La Jolla Shores Beach vs La Jolla Cove

Plan your next La Jolla beach stay with our comparison between two of San Diego’s best and most relaxing beaches - La Jolla Shores Beach and La Jolla Cove.
Jess Tucker
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
La Jolla Shores Beach vs La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Shores vs Cove
Beach Features
Save on Gear
Comparing Activities
Atmosphere Comparison
Parking and Accessibility
Beach Rules
Helpful Tips

Highlights

La Jolla Shores Beach vs La Jolla Cove
Scenery
Parking
Final Verdict
La Jolla Shores Beach vs La Jolla Cove
Scenery
Parking
Final Verdict

Comparing San Diego’s La Jolla Shores Beach to La Jolla Cove Beach

The Sunsetting at La Jolla ShoresCloseup of Sea Lions at the La Jolla Cove

Given its long history with San Diego’s surfing culture, it’s no surprise that most people hitting the beach in La Jolla are looking for spots to surf.

Many of La Jolla’s beaches are especially well-suited to surf enthusiasts, including famous spots like Windansea Beach and Blacks Beach. However, these beaches tend to be less sandy and more rocky, so they’re not especially well suited to swimming in the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean or sunbathing in the warm golden sand.

If you’re in La Jolla and looking for beaches that are less focused on the surfing side of things, the good news for you is that there are still many great sections of coastline to choose from.

People Having Fun at the La Jolla Cove
People Having Fun at the La Jolla Cove

Two of my favorites are La Jolla Shores Beach, sometimes called La Jolla Shores Park, and La Jolla Cove. They’re among the most popular beaches in all of San Diego, and for good reason!

With laid-back atmospheres and fairly calm waters, these beaches are great for families and those looking to spend a more relaxing time at the seaside. If you can’t choose between them, don’t worry: our guide is here to help!

Pool at La Valencia Hotel
Pool at La Valencia Hotel

Stay at a La Jolla Hotel

Whether you decide on La Jolla Shores Beach or La Jolla Cove Beach I recommend arriving early to secure the best spot on the beach. Reserving a hotel nearby sure makes that a lot easier!

Alongside the hotels highlighted in our team’s article Best Hotels on the Beach in San Diego, I also really enjoy and would recommend the La Valencia Hotel, a Mediterranean-themed hotel with beach access and an outdoor pool that’s been a local landmark since the 1920s.

Another one of my favorites in the area is the 4-star Grande Colonial La Jolla which is right near La Jolla Cove and the Children’s Pool.

Local Tips
Safety First!
Both La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove are open year-round. There are lifeguards throughout the year as well. So don't worry about that and enjoy your surf vacation!

Take in the Scenery at Each Beach

See why these beaches are among the most popular and beloved in San Diego.

Trying Out Surfing at La Jolla Shores
Trying Out Surfing at La Jolla Shores

What to Expect at La Jolla Shores

There are no cliffs at La Jolla Shores. Instead, it’s large, sandy, and mostly flat, with lots of space.

Across the water, you can spot the La Jolla Caves from the beach, and La Jolla Cove in the distance.

There tend to be a few more waves at La Jolla Shores, but it’s still calm enough for swimming and snorkeling too. As the larger beach by far between the two, La Jolla Shores has a wide, sandy shore that’s just as pristine in real life as it is in photos.

Main Lifeguard Station at the La Jolla Cove
Main Lifeguard Station at the La Jolla Cove

Taking it All in at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove gets its name from the way it’s inlaid against the cliffs. It’s a beautiful beach with equally gorgeous surroundings, and on most days, there are few if any waves.

Thanks to its calm and clear waters, La Jolla Cove is one of the Best Snorkeling Beaches in San Diego. It’s easy to see all the way to the ocean floor, even in deeper waters, though the view while scuba diving may be even better.

The La Jolla Underwater Park is just off the coast from this beach.

Aerial Shot of La Jolla Cove and Ellen Browning Scripps Park
Aerial Shot of La Jolla Cove and Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Our Pick for the Most Scenic Beach

The beautiful cliffside location of La Jolla Cove makes it our recommendation for beachgoers who love to take in the scenery.

