La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla

For pure Southern Cali beach vacation bliss, we can’t think of many places more idyllic than La Jolla. You can’t beat the weather, the jagged cliffs over the Pacific make for jaw-dropping views, and there are plenty of ways to explore this scenic and pedestrian-friendly seaside haven. Following are our picks favorites things to do in La Jolla with kids.

WHERE TO STAY: Planting the fam right in the center of the scenic downtown is the way to go, and the historic La Valencia Hotel offers ocean views from many of its rooms. Snag one with a balcony, and you’ll have a place to play cards with the kids, or better yet, to sip a glass of wine with your spouse after the kids have gone to bed, all while the ocean crashes just yards away. The hotel’s pool also overlooks the promenade and ocean, so kids can splash around while you lounge in the sun. Expect service to match the elegant surroundings—the staff aims to please, and many of the guests are like extended family who return every year. The stately and picturesque “Pink Lady of La Jolla” is one of downtown’s most visible landmarks, making it fun for kids to spot from wherever you find yourselves while exploring downtown.

Families on a tighter budget will want to check out the area just about a mile south of the downtown peninsula: there’s both a Holiday Inn Express and a Travelodge that put you near the center of the action and a block from the beach, but for a fraction of the price of the peninsula hotels. Both earn high marks on TripAdvisor.

WHAT TO DO: Just across the street from La Valencia is Ellen Browning Scripps Park, which is a feast of sights all day long. Stroll and stop for family photo ops along the path that winds above the cliff over the ocean. You’ll spy surfers, sea lions, and a whole lot of smiling faces as people soak up this ultimate Southern California experience.

From the park, take a short walk down a set of steps to La Jolla Cove, a small protected beach that’s popular with scuba divers.  Or, a bit further south, there is Children’s Pool, which is actually less of a swimming beach for tots and more a sheltered beach frequented by seals and sea lions. The seawall constructed to make the small beach more family-friendly also makes it a favored spots for the local pinnipeds.

One of the town’s crown jewels is the Birch Aquarium, located at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. A current exhibit on climate change has been winning awards, and kids will love the tidepool exhibits, the great white shark photo booth, the seahorse exhibit, and the “Hall of Fishes.” Located walking distance from the famous La Jolla Shores State Park Beach, you can make a day out of visiting the aquarium, then hiking over the footbridge over La Jolla Shores drive to the stretch of sand-bottom beach popular with surfers and sunning families alike. TIP: If you’re planning to be down for a week, and your kids are aged 5-10, you might want to sign them up for La Jolla Surf Camp, run by Surf Divas Surf School, one of the most reputable in California.


For a quick day trip, take the half-hour drive north to Carlsbad for the wonder that is Legoland! Specially designed for kids ages 2-12, this theme park is a manageable size to see most of it in one day, and the rides are tailored for younger kids. New this season is the water park, with lazy rivers, waterslides (including one that accommodates four people at a time), a place to build custom rafts out of soft Lego blocks, plus a Duplo-themed splash area for toddlers (Look for our insider’s guide to navigating Legoland in next week’s newsletter).

The brunch menu at Barbarella will appeal to foodie parents and kids alike, with brunch items like chocolate buttermilk pancakes or caramelized banana oatmeal and, for dinner, fabulous pastas and pizzas. And with patio seating, it’s a choice spot to take in the perfect La Jolla weather while dining.

You can’t go wrong with pizza, and with a Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza location right on Pearl Street, complete with a patio and a fire pit, your family’s cravings are covered.

DATE NIGHT TIP: It might not be the right scene for the kids, but if you can swing it, dinner in La Valencia’s Sky Room, the art deco-inspired dining room on top of the hotel, is more than worth springing for a sitter.

-Sarah Bossenbroek