Everyone falls in love with La Jolla at first sight because it has the charm of a quiet Mediterranean isle. There are breathtaking ocean views, romantic restaurants, a delightful shopping district and magnificent homes overlooking the ocean to discover. It’s also a perfect place for sunbathing on sun-drenched beaches, surfing, tennis, golf, snorkeling and relaxing at its best.
La Jolla proper, which is known to La Jollans as “The Village,” is a little enclave along San Diego’s coast. It is part of the City of San Diego, yet it’s a separate community with a charm all its own. It even has its own La Jolla postmark instead of San Diego’s. La Jolla is also considered to be one of the most prestigious residential addresses in the world. As a result, its property values have soared to as high as $41 million.
Here too is the world-renowned Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. For more than a century the aquarium-museum has delighted visitors with the wonders of the ocean.
La Jolla’s awe-inspiring natural beauty has been a major attraction for out-of-towners and locals since the 1880s, when it was a dusty, all-day excursion via dirt roads. Today, it’s only a 20-minute drive north from downtown San Diego via Interstate 5, exiting on La Jolla Parkway (previously Ardath Road). From the north via I-5 exit on to La Jolla Village Drive (see map).
Before or after discovering the village of La Jolla, see La Jolla from the top of Mount Soledad (1). You’ll get a spectacular 360-degree view of beautiful La Jolla, the Pacific Ocean and beyond. You can get there via Nautilus Street or Hidden Valley Road (see map).
LA JOLLA COVE
The best place to begin a walking tour is along Coast Boulevard at La Jolla Cove (2). Parking near the Cove is sometimes a problem (arrive early). It’s a local saying that the true test of positive thinking is finding parking at the Cove in the summer. Parking regulations are strictly enforced and violation tickets are costly. Fortunately underground parking lots are plentiful.
La Jolla Cove is a favorite spot to swim, scuba dive, snorkel and sunbathe, and the water is calm and clear. You are likely to find the beach packed in the summer and reasonably crowded on warm days throughout the year. Hardier natives swim here year-round, and lifeguards are on duty daily.
Stretching southward from the cove is a wonderful broad grassy park called Ellen Browning Scripps Park (3). Dotted with graceful queen palms that are nearly 100 years old and magnificent Torrey pines, this park is ideal for a wedding site, a picnic lunch, relaxation and enjoying the ocean views.
A walking tour of La Jolla’s shopping and dining district can begin almost anywhere. But the best place to begin or conclude such a worthwhile tour is on Prospect Street. It offers an incredible variety of award-winning and ocean-view restaurants, art galleries and fashionable boutiques. The bold-faced numbers in the text refer to their locations on the La Jolla map. The SAN DIEGAN walking tour of Prospect Street begins at the northern end of the shopping and dining district (see map). But you can begin anywhere.
Yes, there are more than a half-dozen ocean-view restaurants overlooking La Jolla Cove. New on the block is the newest location of the legendary Donovan’s Steak House at 1250 Prospect St. featuring USDA prime, center-cut steaks broiled to perfection. And their daily happy hour is 3 p.m.–6 p.m., featuring discounted signature cocktails.
A visit to La Jolla wouldn’t be complete without discovering La Valencia Hotel (6) at 1132 Prospect St. (858-454-0771). It has been a La Jolla landmark since 1926. With its Spanish architecture and tradition, La Valencia was a hideaway for movie stars Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Still a favorite of the cognoscente, its charm is enhanced by delightful, cozy rooms and by spectacular ocean views from its balconies.
For the latest in swimwear look no further than Sauvage Swimwear (7) at 1025 Prospect St. (858-729-0015). This is an internationally known company whose swimwear has been featured in Sports Illustrated.
Also on Prospect Street is the charming four-story Grande Colonial Hotel, La Jolla (8) at 910 Prospect St. (858-454-2181), a favorite of seasoned international travelers looking for a classic European-style hotel. Here too is the highly touted award winning NINE-TEN Restaurant.
