Scripps Park and Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The Golden State’s second-largest metropolis has been dubbed “America’s Finest City.” Along with the amazing weather and scenery, there is no shortage of great things to see and do in San Diego – Balboa Park, Coronado Island, SeaWorld and one of the top zoos in the entire western hemisphere, just to name a few. However, visitors to this sublime city by the sea should make time to visit two lesser-known attractions in La Jolla: Scripps Park and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Ellen Browning Scripps Park – Seaside Spectacular
It’s been said that this is the most photographed place in San Diego. This isn't a surprise; the park has a commanding location atop a rocky bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Point La Jolla. With 1,500 feet of shoreline, three gorgeous beaches, a picturesque green space and a perfect lookout for whale watching and breathtaking sunsets, this 5.6-acre park is a microcosm of the legendary California coastline.
The northernmost part of the park, La Jolla Cove, is protected by a rocky point that shields it from the ocean waves rolling in from the west. This makes it safe for swimming, and since it faces north, there is usually ample shade as well. Lifeguards are on duty at peak times. At the very south end of the cove is a tunnel through the rock wall; you can get to it if you don’t mind hopping around a few large boulders. Tide pools can be explored at low tide, and there is often a gang of harbor seals that don’t object to getting their picture taken.
On the western side of the park are Boomer Beach and Shell Beach. Since both of these beaches face the open ocean, the surf can be more robust. All of the park’s beaches are guarded, though, so swimmers usually opt for La Jolla Cove. There are no stairs providing access to Boomer Beach; you’ll have to climb down the bluff on your own. A long set of stairs leads down to Shell Beach. As the name suggests, it is a popular place for collecting seashells. Both beaches can be rather narrow at high tide, so plan to visit closer to low tide. The scenery at these beaches is simply stunning.
A beautiful 3.8-acre grassy area is perched on top of the bluff. The lawn gradually slopes downwards to the cliff face and is encircled by a concrete path that gives access to a number of scenic overlooks. There are plenty of picnic tables, barbecue grills and benches. Monterey cypress, Australian tea and single trunk dragon trees provide welcome shade. Graceful Mexican fan palms, originally planted in 1904, line the road along the edge of the park.
Getting to Scripps Park is an easy 30-minute drive from San Diego. Take I-5 north to La Jolla Parkway and continue as it becomes Torrey Pines Road. Turn right on Prospect Street and then right on Coast Boulevard. The park is located at the bottom of the hill. There is street parking only. The park is open from 4:00 am to 8:00 pm. Food is allowed, but glass containers are not. Restroom facilities are on site.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography – Wonder Beneath the Waves
It’s no secret that the waters off California’s coast are among the richest in the world. So what better place to establish an oceanographic institute dedicated to research, conservation and the training of the next generation of scientists and marine biologists?
Established in 1903 as the San Diego Marine Biological Station, the facility – renamed the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1925 – is one of the oldest and largest centers for ocean and Earth science research and public service in the world. Both undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered. Scripps’ stated mission is “to seek, teach, and communicate scientific understanding of the oceans, atmosphere, Earth, and other planets for the benefit of society and the environment.” The institution operates three research vessels and a floating instrument platform. Three of its faculty have won the Nobel Prize.
While much of the institution is closed to the public, the facility’s Birch Aquarium provides a fascinating window into the wondrous and mysterious world beneath the waves. More than 400,000 people visit the aquarium each year. More than 3,000 animals representing 380 species are housed in exhibits including:
- Seadragons and seahorses. See gentle seahorses and pipefish, and stand in wonder at the 18-foot wide, 9-foot tall seadragon habitat. The 5,375-gallon exhibit is one of the largest man-made seadragon environments in the world.
- Oddities is a comic-book-inspired exhibition that highlights some of the most fascinating and unusual abilities found in the ocean. Supervision, invisibility, protective armor and the ability to generate electricity are just a few of the cool characteristics of the creatures on view.
- The Giant Kelp Forest is a two-story, 70,000-gallon tank that is home to one of the ocean’s most important ecosystems. Visitors can see the towering kelp waving gracefully to and fro as leopard sharks, moray eels, giant black sea bass and garibaldi fish swim past.
- More than 60 different Pacific habitats are on display in The Hall of Fishes. The exhibit highlights the amazing diversity of the world’s largest ocean, from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico,. Visitors can also pay a visit to the aquarium’s rescued loggerhead sea turtle.
- One of the most popular exhibits at Birch is Shark Shores, where visitors come face-to-face with some of the ocean’s most feared and misunderstood predators. Beautiful leopard sharks, as well as various species of rays, are the stars of the show.
- At the outdoor Tide Pool Plaza, aquarium volunteers help visitors get a close-up view of sea stars, sea anemones, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters and other creatures that live in the rocky intertidal zone. The area also offers a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean itself.
Birch Aquarium is located at 2300 Expedition Way in La Jolla. It is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
For many, the community of La Jolla is a magical place. The laid-back vibe of the town is much farther from the hectic pace of Los Angeles than the odometer would suggest. Do a bit of shopping in the charming downtown area and grab a bite at a breezy outdoor café. Be sure to include both Scripps Park and the Birch Aquarium on your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed.