USA: West La Jolla, CA
Destination: Joys of La Jolla
A seaside California town rich in history, architecture, music and art packs a lot of culture into a compact space
BY MARIBETH MELLIN
The beach near La Jolla; a mesmerized visitor at the Birch Aquarium, in La Jolla Shores.
Though it’s only 15 miles north of downtown San Diego, La Jolla (pronounced “La HOY-ya”) shuns the big city’s trendy trappings. Instead, this Mediterranean-style seaside community nourishes long-lasting creativity. Broadway-bound playwrights test their work at the La Jolla Playhouse, founded by San Diego native son Gregory Peck in 1947. Nobel laureates conjure theorems while surfing at La Jolla Shores. Amusing sculptures are scattered about the campus of the University of California, San Diego in Torrey Pines, high atop a bluff overlooking La Jolla’s coastline.

Though part of San Diego County, the city of La Jolla is most definitely a separate entity. It’s grown in the past few decades as a hub for technology and research, home to Qualcomm, the telecommunications research company, as well as the Salk and Neurosciences institutes. But at its core La Jolla is about natural beauty, culture and art. We’ve chosen three neighborhoods to focus on for a weekend of learning, exploration and fun.

The Village, as La Jollans call their historic downtown, exudes sophistication. Galleries, libraries and shops are housed in white stucco buildings with red tile roofs. Stately palms frame seaside parks. Quality restaurants abound, as do Jags and Benzes. Such determined gentility isn’t for everyone, mind you. “My first impulse was to get out in the street at high noon and shout four-letter words,” wrote novelist Raymond Chandler, referring to his move here in 1946. But he subsequently hung around for more than a decade.

Along the curving northern coast, La Jolla Shores was first developed as a yacht community in the 1800s. Sadly, the founders soon learned that marinas don’t work on the open ocean, but they did lay the framework for an upscale enclave. Today, it’s a laid-back hamlet with multimillion-dollar mansions, a famed oceanographic institute and a fabulously scenic beach that’s been the subject of many a painting. Farther north, the 1,200-acre UCSD campus sprawls along mesas and canyons in a region known as Torrey Pines. There’s much to explore in the rugged landscape, including the famed theater, stunning architecture and a gliderport.

BUILDING BLOCKS
A bit of history comes in handy before you start sightseeing. Ellen Browning Scripps, whose family amassed a fortune in the newspaper business, settled in La Jolla in 1897 and quickly assumed the role of cultural benefactor. With the help of architect Irving Gill she created a cluster of simple white houses, schools and civic centers with arches, pergolas and lattice-covered gardens that’s now called the La Jolla Cultural Zone. Stop by the La Jolla Historical Society, housed in the 1904 Wisteria Cottage, for a walking-tour booklet that describes the town’s Scripps–Gill buildings and other historical structures.

Scripps supported women’s suffrage and used the term “investments” for her philanthropic gifts to libraries, research centers, civic causes, playgrounds and schools. The Minimalist Gill house she lived in is now home to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Dedicated to post-1950s art, the museum presents cutting-edge shows like “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” (running through January 22, 2012), which focuses on the perceptual investigations of California artists from the 1960s and ’70s. The museum’s Sherwood Auditorium hosts film festivals, chamber music concerts and other events. Check out the artsy gear at the X Store, and sip a cappuccino at the Museum Café. Don’t miss Nancy Rubins’s Pleasure Point, a jumble of colorful boats jutting above the back terrace.

Scripps’s neighborhood benefited greatly in 1915 when she and Gill collaborated on the La Jolla Recreation Center, which today buzzes with kid’s hip-hop and ballet classes, hatha yoga sessions and community events like pancake breakfasts and a senior luau.

Set on immaculate lawns a bit south is the Bishop’s School, a prestigious private high school founded by Scripps and her sister, Virginia. The nearby La Jolla Women’s Club, a 1914 Gill–Scripps donation, serves as an elegant backdrop for weddings. As you stroll around, visit the small shop at St. James by the Sea Episcopal Church, which was designed by Irving Gill and his nephew Louis Gill, for folk art, works by local artists and jewelry from Latin America.

LA JOLLA VILLAGE
If a meal sounds like a good idea, follow Prospect Street north from the church to eat at the Spanish-style La Valencia Hotel, dubbed the “Pink Lady” for its rose-hued exterior walls. Designed by Reginald Johnson in 1926, the La V is La Jolla’s most enduring landmark. Stunning views are everywhere, from the arched picture window in La Sala (a good spot for cocktails and tapas) to the ornate windows in the Mediterranean Room (for shrimp niçoise or steak frites).

Nearby, classical columns frame the portico at the serene La Jolla Athenaeum, the town’s cultural hub. William Templeton Johnson designed the graceful Spanish Renaissance Revival building with white stucco walls and wood beams for the La Jolla Library in 1921; William Lumpkins added a rotunda and reading rooms in 1951. Books on art and music, plus sheet music, CDs and DVDs, pack the shelves. Brightening the reading rooms and rotunda are works by local artists, as well as limited-edition artists’ books, site-specific installations, photography and sculpture. Classical, jazz and contemporary music concerts fill the events calendar. Warwick’s, a block south on Girard Avenue, may be the oldest family-run bookstore in the country. Famous authors and lesser-known local writers visit this literary sanctuary for signings and readings. The book selection is extensive, and the notebooks and pens are irresistible. (A few blocks away, D. G. Wills houses the town’s largest collection of scholarly books.)

