Snorkeling in La Jolla: 6 Things to Know Before You Go

Snorkeling in La Jolla: 7 Things to Know Before You Go

There’s a reason (okay, maybe several) that the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park is one of the top ten places in the world for snorkeling.

Together, the Park and Reserve span 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands, from Scripps Park across La Jolla Shores all the way to Torrey Pines. From the seven sea caves to the variety of brightly-colored sea creatures, the Underwater Park and nearby La Jolla Cove have become destinations for snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world.

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Here are just a few reasons why snorkeling La Jolla Cove and the Underwater Park/Ecological Reserve should be at the top of your bucket list!

1. You never know what you might see.

La Jolla is home to an incredible variety of sea creatures and provides a rare opportunity to see marine life up close and personal. The warmer-than-usual water and protected cove attracts fish and mammals from all along the coast.

Snorkelers and divers have reported seeing Garibaldi, octopus, urchins, dolphins, sea turtles, leopard sharks, sea stars, shovel nose guitar fish, schools of fish big and small; and of course, playful seals and sea lions.

2. Find the hottest snorkel spots with a pro

Whether you’re an expert or a newbie, snorkeling is hands-down, the best way to see, photograph, and experience the unknown depths of La Jolla. But what if you’re new to the area and not sure where the best nooks and crannies are? Sure, we’re giving you the low-down and tips in this guide to snorkeling in La Jolla, but there’s nothing better than partnering up with a professional who knows the area by rote.

That’s why we’re recommending Bike and Kayak Tours. For 15 years, this local tour guide company has been equipping locals and tourists with the right snorkeling gear and guiding them through the secret spots that most folks don’t know about.

To wit, one of the Bike and Kayak offerings is a guided snorkel tour of leopard sharks, which is absolutely exhilarating. They also have a kayak-snorkel tour package where your guide will take you to the most premium spots via kayak and then dive in the crystal waters and snorkel your way through mind-blowing underwater views.

It’s stupid-easy to rent equipment or book a tour with Bike and Kayak and they offer several different tour packages. Plus, having the expertise of a certified pro on your side is the ideal way to guarantee a sea-sensational aquatic sojourn.

3. You can snorkel through some pretty magical sea caves.

Where else in San Diego can you actually swim through an entire sea cave?

La Jolla Cove is home to seven caves, the biggest of which is Clam Cave (just offshore from Goldfish Point Cafe); when the tide allows, visitors can delight in snorkeling or kayaking through it to the other side. The other six are viewable from the water, and there is usually a plethora of marine life clustered near the caves at any time; which makes for some great snorkeling!

4. Leopard sharks: thousands of them!

Between the months of June and December, snorkelers can experience swimming among the largest annual gathering of leopard sharks along the coast of California.

Each year, thousands of pregnant female sharks migrate to the beaches near La Jolla Cove, where the warmer, calm water helps their young develop faster. This is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that you can’t find anywhere else in California — it’s an absolute must-do if you enjoy snorkeling!

5. You can explore one of the region’s only underwater canyons.

Within the Ecological Reserve, the bottom takes a sudden and drastic 500-foot- plunge into the La Jolla Underwater Canyon (which reaches depths of up to 600 feet!). It’s exactly these unique features that make snorkeling in La Jolla such an incredible experience! 

Fun fact: a giant concrete map of the underwater park was completed in 2008 at La Jolla Shores. You can find this unique map near the boardwalk between the restrooms and the children’s play area at the south end of Kellogg Park.

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6. The La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park is federally protected and provides fantastic snorkeling.

The La Jolla Underwater Park was created by the City of San Diego in 1970, and both the Ecological Reserve and the Marine Life Refuge lie within it. 

The Reserve is federally protected, and fishing or collecting of any kind is outlawed. With this added protection, marine life has flourished over the years — which makes for some fantastic snorkeling!

7. And there’s a secret underwater graveyard!

Two underwater canyons, two artificial reefs, and a kelp forest all span 6,000 acres underwater, making the Park and Reserve visually beautiful and geographically fascinating. 

There is one feature of the underwater canyon, however, that is especially unique: a secret underwater graveyard! Just beyond the coastline, about 100 yards out from the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club and 35 feet underwater, lies an eerie underwater memorial that is unofficially known as “Tombstones.”

There are no bodies as the name implies, only several markers that are dedicated to fallen spear fishermen and members of the “Bottom Scratchers,” the first documented diving and spearfishing club in North America.

Over time, markers have been placed for other fallen free divers and locals. The tradition began all the way back in the 1940s and has continued up to present day.

Bonus Tip! Go Deeper With Scuba Diving


If you really want an extraordinary underwater adventure, why not give scuba diving in La Jolla Cove a shot? We recommend Odyssea Diving in San Diego for your ultimate aquatic quest. They have experienced instructors and offer different customizable packages so you can tailor your scuba sojourn just the way you want. While snorkeling is awesome, plunging in the Cove on a guided scuba tour with Odyssea is a mind-boggling affair you won’t forget!

Snorkeling La Jolla Tour Information

The next time you’re in La Jolla, we definitely recommend snorkeling around La Jolla Cove and the La Jolla Underwater Park/Ecological Reserve! You can venture out with a partner on your own if you feel comfortable doing so. Make sure to rent a mask and snorkel for a full day so you have plenty of time to explore. You can take a guided tour with experienced professionals if you prefer. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, try a combination kayak and snorkeling tour — it’s the best of both worlds!

Interested in more water activities while you’re here? Scuba diving and kayaking are also great ways to explore the underwater world of La Jolla!

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Media credits: The conceptual image of a snorkeling in La Jolla at the top of this article is copyright of LaJolla.com.

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