9 Best Places to See San Diego Sea Lions from a Local (2023)

View-from-afar-of-La-Jolla-Cove

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to see San Diego sea lions up close and personal?

If you’re a fan of these adorable and playful marine mammals, you’re in luck.

San Diego is home to some of the best spots for sea lions and harbor seals in their natural habitat.

In this post, I’ll share with you nine of the best places to see San Diego sea lions from a local’s perspective.

You’ll learn where to go when to go, and what to expect from each location.

Plus, I’ll give you some tips on how to see them responsibly and safely, without disturbing their environment or behavior.

Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly activity, a romantic getaway, or a solo adventure, seeing San Diego sea lions is a must-do for any visitor or resident of this beautiful city.

So, let’s dive in and discover the amazing world of San Diego sea lions!

Overview:

9 Best Places for Seeing San Diego Seal Lions

As a local from San Diego, I have had the privilege of exploring several beaches and have discovered the best places for seeing San Diego sea lions.

You’ll find most San Diego sea lions roam around La Jolla.

There are several spot destinations in La Jolla where you can spot them.

Here are the top nine locations that offer a great opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures responsibly and safely:

Note: Be aware when visiting La Jolla you will encounter unpleasant smells from bird and sea lion poop. That is found along the beaches or rocky shores where the animals congregate.

Some visitors may not find the smell bothersome, while others may perceive it more strongly.

It’s always a good idea to be prepared for potential odors by being aware of the presence of sea lions and choosing your activities and locations accordingly.

The tide, weather, or season can also impact the intensity of the smells, so it’s worth considering these factors when planning your visit.

Nevertheless, the unique coastal environment and the opportunity to witness marine wildlife up close often outweigh any temporary inconvenience caused by the occasional odor.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove Cliff-min

La Jolla Cove is a popular destination amongst tourists and well for good reason.

The spectacular views, crystal-clear waters, and abundance of sea life to name a few have made this place a paradise for snorkelers, divers, and photographers.

You can easily spot sea lions lounging on the rocks, swimming in the cove, or barking at each other.

Just remember to keep a safe distance and respect their space.

Note:

Respect the wildlife and stay at least 50 feet away from the sea lions. It’s illegal and punishable by law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act with fines of up to $10,000.

Children’s Pool Beach

San Diego Sea Lions Resting in the Sand-min

Located in La Jolla as well, Children’s Pool Beach offers another great opportunity to observe seals up close.

Originally created as a safe swimming area for children, this beach has since become a favorite gathering spot for harbor seals.

You can watch these adorable creatures bask in the sun from the designated viewing areas along the seawall. 

However, you should not attempt to swim or walk on the beach, as it is closed to the public during the pupping season from December 15 to May 15.

The seals are very sensitive and protective of their pups, and they may react aggressively if they feel threatened.

You can still enjoy the beautiful views and learn more about the seals from the docents and volunteers who are often present at the site.

SeaWorld San Diego

Whale Splashing in SeaWorld in San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego theme park provides an excellent opportunity to observe sea lions while offering a multitude of attractions for all ages.

Visitors can enjoy captivating shows, thrilling rides, and an array of family-friendly entertainment options within this expansive park.

SeaWorld San Diego is known to rescue mostly California sea lions, harbor seals, northern elephant seals, and Guadalupe fur seals.

These animals are common along the California coasts and represent about 85% of SeaWorld’s rescues.

SeaWorld often helps seals and sea lions that are less than a year old when they strand for various reasons.

In 2015, SeaWorld achieved a record by saving nearly 1,000 California sea lions.

You can visit the Sea Lion Point area where you can get close to sea lions and seals, and learn about their rescue and rehabilitation.

You can also book a Sea Lion Up-Close Encounter where you can interact with one of these animals and learn from an animal care specialist.

Note: The Sea Lion Up-Close Encounter program is a paid event separate from SeaWorld admission. You must make a reservation to attend.

The event starts at the Sea Lion Amphitheatre near the Garden of Discovery.

The cost to attend is $49 during off-peak season and $59 during peak season.

