For avid beach-goers, La Jolla Cove is one of the more popular spots to visit in San Diego, offering many fun and wet water past-times such as tide-pool hopping, swimming, kayaking, as well as one of my favorites, snorkeling.
Go in the morning, after a light breakfast. You can rent gear at OEX, a.k.a. The La Jolla Shop, Dive & Kayak Centers, just a 10-minute walk to the Cove. You’ll need a wetsuit for sure, as the water is usually a cold 57-60°F year-round. Also pickup a mask, snorkel, and fins (fins are optional; the salty water and the wetsuit are pretty buoyant, but fins come in handy for swimming in the currents).
Now let’s head for the water! Pull on the gear, take a deep breath, and stride in!
Beneath the surface, the world changes. Water visibility is excellent, 15 feet. Bright orange garibaldi flit about in grass that flows like an emerald sea, may leave you guessing where the bottom is. Smaller striped fish scoot past, shark eggs hug the rocky depths, and a small lobster zips shyly away. The current whooshes all around, supporting you, caressing, hypnotizing. If I could ad music to this, I would hear the soft, sweet duet of harp and flute, with some violin twirls to accent the tiny fish that dart around. Here, is beauty.
Then I see a huge white shape not even 10 feet away. My gods, is that a fish? Can’t be. No, it’s a SEAL! And another! The two of them pop their heads up through the surface to check things out. We swim on, and then one appears, 5 feet from us, white with tiny black spots, looking from one to the other, curious. I try to be still so as not to frighten it. We swim on and see some more fish. And then I catch a white shape off to my right, to see a seal right next to me, only 1 foot away. I could touch it. Do I dare? I tentatively, very slowly, reach out a hand. My fingers graze its side. It seems to roll over and present me with its tummy, inviting, asking. I touch it again. The skin feels soft and rubbery. I come up, and John is staring at me, as stunned as I feel. We duck back under.
"Hey look at the otters, I mean seals!" Even from below I can make out their greedy voices. Oh no, they are going to scare the seals away. Sure enough, as though they’d seen the beautiful creature come up to me, several people swarm over, hoping to pet the seal. I see an instant of fear in its dark eyes as it spooks, then quickly melts into the green depths.
My fingers tingle, and only then do I remember the frigid cold: 57 degrees. Time to get out and warm up….
Later that day I learned that harbor seals can be rather aggressive and bite. Fortunately for me, the pair I encountered was not a baby with its mother, but juveniles, probably off playing by themselves. Since humans swim in La Jolla Cove all the time, they were not fearful but in fact very friendly. Also in the Cove you can see leopard sharks in August, if you’re lucky, and crabs, and any number of brightly-colored fish. The biodiversity here is truly amazing.
Some helpful information about diving, harbor seals and their habits can be found at the following websites:
information on saving San Diego seals and preserving their beach
a quick fact sheet about harbor seals
directions to the Cove and diver reviews