La Jolla Sea Caves: How To Kayak San Diego’s Famous Caves

If you love exploring the ocean by watercraft, then kayaking at San Diego’s sea caves, specifically in the La Jolla area, will be a magical experience for you.

The La Jolla Sea Caves are one of the most popular attractions for kayakers. There are various sea caves in La Jolla–some are easy to access and kayak, while some are strenuous to get to due to their depth and steepness.

If you’re undecided on whether to do it or not, I’d say yes, do it! There are many reasons to take on this exciting adventure. First off, kayaking is a great workout–no matter your experience level, this activity will definitely get your heart pumping.

Secondly, the sea caves are gorgeous to see with your own eyes!

If you’re looking for a new activity this summer, why not kayak San Diego’s sea caves?  No matter your experience level, you will be able to enjoy a day out on the water.

This guide will help you understand how to kayak the La Jolla Sea Caves. We’ll touch on what you’ll see as well as how to find the perfect local tour companies so you get the most out of your experience.

So without further ado, let’s get into all the ways to get the most out of your San Diego kayaking adventure.

*Please note: This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running and pumping out more useful and free content. Thanks!


What are the La Jolla Sea Caves?

La Jolla Sea Caves are a popular tourist destination, located just off of the coast of La Jolla in San Diego. In fact, they are highly regarded as one of the top things to do in La Jolla and San Diego.

So how did these caves form? Well, over the course of millions of years and millions of waves, the sandstone cliffsides were eventually carved to be what they are today–very beautiful sea caves.

Kayaking or swimming through the reserve are the only ways to explore most of these caves.

These sea caves are also part of a marine sanctuary and if you’re looking to actually kayak into them, that must be done with a guide.

La Jolla Sea Caves Kayking Tours - TWE


What to Expect at the La Jolla Sea Caves

There are seven caves carved out of La Jolla’s sandstone cliffs. These are:

  • Sunny Jimmy’s Cave
  • Arch Cave
  • The Clam’s Cave
  • Little Sister
  • Sea Surprize
  • Shopping Cart
  • White Lady

After just a 20 minute paddle out from the La Jolla Shores boat launch, kayakers will arrive at the famous La Jolla sea caves. The largest sea caves range from 600 to 800 feet (183 – 244 meters) deep and feature a variety of shapes and sizes.

While the highlight of the La Jolla Sea Caves is…. well, the caves… this is not all you’re going to see when kayaking in La Jolla!

This coastal region features some of the best marine life in all of California. In fact, it’s called the

The famous caves aren’t the only thing you can expect when kayaking in La Jolla. Boasting some of the most condensed sea life in all of California, the area is actually known as the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park.

This marine area was created in 1970 by the City of San Diego to protect the local marine life and is divided into two parts: (1) the Ecological Reserve and (2) the Marine Life Refuge.

This wildly biodiverse area is home to dolphins, sea lions, harbor seals, sea turtles, leopard sharks, Garibaldi (California’s state marine fish), lush kelp beds, and even gray whales!

Yeah, there’s a lot you’re going to encounter on a kayaking trip in San Diego.

Kayaking San Diego Sea Caves - TravelsWithElle

La Jolla Cove, San Diego - Travels With Elle


Best Time To Visit The La Jolla Sea Caves

Summer and fall are two of the best seasons for kayaking in San Diego’s famous sea caves. During these warmer months, the ocean conditions are generally calm and the water temperatures are warm enough for you to simply kayak in a bathing suit (as opposed to in a full-blown wetsuit).

While kayaking in the wintertime is still great (as San Diego is relatively warm all year long compared to other parts of the USA), do note that you will need to likely wear a full wetsuit–there may also be days with high swell and strong wind conditions that may impact your kayaking adventure.

And while the seasons change, the kayak tours are always running–summer is best for the chance to see one of the biggest Leopard Shark gatherings in the world, and winter is epic for witnessing Gray Whales on their annual migration from Alaska to Baja California.

Ultimately, the best time to visit the sea caves is during low tide. Visiting during low tide allows you to see all the different levels of sandstone along the cliffs.

And depending on the ocean current and wave conditions, you may be able to kayak directly into the caves when kayaking on a guided tour!

San Diego La Jolla Sea Caves Kayaking Guide - TWE


What To Expect on a La Jolla Sea Cave Kayak Tour

If opting for a guided kayak tour, you can expect to be taken through the Ecological Reserve and along the La Jolla Sea Caves.

During the tour, you will paddle over to the La Jolla sea caves, taking in all the fun facts and information on the seven caves. Along the way, you’ll be able to enjoy all that local marine life (sea lions, harbor seals, the California Garibaldi, leopard sharks, and even the occasional dolphin)!

Specifically looking for leopard sharks? The best time to spot leopard sharks is during the months when water temps are warmer, from the months of May to October.