Reservations can be made online.

In addition, this theme park also has other amazing marine animals, such as dolphins, penguins, sharks, and orcas, that you can see and learn about.

San Diego Sea and Land (SEAL) Tours (3 Places You Can SPot Them)

San Diego Sea Lions Resting on Rockie Shorelines-min

San Diego Sea and Land (SEAL) Tours is a great way to see the San Diego sea lions because it takes you through several different locations where you can spot these amazing animals.

The tour starts either from Seaport Village or Embarcadero and leaves daily from 10 am, 12 pm, or 2 pm.

It runs for approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes.

With 40 minutes on land and the rest in the water.

You will board a hydra-terra amphibious vehicle that can travel both on land and water.

The vehicle is equipped with comfortable seats, large windows, and a PA system that allows you to hear the narration of your guide.

You will see historic landmarks, scenic views, and marine wildlife as you explore San Diego by sea and land.

Some places you will pass by will be Point Loma, Boomer Beach, and Shelter Island (3 places you spot and see the sea lions).

You will also have the opportunity to take photos and videos of your experience.

The tour is fun, informative, and family-friendly.

You can book your tickets online or by phone.

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave

Sunny Jim's Sea Cave in San Diego California-min

Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave in La Jolla boasts a fascinating history intertwined with its unique features.

Unlike other sea caves carved by natural forces, this particular cave owes its creation to the ingenious efforts of German Professor Gustav Schultz.

During the early 20th century, Schultz, alongside a team of laborers, dedicated over a year to excavating the tunnel, crafting a truly awe-inspiring formation that continues to captivate visitors to this present day.

The cave derives its name from the distinctive entrance, which bears a striking resemblance to the face of “Sunny Jim,” a cheerful character from a popular cereal box.

As you approach the cave, perched atop the cliffs, you’ll be treated to a magnificent sight—San Diego sea lions can often be spotted from afar.

These majestic creatures can be seen sunbathing on the rocky outcroppings, frolicking in the surf, or gracefully diving into the deep blue waters.

The ability to spot these magnificent creatures from a distance adds to the allure of Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, making it an unforgettable experience for visitors seeking a glimpse of nature’s beauty and the rich history that surrounds it.

Note: This place is run on a first-come first-serve basis and you can’t purchase tickets online only at the door.

I suggest visiting in the mornings and being mindful of the fact that the summer season attracts many families to this location.

Therefore, it is advisable to allow yourself ample time to explore and enjoy your visit without feeling rushed.

The cost is $10 per adult and $6 per child as of 2023.

People Walking the Coast Walk Trail-min
People walking the Coast Walk Trail

Furthermore, there is a Coast Walk Trail near the cave for those outdoor lovers.

This is a scenic coastal pathway that offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged coastline.

This trail is located in the La Jolla neighborhood and provides a picturesque route for hikers and nature enthusiasts.

The trail begins near the historic Cave Store, which is the entrance to Sunny Jim Cave, a popular sea cave.

From there, it winds along the coastline, offering panoramic vistas, picturesque cliffs, and opportunities to observe marine life.

The Coast Walk Trail is a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and take in the refreshing ocean breeze while exploring the San Diego coastline.

Oceanside Harbor Beach

Seals Sitting in the Oceanside Harbor Fishing Pier-min

As a local, I have had the privilege of discovering hidden gems, and one such place is Oceanside Harbor Beach, where you can observe sea lions.

Surprisingly, you won’t find many bloggers talking about this spot, but that’s precisely what makes it special.

Being off the beaten path, it offers a more intimate and authentic experience.

So, if you’re looking to witness the captivating presence of sea lions in a tranquil setting, I highly recommend visiting Oceanside Harbor Beach.

Oceanside Harbor Beach is known for being a picturesque coastal destination in San Diego.

It offers a wide sandy beach that is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and building sandcastles.

The beach is also popular for various water activities such as surfing, boogie boarding, and stand-up paddleboarding.

The area surrounding the beach features a vibrant harbor with a marina, where visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, and dining at waterfront restaurants.