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La Jolla - Full Day Bike Rental
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La Jolla Shores Beach & La Jolla Cove: Activities and Recreation

Whether you prefer a leisurely trip to a San Diego beach or a more active one, fun awaits at these beaches.

If you’re renting beach gear for activities like kayaking and scuba diving, a Go City San Diego pass is the best way to save. Use our discount code GVSD5OFF when buying your pass for the best possible pricing!

Beachgoers Enjoying the Beach at La Jolla Cove
Beachgoers Enjoying the Beach at La Jolla Cove

Stay Busy or Relax at La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is a Marine Protected Area, which has helped to protect its natural diversity of marine life. Activities that might damage the ecosystem are prohibited, and there are no hard boards allowed, which means no kayaking, surfing, or paddleboarding.

La Jolla Cove isn’t a surfing spot, but there’s still plenty to do. The beach gets a lot of sun, and its calm waves are perfect for swimming.

The most popular activity here is snorkeling. The water is clear and easy to see through, and the natural protection against waves formed by the cove ensures the tides never get too rough or choppy.

Scuba diving is similarly popular, though the steep steps leading to the beach mean you’ll have to work a little harder to get all your gear down. It’s worth it, though, as seeing the famously diverse marine life of La Jolla with your own eyes is an unforgettable experience.

Walking Out to Go Scuba Diving at La Jolla Shores
Walking Out to Go Scuba Diving at La Jolla Shores

Water Sports and Other Activities at La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is a picturesque beach, with lots of space to set up an umbrella and some beach towels, even when it’s crowded. It’s a large, open beach, and the water is ideal for swimming.

If you’re looking to scuba dive, there’s a cove just off the beach that isn’t far from the La Jolla Underwater Park, a reef that’s a habitat for hundreds of species of fish and other marine animals. Many people scuba dive from La Jolla Shores and swim over to the Underwater Park.

While it may not be one of the top spots to surf in San Diego, when conditions are right, you can still catch some beginner-friendly waves at La Jolla Shores. This pairs perfectly with La Jolla surfing lessons, though you can also walk about 5 minutes north to hit Scripps Beach, which has more consistent surfing conditions.

La Jolla Cave Looking to Ocean
La Jolla Cave Looking to Ocean

Comparing Available Activities at Both Beaches

Situated just between the two beaches and easily accessible from either is La Jolla Caves Beach, home of the seven sea caves. Take a kayak out on the water to admire these caves, which were naturally carved by waves against the sandstone cliffs.

Since there’s lots to do at both beaches with excellent conditions on average, I consider this a tie.

What to Expect with Crowds and Atmosphere

La Jolla Shores Boardwalk and Main Lifeguard Tower
La Jolla Shores Boardwalk and Main Lifeguard Tower

Both La Jolla Shores and Cove are generally laid-back, though they’re also very popular with tourists and San Diegans alike.

They can get busy, especially after Memorial Day and throughout the summer. Peak times are typically from mid-morning to the afternoon, so visit early if you want to claim a prime spot.

Having a Beach Fire at La Jolla Shores
Having a Beach Fire at La Jolla Shores

Crowds at La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores tends to have a more touristy feel, providing the classic beach experience rather than a more specialized or secluded atmosphere. It tends to draw large crowds, in part thanks to the beach’s huge free parking lots.

The Atmosphere of La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is much smaller than La Jolla Shores and typically doesn’t attract such large crowds. The parking is more limited here, but the crowds are thinner year-round.

The Beach with the Better Atmosphere

With its smaller crowds and more insulated atmosphere, La Jolla Cove provides a more authentic-feeling Southern California beach experience.

For locals like Todd, it’s the clear choice!

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Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton
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Getting to Each Beach & Enjoying Your Stay

Bus with Downtown San Diego in the Background
Bus with Downtown San Diego in the Background

Whether you drive, take a local rideshare or take the bus, getting to the beach should be just as relaxing as the rest of your vacation.

La Jolla Shores’ Accessibility

It’s usually easiest to find parking at La Jolla Shores, as the lot there is large enough to accommodate all but the biggest crowds. The lot is free.

Access to La Jolla Shores is just a short walk from the parking lot, and the whole beach is handicap accessible. Restrooms and showers are available at the beach.

