Seeing the sea lions and seals in San Diego was by far my favorite thing we did or see when traveling to the San Diego area! I have never seen anything like this before. To see these amazing mammals in their natural habitat was absolutely amazing!
In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to about where the best sea lion and seal viewing spots are. I will also include facts and tips that you should know before you head to see the sea lions and seals in San Diego.
What’s the Difference Between a Sea Lion and Seal?
Is it a sea lion or a seal? This is some good information to know before going to see the sea lions and seals in San Diego. This way you will know exactly what you are looking at on the beaches!
So take a few minutes and study the following facts here and you will be an expert in no time!
San Diego is home to the California Sea Lion and the Pacific Harbor Seal. They are part of the marine mammal family called “pinnipeds.” The easiest way to tell the difference between a sea lion and a seal is to look at the ears. Sea lions have external ear flaps. Seals have no ear flaps.
Here are some more differences to look for. Sea lions have large flippers and are a brown color. They also bark loudly. They are also more social animals, so you will see them often pilled up on top of each other.
So, when you hear all of that loud, barking which you will! That has to be a sea lion!
Seals have small flippers and are can vary in color from white, gray, dark brown, or black with a spotted coat. Because their flippers are small they wriggle on their bellies.
Now, that you know the differences between a sea lion and a seal, you will be an expert out there on the Southern California coastline.
Where to See Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego
Where can you find sea lions and seals in San Diego? Head to La Jolla! It is NOT pronounced La-JOL-LA. The correct pronunciation is La-HOY-a. I just might have mispronounced it when I was there. 🙈
La Jolla is a beautiful, hilly seaside neighborhood, located 12 miles north of Downtown San Diego. La Jolla is often referred to as “the jewel” of San Diego. It has seven miles of stunning coastline along the Pacific Ocean.
Not only does it have a beautiful, stunning coastline and some pretty cute animals, but it’s also a great place with some amazing shopping and dining options.
Best Viewpoints to See Sea Lions and Seals
To see the sea lions and seals in San Diego, you can start your journey at either the Children’s Pool or The Cave Store along Coast Boulevard. Starting at one at these points, means you don’t have to backtrack. Wherever you can find a parking spot along the way, would be a great place to start.
The Coast Walk Trail is an easy, scenic walkable trail that takes you from the Children’s Pool all the way to The Cave Store. This is about a 13-minute walk if you walk non-stop.
You will not be walking non-stop though. You will want to stop several times and enjoy the beautiful scenery, sea lions, and seals. Allow at least a couple of hours to truly enjoy this area!
We started our journey off at the Children’s Pool. The address here is 850 Coast Boulevard, La Jolla, CA. We found a convenient parking spot right off the road here.
What’s the meaning behind the name Children’s Pool? The Children’s Pool in La Jolla was originally built as a safe area for children to swim. This was made in 1932, by building a seawall to protect the shore from oncoming waves.
Since this area is protected from harsh waves, the seals came to make this area home. This is a great place to see seals relaxing and basking in the sun.
The beach here at the Children Pool is closed during Puppying Season. However, you can still see the seals from the seawall and the walkway above the beach. For the latest information check out the Seal Conservancy
Puppying Season this year will be from December 15, 2001, until May 15, 2022. This is a great time to see the seals as they take up the beach to give birth, nurse, and rear their pups. Most of the newborn pups will arrive during the month of February.
We came here towards the end of April on our kids’ spring break. There were PLENTY of seals on the beach. It was just amazing to see!
If you are thinking of traveling to San Diego for spring break or looking for other destinations in the US for spring break, check out my post of the 27 Best Spring Break Destinations for Families in the US.
After viewing the seals at the Children’s Pool, you might want to use the conveniently located restrooms here before continuing the rest of your journey down the Coast Walk Trail.
You may also see merchants here selling crafts or San Diego souvenirs. We bought some ice cream and snow cones for the kids to eat as we continued on our quest to see some sea lions.
Walking along the path past the Children Pool, you will come to Shell Beach. This is a small beach that can be accessed via a flight of steps.
It is named Shell Beach because of all of the seashells that wash up on the shore.
Located alongside the walkway here, you will see a massive, grassy area. This is Ellen Browning Scripps Park. This is a great place to relax, have a picnic, fly a kite or throw a frisbee.
You might not see any seals or sea lions on the beach, but if you look out into the water you will see Seal Rock. A very, very small tiny island where seals like to rest.
The Children’s Pool is all about the seals. Here at Boomer Beach, you will find sea lions!
Between Boomer Beach and La Jolla Cove, you will see a rocky, cliff area called Point La Jolla. You can cross the railing here and walk out on the rocky cliffs to get an up-close view of these amazing animals.
This is a great spot to sit, relax and enjoy watching the sea lions play. We spent a while here just sitting on the rocky cliff and watching the sea lions. It was such a memorable experience to be this close in nature to these wild animals.
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is another sea lion hotspot. It’s a small, picturesque beach and one of the most popular places to visit in San Diego. During the summer it’s a popular place for swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers.
The Cave Store
The Cave Store is a great place to pick up your San Diego souvenirs, but the main draw here is the tunnel that leads to the Sunny Jim Sea Cave.
In the tunnel, you will walk down 145 steps to the most amazing view. The view inside the cave looking out at the ocean is just incredible. This is such a fun adventure for kids and for the whole family.
Sometimes sea lions can be spotted on the rocks down in the cave, but it’s not guaranteed.
The cost of admissions here is $10 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-17. Hours of operation are 9 am -4:30 pm.
The Cave Store also offers snorkel rentals.
If you’d like to get a different view of the cave, a kayaking tour would be a great way to experience the La Jolla sea caves.
Check out this fun experience: Sea Cave Kayaking Tour with Guide!
Best Time to See Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego
Any time of the year is great for seeing seals and sea lions in San Diego. They are out year-round. Depending on the time of year though, you might not see as many out at all hours of the day.
Your greatest chance of seeing seals in San Diego is toward the end of April till the beginning of June. You are least likely to see seals on the beaches during the summer between 8 am until 6 pm.
So, If you are visiting in summer, make sure to get there very early or late in the day for the best chances of seeing seals in San Diego.
Tips for Visiting Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego
I have to warn you about the smell before visiting. This is something that just has to be mentioned. It smells bad, very bad! This is not a reason, not to visit though. Once you see these adorable, cute animals, it’s all worth it!
2)Wear Closed Toe Shoes with Good Traction
Wearing Closed Toe Shoes with good traction is important if you plan on going off the main path. At Point La Jolla, we walked out on the rocky cliff, and having a good pair of closed-toe shoes with traction was a must. It would be so easy to slip here and fall.
3)Bring Camera or Smartphone
Make sure you have a camera or your smartphone with you! You’re definitely going to want to take pictures of the stunning coast and adorable sea lions and seals. If you have a good camera with a great zoom lens, take that. You will be able to get even better shots of the sea lions and seals up close.
You’re also going to want to take some video footage of the sea lions playing. So, make sure not to leave your camera or phone in the car!
The Wrap-Up: Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego
You are definitely not going to want to miss this unique and memorable experience when in San Diego! Seeing sea lions and seals in nature and not at the zoo is just incredible!
I hope my guide of How to See the Sea Lions and Seals in San Diego: The Complete Guide has helped you in planning your visit.
READ NEXT: If traveling to San Diego with kids, be sure to check out my guide 19 Most Amazing Things to Do in Southern California with Kids!