Additionally, Oceanside Harbor Beach hosts events and festivals throughout the year, attracting both locals and tourists to enjoy the coastal charm and lively atmosphere.

You can definitely see sea lions here from the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor Fishing Pier not to be confused with the Oceanside Pier.

The sea lions often rest on the docks or the buoys near the pier, and sometimes they even hop onto the boats.

You can hear their loud barks and see their funny antics from the pier, which also offers a great spot for fishing and sightseeing.

Difference between a Sea Lion and a Seal

Sea lions and seals are both marine mammals, but they belong to different families and have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

One notable difference lies in their physical appearance.

Sea lions typically have long front flippers and are capable of rotating them, allowing them to move efficiently on land.

In contrast, seals have shorter front flippers that are less flexible, making them more adapted for swimming.

Another key dissimilarity can be observed in their ear structure.

Sea lions possess external ear flaps, while seals lack visible external ears, without small openings present.

Moreover, sea lions are generally more social and gregarious animals, often forming large colonies and engaging in vocal communication, whereas seals tend to be more solitary.

These variations in physical traits and behavior contribute to the differentiation between sea lions and seals.

What is the Best Time to see Seals in San Diego?

Sunny Sea Cave from Top of View-min
Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave from the top of the view.

In San Diego, you can view seals and sea lions at any time of the year.

They’re active all year long.

However, the best time to see when a larger number of sea lions in San Diego are present is typically during their breeding and pupping seasons.

For California sea lions, the breeding season typically occurs from May to August, while the pupping season is from June to August.

It’s important to note that wildlife sightings can vary, and factors like tides, weather, and individual behavior can influence their presence.

It’s always a good idea to check with local authorities, visitor centers, or wildlife organizations for updated information and recommendations on the best viewing locations and times during your visit.

8 Tips for Viewing Sea Lions in a Safe & Responsible Way:

San Diego Sea Lions Warning Signs-min
  1. Keep a safe distance: Maintain a respectful distance of at least 50 feet (15 meters) from sea lions. This ensures both your safety and the well-being of the animals.
  2. Use binoculars or a camera with zoom: To get a closer look at the sea lions without disturbing them, bring binoculars or use a camera with a zoom lens.
  3. Avoid feeding or approaching them: Feeding wildlife is discouraged, as it can disrupt their natural behaviors and diet. Do not attempt to approach or touch sea lions, as they are wild animals and may become defensive if they feel threatened.
  4. Observe quietly: Keep noise to a minimum to avoid startling the sea lions. It’s best to observe them quietly and enjoy their natural behaviors from a distance.
  5. Respect signs and barriers: Follow any signage or barriers in place to protect both the animals and visitors. These are often in place to prevent disturbance or maintain safe viewing distances.
  6. Do not block their path: If sea lions are using a specific pathway, such as a dock or boat ramp, give them space to move freely without obstruction.
  7. Dispose of trash properly: Be mindful of your waste and dispose of it properly in designated trash bins. This helps maintain a clean environment for both humans and wildlife.
  8. Follow local regulations and guidelines: Familiarize yourself with any local regulations or guidelines for interacting with sea lions in the specific harbor area you are visiting.
  9. Help wildlife in distress: The NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 866-767-6114 is the best option to respond to sea lion abuse or injuries. They are the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act and protecting sea lions and other marine mammals from harassment, injury, or death. Also, alert the lifeguards present there!

Remember, the welfare and conservation of wildlife should always take precedence.

By following these tips and respecting the natural behavior of sea lions, you can enjoy a safe and responsible viewing experience!

