La Jolla, California is widely known for the "Seven Caves" and most visitors go inside the caves through kayaking tours, but there's also another way you can get to these caves: through a tunnel from inside a gift shop! Instead of viewing the caves out in the open waters, you can view it from another perspective at Sunny Jim's Cave. It is very reasonably priced at $5 and completely accessible by foot.
A little bit of backstory makes this cave a bit more interesting. It was built by two Chinese men who were hired by Gustav Shultz in 1902. It took the two men two years to carve this cave using a pick and shovel. Crazy that they only used these two tools!
There are varying stories about this cave and the one we heard from the Cave Store staff was that Gustav Shultz (an art trader) hired these two men to dig the cave so that he could have a unique place for his art gallery. Can you imagine trying to do this nowadays? I mean, would the city even give a permit for this? I'm guessing not! The other stories you may hear are that the caves were used to smuggle liquor during the prohibition era or to smuggle immigrants.
The interesting name "Sunny Jim" was coined by Frank Baum, the author of "The Wizard of Oz". So why did he name it Sunny Jim? During the early 1900s in England, there used to be a cereal with a cartoon character named Sunny Jim. His profile resembled the opening of the cave. It's hard to imagine this without some sort of reference, so we're glad the store had a picture of the old cereal box.
When we started to descend down the dark narrow cave, we were glad we wore our jackets. It was quite cool in there and were also glad we wore shoes that we didn't mind getting wet or dirty. You won't be walking into any huge puddles, but it is damp and you will come across tiny water puddles.
If you are tall, you will need to be careful and make sure to watch your head. 145 steps seems long, but it's actually not that bad (at least on the way down). We loved how we could hear the waves crashing as we were getting closer to the cave's opening. We still can't believe this tunnel was carved by two men with no modern machines.
When we reached the bottom, it was so beautiful! The weather that day was unusually windy with high tides, so with the strong currents, we enjoyed watching the waves crash dramatically into the rocks inside the cave. We've heard that when you go on days where the water is calm, you can see more sea lions, seals and kayakers inside the cave.
We visited the tunnel pretty early in the morning and glad we did as there were only a few people exploring the tunnel with us. As we were leaving the store, we noticed there was a long line forming to go down the tunnel, so it's definitely more crowded later in the day.
This was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience and it's the only cave in La Jolla that you can get to by land.
* Bring a cardigan or light jacket if you get cold easily.
* Wear shoes you don't mind getting wet or dirty.
* Go early! We went shortly after they opened.
* There are only a few parking spots in front of the store, so it's best to find nearby street parking instead.