The charming beachside university town of La Jolla brings you spectacular natural beauty and amazing beach choices. Adults love the sophistication of the local art galleries and fine dining restaurants, while kids have fun playing outdoors and getting up close and personal with sea lions and other marine life. Because La Jolla is a vacation destination, vacation rentals are plentiful, whether you choose a condo or cozy cottage inland or an expansive beachfront estate that lets you listen to the waves rolling in at night. If you’re visiting La Jolla with your family, take a look at these top choices of kid-friendly activities.

1. Visit the Children’s Cove

Right in the heart of La Jolla Village is the Children’s Cove. Named because the waves are so gentle here, it’s like splashing in a saltwater bathtub. To reach the cove, climb down the stairs running along the cliffs in the middle of town. Just keep an eye out for the sea lions who have discovered the area and try to claim parts of it as their own during certain seasons. If there are too many sea lions, climb to the tide pools right next door to explore sea life up close. When you’re done with the beach, downtown La Jolla awaits you for a quick bite to eat or an ice cream cone. Don’t miss the La Jolla Cave Store (yes, it’s inside a cave) to pick up a souvenir.

2. Explore the Birch Aquarium

Learn about the creatures under the sea when you visit the Birch Aquarium at the world-famous Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Kids can feed the animals, visit tide pools and touch pools, and participate in the interactive exhibits designed to help them develop a respect and love for marine life.

3. Learn to Surf

La Jolla has some beaches for experienced surfers, so head to Windansea with your board to catch some serious waves. If your kids are interested in learning to surf (and what kid isn’t?), check out the Surf Diva Surf School for a day class. Trained instructors with experience teaching kids provide the equipment you need and help them become comfortable on a board. Once everyone has their surf legs under them, head to Scripps Beach or La Jolla Shores, where half the beach is earmarked for swimmers and half for surfers, to try out your new skills.

4. Clamber Over Some Tide Pools

Head to Bird Rock at the end of La Jolla Boulevard during low tide to discover all sorts of marine life right at your fingertips. Hermit crabs, sea urchins, and sea anemones abound in these pools. Make sure to wear shoes that grip well, since all the rocks will be slippery. Help your kids keep a list of all the different creatures they find, and take photos of each one to create a marine life scrapbook when you get back to your vacation rental.

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5. Hike up Mount Soledad

From the top of Mount Soledad, the mountain that stands as a backdrop to La Jolla, you can see all of San Diego, and the view is spectacular both by day and by night. The hike is a challenging one, so it’s best for older kids. If you’re a family of athletes, pull out the bikes and ride to the top of the mountain — looking forward to the fun of riding down again.

6. Head out to Sea on a Kayak

Several excellent equipment outfitters in La Jolla are ready to rent you a kayak and all the safety equipment you need, so you can get out on the ocean and explore. Ask for a certified guide to take you up and down the coastline, or paddle along the sea cliffs on your own. At the southern end of La Jolla Shores, you can stop to go snorkeling or head straight for the sea caves under the cliffs.

7. Dive Underwater

Pull out your snorkels, and head to the La Jolla Underwater Park. You can kayak here on your way to the sea caves, or just walk right out from shore on the shallow sand flats that suddenly drop into a submarine canyon. Other habitats to explore in the underwater park, which is marked with buoys, include a rocky reef, a magnificent kelp bed, and the sand flats. Water is typically very clear, so you can vividly see marine life. This activity is a great choice for slightly older kids who are good swimmers, but even young kids can learn to snorkel safely while wearing a life vest. When you come up for air, don’t be surprised to find sea lions and seals on the rocks near the underwater park bellowing to greet you.

8. Head to the Zoo

When you stay at a vacation rental in La Jolla, all the fun of San Diego is just on the other side of Mount Soledad. Don’t miss a chance to visit the San Diego Zoo, one of the top zoos in the entire world. Among the highlights for many kids are the polar bears (watch them frolicking underwater through giant windows), the koalas, and the panda bears. Go early to catch more animals awake, and ride on the top of the free tour bus that takes you around the enormous zoo to get a little glimpse of everything.

9. Explore Everything Balboa Park Has to Offer

The San Diego Zoo isn’t the only kid-friendly attraction in Balboa Park. In fact, it would be easy to spend your entire vacation here with your kids. Check out the Model Railroad Museum, where you can try to spot your favorite cartoon characters among all the displays. The Museum of Man always has fascinating exhibits, including mummies and dinosaurs.

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