8 Tips for Planning Your Sea Lions Trip

  1. Research locations: Identify specific locations in San Diego where sea lions can be commonly observed, such as La Jolla Cove, Children’s Pool, or Shell Beach. Look for areas with known sea lion colonies or habitats.
  2. Check the best time of year: Determine the best time of year to spot sea lions based on their breeding and pupping seasons. For California sea lions, this is typically from May to August, while harbor seals have their breeding season from December to March.
  3. Timing and tides: Plan your visit during low tides when sea lions are more likely to be resting or sunbathing on beaches or rocky shores. Tide charts can help you identify optimal times for observation.
  4. Check local resources: Consult local visitor centers, wildlife organizations, or online resources for updated information on sea lion sightings, recommended viewing areas, and any regulations or guidelines in place.
  5. Plan your itinerary: Determine the duration of your visit and allocate sufficient time to explore the selected locations. Arrive early to find parking. Consider other attractions or activities nearby that you may want to incorporate into your itinerary.
  6. Safety and comfort: Dress appropriately for the weather and bring sun protection, such as hats, sunscreen, and water bottles. Consider bringing binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens for a better view.
  7. Respect wildlife and guidelines: Familiarize yourself with any guidelines or regulations in place for viewing sea lions. Follow the recommended viewing distances and be respectful of their space and natural behaviors.
  8. Be flexible: Keep in mind that wildlife sightings can be unpredictable, and factors like weather or individual behavior can affect the presence of sea lions. Be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly.

By following these steps and being prepared, you can enhance your chances of having a rewarding experience while ensuring the well-being of the animals and maintaining a responsible approach to wildlife viewing.

5 Fun Things to Do in La Jolla, San Diego Besides Seeing the Sea Lions

Besides checking out the San Diego sea lions La Jolla offers a wide range of enjoyable activities worth seeing.

Here are some of our top recommended things to do:

1. La Jolla Shores Beach & La Jolla Underwater Park

La Jolla Underwater Park

La Jolla Shores is a highly recommended destination to visit in La Jolla for several compelling reasons.

Its beautiful beach with its wide expanse of golden sand and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean makes it an idyllic coastal setting.

The calm waters at La Jolla Shores make it an ideal spot for swimming and sunbathing, particularly for families and beginners.

Whether you want to enjoy a picnic, soak up the sun, or simply unwind in a serene environment, the spacious beach provides ample space for relaxation.

Moreover, La Jolla Shores offers an array of water sports and activities, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and snorkeling.

Exploring the vibrant marine life in the La Jolla Underwater Park and nearby kelp forests is a captivating experience for snorkelers and scuba divers.

With its convenient amenities, such as restrooms, showers, lifeguards, and nearby dining options, La Jolla Shores ensures a pleasant and convenient beach visit.

Overall, La Jolla Shores is a must-visit destination that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and a welcoming coastal atmosphere.

2. Enjoy Coastal Walks and Hikes

Torrey Pines Oceanview

Embarking on coastal walks and hikes in La Jolla is a delightful way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area while enjoying awe-inspiring views.

One of the recommended trails to explore is the Coast Walk Trail near Sunny Jim Cave.

This scenic path winds along the rugged cliffs, providing panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean.

As you traverse this trail, you’ll be treated to the sight of crashing waves, dramatic rock formations, and the occasional glimpse of marine wildlife.

Another fantastic option is the trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

This protected area encompasses miles of pristine coastline and magnificent coastal bluffs, offering an array of picturesque walking and hiking opportunities.

As you traverse the well-maintained trails, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking views of the ocean, native vegetation, and the iconic Torrey Pine trees.

Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or a more challenging hike, these coastal trails in La Jolla provide an invigorating and serene outdoor experience for nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike.

3. Explore Birch Aquarium

A visit to Birch Aquarium in La Jolla is highly recommended for a captivating and educational experience.

Located at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Birch Aquarium offers a fascinating journey into the wonders of the marine world.

With its diverse exhibits and interactive displays, visitors of all ages can explore and learn about marine life from around the globe.

From mesmerizing coral reefs to playful sea creatures, the aquarium showcases a wide range of species and habitats.

One can witness majestic sharks, colorful tropical fish, graceful seahorses, and even touch gentle tide pool animals.

The aquarium’s commitment to conservation and research is evident through its engaging educational programs and initiatives that promote the importance of protecting our oceans.

With its breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium provides a unique and enriching experience, making it a must-visit attraction in La Jolla.

