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San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve

Scuba divers disappearing into or emerging from the waters at La Jolla Shores feels straight out of sci-fi movie. Rest assured, these adventurers are only exploring the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve — a 6000 acre underwater park that includes two artificial reefs, an Ecological Reserve, and a Marine Life Refuge. Snorkeling and kayaking are other popular means of exploring the park.

Gentle waves and a gradual slope into the ocean at La Jolla Shores also makes it a popular beach for families.

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San Diego Whale Watching

December through April is one of San Diego’s two whale watching seasons. Gray whales migrating from Alaska to Baja California can be seen from land or boat. Blue whales pass through San Diego from mid-June to September. 

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is one location where you may be able to spot gray whales from land. They also offer whale watching tours through Flagship Cruises to see and learn about whales up close. Cruises depart from downtown San Diego.

Children and ocean lovers in general should plan a visit to Birch Aquarium while visiting La Jolla. Outside you’ll be greeted by the whale fountain (pictured above) and inside you’ll get to see and learn about all kinds of creatures that live in the ocean waters near La Jolla. One of our favorite sea creatures to see at the aquarium are seadragons. We must not be the only ones captivated by these creatures since the aquarium is currently building a new 18-foot-wide, 9-foot-tall exhibit to display and breed Leafy Seadragons as part of the aquarium’s conservation efforts.

Other locations to whale watch from land are Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma and from the hiking trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. Bring binoculars!

We’ve been lucky enough to see whales from land and water —the experience never gets old!

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Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax Tree in La Jolla

Even if you didn’t know that Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) had been a La Jolla resident, you might catch yourself thinking, “That __ reminds me of a Dr. Seuss drawing,” as you explore the coastline. Keep a lookout for a tall windblown Monterey Cypress tree as you walk through Ellen Browning Scripps Park – it’s said to have inspired the endangered Truffula Tree species in Dr. Seuss’s book – The Lorax.

After locating the “Lorax Tree” take time to think about this quote taken from the book. The Lorax book is about the importance of protecting the environment. However, the same quote could be said for other matters that are important within your family. Use the opportunity to have a purposeful discussion with your family. 

Our Beyond the Zoo Guides aren’t just about where to go in San Diego. Each guide also includes activities and talking points to help you create meaningful family memories. Sign up now to receive a new guide each month!

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Tide Pooling in La Jolla

It’s no secret that one of our favorite McLandia activities is to go tide pooling. Lucky for us the La Jolla coastline is free and fun to explore. La Jolla Cove and Dike Rock (north of Scripps Pier) are two popular spots.

Negative low tides are ideal so check the tide pool charts before heading out the door to determine if and when the time is right to go. Our go-to tide prediction calendar is here.

Take our Beyond the Zoo Guide to La Jolla with you for more fun things to do while you’re there!
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Play Activity: Sound Hunt

Barking seals, the buzz of a 1920’s era biplane flying overhead, crashing waves… These are just some of the sounds you’ll hear as you explore the La Jolla coastline.

Listen for and identify sounds while practicing your sense of hearing. Take time to notice the sounds around you. How are sounds along the coastline different from sounds where you live? How are they the same? Were any sounds surprising?

Find more family memory making activities in the Beyond the Zoo Guide to La Jolla.

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Harbor Seals at Children’s Pool Beach in La Jolla

A coastline walking tour of La Jolla isn’t complete without checking for harbor seals at Children’s Pool. The beach itself is closed during pupping season from Dec. 15th to May 15th but visitors can walk the seawall for a closer view – weather permitting.

Unlike Seal Lions, Harbor Seals:

  • Have ear holes but do not have outer ear flaps
  • Have small flippers and move on land using their bellies
  • Spend more time alone in the water than on land with other seals
  • Communicate using soft grunting sounds

Looking for more things to do in La Jolla? Grab our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to La Jolla.

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La Jolla Sea Lions


The area surrounding La Jolla Cove is a favorite hangout spot for sea lions!

Unlike Harbor Seals, Sea Lions:

  • Have small outer ear flaps
  • Have long flippers that allow them to walk on land
  • Spend a significant time with other sea lions out of the water
  • Communicate using loud barking sounds

It’s important to remember that sea lions are wild animals protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Enjoy while keeping a safe distance, especially around pups and protective mamas.

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Fun Facts: How was ‘Sunny Jim Sea Cave’ named?

Sunny Jim Sea Cave in La Jolla was named after a cartoon breakfast cereal mascot who appeared on boxes of Force cereal in the early 1900’s. The opening of the cave resembles Sunny Jim’s profile – at least according to author Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz) who named the cave.

Read Sunny Jim Sea Cave to learn about visiting the cave! Looking for more fun facts and things to do in La Jolla? Grab our free Beyond the Zoo Guide to La Jolla.