La Jolla Shirt Co. (9) at 935 Prospect St. (858-454-8530) is everybody’s favorite t-shirt souvenir store. To accommodate their buyer’s tight time schedule, they are open every day of the year from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Awesome customer service and on the spot stenciling of logos or custom slogans make this a one-of-a-kind store. So when you’re wondering what kind of souvenir to buy for your best friend back home, shop here!
Also on Prospect Street is La Jolla’s spectacular must-see famous Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (14) at 700 Prospect St. (858-454-3541). Wonderfully displayed is world-class contemporary art as interpreted in paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings. It’s open daily from 11 a.m., except Wednesdays.
One shopping and dining thoroughfare not to miss while exploring La Jolla properly is Girard Avenue. This avenue is home to the Who’s Who in the world of fashion, jewelry, art and more. These nationally- known shops include Banana Republic, Talbots and a women’s boutique called White House/Black Market.
A La Jolla favorite is Girard Gourmet (10) at 7837 Girard Ave. (858-454-3325). The food and desserts on display in the window are just a sample of the delicious creations you’ll find inside. For catering, food to go or a leisurely meal, this is the place. See Restaurants.
La Jolla is home to literally dozens of restaurants worthy of discovery. One place that’s easy to recommend is El Pescador (13), which means “The Fisherman” in Spanish. Located at 634 Pearl St. (858-456-2526), it has been a local favorite since 1974. It’s open from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, serving dine in or take out locally caught fresh seafood to a most appreciative local clientele. They are known for their impressive selection of locally caught fish market and restaurant. Tons of locals come here to buy fresh fish to take home, or enjoy a sit down meal in the restaurant. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the casual atmosphere and excellent selection of fresh fish. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s Ohana Café (12) at 456 Pearl St. (858-456-9009). With the rich flavor of the Islands of Hawaii, Ohana Café serves delicious tasting island cuisine. You’ll love their homemade pancakes served with coconut syrup.
SOUTH LA JOLLA
South La Jolla is even more of paradise on earth. The homes overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean are dreams come true. Many are enhanced with tall, majestic, swaying palm trees. The pace is slower than that of the Village of La Jolla.
En route to south La Jolla is Windansea Beach (see map). It is the most renowned big wave surfing spot on the West Coast. Surfing is good year-round, with the big surf coming in the fall. When the swells are big, the surf breaks a half mile out.
For award-winning Chinese and Asian cuisine it’s Mandarin House (15), 6765 La Jolla Blvd. (858-454-2555). A testimonial to how good this restaurant is, is that it was voted best Chinese Restaurant in the 2015 La Jolla Light Readers Poll. Need we say more? Celebrating over 38 years in business, this restaurant features an extensive menu of quality entrées such as their popular asparagus chicken. Plus, they deliver. See Restaurants.
South La Jolla’s Bird Rock (see map) with its pleasant residential district and commercial zone along La Jolla Boulevard, should definitely be discovered. You’ll find quaint boutiques, galleries and many recommendable restaurants catering mostly to locals. Plus, the pace is a lot more relaxed and casual.
A local favorite is Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, 5627 La Jolla Blvd. (619-272-0203). It’s open Monday–Friday 6 a.m.–6 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday from 6:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Next door is a space for art and music, with live music on the weekends. It’s lively and comfortable, and a favorite of locals. They are the 2016 Good Food Award winner, and winner of multiple national awards for their coffee. They also have locations in Little Italy at 2295 Kettner Blvd., and at 1270 Morena Blvd., in Bay Park.
NORTH LA JOLLA
Beautiful palm tree-lined streets, elegant shoreline homes and one of San Diego County’s most popular beaches can all be found in north La Jolla. On Avenida de la Playa, you’ll find north La Jolla’s small, yet charming shopping and dining district (see map).
Nestled in this unique La Jolla Shores(16) neighborhood is an outstanding dining discovery second to none. It’s a romantic restaurant called Piatti (18) at 2182 Avenida de la Playa (858-454-1589) [piatti.com]. Here in this inviting and comfortable atmosphere Executive Chef Pepe Capatinta, presides over an exhibition kitchen where he prepares one incredible Italian gourmet entrée after another. And General Manager Tom Spano and his staff provide exceptional service too.