4. Visit La Jolla Village

Visiting La Jolla Village is a must for anyone exploring the San Diego area.

This charming coastal neighborhood offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and a vibrant atmosphere.

Strolling through the streets of La Jolla Village, you’ll encounter a delightful mix of upscale shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.

It’s a haven for art lovers, with numerous galleries showcasing a diverse range of artistic styles and mediums.

The village also boasts a thriving dining scene, featuring a variety of culinary delights from local seafood to international cuisine.

Beyond its shopping and dining offerings, La Jolla Village is home to the world-renowned La Jolla Playhouse, a Tony Award-winning regional theater known for its innovative productions.

The village’s proximity to beautiful beaches and coastal cliffs adds to its allure, providing opportunities for scenic walks and breathtaking views.

Whether you’re seeking a cultural experience, a culinary adventure, or simply a day of leisurely exploration, La Jolla Village offers a captivating and vibrant atmosphere that should not be missed.

5. Explore Water Sports & Activities

People Kayaking in La Jolla Shores Beach-min

Participating in water sports and activities in La Jolla is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience that allows you to fully embrace the coastal beauty of the area.

With its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life, La Jolla provides the perfect playground for aquatic adventures.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned water sports enthusiast, there’s something for everyone.

You can embark on thrilling kayaking adventures, glide through the gentle waves, and explore the breathtaking sea caves along the coast.

Stand-up paddleboarding offers a unique perspective, allowing you to navigate the calm waters while enjoying panoramic views of the coastline.

Snorkeling and scuba diving in the La Jolla Underwater Park reveal a vibrant underwater world teeming with colorful fish, kelp forests, and fascinating marine creatures.

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, surfing the renowned breaks of La Jolla is an absolute must.

With surf schools and equipment rentals readily available, even beginners can catch their first wave.

Engaging in water sports and activities in La Jolla allows you to connect with nature, embrace the thrill of adventure, and create lasting memories in one of Southern California’s most stunning coastal destinations.

F.A.Q.S

Sea Lions and Seals Sign at La Jolla Cove-min

When can you see sea lions in San Diego?


Sea lions can be seen in San Diego throughout the year.

However, their presence may vary depending on factors such as food availability, breeding seasons, and migration patterns.

It is common to spot sea lions along the coastline, particularly near areas with rocky shores or designated haul-out sites.

Do sea lions live in San Diego?


Yes, sea lions do live in San Diego.

In addition to sea lions, there are also several different types of seals that can be found in the area.

These include harbor seals, elephant seals, and occasionally, the rare and endangered Guadalupe fur seals.

Each species has its own habitat preferences and behavior, adding to the diverse marine mammal population along the San Diego coastline.

Where is the best place to see seals and sea lions in San Diego?


One of the best places to see seals and sea lions in San Diego is La Jolla.

Specifically, the La Jolla Cove and Children’s Pool (also known as Casa Beach) are popular spots to observe these marine mammals up close.

The rocky outcroppings in these areas provide haul-out sites for seals and sea lions to rest and bask in the sun.

What time is best to see sea lions in La Jolla?

Sea lions in La Jolla can be observed throughout the day.

However, if you’re looking for a more active viewing experience, mornings and early afternoons are often the best times.

During these hours, sea lions are typically more active, swimming in the water, playing, and interacting with each other.

It’s worth noting that wildlife sightings can vary, and it’s always a good idea to check local conditions and consult with guides or locals for the most up-to-date information on sea lion activity in the area.

Final Thoughts

la-jolla-shores-sea-lion

There are plenty of great places to see seals in San Diego!

Whether you want to get up close and personal or enjoy observing them from afar, there’s an option for everyone.

So, grab your camera (or binoculars) and head out on an adventure—you won’t be disappointed!

Let us know in the comments below what some of your favorite San Diego sea lions you’ve spotted!

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Jess and Jeanette are two sisters who were inspired by their family beach vacations while growing up. Their passion lies in guiding you toward the most remarkable beach destinations across the United States! Cheers! ❤️

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