Seals, Sea Lions and Sea Caves, La Jolla, CA

Wild marine life in their element or in our element? That’s the debate that’s been raging for a while now in La Jolla, CA.

Seals and sea lions are marine mammals called ‘pinnipeds’ with different distinguishing physical characteristics. Sea lions are brown with visible ear flaps and they bark loudly, and “walk” on land and climb up rocks and cliffs using their large flippers. Seals’ skin is darker brown, grey  or black with speckles. They have smaller webbed front flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, lack visible ear flaps and are only able to grunt. While seals are typically solitary animals, they congregate in large groups here, mixing in with the sea lions.

Sea lion Seagull
A seal basking in the sun and / or his own magnificence

Here’s a haiku I wrote: La Jolla Seals and Sea Lions

A rocky playground

for frolicking pinnipeds

fate undetermined


Where: While you can see them almost anywhere along the La Jolla coastline, the best area is along Coast Boulevard from the Cave Store down to the Children’s Pool. (Bring your camera and your nose plugs.)  Don’t get too close, these are wild animals. Respect their space. There is street parking (2-hour time limit until 6pm on weekdays) along Prospect and Coast Blvd. There are also a few parking garages in the Village that charge an hourly rate.

Note:  The Children’s Pool / Cava Beach is closed from December 15 to May 15 to protect seal pups.

Aside: The presence of the La Jolla Cove seals and sea lions is one of great controversy. Over recent years, the colony has increased in size to over 300 sea lions, ranging in size from 100-pound females to 900-pound bulls. Litigation is underway by those who perceive the sea lion and seals presence and the accompanying stench of animal waste as damaging to nearby commercial and residential interests. For those who dare to brave the often contaminated waters for a swim in one of the most beautiful coves in California, aggressive territorial sea lion behavior can also be a dangerous threat.

As a wildlife lover and an ocean swimmer, I see both sides of the debate and am not informed enough about potential “solutions” to take a stand. What are your thoughts?


My BF Ken points to La Jolla Shores. We braved the ocean entry at the cove and swam across and back. A local who swims from the cove daily, gave us the tip to keep our heads out of the water for the first and last 200 yards where the slick of animal waste glimmers on the surface. I can certainly understand why local swimmers, restaurants and hotel owners would be devastated by the situation here, but there’s no easy solution. Luckily, we didn’t get sick and only 1 curious sea lion approached from a distance.

While you’re in La Jolla, be sure to check out the sea caves, garibaldi and leopard sharks via kayak, paddle board or snorkel. (The water by the shores is clear, clean, and mostly seal and sea lion free.)

You can also explore Sunny Jim Sea Cave by land. Per Encyclopedia Americana the famous Sunny Jim Sea Cave is one of the “must see” sights in Southern California. It’s the only cave in La Jolla that you can enter by land. Frank Baum who wrote ‘The Wizard Oz’ named the cave as its opening bears a resemblance to a cartoon character Sunny Jim who was a mascot for a British cereal in the 1920’s.

Sunny Jim Cave from the inside out


History: The tunnel was created in 1902 when Gustav Shultz hired two Chinese laborers who used picks and shovels to dig through the sandstone and rock. Some time after its completion two years later, 145 steps were built into the tunnel.

Today, you can enter the Sunny Jim Cave through the Cave Store at 1325 Coast Blvd for a nominal entry fee of $5 for adults, and $3 for children 16 and under. It can be slippery and the stairs are a bit steep so you need appropriate footwear and the ability to climb up and down 145 steps. Not for the claustrophobic.