Across the avenue, customers pore over glass cases filled with salads, beef burgundy, lamb stew, deli meats and cheeses, cheesecakes and cookies at the tiny Girard Gourmet. Buy a pastry and beverage to go, then hike westward to Ellen Browning Scripps Park, where an emerald-colored lawn borders La Jolla Cove. A sunset stroll along the seaside promenade is mandatory. Your historic tour might end with a dinner of roast rabbit, Jamaican jerk pork belly or New York strip with king trumpet mushrooms and charred-leek purée at Nine-Ten in the Grande Colonial Hotel.

LA JOLLA SHORES
Queen palms by the hundreds pop up into blue skies at this community on the shores of a long, broad beach. The La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club claims 14 acres at the beach’s southern end, fronting the 6,000-acre San Diego–La Jolla Underwater Park. The club is open to the public only during tennis tournaments (except for guests of the on-site hotel), but you can walk on the beach past the club to reach the venerable Marine Room restaurant, where waves crash against the reinforced windows as they have since 1941. During high tides, reservations are a must. When the tide is low, sea anemones, starfish and crabs hide in tide pools in the rocks fronting the restaurant.

The Shores’ main attraction is the beach, with plenty of room for divers, kayakers, surfers and swimmers. If you’re seeking culture, don’t miss the La Jolla Art Association Gallery, a few blocks from the beach. The association, formed in 1918, supports local artists by displaying their watercolors, oil paintings and photographs, many depicting La Jolla scenes, at the gallery. These reasonably priced works make lasting souvenirs.

To the north, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) commands prime sea views above La Jolla Shores. SIO began as the Marine Biological Association of San Diego in 1903, and is now the largest and oldest oceanographic institution in the United States. It sprawls along both sides of La Jolla Shores Drive, including an original 1910 Irving Gill building and the sweeping 2009 Robert Paine Scripps Seaside Forum for Science, Society & the Environment. Safdie Rabines Architects, a San Diego firm, incorporated the site’s oceanfront setting for the LEED-certified conference center that houses multi-national scientific meetings and private events. The easiest way to reach the buildings is to walk north on La Jolla Shores beach, then climb the trail beside the pier. On the inland side of the drive, seahorses and sharks make their home at the Birch Aquarium, another good place to hear rock, jazz and classical concerts.

TORREY PINES
In northern La Jolla, the University of California San Diego sprawls across deep canyons and through eucalyptus groves. Outside its concrete-and-glass Geisel Library, look for the talking tree that “lectures” librarians: One of three steel-wrapped sculptures in artist Terry Allen’s Trees, the talking version spouts aphorisms and speeches, including President Obama’s inaugural address. Note that the library is named for Ted Geisel—a La Jolla native best known as Dr. Seuss, who would doubtless have approved of such a tree.

A leisurely campus walking tour takes about three hours; you can pick up a map at one of the information centers. It points out some 18 other sculptures spread about the grounds, all part of the Stuart Collection. Bruce Nauman’s neon art installation entitled Vices and Virtues flashes FAITH/LUST, HOPE/ENVY and other cautionary words from atop a laboratory, while Tim Hawkinson’s 180-ton granite boulder Bear dominates the Academic Courtyard.

On the south end of campus is the stage that Gregory Peck called his “little summer-stock theatre.” It was revived in 1983 as the La Jolla Playhouse, and has given birth to a string of hit productions. Memphis, The Who’s Tommy and Jersey Boys are among the 18 shows that premiered at the Playhouse and then moved on to Broadway, where they earned a combined 30 Tony Awards. The 2011/2012 season ends with American Night: The Ballad of Juan José, an irreverent comedy from Culture Clash, on stage January 27 to February 26, 2012. The Playhouse’s Page to Stage program helps writers and directors fine-tune their works using feedback from live audiences. I Am My Own Wife, which won a Pulitzer for drama in 2004, evolved within the program, as did Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays. For info on current productions, check lajollaplayhouse.com.

The renowned Salk Institute for Biological Studies rises like an abstract pyramid atop a bluff just west of the university. In the early 1960s, Jonas Salk told architect Louis I. Kahn that he wanted a design “worthy of a visit by Picasso.” Kahn’s response was an architectural wonder. Twin three-story concrete buildings angle toward each other across a travertine marble plaza in which a silver water channel flows toward the horizon. At the plaza’s end, stairs descend to a small terrace where scientists lunch at tables facing a blue panorama of sky and sea. Salk’s cafeteria is open to the public for inexpensive meals. Free guided tours start at noon on weekdays; reservations are essential (858-453-4100; salk.edu; tours start at the southeast building facing North Torrey Pines Road).

