Taking a fresh look at La Jolla

Story & photos by Barbara Beckley

Dreamy views from the La Valencia Hotel.

Like from a cozy Parisian apartment, I peered through French windows framed by an iron-work balcony onto a stylish street scene below. Am I in Europe? No. But the view from my room, number 812 at the La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, was decidedly similar.  

Opened in 1926, the hotel’s prime location — perched above the ocean in the heart of La Jolla Village near restaurants, shops, museums, even ocean surf breaks — makes it perfect for a La Jolla stay. And hey, if “The Pink Lady,” (the nickname salute to the pink façade and 1920s tile art work of a lady dressed in pink) is good enough for stars like Frank Sinatra and Madonna, it’s good enough for us. Right?  

Shopping was on my list the first morning. Sipping a latte at the hotel’s Café La Rue sidewalk terrace, I spotted Cartier across the street. Luckily Norma Kay Gifts & Designs was equally close, where I found affordable jewelry including a darling pair of big, dangly pink quartz earrings. And then a cute polished cotton black jacket at Pomegranate, a trendy woman’s boutique, half-a-block away. Around the corner, Meanley & Son Hardware, a village institution since 1948, was equally tempting with everything from designer cookware and figurines to paint.

In the afternoon, using the hotel’s free map, I saw most of the top attractions — walking roughly two miles in just over 90 minutes. La Jolla Village is surprisingly small considering all there is to see and do.

Beginning at the hotel, I walked to Park Row — a historic neighborhood so elite the homes don’t have numbers. “Park Row” is all that’s needed to deliver the mail. Then to Coast Boulevard and The Cave Store, a quirky 1902 souvenir shop built at the entry to a century-old smuggler’s tunnel. Inside, I took the self-guided cave tour, descending 145 stairs through the sandstone bluff to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. It’s the city’s largest sea cave. Standing dry and safe on the deck built over the water, it was awesome to watch the relentless surf crashing into this huge arched cavern. Continuing up onto a grassy ocean bluff, shaded by Torrey pines, views of La Jolla’s beautiful coastline spread north and south and the Pacific Ocean sparkled to the horizon. Pelicans sat at the cliff’s edge, and waves pounded the pebbly shore 100 feet below. Following the cliff-top path south, I arrived at La Jolla Cove and more sweeping views of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve. Divers were coming out of the crystal waters onto its small beach, and plein air painters were capturing the scene on canvas from bluff-top Scripps Park. I looked down on the seals lolling on what was once the Children’s Pool Beach. Turning up Cuvier Street, I was back in the village near the Museum of Contemporary Arts San Diego and the hotel.

For dinner, the Whisknladle, a casual bistro that made the Conde Nast Traveler Hot List the year it opened in 2008, was a tasty choice. Chef Ryan Johnston ensures everything is farm-fresh and made-from-scratch from house-pickled veggies and house-cured meats to his unique Charred Bone Marrow, a house specialty served with the bone split open to easily scoop out the marrow, accented with parsley, capers, lemon zest, and pan de mie. Wonderful!  

The great outdoors was calling the next day. I hit the beach at La Jolla Shores on the two-hour “Original Kayak Cave Tour” with Bike and Kayak Tours. The surf was up, so the guide literally pushed me in my kayak through the surf before hopping into his and leading us through the shadowy caverns. I saw orange Garibaldi, California’s state fish, but was disappointed not to see any gentle and harmless leopard sharks. They’re seasonal, the guide explained, migrating to La Jolla in the summer to give birth to their young.

Then I hiked in Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve 15 minutes north. The invigorating fragrance of pine trees and salt air welcomed me to the Torrey Pines Beach Route trailhead, a scenic pathway that zigzags from under the pines out across an oceanfront mesa into a narrow, deep-walled — with built-in log steps — and finally onto the black sands of Torrey Pines State Beach. California sage bloomed along the way. Red Butte Lookout, named for its rusty-colored soil, provided an idyllic ocean view framed by a single Torrey Pine. I spotted a sizeable clam shell washed up with driftwood and seaweed along the cliff-lined beach.

A live performance at the non-profit La Jolla Playhouse rounded out the night. Founded in 1947 by Hollywood celebrities Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mell Ferrer, the contemporary glass and steel Mandell-Weiss Theatre Culture is tucked under tall eucalyptus trees on the UC San Diego campus about 20 minutes from La Jolla Village. It’s known for new works that frequently go on to Broadway and Tony Awards. Upcoming shows include Fly, based on the novel Peter Pan, Feb. 18 to March 29.

Across from the hotel, I joined the locals at The Cottage, an early-20th century bungalow-turned-local-favorite breakfast spot on my last day. The place was packed; I was lucky to get a table under a bright yellow umbrella on the deck framed with flowering vines and a picket-fence. A perfect setting for perfect — sipping a mimosa, enjoying their amazing lemon ricotta pancakes, and watching the world go by.

To learn more, visit www.lajollabythesea.com.


La Jollaperfect settingidyllic ocean viewscenic pathwayFrank Sinatrashopping

Mar 2020


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