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La Jolla Kayaking Guide

Nicola Burridge
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Welcome to La Jolla, a beautiful coastal community located in San Diego, California. La Jolla boasts stunning beaches, cliffs, and caves that are perfect for kayaking enthusiasts of all levels.

If you’re looking for an adventure, kayaking in La Jolla is an excellent way to experience the natural beauty of the area up close and personal.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, there’s a La Jolla kayaking tour or rental option for you.

So grab your paddle, put on your life jacket, and get ready to explore the unique marine environment of La Jolla!

La Jolla Kayaking Guide - Pinterest ImagePin

The Best Places To Paddle And Things To Do Around La Jolla

1: La Jolla Sea Caves

Kayaks Near Sea Caves At La Jolla CovePin

The sea caves are one of the main attractions for kayakers in la Jolla.

There are seven sea caves that have been carved from the force of the Pacific ocean over millions of years. In fact, the La Jolla sea caves are believed to be around 75 million years old.

This means the history of the La Jolla sea caves can be traced back to the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. So they are an important geological feature and one of global significance.

The seven named sea caves are: White Lady; Shopping Cart; Little Sister; Arch Cave; Sea Surprize; Clam’s Cave; and Sunny Jim’s Cave.

Sunny Jim Cave is perhaps the most famous of all because this is the only cave that is accessible by land as well as sea. This is the second-largest of the seven caves. The other six sea caves can only be entered from the ocean, and kayaking is one of the best ways to view them up close.

Sunny Jim’s Cave has a tunnel that features 145 wooden steps that take you down into the depths of the cave from inside the aptly-named Cave Store that sits above it.

The deepest cave is Arch Cave, which stretches over 600 feet under the sea cliffs and features multiple tunnels or corridors.

Clam’s Cave has two entrances, so it can be paddled through if you’re an experienced paddler or if you have a tour guide with you. Many kayak tours may offer a chance to kayak into Clam’s Cave if the conditions are safe.

You may also get the chance to kayak into the mouth of Sunny Jim’s Cave under the right conditions.

It’s worth noting that kayaking to the sea caves is a popular activity in La Jolla. This means it can be very busy during peak seasons, for example, the summer.

2: Kayaking La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores can be one of the best places to go kayaking in San Diego thanks to its sandy beach and mostly gentle waves. In fact, the beach here is thought to be one of the calmest in San Diego in terms of waves. So it can make for an easier beach launch.

There is limited street parking in La Jolla but there is a large parking lot next to Kellogg Park, which is right next to the beach. It’s pretty easy to locate on Google maps.

The La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park are to the south if you launch at the beach near Kellogg Park. This is also the direction you should head to explore La Jolla Cove and the sea caves.

Once you launch your kayak at the main beach, turn left and you should see the sea cliffs ahead of you. That’s where you’ll find the sea caves and much of La Jolla’s marine life.

The waters around La Jolla are within a marine protected area. This means it is an important habitat for marine life, with underwater kelp forests and rocky reefs. This area provides homes for a wide range of sea creatures, including the famous California sea lions.

The large sea lions can be seen basking on rocks or bobbing around near the surface of the ocean. La Jolla kayak tour guides can often point you in the right direction for spotting sea lions and the other marine life that can be found in the La Jolla Ecological Reserve.

If you combine a snorkel tour with your kayak tour, you may get closer to the sea lions than you thought.

3: La Jolla Kayak Tours

If there is one type of tour visitors to Southern California should try, it’s a La Jolla kayak tour. A kayak tour is one of the best ways to experience the true beauty and magnificence of this part of the Southern California coastline.

There are multiple kayak tour guides operating out of La Jolla. There are even options for a combined kayak and snorkel tour if you want to get up close and personal with the local marine life in the La Jolla Underwater Park around La Jolla Cove.

A kayak and snorkel tour can let you experience both the unique marine environment of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and the La Jolla sea caves carved from the waves and tides of the ocean over millions of years. This means you can see the underwater rock formations that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.

This can give you the chance to explore the sea caves by kayak or swimming, with an experienced guide. You might not be able to swim or kayak into all seven caves due to the tides and the weather conditions.