And don’t worry about the scary name, they are actually harmless! During the warmer summer months, these sharks can be seen from atop the kayaks.

Want to get a little closer to the Garibaldi fish? Some tours will actually allow you to hop right off the side of your kayak with a mask and snorkel rental! While snorkeling, you can also see rays, leopard sharks, and the occasional sea turtle or even dolphin.

If you’re looking for a fun-filled combo tour, definitely consider the tour that offers both kayaking and snorkeling.

Don’t want to kayak alone? Some tour companies will offer single, double, and triple kayaks (though the 3-seater kayaks are intended for two adults and a small child).

La Jolla Sea Caves Kayaking Guide - TWE


Sea Caves Kayaking Tour Options In San Diego

There are several tour operators in the La Jolla area that are ready to take you on your kayaking adventure, no matter your experience level!

Everyday California

Everyday California is a highly rated and much-loved tour company that offers various kayak tours suitable for almost everyone 5 years and older. No experience is needed to enjoy a kayak tour and the expert guides will have you paddling around in no time!

They offer the following tours:

  • La Jolla Cove Sea Cave Kayak Tour – This one is all about the sea caves. If conditions are safe, you will get the chance to kayak into Emerald Cave. If it’s not safe to enter Emerald Cave, you will still paddle out & explore the famous Marine Reserve.
  • Kayak & Snorkel Tour – This tour will take you into the reserve with your guides and give you a chance to swim with La Jolla’s best: sea lions, Garibaldi, bat rays, shovel nose guitar fish, even dolphins, and sea turtles if you’re lucky! NOTE: This tour does not go into the sea caves.
  • La Jolla Cove Whale Watching Kayak Tour – Experience the grey whale migration from the seat of a kayak! Only available from mid-December to March.

Note: Kayak tours that involve snorkeling require a beginner level of competency in swimming.

Hike Bike Kayak San Diego

With Hike Bike Kayak San Diego, no gear or experience is needed to paddle along the coast with a guide, exploring sea caves and rock formations while looking for marine life such as sea lions, dolphins, and even orcas.

The La Jolla Sea Caves Kayak Tour is their original tour. You’ll meet your guide in central La Jolla before your scheduled departure and begin with a lesson on paddling techniques and safety.

You’ll then push off from the beach at La Jolla Shores in either a single or double kayak and paddle along the rocky coastline with your guide. At the La Jolla Sea Caves, you’ll get up-close views of interesting rock formations and even paddle inside the caves (if conditions allow).

It’s a 3-mile round trip paddle from La Jolla Beach to the caves and back. The tour takes approximately 2 hours.

Other tours include:

  • Whale Watching Kayak Adventure – Kayak out from La Jolla Shores and watch the magnificent whales as they migrate between Alaska and Baja, Mexico.
  • Kayak & Snorkel – Your guide will lead you to the La Jolla Sea Caves, where he/she will set anchor and you will begin your snorkeling adventure! Available late spring through early fall and includes your kayak, paddle, PFD, helmet, snorkel, mask, fins, wetsuit, and tour guide.
  • Sunset Kayak La Jolla
  • Half-Day Combo (Bike and Kayak) – Explore La Jolla, Pacific Beach, and the sea caves

La Jolla Kayak

La Jolla Kayak is a tour company that offers fully guided kayak tours that take you through the Ecological Reserve and along the La Jolla Sea Caves.

Again, the reserve is home to ocean friends like leopard sharks, Garibaldi, sea lions, and dolphins–you’re sure to spot some form of wildlife here.

The experienced tour guides will share fun facts and history about La Jolla while safely guiding you along the sea caves, and potentially even taking you through one (ocean conditions permitting).

This adventure tour is suitable for kayakers ages 6+, and no experience is necessary.

They offer the following tours:

  • Original La Jolla Kayak Cave Tour
  • Sunset Original Kayak Tour  Kayak through the La Jolla Ecological Reserve while the sun sets.-
  • Kayak and Snorkel Tour – Kayak along the La Jolla Sea Caves and jump in to snorkel around the La Jolla Ecological Reserve, where you’ll get the chance to swim alongside the Garibaldi, leopard sharks, sea lions, sea turtles, and lush kelp forests.
  • Whale Watching Kayak Tour – This fully guided tour puts you alongside the migration path of the gray whales. Only available December – February.

