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A Guide to SUP and Snorkeling in La Jolla

The area between the Shores and the Cove is a protected marine area perfect for spotting wildlife
Aerial view of La Jolla Cove, home to excellent stand-up paddleboarding and snorkeling
Courtesy of the San Diego Tourism Authority

From the Marine Room, I paddle through the surf break, trying not to get knocked into the water. Once through, I stand on my stand-up paddleboard (SUP), navigating the next set of challenges: avoiding the groups of snorkelers directly in front of me, and then the flotilla of kayakers working their way from La Jolla Shores in the direction of the sea caves—each of us connecting with the ocean in our own way.

At a little over one square mile in size and reaching offshore depths of some 330 feet, the area between the shores and La Jolla Cove is technically a marine protected area called the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve. Under the surface of the water, you might spot sea lions and seals, leopard sharks, garibaldi and other fishes, various kinds of rays, lobsters, and possibly even moray eels. Above water, winged creatures like brown pelicans and egrets dart through the skies. One of the joys of snorkeling here is when you spot a Brandt’s cormorant “flying” underwater, fishing for a meal.

Snorkeling in La Jolla, San Diego featuring a stingray on the sea floor
Photo Credit: James Murren

Past most of the snorkelers and in front of the flotilla, I turn south and head over to where the water is more open and less hectic. After 10 minutes or so, with the leash wrapped around my ankle, I squat down and straddle my SUP. Then, I secure my paddle through the accompanying loops on the side of the board. Strapped under the SUP’s bungee webbing are my snorkel, mask, and fins. I put them on and drop into the water.

The visibility is okay, about 15 feet or so. Immediately, I see the territorial garibaldis protecting their watery turf. Juvenile ones, identifiable by the iridescent blue-purple spots on their backs, swim by. Snorkeling in the direction of the undulating grasses, I pass over a patch of sand. Down there, round stingrays hover. No bigger than a small dinner plate, they are in their element, fluttering with ease.

Snorkeling in La Jolla, San Diego featuring seagrass on reef
Photo Credit: James Murren

Above the grasses, I hover, emulating the rays. It is one of my favorite things to do while snorkeling: I simply float, using my fins only to maintain my position and avoid being pushed into the rocky underwater cliffs. As the waves roll in and back out, the green grasses shimmer in the sunlight, dancing to and fro.

Amidst it all, my body sways with the grasses, recalibrating my being for the days ahead.

Snorkeling in La Jolla, San Diego featuring two women on stand-up paddleboards
Courtesy of Visit California

Tips for Stand-Up Paddleboarding in La Jolla

  • La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove are very busy and crowded areas. Be mindful of those around you while SUPing. Your board can cause injury to others in the blink of an eye. Be very aware that open ocean swimmers and sometimes scuba divers are out there as well. 
  • You cannot SUP in the La Jolla Cove zone. Lifeguards will get on the intercom and ask you to leave the cove. As a rule, I suggest staying around the sea caves—if you’re going to pass them, go north, not toward the beach-goers in the shore break zone.
  • You can rent SUPs in the village area at La Jolla Shores. Be sure to have a waterproof bag—also called a dry bag—for your phone and other valuables. 
  • Do not forget to wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and perhaps a long-sleeved sun shirt with a hood. You get burned more quickly out on the water.

By James Murren

James Murren is an award-winning adventure/travel writer, with nearly three decades of independent journalism experience. He's often having a good time in our local mountains, deserts and waters, when he's not teaching classes at SDSU.

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