Another good lunch spot is the open-air Cliff Hanger Café, where you can watch hang gliders and parasailers drift above the ocean as you munch on a deli sandwich. Stand near the bluff’s edge and take in the tiled roofs of La Jolla’s Village, the surfers at the Shores and the gnarled trees at Torrey Pines State Reserve to the north, where rangers are headquartered at a 1922 adobe house donated by—you guessed it—the benevolent Ellen Browning Scripps.


EAT
GEORGE’S AT THE COVE
Dine either at the casual Ocean Terrace overlooking La Jolla Cove or in the more formal room, California Modern. 1250 Prospect St.; 858-454-4244; dinner for two, from $90*

A. R. VALENTIEN
Chef Jeff Jackson whips up a smoked trout BLT and silky chocolate-and-butterscotch pudding with salted cashew brittle. 11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd.; 858-453-4420; lunch for two, $55

GIRARD GOURMET
Diana and François Goedhuys have been dishing out roast chicken, German potatoes and sticky cinnamon rolls from this tiny café since 1987. 7837 Girard Ave.; 858-454-3325; lunch for two, $24

NINE-TEN RESTAURANT & BAR
Jason Knibb reveals his Jamaican roots in his jerk pork belly with black-eyed peas. 910 Prospect St.; 858-964-5400; dinner for two, $100

THE MARINE ROOM
The eclectic French menu lists steamed oysters with caviar, goat cheese brulée and veal tenderloin in a muscat reduction. 2000 Spindrift Dr.; 866-644-2351; dinner for two, $120

*Prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.


EXPLORE
BIRCH AQUARIUM AT SCRIPPS
2300 Expedition Way; 858-534-FISH; aquarium.ucsd.edu

LA JOLLA ART ASSOCIATION
8100 Paseo del Ocaso; 858-459-1196; lajollaart.org

LA JOLLA ATHENAEUM
1008 Wall St.; 858-454-5872; ljathenaeum.org

LA JOLLA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
780 Prospect St.; 858-459-5335; lajollahistory.org

LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE
2910 La Jolla Village Dr.; 858-550-1010; lajollaplayhouse.org

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART SAN DIEGO
700 Prospect St.; 858-454-3541; mcasd.org

SALK INSTITUTE
10010 N. Torrey Pines Rd.; 858-453-4100; salk.edu

TORREY PINES GLIDERPORT
2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Dr; 858-452-9858; flytorrey.com

UCSD STUART COLLECTION
9500 Gilman Dr.; 858-534-2117; stuartcollection.ucsd.edu


SHOP
ST. JAMES GIFT SHOP
743 Prospect St.; 858-456-1105; stjamesgiftshop.com

WARWICK’S
7812 Girard Ave.; 858-454-0347; warwicks.com

D. G. WILLS
7461 Girard Ave.; 858-456-1800; dgwillsbooks.com


STAY
RCI affiliated resorts near La Jolla include:

GRAND PACIFIC RESORTS AT GRAND PACIFIC PALISADES RESORT
Perched above Carlsbad’s Flower Fields, a short drive from Disneyland® Resort and SeaWorld. 5805 Armada Dr., Carlsbad

GRAND PACIFIC RESORTS AT CARLSBAD INN BEACH RESORT
Boat or fish at the nearby marina, and relax with a round of golf or a tennis match. 3075 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad

WINNERS CIRCLE BEACH & TENNIS RESORT
Near many San Diego attractions, this resort offers four lighted tennis courts, a gym and a heated pool. 550 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach

SAND PEBBLES
Fully equipped studios and one- and two-bedroom units within walking distance of the beach. 535 S. Hwy. 101, Solana Beach

WYNDHAM HARBOUR LIGHTS
Great location in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. 911 Fifth Ave., San Diego

WYNDHAM OCEANSIDE PIER RESORT
Right across from the beach, at the foot of a long pier. 333 N. Myers St., Oceanside

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call Weeks: 800-338-7777 or Points: 877-968-7476. Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.


Non-RCI affiliated resorts in La Jolla:

LA JOLLA BEACH & TENNIS CLUB
98 beachfront rooms. 2000 Spindrift Dr.; 800-640-7702; ljbtc.com; doubles from $199 per night

LA VALENCIA
An iconic Mediterranean hotel, right on the ocean. 1132 Prospect St.; 858-454-0771; lavalencia.com; doubles from $235 per night

LODGE AT TORREY PINES
Atop a bluff near UCSD and the Salk Institute. 11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd.; 858-453-4420; lodgetorreypines.com; doubles from $350 per night

BED & BREAKFAST INN AT LA JOLLA
A sweet, 15-room B&B in a 1913 Irving Gill house. 7753 Draper Ave.; 858-456-2066; innlajolla.com; doubles from $199 per night

LA JOLLA SHORES HOTEL
Beachfront or garden rooms are steps from the shore. 8110 Camino del Oro; 866-392-8762; ljshoreshotel.com; doubles from $199 per night

HOTEL PARISI
A hip, feng shui hotel in the Village, with 29 rooms. 1111 Prospect St.; 858-454-1511; hotelparisi.com; doubles from $239 per night



NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: Winter 2011-2012 
Photos: Joanne DiBona/SDCVB; Scripps Institution of Oceanography
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