals living on site.

The SeaWorld experience includes an up close view of some of the most amazing marine life on earth including dolphins, whales, penguins, otters and more, many of which have been rescued and are unable to live in the wild.

You can also take your kids to see shows like Shamu Rocks or get them involved in sea lion feedings at the touch tanks. 

SeaWorld has gotten a bad rap in the past, but I honestly think they are doing a lot of good for sea life through educational and awareness programs.

They give people an opportunity to see a large variety of sea life up close and learn about ways we can do our part in making sure we are cohabitating in the best way.

LEGOLAND California: LEGO fans will want to be sure to stop by this San Diego theme park.

Specifically geared towards families with children aged 2 to12, there are more than 60 rides and attractions and more than 22,000 LEGO models created from more than 57 million LEGO bricks!

Legoland California 24

Most people are surprised to learn there is a Sea Life Aquarium and water park here too!

Read more about our LEGOLAND experience and what it’s like to stay in the LEGOLAND Hotel.

Balboa Park: Ok, so it isn’t a theme park per-say, but it tops my list of ways to spend the afternoon in San Diego and its next door to the zoo.

With more museums, gardens, and interesting architecture than you can can a stick at, Balboa Park is such a great place to visit because it offers and eclectic mix that everyone can enjoy.

It has tons of outdoor space, offers free wi-fi and offers an array of free and paid things to do for travelers with all interests. 

One can enjoy the beautiful architecture and lush greenery or take a jog or bike ride on one of the many trails.

If you love museums, you could spend a week here just walking through each one. Some of the 17 museums are free and some require a fee to enter.

Balboa Park

My favorites are the Natural History Museum and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center where they offer hands-on exhibits for kids and adults alike.

There are also plenty of food options from vegan cafes to taco trucks, so no matter what your diet, there is something for you.

Admittance to Balboa Park is free. Once inside, you can explore the lush gardens and trails for free. The Botanical Building and Timken Art Museum are always free, while the other museums require a fee.

San Diego Missions

San Diego is a beautiful place with an excellent quality of life.

But it’s not just the good weather and relaxing beaches that have attracted people to this city, there are also many historical sites worth exploring.

The missions are southern California’s most celebrated historical landmarks, but they’re often overlooked by visitors who don’t realize how much history these structures hold. 

California has a chain of 21 missions which started in San Diego by Father Junipero Serra.

California Mission Project 4th Grade - Mission San Diego de Alcala

The most popular old mission is Mission San Diego de Alcala, which was founded in 1769 and was the first founded.

This mission features a beautiful park with gardens, a fountain and even some small art galleries. It also contains some of the oldest buildings in all of California.

My son made a great video about our visit with tips for your visit here.

I hope this article has given you an idea of why La Jolla is one of my favorite and most recommended Los Angeles day trips.

How will you plan your epic day trip from LA?

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