If there is a dilemma to dining here, it is deciding which delightful dining setting to choose. An easy choice is to sit in their heated, open-air patio covered by their landmark Ficus tree, which is perfect for rehearsal dinners, small wedding ceremonies, and receptions. During the day, the patio is bright and beautiful, and at night, the tree lights up and creates an amazing atmosphere.
Equally stunning is dining inside in one of several fashionable dining rooms be it the indoor garden room, which is ideal for birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, as well as corporate events. It overlooks the patio. The other offering is the garden courtyard in front of the restaurant. Yet, all are romantic and absolutely delightful. Piatti is open daily.
Being only a block from the Pacific Ocean, Avenida de la Playa has become a mainstay for being the best kayak and water sports shops in the city. There are two outstanding alternatives for renting water sport equipment including taking a fun-filled kayak tour of La Jolla’s famous caves.
This is because just a block to the west, swimmers, surfers and sunbathers flock in droves to La Jolla Shores (16) during the summer because it’s one of San Diego’s most beautiful and well-equipped beaches (see map). It’s outstanding because of its length (nearly two miles), a year-round public parking lot, lifeguard service, public restrooms with showers, playground for children, surfboarding year-round, bonfire pits and beach gear rentals from the nearby rental companies.
Next door to the south is a world-class beachfront resort, La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club (17) at 2000 Spindrift Drive (888-828-0948). The surroundings here combine tropical greenery with the sophistication of the French Riviera. A private beach, excellent accommodations, pool, tennis, par 3 golf course and elegant dining at three seaside restaurants have made this a favorite vacation spot for discerning travelers for decades.
The star in this galaxy of restaurants is The Marine Room (17) (866-644-2351), which is right on the beach. It has received the Distinguished Restaurants of North America award many times, and rightly so. Enjoy global cuisine prepared by award-winning Executive Chef Bernard Guillas. The Marine Room is perfect for any occasion including wedding receptions.
Without a doubt the best beach in San Diego just happens to be at La Jolla Shores. Here too is where you can enjoy the best kayaking experience in California. Seasoned and well-trained guides provide you with an enjoyable and unforgettable experience as you paddle through the aqua blue waters which have made La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove a world famous swimming, surfing and diving experience. And now ocean kayaking has been added to this list of #1 San Diego attractions!
La Jolla Kayak (21) is ideally located at 2199 Avenida de la Playa (858-459-1114). They have been giving tours and renting equipment here for 20 years. The gear they rent includes kayaks, snorkel gear, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards and boogie boards. In fact, they have just about everything you’ll need for a day on the water or at the beach. Use their discount coupon, for Big Savings.
LA JOLLA’S ATTRACTIONS
A must-see attraction three miles north is the Birch Aquarium at Scripps (22) at 2300 Expedition Way (858-534-3474). See map. Discover a stunning variety of Pacific marine life in more than 60 habitats. Enter the world of sharks, seahorses, living coral reefs and more. Caroline’s by the Sea is within walking distance for a quick lunch, while enjoying an incredible ocean view.
If you are inclined to sunbathe or skinny dip, au natural at the beach, then you are looking for Black’s Beach (30), a swimsuit optional beach below the Torrey Pines Gliderport. You can also get there via La Jolla Shores Beach by walking north about one mile. Check tides at [wavecast.com]
A bit farther north is the beautiful Torrey Pines Golf Course (800-985-4653) (see map), site of the annual Farmers Insurance Open, formerly known as the Buick Invitational, held in late January. This course was also the site of the 2008 U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods.
Nearby is the Golden Triangle, which is home to trendy restaurants, upscale homes, classy condos, mirrored high-rise office buildings and hotels that catch the glimmering coastal sunrises and sunsets. It’s located just east of La Jolla and forms a triangle outlined by three intersecting freeways: Highway 52, and Interstates 5 and 805.
The major shopping center is Westfield UTC (23) (858-546-8858). There are more than 140 stores including department stores Macy’s, Nordstrom and Sears. There is also a 24 Hour Fitness Center as well.
LA JOLLA WALKING AND DRIVING TOUR