A walk with the wildlife in La Jolla, California

Nestled along the Southern California coast, just a short drive north of San Diego, lies La Jolla. This charming town is known as the jewel of California, since the name comes from the spanish "joya" which means a jewel or gem. With the spectacular setting of steep bluffs, sandy beaches, and the beautiful blue sea that surrounds the town on three sides, the name certainly fits.

La Jolla is an affluent community, and when you stroll through town, you will find plenty of upscale art galleries, elegant jewelry stores, cute boutiques, and fine dining opportunities. There's another side to the place too, though. For something quite different, check out the wild side of La Jolla on a wildlife walk along the coast.

La Jolla's coastal walk

You can start your walk at Coast Boulevard Park, and head north along the waterfront. The expansive views are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see for miles up and down the coast. Sandstone cliffs rise out of the deep blue sea, and crashing waves add sound effects as they hit the shore. Even without the wildlife, this would be a refreshing and enjoyable stroll.

The first portion of the walk is level and easy for walking. Further along, there are areas where you can walk down some stairs and clamber over the rocks if you feel like it. If that's something you want to do, plan ahead and wear shoes with good traction, since the rocks can be slippery.

Seals, sea lions, and other marine life

La Jolla Cove is within a marine refuge area, the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, which protects the naturally abundant sea life here. Kids young and old enjoy watching the many sea lions and harbor seals that make their home here.

Sea Lions basking on the Cove rocksAlong your walk, you'll reach a calm cove known as Children's Pool. Sheltered by a sea wall, the small beach here is popular with harbor seals, and you'll often see dozens of them basking on the beach. There's some controversy here about whether the beach should be for the people or the seals, but so many people love watching the seals that they've become a local attraction. If you're here between February and April, you could be in for a special treat. That's when the baby seals are born, and the beach turns into a nursery for those adorable youngsters.

California sea lions also love the La Jolla area, and you'll see many of them lounging on the rocks along this stretch of coast. You may have seen these clever creatures perform at Sea World - here you can see them in their own natural environment. You'll see many (perhaps hundreds) of sea lions lying about on the wave-sculpted rocks. Occasionally one will raise its head and look around before going back to sleep. Others are more active, climbing in and out of the water, swimming around, and barking playfully at each other.

If you happen to be here around the time of a low tide, you can also do some tide pooling. As the tide recedes, it leaves pools of water in the rocks where you can find sea anemones, crabs, starfish, and other marine life. Each tide pool is a miniature world of its own, and they're fascinating to explore.

Pelicans and other birds

The sandstone cliffs and rocky areas along the coast are home to thousands of sea birds, including brown pelicans, cormorants, and sea gulls.

Brown pelicans have to be nature's most graceful fliers, and watching them is always a treat. On land, these large birds with the giant beak look somewhat ungainly, but they're masters of flight. You'll often see them flying overhead in formation, then they swoop low over the water. They're able to glide smoothly just inches over the water, with their wing tips almost touching the waves. When they see some fish, they climb steeply, then do a fast dive bomb straight down into the water to grab their prey.

Along with the pelicans, there is a large colony of long-necked cormorants, and sea gulls seem to be everywhere.

Look closely at the cliffs, and you'll see that there are more birds than you realized. Some of them blend into the sandy bluffs quite well, and are hard to see until they move.

Sea caves

Near the northern end of the coastal walk, you'll find some sea caves. The sea lions love playing in the caves, and you'll hear their barks echoing from the caverns, multiplying their playful sounds. There's a store that charges a small fee to give you access to the caves by stairs, but you can also just walk down the trail to the rocks, and get a look into some of the caves. Just beware that the closer you get to the water's edge, the stronger the "eau de sea lion" aroma becomes.

Want to see more?

If the coastal walk in La Jolla has just whetted your appetite, there are other ways you can see even more of the unique wildlife here. Try taking one of the kayak tours that let you explore the sea caves from the water, or go snorkeling to check out the bright orange Garibaldi fish that live in these waters. Organized tours that can provide equipment and show you where to go, are available for both activities.

Practical details

La Jolla is about 15 minutes north of San Diego, right on the California coast. From Interstate 5, you can take the exit for La Jolla Parkway, and follow the road towards the coast. Prospect Street is the major street downtown, and Coast Boulevard is where to head if you want to walk along the waterfront. If you're staying in Southern California, it's well worth spending a day or more touring La Jolla and this lovely area.

Deanna Keahey is a lifelong traveler, who ran an international travel company and now writes about travel tips and ideas. Her most recent book teaches people about buying a used timeshare, to get great vacations at bargain prices. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Photo Credit:
La Jolla Cove by Javier Velazquez-Muriel
Sea Lions basking on the Cove rocks by Lisa Andres

Categories : Blog, Southern California