When and Where to See Bioluminescence in San Diego

March 17, 2023

Imagine a place where you can hear the soothing ebb and flow of the waves and, at the same time, see them light up and glow neon blue as they crash against the shore. Sounds like a magical place straight out of your dreams, right?

Good news for you, though. This place is 100% real! A lot of people have seen photos and videos circulating online about this spectacular scene. Some of those videos show people playing with the water, surfing on it, and every time the water is disturbed, it lights up in this beautiful shade of blue. 

This phenomenon is called bioluminescence, and there happens to be plenty of beaches like these in good old San Diego, CA.

What is bioluminescence?

The bioluminescence in San Diego is caused by a phenomenon known as red tide. This happens when certain organisms called dinoflagellates are in bloom. These organisms light up when they are disturbed or scared, thereby avoiding predators.

You see, when these algae are being attacked by small fish, they flash this bright color to attract larger predatory fish, which then attack the ones attacking the dinoflagellates. This defense mechanism is triggered when something touches the algae.

Because the microscopic organism is so abundant in water, when waves splash against rocks or shorelines— you see them light up.

The reason why it’s called a red tide is in the morning, these algae come to the surface to absorb sunlight, creating an intense red color of the waves. At night though, they glow the most beautiful shade of blue.

When can you see bioluminescence in San Diego?

Bioluminescent waves in San Diego can be seen anytime between April to October, but they are generally more prevalent when the waters are warm in spring or summer. This event stays around for around a week to a month, depending on the nutrients the algae eat last. It is also best viewed around 2 hours after sunset, or even later; the darker it is, the better.

Does bioluminescence happen every year in San Diego?

Bioluminescence in San Diego is not an annual phenomenon you’re guaranteed to see every year. There are times when the waves light up every few years, but there are some times when it happens in sequential years. 

Where can you see bioluminescence in San Diego?

There are a lot of San Diego bioluminescent beaches where you can catch this amazing phenomenon and nab some of the most Instagram-able moments ever. However, before you go running to the shores, remember that the best experiences are at beaches where there is as little man-made light as possible. 

These beaches below are your best bets to go witness bioluminescent waves in San Diego.


La Jolla Beaches

When it comes to La Jolla, we have to recommend La Jolla Shores. It is a stretch of sand and waves one mile long, and it sits near the south of downtown La Jolla. Because of its large space, it’s perfect for those who don’t want too much of a crowd.

When wanting to see bioluminescence, this spot is perfect. Even with both locals and tourists coming to see the spectacular sight, the beach is long so there is more than enough space for everyone. 

For daytime activities, it is also great for picnics and kayaking, and the beach is easily within walking distance of the Avenida de la Playa shops and restaurants.



Torrey Pines

You’ll have great chances of catching the bioluminescence in Torrey Pines, too!! This stunning natural area covers over 2,000 acres of breathtaking scenery, including scenic cliffs, beaches, and beautiful hiking trails that offer stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

The Torrey Pines State Reserve is home to a rare and endangered species of pine tree, the Torrey Pine. These trees are some of the rarest pines in the world and are only found in this small area of Southern California. The reserve offers several trails that take you through the beautiful pine forest, where you can see these amazing trees up close and personal.


Located in one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in La Jolla, Cormorant Boutique Hotel is truly a neighborhood gem. Just steps from the hotel, you’ll find yourself surrounded by stunning beaches, incredible shopping, and some of the best dining experiences in San Diego. We are also just a short drive from popular attractions like the La Jolla Cove and the San Diego Zoo.

But what really sets the Cormorant Boutique Hotel apart is our commitment to providing guests with a comfortable, stylish, and memorable stay. The hotel features beautiful rooms and suites, all of which are decorated with a blend of contemporary and coastal-inspired design elements. You’ll love relaxing in our plush bedding and taking in the ocean views from your room.

Our staff is truly committed to serving you, always going above and beyond to ensure that guests have everything they need for a fantastic stay. Whether you need help planning your itinerary, or simply want to chat about the best local restaurants, the team at the hotel is always happy to help.

Book your stay now and experience La Jolla at its finest.

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