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Nestled in San Diego, California, La Jolla is a seaside area that offers many fun activities even if you’re on a budget! Whether you’re a nature lover, an art enthusiast, or a foodie, La Jolla has something for everyone.

If you’re in the San Diego area then La Jolla is a must-stop so you can experience the essence of coastal charm.

I have been going to San Diego my whole life to visit family so I know that it can get expensive! So, I’ve put together over 20+ things to do in La Jolla on a budget because I want everyone to experience it!

And while you’re at it, check out my Fun Things to Do in San Diego blog post.

Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

How much does it cost to go to La Jolla Cove?

If you’re visiting La Jolla your first stop should be La Jolla Cove. There is no entrance fee or admission cost to access the Cove and enjoy its scenic beauty!

Keep in mind that although there is no charge to visit La Jolla Cove, there are some specific activities in the surrounding areas that may come at a cost. Some activities include snorkeling, kayaking, or guided tours to explore the sea caves. Also when it comes to parking near La Jolla Cove you may need to pay a fee, but there are free parking spots if you can find them nearby.

If you want to learn what it means to travel on a budget, I’ve got a post for that!

A cheerful selfie of two visitors with the sparkling La Jolla waterfront and a bustling pier in the background, capturing the lively atmosphere of the area.
La Jolla Cove

Is La Jolla Cove worth it?

Absolutely! La Jolla Cove is worth a visit, it offers a stunning coastal experience in Southern California. The Cove’s scenic beauty with its rugged sea cliffs, clear waters, and sandy beaches is simply mesmerizing. It’s also home to an array of marine life like seals, sea lions, and tide pools.

Things to do in La Jolla on a budget

Beach Day

A beach day at La Jolla is the perfect budget-friendly activity! Start your day at La Jolla Shores, where you can lay out, but also rent kayaks or paddleboards and if you’re lucky catch a glimpse of some playful dolphins and sea lions.

Next, head to La Jolla Cove, a picturesque beach nestled between dramatic cliffs. The Cove is a protected marine reserve perfect for snorkelers and scuba divers because of its clear waters and colorful fish and marine life.

If you want a beautiful sunset, head over to Windansea Beach as it’s known for stunning sunsets. You can enjoy a picnic as you watch the sun dip below the horizon!

Tide Pooling

Tide pooling in La Jolla is a fun and educational adventure that is also free! Plus La Jolla is probably one of the best places to do it in San Diego. What is tide pooling? Tide pooling is like going on a treasure hunt along the beach!

When the tide goes out, it reveals these cool little pools among the rocks with all sorts of marine life hanging out. You can spot colorful sea stars, quirky-looking sea anemones, crabs scuttling around, and sometimes even cute little octopuses!

Just remember to be gentle and not disturb marine life so that they can keep thriving in their natural habitat. It’s an awesome way to get up close to nature and discover the magic of the ocean! Some good places for tide pooling are Children’s Pool and South Casa Beach.

Sunset at La Jolla tide pools with the sun casting a golden glow on the textured rocks and the incoming tide, highlighting the serene end-of-day beauty in La Jolla.
Tide Pools in La Jolla

Free Concerts and Events

La Jolla Cove comes alive with the vibrant energy of free concerts and events, making it a cultural hotspot for locals and visitors alike. During the summer months, Ellen Browning Scripps Park hosts musical performances ranging from local bands to renowned artists.

La Jolla also embraces its artistic spirit with free events like art walks and festivals. The annual La Jolla Art & Wine Festival celebrates local artists, showcasing paintings, sculptures, and crafts. The festival is free to enter with the option to purchase food, drinks, and tickets for the wine and beer garden.

Beyond music and art, La Jolla Cove is host to many community events, including holiday celebrations, food festivals, and family-friendly activities. Many of these events are free to enter and a lot of fun!

Expansive view of La Jolla Shores with cliffs in the distance and a serene blue ocean, highlighting the vast and peaceful seascape. A seal resting on the rock below.

Sunny Jim Cave Store

The Sunny Jim Cave Store is not just a cave-themed souvenir shop. It’s a hidden gem nestled within the rugged cliffs of La Jolla Cove, offering a one-of-a-kind experience. This unique store grants access to Sunny Jim Cave, the only sea cave on the California coast accessible by land.

