La Jolla: The Jewel of San Diego County

If San Diego is America’s Finest City, then La Jolla is the brightest jewel in its crown. The beautiful seaside village of La Jolla sits on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego. The most popular areas in La Jolla are the shops and restaurants along Prospect Street in the Village, the adjacent La Jolla Cove just down the hill, and the beach at La Jolla Shores across the bay. Other must-see points of interest are Torrey Pines State Park, Torrey Pines Golf Course, Torrey Pines Glider Port, and the La Jolla Playhouse on the UCSD campus.

La Jolla History

La Jolla may have gotten its name from the Spanish word la joya, which means the jewel, as it is still referred to today. Or, it may have gotten its name from the Kumeyaay term woholle, meaning hole in the mountains, referring to its many shoreline caves. In either case, the area wasn’t settled until 1869 when brothers Daniel and Samuel Sizer each bought 80 acre plots at a cost of $1.25 per acre. (By 2000, those plots were worth two million dollars per acre. Who knew?) In the 1890s real estate developers began building resorts and hotels after the arrival of the railroad. Soon after, it became known as an artists’ colony. In 1900, 350 people called La Jolla home; now there are over 40,000 residents in the neighborhood.

Eventually, La Jolla became a bonafide recreational destination for surfers, swimmers, divers, and naturalists. Charles Lindbergh even learned to fly gliders off the cliffs of Torrey Pines. The neighborhood also became a refuge for the famous like Raquel Welch, Gregory Peck, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and others. Today, La Jolla is home to the University of California, San Diego UCSD), world renowned research facilities, beaches, the arts, a high end culinary scene, and more. Several La Jolla institutions bear the name of publishing heiress Ellen Browning Scripps, who lived in and generously gave to the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century. Wealthy La Jolla residents remain activists and benefactors for their neighborhood today.

La Jolla Highlights

By far, when most people think of La Jolla, they think of the Village. Prospect Street is lined with upscale boutique hotels, unique shops, art galleries, antique stores, restaurants, and so much more. This bustling shopping mecca is the juxtaposition of sandy flip-flops and haute couture. Visitors can find every dining experience from the casual but delicious menu at Smashburger to the sophisticated cuisine of George’s at the Cove. Nighttime in the village is magical with musical performances, to dance troupes, to gallery exhibits. Fully experience the authentic charm of La Jolla with a stay at La Valencia Hotel, affectionately known by locals as “The Pink Lady of La Jolla.” An architectural stunner since 1926, the hotel embodies everything that is La Jolla, from artistic hand-painted murals to elaborate California cuisine to dreamlike coastal views.

Down the hill from Prospect Street is La Jolla Cove, which has a little something for everyone. The shaded, grassy Scripps Park offers plenty of space to sit and enjoy the ocean views or share a family picnic. A sidewalk runs all along the Cove past the Children’s Pool toward Hospitals surf spot. At the Children’s Pool, visitors can watch seals and sea lions lolling on the beach. Swimmers and snorkelers can hang out in the water at the north end of the cove with bright orange Garibaldi fish and check out the other marine life in these protected waters. Kayakers drift by exploring the caves along the Cove with Bike and Kayak Tours. The southern end of the cove offers tide pools to explore during low tide. A little farther is the surfers’ Windansea Beach made famous by the book The Pump House Gang.

La Jolla Shores Beach is a mile long and one of the prettier beaches in San Diego. It’s popular among families, and has a boardwalk for strolling and people watching. Enjoy beautiful grassy areas for picnics, Frisbee, and hanging out in a paradise of palm trees. Bike and Kayak Tours is nearby for those wanting to explore the area on a more adventurous level, and the Birch Aquarium is just up the hill for a more educational experience. For fine dining, there is nothing like the La Jolla Shores Marine Room. This popular upscale restaurant features an award-winning chef preparing interesting dishes paired with an incomparable view. Every table offers a magnificent view of the surf pounding the windows, so be sure to make your reservation for high tide!

La Jolla Things to Do and See

The Torrey Pines Glider Port is just across from the UCSD campus. Visitors can have a casual lunch at the Cliffhanger Café as they enjoy spectacular views of those daring enough to paraglide and hang glide over the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Adventurous types can tandem paraglide or tandem hang glide with a professional pilot and experience the exhilaration of their own unforgettable flight high above Black’s Beach, Torrey Pines Golf Course, and along the Pacific Coast. Nature lovers can enjoy hiking or biking through Torrey Pines State Park next door.

For a quieter La Jolla experience, it doesn’t get much better than playing 18-holes at Torrey Pines Golf Course, home of the Farmers Insurance Open and host to the unforgettable 2008 U.S. Open. This world-renowned 36-hole course offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, and gives golfers the opportunity to play on one of the most famous and challenging public courses in the country. Stop by The Grill at Torrey Pines Lodge for a B.L.A.T. – applewood bacon, butter lettuce, avocado, tomato sandwich on toasted sourdough, or a Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer Float with house made vanilla bean ice cream.

The La Jolla Playhouse is located on the UCSD campus and offers theater goers a rare chance to see a world premier show. The theater has produced 70 world premieres so far. They also boast over 300 awards for their theatrical productions, including a Pulitzer Prize winning drama. Their 24 productions that have gone on to Broadway have garnered 35 Tony awards. Many more of their productions have run successfully as Off-Broadway shows or played in venues like the Kennedy Center and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The La Jolla Playhouse has made it their mission to be an indispensable part of the worldwide theater scene. Take in all La Jolla has to offer on your next San Diego vacation!