This place to me is truly a gem, as there is always so much to see, and do when it comes to photographing wildlife. I would arrive around 6am and stay well into the afternoon, as it was always so hard to tear myself away to go home.
La Jolla Cove is a small, beautiful cove and beach that is surrounded by cliffs in La Jolla, California. The Cove is protected as part of a marine reserve; underwater it is very rich in marine life, and is very popular with snorkelers, swimmers and scuba divers.
Since La Jolla Cove is within the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park (a marine refuge area), surfboards, boogie boards, and even inflatable mattresses, are not permitted, and kayakers are not allowed into the Cove. These rules are carefully enforced by the lifeguards on duty. Being an ecological reserve, no fishing is allowed. No collecting of marine invertebrates, (even taking dead specimens or seashells) is allowed in this area. All sea animals in this area are protected by law, including the orange Garibaldi fish, which are common in the Cove.
One of the downsides of La Jolla Cove being so beautiful is everyone wants to visit. Parking around the Cove is FREE, but limited. My advice is to get there no later than 7am to secure a spot. The spaces at the cove are 3 hours during the week, but unlimited during the weekend, and parking is HIGHLY enforced. Side street parking is also available but limited, and is not time enforced. If you have gear to drop off, there are some 3 minute spaces at the entrance, near the stairs of the Cove. Or you can avoid parking issues all together - the closest parking garage is a short walk away at 1298 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037.
Sea Lions, lounging on the beach as well as on the rock just north of the cove. Harbor Seals can be found at the Children's pool, just 1/4 mile south of the Cove.
Land & Air Wildlife:
As you walk from place to place along the Cove, you will for sure see lots of squirrels, just waiting to have their photo taken. I love to photograph squirrels as they have the best facial expressions that make for a fun photo. There is a wide variety of birds, from Seagulls, Cormorants, Pelicans, Hummingbirds, to Peregrine Falcons.
Springtime March through May is the ideal time to photograph birds, as all the chicks have hatched. If you are lucky, you may get to see seldom seen interaction between parents and babies - parents feeding chicks, or flight lessons. [Remember to always keep your distance, and never alter the environment, such as breaking twigs, or moving things out of the way of a nest to take a photo. The mother has chosen that particular spot for a reason, and to move things around to get a photo, will expose the nest, and could leave the chick and/or the mother vulnerable to predators.]
Children's Pool also known as Casa Beach is one of my favorite places to photograph Harbor Seals. The concrete wall was built in 1931, so children could play without being pounded by the surf. Over the next 70 years, the area filled with sand, and in 1996 the National Marine Fisheries Service observed Harbor Seals hauled out on the beach. In 1999 Harbor Seal Pups were observed giving birth for the first time.
Best time to photograph at the Children's pool is from sunrise to 10am - small crowds, and parking is not an issue.
Harbor Seals - Year Round (Pupping Season, December to April)
Sea Lions - Year Round (Pupping Season, May to August)
Pelicans, Cormorants, Seagulls, Humming Birds, Peregrine Falcons - Year Round (Interaction with their Chicks, March to May)
Squirrels - Year Round (Baby Squirrels, March to May)
Cool in the morning, maybe a little fog that wears off by mid-morning. In Winter, November through February, it's colder, but still quite sunny after the marine layer wears off. It is always best to bring layers, as the weather can change suddenly.
Being a Wildlife photographer, we always want to be an advocate for the plants and animals. It is against federal law to harass any Marine Mammal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) We all want to get that awesome shot, but never at the expense of the animal's or your safety. Always pay attention and obey all closures and barriers that are in place.
There are quite a few eateries on Prospect Ave, within walking distance of the Cove. My personal favorite is the Living Room Cafe, where they have a variety of snacks, beverages, and make a mean breakfast burrito! Need a cheap place to stay? La Jolla Beach Travelodge at 6750 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA, 92037, CA is a great deal at $92 per night, and only a 10 minute drive or 30 minute walk to the Cove. Some highly recommended restaurants near the Travelodge are Cafe Vahik, Su Casa, and the Mandarin House.