The cave once served as a bootlegger’s secret hideaway during the Prohibition era. The cave store itself is quaint and charming and houses a collection of souvenirs and marine-themed trinkets.

Tours of La Jolla’s Murals

La Jolla is a treasure trove of captivating murals that add an artistic flair to the community’s streets and buildings. Among the most notable of the Murals of La Jolla, is the La Jolla Playhouse, which hosts a series of murals that celebrate the world of theater and storytelling. The vibrant and diverse murals of La Jolla are a reflection of the community’s artistic spirit.


Snorkeling in La Jolla is like diving into a real-life aquarium! And one of the best places is around La Jolla Cove. You’ll come face to face with the coolest marine creatures, from super-bright Garibaldi fish to playful seals and sea lions. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some chill leopard sharks hanging out during their annual visit!

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Explore La Jolla’s Secret Swings

La Jolla’s secret swings are tucked away in unexpected corners along the coastal cliffs of La Jolla. The story behind the secret swings is that they were not installed by any official local authority. They were placed there by creative members of the community.

Over the years, as word spread about the existence of these swings, more and more people started seeking them out, turning it into a popular activity! Photos have been shared on Instagram and many visitors have stumbled upon them. Last we heard there was one swing left, but you never know if more will pop up. Do a Google search to find the latest locations. You won’t want to miss this cherished part of La Jolla charm!


Geocaching in La Jolla is a fun and budget-friendly activity (it’s free!) that blends outdoor exploration with modern-day treasure hunting. Geocaching is when you use GPS coordinates and clues to locate hidden containers, or “caches,” scattered throughout the area. These caches can be found in parks, along hiking trails, and even in the heart of the city, making them fun and accessible.

A tranquil pathway in La Jolla lined with colorful wildflowers and a wooden bench, inviting nature lovers to enjoy the local flora and ocean views.


Hiking in La Jolla is a fantastic way to experience the scenic coastal landscapes of the area. There are a variety of trails to explore, from coastal cliffs to canyon pathways. One of the most popular hiking spots is the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve where you’ll venture through the rare Torrey pine trees and have panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. There are no entrance fees for many of the hiking trails.

Beach Bonfire

A beach bonfire in La Jolla is a perfect relaxing activity for an evening with friends or family. Many of the beaches in La Jolla, such as La Jolla Shores and Pacific Beach, allow bonfires in designated fire pits. Keep in mind that you are only allowed to use designated fire pits. Please do not deviate from this.

The cost of a beach bonfire is relatively low, as you only need to cover the expense of firewood and whatever else you’ll need like marshmallows for roasting, and maybe a few snacks and drinks. Be sure to follow all the guidelines and regulations regarding beach bonfires and actively seek out this information before arriving. The designated fire pits are first come first served.

Visit Birch Aquarium

The Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is a public aquarium, affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It showcases a diverse array of marine life native to the Southern California coast. Birch Aquarium is relatively affordable, plus, the proceeds from admission fees contribute to supporting marine research and conservation efforts.

To make your visit more affordable, check out participating reciprocal programs and let your money stretch even further!

Bird Watching

Bird watching in La Jolla allows you to connect with nature and observe an array of bird species and the best part, it’s free! La Jolla is excellent for bird watching as it has a habitat for a wide variety of seabirds and shorebirds.

La Jolla’s parks and natural reserves, such as Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Scripps Coastal Reserve are great areas for birdwatching. Make sure to bring binoculars and do research on some good spots for birdwatching in La Jolla.

La Jolla Coast Walk Trail

The La Jolla Coast Walk Trail is an amazing way to experience the stunning beauty of La Jolla’s coastline. The trail follows the cliffs along the Pacific Ocean and is a completely free activity for you to enjoy. So, pack a picnic, set out to connect with nature, and savor the breathtaking coastal views.

La Jolla Coastline Bike Ride

The La Jolla coastline bike ride is a scenic adventure that allows you to experience the beauty of this coastal paradise. Renting a bike for the day is an affordable option and a refreshing activity as you feel the ocean breeze along the cliffs. The bike ride is customizable so you can ride for as long as you’d like, but just remember to stay on the path and bike-friendly streets.

