San Diego is one of the largest cities in the country. It’s home to massive crowds, skyscrapers, and crowded beaches. There’s epic traffic jams stretching for miles, rampant crime, and rabid street gangs. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the size of everything, the bodies packed into the sand, the lines, and people hollering at one another. But even with all of that buzz, there are still places to get away–pockets of nature where you can enjoy the quiet, step aside, take in the salt air, the breeze, and the sea.
Skip the concrete jungle, ignore the asphalt, and come to La Jolla. You can traverse the bluffs, explore cliffside hollows, and discover the ocean’s secrets. There’s no need to wedge yourself in like a sardine. Ride the waves, hike, explore. The city’s greatest breaks are waiting, and surf lessons in La Jolla are cheap and accessible. You can grab a kayak, maybe put on some scuba gear, and immerse yourself in a watery paradise.
Tony Webster / Flickr
At any given moment, the waves at Black’s Beach are at least a foot higher than anywhere else in the city. There’s nothing else like it. The tides are wild–unsafe for most swimmers and surfers. They pull in anyone, and the poor souls that dare to surf there do so at their own risk. There’s an artificial reef–filled with marine life–just waiting for someone to get pulled under, so they can bash their heads against it.
The trail to Black’s in the Torrey Pines bluffs above is a serious hazard. It’s a cliffside affair, covered in warning signs, where erosion sends hikers plummeting 350 feet to their death. It’s best to take the university entrance, or if you’re feeling lucky you can walk north from La Jolla Shores when the tide is low.
It’s a place for professionals–people born with a board in hand. Beginners can’t hack it in those waves, and when there’s a swell, it’s to stay in the sand. Big waves come toppling into the shore, pulling surfers under and keeping them down. If you’re hoping to surf there one day, best to get some surf lessons in La Jolla–somehwere calmer, where you can learn the ropes first. Even the foam is a hassle.
If you do get a chance to go, check out the Mushroom House, an architectural oddity with a tram leading up and down the cliffs. It’s become an icon for Black’s, and the locals are quite protective of it.
Black’s Beach is also known for its nudist section. Locals have been stripping down and hanging out for decades. Local authorities have tried to stamp down on them since the tradition began. It is illegal, but people keep coming back anyway.
Chad McDonald / Flickr
Windansea is surfing history embodied. The waves there are almost as wild as Black’s Beach. But the water is riddled with obstacles. There’s a rocky bottom, both sharp and hazardous, and there are sandstone formations that make surfing dangerous for anyone who doesn’t know the lay of the land.
It’s best to stay away, or at least leave your surf board at home. The locals are territorial. They’ll hold back for professionals, and allow respected members of their community to wait in line. But if they don’t know you, they won’t let you catch a wave. They might even hassle you for going there.
The beach is home to the Windansea Shack, a tiki hut originally built out of eucalyptus and palm branches from the old Scripps Health Center. It was constructed in 1947 constructed by Woody Ekstrom, Fred Kenyon, and Don Okey, all surfing legends who left a mark on the sport. They wanted a shady place to lean their boards where the sun wouldn’t melt the wax. It became quite the party spot in the early years. The surfers would host wild bacchanalias and get raided by the cops every night. The shack has been destroyed many times over the years due to storms and other disasters. But the locals keep building it over and over again using as many of the original materials as they can salvage.
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is the aquatic playground of San Diego, where you can experience more than just surf and sand. In fact, the sand itself is sparse, but the water is calm enough to launch boats, so kayaking is quite popular. The cliffs to the north have been battered by the waves for centuries, and they are always changing. There you’ll find a series of sea caves; most are only accessible by water, but one–a pre-modern tunnel used for smuggling–has an entrance in a shop above.
The cove is also a gateway to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, home to four distinct habitats: artificial reefs, a kelp bed, sand flats, and an underwater canyon–all glorious sanctuaries for marine life. The canyon is one of the most popular places in the country to scuba dive. The reefs and kelp bed are also popular with underwater explorers. In some areas the kelp is more than a hundred feet tall, and it can grow up to two feet per day. It’s the perfect habitat for sea turtles.
The cove doesn’t usually have strong waves, but when a swell comes in they move fast and strong, so definitely try surf lessons in La Jolla Shores before you try conquering that break.
La Jolla Shores
Most La Jolla beaches are small coves, tucked into gaps between cliffs. Space is limited. But La Jolla Shores is different. It’s a mile-long strip of sand in Northern La Jolla, and one of the most popular beaches in the neighborhood. But don’t let that stop you from going. The beach has some of the gentlest waves in San Diego, making it perfect for novice scuba divers and swimmers, and it’s where you’ll find the best surf lessons in La Jolla. Try an experienced instructor, someone with years of experience who knows what they’re doing, and with practice you’ll be able to surf like the pros.