La Jolla Shores doesn’t have benches, but the grassy area just before the beach is a popular spot for picnics. Be sure to pack a lunch, as you’ll have to leave the beach to get food otherwise.

Parking and More at La Jolla Cove

You might have some more trouble finding parking when visiting La Jolla Cove. The lot is smaller, and the nearest free street spaces fill up fast. Consider using San Diego’s public transit to get to and from the beach.

At La Jolla Cove, you’ll need to walk down a set of stairs to reach the beach, so it’s not accessible for anyone in a wheelchair.

It only usually takes me a few minutes, but if you’re walking with young kids or older family members, know that the steps can be a little slippery with sand and sea water.

There are outdoor showers and restrooms, as well as picnic benches at the nearby Ellen Browning Scripps Park. The beach also has a lifeguard tower.

Boardwalk at La Jolla Shores
Boardwalk at La Jolla Shores

Our Team’s Preferred Choice

With its greater accessibility and large parking lot, La Jolla Shores is the winner here.

Rules and Regulations for Safely Enjoying the Beaches

While these beaches are generally safe, there are still some rules in place to protect both beachgoers and the environment.

Here are some rules to keep in mind when visiting any of the La Jolla beaches. With more environmental protections in place, La Jolla Cove has a few more regulations, though it’s important to follow all posted signage at both beaches.

Main Lifeguard Station at La Jolla Shores
Main Lifeguard Station at La Jolla Shores

Safety at La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores generally has manageable tides, but during colder months, the waves can be a bit larger and more powerful. Pay attention to any limitations set by lifeguards.

Both beaches have lifeguard towers, but La Jolla Shores has many more thanks to its larger size.

Though not officially considered a dog beach, dogs are allowed at La Jolla Shores. They must be leashed, and aren’t allowed during peak hours from 9:00 am-4:00 pm.

Drinking is not allowed on either beach, and all trash must be properly disposed of, or you could be fined.

Main Lifeguard Station at the La Jolla Cove
Main Lifeguard Station at the La Jolla Cove

Additional Regulations at La Jolla Cove

Since La Jolla Cove is shielded from the waves, strong currents are a rarity. The beach is typically safe for families and other inexperienced swimmers year-round.

To preserve its waters for snorkeling and swimming, La Jolla Cove does not allow hard boards at the beach. This means no surfing, nor are visitors allowed to boogie board, paddleboard, or go kayaking.

Like La Jolla Shores, leashed dogs are allowed at La Jolla Cove, but only in the early mornings and evenings.

La Jolla Shores South End of Beach
La Jolla Shores South End of Beach

Our Pick for Beach Rules that Work Best or Us

Though the tides can vary more at La Jolla Shores, there are a few more rules to keep in mind at the Cove, so we prefer the La Jolla Shores in this case.

The Overall Winning Choice From a Long Time Local

Low Tide at La Jolla Shores
Low Tide at La Jolla Shores

La Jolla Shores is exceedingly popular among vacationers, but for locals like Todd, La Jolla Cove is the way to go!

It may not be as big, but our team agrees that the Cove makes for a better beach day.

Improve Your Trip With These Tips From a Long Time Local

La Jolla Cove and the Path Above the Beach
La Jolla Cove and the Path Above the Beach

Seasonal Considerations

Both La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove are open year-round. There are lifeguards throughout the year as well.

When to Visit

Crowds at both beaches are thinner in the fall and spring, which are still warm enough for a beach visit in San Diego.

There are usually huge crowds on and around Memorial Day weekend, so if that doesn’t sound like your style, I say plan your trip at a slightly different time or get there as early as possible.

About to Go Snorkeling at the La Jolla Cove
About to Go Snorkeling at the La Jolla Cove

Come Prepared

It may seem obvious, but you’ll want to come prepared with plenty of water, a towel and sun protection such as sunscreen, a hat and perhaps an umbrella. The sun can get very hot and you won’t want to have to leave once you arrive.

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Tours & Adventures
Guided La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak Tour
Guided La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak Tour
$144 per 2 people
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Surf Lessons in La Jolla
Surf Lessons in La Jolla
$134 per person
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