Overcast day at a La Jolla beach with people observing the waves from a rocky pier, and seabirds dotting the sandy shoreline, reflecting a typical leisurely day in the coastal town.
The Seals in La Jolla

Seal Beach

Seal Beach at La Jolla Cove is where you can witness the adorable seals and sea lions. It’s located near the Children’s Pool area and during certain times of the year, you may even spot seal pups lounging.

Remember that while observing the seals and sea lions is fun, it’s important to respect their space and comply with the guidelines of responsible wildlife viewing. Keeping a safe distance and refraining from any form of interaction ensures the animals’ well-being and preserves their natural environment.

Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla is a scenic oceanfront park, named after the renowned philanthropist, and is a beloved destination, especially on a budget! The park’s sprawling grassy area provides a great spot for picnics, family gatherings, or simply lounging with a book under the palm trees.

It’s also a nice location for coastal walks, jogs, or bike rides along the scenic paths that stretch along the shore. The park also hosts several events throughout the year including a free concert series during the summer months.

Contrast of nature and urban life in La Jolla with a high-rise building adjacent to the sandy beach and rugged coastline, illustrating the unique blend of city and sea.

Tour Salk Institute

Touring the Salk Institute in La Jolla is a captivating experience that offers a fascinating glimpse into groundbreaking scientific research and architectural marvels. Founded by renowned scientist Jonas Salk, this world-class research facility focuses on biology, genetics, and neuroscience. The institute’s unique architecture is what brings visitors to tour the facility.

When visiting Salk Institute you can pre-register for a self-guided tour, docent-led tours, or private docent-led tours. For those with a curiosity for science, architecture, or both, touring the Salk Institute is an enriching experience.

La Jolla Shopping

La Jolla is a shopper’s paradise, and of course, whether this is a budget-friendly activity will heavily depend on where you shop. But La Jolla offers a range of shops that cater to many tastes. For a laid-back and bohemian vibe, there’s La Jolla Village where you can check out hidden gems like Warwick’s. Warwick’s is one of the oldest independent bookstores in the United States.

If you’re looking for unique souvenirs or artisanal gifts, don’t miss the La Jolla Open Aire Market held every Sunday. It’s a farmers’ market showcasing handmade crafts, artwork, and locally sourced products.

Cuvier Park

Cuvier Park, also known as “The Wedding Bowl,” is a beautiful coastal park situated right on the bluffs overlooking La Jolla Cove. One of the main attractions of Cuvier Park is the stunning wedding arch. Beyond weddings, Cuvier Park is a favorite spot for locals and visitors seeking a tranquil escape by the sea.

Children’s Pool Overlook

The Children’s Pool Overlook in La Jolla is a great spot to observe the area’s most adorable marine inhabitants – seals and sea lions. Located on an elevated platform above the beach, this overlook offers an unobstructed view of the seals as they bask in the sun or play in the gentle waves.

During certain times of the year, you may get a glimpse of seal pups resting alongside their watchful mothers. Beyond the seals, the overlook offers a picturesque view of La Jolla Cove’s coastline.

Clear blue skies over La Jolla Cove with vibrant sea vegetation in the foreground, a perfect representation of the natural coastal beauty in the region.
Beautiful Day at La Jolla Cove

Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial

The Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial stands as a solemn and poignant tribute to honor the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Perched atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, this iconic memorial offers panoramic views of San Diego and the surrounding region.

Art Galleries

La Jolla is a haven for art enthusiasts, and one such haven is the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library. The facility hosts rotating exhibitions that showcase a range of artistic expressions, from contemporary pieces to classic masterworks.

Another great spot is the La Jolla Art Association Gallery which is a non-profit gallery that celebrates local talent, featuring works from artists living in the La Jolla area. It’s a great opportunity to discover unique paintings, prints, and sculptures that capture the essence of the community.

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Ready for La Jolla on a budget?

If enjoyed this post check out these How to Plan a Weekend Trip on a Budget and 11 Simple Ways to Save Money on Your Next Vacation.

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