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This smuggler's cave has a stunning view of the ocean in La Jolla | A Bartell's Backroads Pit Stop

La Jolla's Cave Store is a is a fun side trip when visiting San Diego. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

SAN DIEGO — Every day a long line forms outside the Cave Store. It’s not because there’s hot sale on souvenirs. Oh no, these tourists are forking out $10 a piece so they can walk down some stairs. 

“[It's]145 steps so it is quite a climb,” says Cave Store Owner Shannon Smith. Those steps lead you down a tunnel that varies in height. At the bottom is Sunny Jim’s Cave, an underground window to the La Jolla coast in San Diego.

The Sunny Jim Sea Cave has become a popular attraction. It got its name from L. Frank Baum, the creator of the Wizard of Oz. When he visited, he named it that because the cave mouth reminded him of the profile of a 1920s British cereal cartoon mascot, Sunny Jim.

Credit: ABC10 / Rory Ward / The Cave Store
Sunny Jim's Sea Cave is named after an early UK cereal box mascot, whose face is similar to the shape of the cave opening.

The cave was once rumored to be a pirate’s smuggling route or a path for bootleggers, but the truth is the tunnel to the cave is a tourist attraction built in 1902 by German artist and entrepreneur Gustav Schultz.  

“There has always been a charge. That’s why it was dug--for professor Schultz’s retirement,” Smith says.

When his art business didn’t take off, professor Schultz hired two laborers to dig a hole to the ocean under his store. It was a money pit of sorts except Schulz profited off this hole, and so did every store owner after him. 

“It’s working out for me,” Smith says.

You can’t exactly call tunnel to the cave a tourist trap because visitors are only allowed 20 minutes in the cave, but if you ask anyone down here, it’s worth it. That is until you have to walk back up the stairs.

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