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La Jolla Staycation Guide

The Jewel's unique character draws tourists from around the globe, and for good reason. Why not be one of them?

La Jolla Cove from the sky
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Its shores somehow provide an exponential dose of sparkling ocean views, and it boasts a microclimate that lives up to our favorable 72-and-sunny stereotype even when the mercury soars everywhere else in the county. In addition to its regal coastline, a venerable art scene, an international science and research hub, world-class shopping and dining, and a glamorous Hollywood history add up to La Jolla’s unique character that draws tourists from around the globe. Why not be one of them? 

Stay Awhile Options abound here, but no matter where you choose to check in, it’ll be far more than just a basecamp for exploring La Jolla. Staying here is an experience. The stately AAA Four Diamond Grande Colonial has had pride of place on Prospect Street for more than a century — and even has some ghost stories to share, as historic places are wont to have. Expansion over the years that added the adjacent Little Hotel by the Sea and Garden Terraces enabled the hotel to now offer an impressive array of spacious suites, and regular updates to the hotel and its guestrooms have ensured up-to-date amenities while honoring its classic roots and refined European design. 

A diminutive, contemporary counterpoint to the Grande Colonial, the Cormorant Boutique Hotel debuted just across the street in May of this year. Featuring 26 well-appointed guest rooms including two with private street-side entry, the Cormorant offers its own brand of hospitality they’ve dubbed “relaxed luxury” on one of most desirable stretches of sidewalk in La Jolla. It’s a sweet slice of prime real estate that gives the Cormorant, while small in its footprint, some pretty grand views of the cove beyond that all but two of its rooms take full advantage of. 

Next-door, La Valencia Hotel is a blushing, regal landmark that exudes all the majesty you’d expect from this grande dame of La Jolla. At just over 95 years old, the “Pink Lady,” as it’s known, is every bit the elegant destination today that it was in Hollywood’s Golden Age, when it was popular with stars of the silver screen. Eschewing the trendy, La Valencia is instead dependably, exquisitely refined, making it the ultimate setting for celebrating life’s most significant moments. Want to lounge like a movie star without checking in? Reserve a resort pass and relax poolside with a cocktail in hand, and we guarantee you’ll feel like a celeb, even if only for a day. 

Away from the bustle of downtown La Jolla, The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a dazzling Craftsman blufftop beauty overlooking Torrey Pines Golf Course, complete with elegant doormen dressed in traditional Scottish kilts. In honor of its 20th anniversary, the resort invites guests to celebrate with an all-inclusive Platinum Premier Package. This $20,000 dream vacation includes four nights in either the Lodge’s 2,000+-square-foot Blacker Suite, located on the 18th green, or the 2,500-square-foot Gamble suite, both featuring a Presidential parlor, full kitchen, and two fireplaces. The stay includes daily dining for two for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus any combination of up to six rounds of golf or 50-minute spa treatments. 

Another denizen of Torrey Pines Road, Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa is a garden delight. It’s a peaceful escape, yes, but don’t mistake it for dull. A wealth of programming balances wellness and fitness events with just the right amount of levity when paired with adult refreshments (See: #SelfCareSunday Series installments “Boxing with Bubbly” on August 28 and “Pilates & Palomas” on September 25), and mouth-watering epicurean events are popular — and frequent sell-out — calendar highlights. Peace-seekers will find what they’re searching for at the property’s heated pool, and the experience is leveled up a notch with the reservation of a poolside cabana. 

Estancia La Jolla outside at dusk
Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa

Those desiring a toes-in-the-sand staycation should look no further than the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, a timeless destination for more than 80 years. The resort, together with its neighboring La Jolla Shores Hotel, offers waterfront relaxation and recreation, affording guests direct access to the waves as well as championship tennis courts.

Eat Well Dining options in La Jolla are about as diverse as the people who visit, as global influences and discriminating tastes shape its culinary map. And while the restaurant world can sometimes lean toward fickle, many places have kept their doors open, their reservations stacked, and the accolades coming for decades. 

