If you were to glance at the quaint little shop known as The Cave Store from the street, you would never guess that it was home to one of San Diego's best-kept secrets. Within the wood-shingled walls, you'll find access to Sunny Jim's Sea Cave - the only sea cave in San Diego that can be explored by land.
If you're looking for a unique experience to enjoy during a day trip to the coastal town of La Jolla, don't skip a visit to this unforgettable attraction. Wander through the shop until you get to a damp, dark, tunnel that will lead you through an expansive sea cave, which eventually opens up over the Pacific Ocean.
The History of Sunny Jim Sea Cave
Sunny Jim Sea Cave is one of seven sea caves along the La Jolla coast, but it is the only cave that can be accessed from land. The sea caves formed millions of years ago during the Cretaceous age when the ocean began eroding the towering sandstone cliffs. They're about 75 million years old!
In the year 1902, a German engineer and professor named Gustav Schulz, who had moved to La Jolla to enjoy the sunshine during his retirement began to wonder if he could transform the caves into a tourist attraction. Schulz lived on the cliffs above the sea cave, where he had built a cabin, and began slowly exploring the cave below, becoming fascinated with its unique formations. He was interested in geology and believed that the caves could be used to teach about geological formations to students and tourists.
Having worked as a mining engineer, he began his plan to open up the caves for visitors and spent over a year slowly tunneling through the roof of the caves. Schulz hired two Chinese laborers to help him with the digging, and eventually, he made it through and emerged through the cliffs above.
The men dug through the sandstone slowly and by hand using only a shovel and pick. The cave opened its doors to the public in 1903, where early guests had to descend into the depths via a rope. Later, 145 steps were added to make the Sunny Jim Sea Cave more accessible to all kinds of visitors.
What It's Like Inside Sunny Jim Cave
To enter the cave you will first walk through the The Cave gift shop which sells a variety of coastal-themed souvenirs like seashell jewelry to remember your trip to La Jolla. Within the shop, you can also rent snorkel equipment if you plan on doing some swimming. The coast of La Jolla offers some of the best snorkeling in San Diego.
After entering the shop you will proceed to the main entrance of the caves. Leave any kind of bulky bags, gear, or strollers behind, because the first thing you will do is descend into a dark staircase of 145 wooden steps. It's damp and the stairs can get slippery, so make sure you are using caution as you begin the descent into the cave.
The underground tunnel leading to the cave is over 100 years old. It is dimly lit and makes for an exciting adventure all by itself. Once you reach the end of the tunnel, you'll emerge into the sea cave where you can take in a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean from the viewing platform. It is important to note that you are not permitted to access the water from the viewing platform. That being said, you are welcome to visit the cave for free if you are out on the water anyway, either snorkeling or enjoying a kayak or bout tour.
How to Visit Sunny Jim's Sea Cave
Sunny Jim's Sea Cave can be reached through the beach-themed gift shop known as The Cave Store which was Schultz's original residence. A visit to the cave is one of the best self-guided La Jolla tours out there. Once inside the shop, you'll proceed to the cashier counter which is located right by the entrance to the caves. You'll pay the small fee before being allowed to proceed to the caves.
You'll need about an hour maximum to explore the caves, but you can do so in as little as 15 minutes if you are a bit rushed, making this a quick and easy stop during a La Jolla day trip.
The cost to enter the cave is only $5 per adult and $3 per child. As mentioned, the stairs are steep and sometimes slick, so folks with mobility issues might want to skip visiting this particular attraction.
Sunny Jim Sea Cave is located within walking distance of La Jolla Cove, which is one of the most beautiful places to explore on a visit to San Diego, and one of the top places to watch a San Diego sunset.
The tiny-but-beautiful La Jolla Cove beach is set between sandstone cliffs and is part of the San Diego La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. The area is rich in marine life, and you'll undoubtedly spot groups of sea lions and seals relaxing on the rocky shores.
The waves are gentle compared to much of the San Diego coastline, making this an ideal spot to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and paddle boarding during the warmer months.
La Jolla is also a great place for hiking. Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve has beautiful coastal trails to enjoy. Golfing at Torrey Pines Golf Course is another popular pastime that attracts tourists and locals alike.
La Jolla village itself is extremely walkable and the streets are lined with cute cafes, restaurants, and shops. Nearby you can try out paragliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport, or visit the ever-popular Birch Aquarium at Scripps.
About La Jolla
La Jolla is a beautiful seaside village within San Diego County and one of the region's most desirable and affluent places to live. It's less than half an hour from downtown San Diego. Many consider it to be one of the most beautiful towns in America. The area is home to gorgeous beaches, delicious restaurants, and plenty of notch shopping. If you're visiting San Diego for the first time, carve out some time in your itinerary to explore the area.