La Jolla Sea Caves Kayaking Guide


San Diego / La Jolla Sea Cave Tours: Essential Tips

  • At any time of year, paddlers should wear a PFD (personal floatation device) or a life vest. These are typically included in the cost of kayak rentals and kayak tours.
  • Kayaking is a water sport, and you will likely get wet. Protect your valuables with a dry bag or leave them on land.
  • If you want the flexibility of taking pictures without worrying about the safety of your phone, get an underwater smartphone housing. These things are designed to protect your phone from the harshest weather conditions while offering the freedom to safely capture those special moments, and maintaining control of your phone’s screen and functions.
  • Regardless of which tour company you go with, I’d recommend doing a morning low tide tour instead–that way, the glaring sun won’t be an issue for photos! The later it is in the day, the higher the sun (meaning your photos might be backlit, which won’t look so nice).
  • On these sea cave kayak tours, you will likely launch through small surf and paddle 2-3 miles. You will exert about as much effort as walking the same distance.
  • If you’re kayaking on your own, be sure to bring a beacon or signaling device with you, as well as drinking water and other emergency gear.
  • If kayaking alone, make sure to tell a friend/family member where you’re headed and when you plan to return.

What to Wear For a Kayaking Tour

If you’re going on a kayak tour in the summer, it’s best to wear something comfortable and something you don’t mind getting wet. Tour participants typically wear bathing suits and/or quick-dry shorts, quick-dry shirts, and rash guards.

You’ll also be wearing a life jacket to keep you safe throughout your tour.

Lastly, always remember to wear sunscreen! When you’re on the water, the sun reflecting off the water’s surface can increase the risk of sunburn.

Even if it’s overcast or cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply and reapply throughout the day.

Whenever we head to areas with ample marine life, we always go with a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that harm our environment as well as the natural balance of marine ecosystems.

We recommend going with sunscreen and sunblock that are biodegradable, containing titanium oxide and zinc oxide only.

And honestly, it’s not enough to just buy any old bottle that has a “reef-friendly” label on it. It turns out many sunscreens claiming to be “reef-friendly” or “reef-safe” actually aren’t!

Products containing the following ingredients are technically NOT reef safe: oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene or nanoparticles. Always review the active ingredients on the bottle to be sure you’re really getting something reef-safe.

Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy on Amazon:


Where to Launch Your Own Kayak in San Diego

While you can kayak almost anywhere along the San Diego coast, La Jolla Shores is one of the most popular areas to launch your kayak.

More specifically, you can head to Avenida de la Playa to launch your kayak. This is one of the most sheltered areas of the beach, making it quite easy to get out onto the water, even for beginners.

Kayak tour operators often start off here too due to the calm waters, especially for those who aren’t used to hopping into a kayak.

Other popular kayaking locations in the greater San Diego area include Mission Bay, Coronado Island, Carlsbad Lagoon, and Oceanside Harbor. No matter where you are along this section of the coast, it is not uncommon to encounter seals, dolphins, and even whales!

And if you’re looking for a kayaking experience outside of the ocean, there are also protected harbors as well as numerous freshwater lakes, and reservoirs in San Diego County to enjoy.

San Diego La Jolla Sea Caves Kayaking Guide


Where To Stay In La Jolla / San Diego

A stay in La Jolla grants you sweeping coastline views, stunning beaches, and a beautiful mountain backdrop. Not only will you have lots of shopping, beaching, swimming, and snorkeling opportunities, but you’ll get to enjoy some pretty amazing sunsets.

  • La Valencia Hotel – A beautiful Mediterranean-style hotel that offers luxurious accommodations, lush tropical courtyards, Spanish mosaics, and ocean views.
  • Lodge at Torrey Pines – Offers expansive public spaces with modern furniture and fireplaces, as well as a poolside cabana and restaurant with views of the coast.

Staying in San Diego’s Missio Bay is another great option if you want to explore the sea caves in La Jolla. You’ll find a lot more affordable options here compared to La Jolla.

Mission Bay has sandy shores, picnic areas, a calm bay, water sport opportunities, and harbor cruises. It’s also close to SeaWorld.

  • For a more luxurious stay –
    • The Catamaran Resort & Spa – You can expect tropical landscaping and elegant decor. Every room has a patio or balcony, and with a pool, jacuzzi, and bike rentals, these amenities make this hotel a convenient and luxurious stay!
  • For a moderately priced option –
    • The Dana on Mission Bay – Located 0.6 mi away from SeaWorld San Diego and 1 mi away from San Diego’s Mission Beach. The hotel features a waterfront contemporary restaurant, 2 outdoor pools, 2 hot tubs and a pool bar.
    • Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina – Affordable rooms with great views of the bay and the ocean. There is also a lagoon-style pool with a waterslide that is popular with families.

And that about wraps it up–we hope you enjoyed this guide on kayaking the La Jolla Sea Caves in San Diego!

Whether you’re in San Diego with family or friends, couples on a romantic getaway, or new to the San Diego area and looking for things to do, La Jolla Sea Caves offers a unique opportunity to see part of what makes San Diego so special.

Looking for more SD travel tips? You may also like:

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