It’s best to heed the advice of the tour guides if you plan to venture into the sea caves. You may find that most kayaking tours are weather permitting, so there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to get close to the La Jolla caves

Most kayak and snorkel tours launch from La Jolla Cove or La Jolla Shores, where you can also launch your own kayak. You’ll also find several kayak outfitters dotted around the La Jolla Shores area if you want to rent a kayak or snorkeling gear.

If you plan to arrange a La Jolla kayak tour, it can be a good idea to book in advance as it can get very busy. There are lots of kayak tour groups that venture to La Jolla’s Ecological Reserve and the seven caves so you’re unlikely to be alone during peak season. 

4: La Jolla Wildlife

Kayaks and Sea Lions at La Jolla CaliforniaPin

La Jolla can be one of the best places to kayak if you’re looking to experience nature and wildlife. The La Jolla Ecological Reserve features a biodiverse habitat that is home to a wide variety of sea life. This protected area can be found in the waters around La Jolla Cove.

One of the biggest draws for marine life watchers in the area is the leopard sharks. Leopard sharks can be found in La Jolla waters year round so you can potentially see them at any time of year if you’re in a kayak or snorkeling.

However, the best time to see leopard sharks is during the summer months, as this is when they can be found in the shallow waters closer to the shore.

Kayak tours can often be arranged for the best viewing of leopard sharks. You may even be able to swim with the sharks if you combine your kayaking adventure with a snorkel tour.

It’s not just an abundance of leopard sharks that you could see on your kayaking trip, the waters of La Jolla Ecological Reserve are home to California sea lions, which can often be seen on the rocks below the sea cliffs. Harbor seals are also a common sight around the sea caves.

> Do sharks attack kayakers?

Another of La Jolla’s famous creatures you might spot is the garibaldi fish – the California state fish. It’s bright orange, so you should be able to spot it easily if you keep a keen eye open.

If you’re lucky, you might even see dolphins or a gray whale. You can usually find gray whales in La Jolla between November and March as they migrate from the cold waters of the Arctic to the warmer waters of Mexico for their breeding season.

There are even kayak tours that run through the winter in San Diego that give you the chance to go kayak whale watching in the waters off La Jolla.

You may even get to view wildlife before you launch your kayak. Some sea lions like to relax on the rocks around La Jolla Cove where there’s a small cave next to the beach.

What To Expect On A La Jolla Kayaking Adventure

One of the main things you should expect while kayaking in La Jolla is that you will get wet. And the water is cold. So you should dress appropriately for the cold temperature of the water.

We have a guide on what to wear when kayaking when the weather or water is cold.

This may mean you need to wear a wetsuit. If you plan to take a kayak and snorkel tour, a wetsuit will often be recommended and provided.

The Pacific Ocean can be a dangerous and unpredictable place, even if you are on an organized kayak tour. So you should only venture out to explore the caves and the ecological reserve weather permitting. This is because large waves can form with strong currents both inside and outside of the caves.

On a calm day, you should be able to get close to the seven sea caves. You will also likely see local marine life, including harbor seals, sea lions, and the various sea birds that nest in the La Jolla sea cliffs.

La Jolla Sea CavePin

Pelicans and cormorants can frequently be seen flying above your head when you’re on the water.

Remember to always wear a life jacket when you’re kayaking around La Jolla. You should also make sure you have a whistle and other safety devices with you.

If you’re heading out on an organized La Jolla kayak tour, you should be provided with the safety equipment that you need for the trip, including a correctly-fitting PFD (Personal Flotation Device).

If you plan to paddle by yourself in a single kayak, you should always make a kayak float plan and leave it with someone on the shore. It’s generally not recommended to kayak to the sea caves on your own due to the nature of the caves and the changeable conditions inside.

> More kayak safety tips

The closest launch area for viewing the sea caves is from the small sandy beach at La Jolla Cove. But there are steps down to the beach, so remember to take the additional hike into account if you’re carrying a kayak.

Final Words

La Jolla offers some incredible opportunities to view marine life in its natural habitat within close proximity of your kayak.

Whether you’re looking to explore the famous La Jolla Ecological Reserve to look for leopard sharks or sea lions, or you’re looking to get close to the prehistoric rock formations found in the seven sea caves, you can find it by kayaking around La Jolla Cove.

Remember to wear your life jacket at all times while kayaking in La Jolla. And if you want an easy launch site, launch from the beach either at La Jolla Cove or the Shores.

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