If your brain starts playing the Jaws theme the second you hear the word “shark,” relax. Snorkeling with leopard sharks at La Jolla Shores is a little more like Finding Nemo. Sort of. Leopard sharks are the real deal, measuring six feet long, but their tiny mouths—designed for bottom feeding—are only two inches across, which greatly reduces their potential for the big bite. Starting in late spring and with peak numbers through September, leopard sharks hang out in the warm, calm shallows of La Jolla Shores, apparently to help incubate their young (virtually all the sharks you’ll see are pregnant females). Even if you just wade in, you can get a look, but snorkeling is the best way to observe the sharks. With their dramatic dark markings set against gunmetal gray skin, leopard sharks are gorgeous to watch as they gracefully whirl and school along the sandy bottom.
The best place to view the leopard sharks is toward the southern end of La Jolla Shores beach (map). From the end of Avenida de la Playa, at the beach turn left and look for a bevy of snorkelers and waders in the surf zone. Snorkel gear rentals are available from several local companies, including Hike Bike Kayak, which also conducts 90-minute guided tours ($30) to see the sharks.