Talk about an icon — The Marine Room has been a renowned fine dining institution for more than eight decades. A backdrop of crashing waves on La Jolla Shores provides drama you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. It’s earned so many awards that the restaurant’s website shows them with a timeline rather than a list. Nearby, Piatti is tough to beat for those seeking authentic Italian fare, especially those toothsome handmade pastas. And in our opinion, everything tastes better when enjoyed al fresco on the patio.

Unsurprisingly, La Jolla’s hotels are home to some of the area’s finest restaurants. On Prospect, Grande Colonial’s Nine-Ten features Chef Jason Knibb’s inspired farm-to-table menu that’s earned high praise (including from Ranch & Coast Food & Beverage Editor Brandon Hernández, who lauded Knibb’s main dishes as “memorable edible art”) and loyal fans. The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ A.R. Valentien has long been a cherished destination for special occasion dining, while The Grill offers a more casual — but still elevated — experience, and the Lodge’s culinary events are a foodie’s dream. Watch for the Playing with Fire Dinner Series, featuring collabs between The Lodge’s executive chef Kelli Crosson and heavy-hitting guest chefs. On August 8, Crosson welcomes Michelin-star winner Drew Deckman. And on September 8 at Estancia La Jolla, in a third installment of another popular dinner series, Executive Chef Vincent Savignano will headline “Under the Influence of SoCal.” Hosted under the stars on the resort’s Olive Lawn, guests will enjoy a coursed pairing dinner inspired by the chef’s own interpretation of Southern California cuisine, accompanied by the other San Diego Noble House executive chefs from L’Auberge Del Mar, San Diego Mission Bay Resort, and Kona Kai Resort & Spa. 

Of course, elite award-winners and white linens aren’t the only places where we like to indulge. The Cottage remains one of the most popular spots for breakfast with friends, as the regular crowds awaiting tables can attest. (Get the Stuffed French Toast. You won’t regret it.) The windows of Girard Gourmet have, for decades, drawn people to see what treats are too irresistible to pass by. What kid (or kid-at-heart) doesn’t love a fun, animal-shaped iced sugar cookie? Speaking of delicious baked goods, it’s impossible to stop into Wayfarer Bread & Pastry in the Bird Rock neighborhood without filling up an entire box (we’ll admit it!) with immaculate creations including the Almond Croissant, Ham & Cheese Croissant, Tomato & Cheddar Tile, and the list goes on…  

Sugar & Scribe

To rub elbows with a celebrity chef, head to Sugar & Scribe on Fay Avenue, a restaurant and bakery created by Food Network champion Maeve Rochford that features a little something for every taste. Brioche French Toast, scrambles, skillets, a variety of Benedicts, horchata lattes — the team does it all, including freshly baked pastries and even custom special occasion cakes. Not far away, at Piazza 1909, Chef Stefano Ceresoli transports diners to his birthplace of Milan, Italy, wowing guests with his Northern Italian cuisine that blends the traditional with unique creations. Don’t miss the next monthly dinner, “Festa in Piazza, Dinner Under the Stars,” on August 18, where for $59 per person guests will enjoy a welcome glass of prosecco, starters, homemade pasta, meat/seafood, and dessert, complete with live music. Seafood is a staple in any seaside village, and for nearly 40 years, El Pescador on Pearl Street has been serving up raw, char-grilled, and sautéed seafood dishes to the delight of locals and tourists alike. The full-service fish market is a premier destination for its quality and selection.

Away from the village, Westfield UTC has established itself as a destination for dining as much as shopping — and we don’t mean food court fare. The Winery has made a name for itself featuring much more than an excellent wine list. Upscale Mexican eatery Javier’s was an instant see-and-be-seen reservation when it debuted in 2018 that hasn’t lost its “it factor” status. If you haven’t yet enjoyed a craft cocktail at Raised by Wolves, it’s past time. The opulent bar concept from Consortium Holdings transports visitors to a world of ornate elegance. Global dim sum star Din Tai Fung is always bustling, and deservedly so. Its made-to-order dishes (watch the masters at work creating delectable dumplings behind glass at the restaurant’s entry) are worth the wait if you weren’t lucky enough to land a reservation, and though the entire menu is a deliciously authentic taste of Chinese cuisine, the soup dumplings they’re famous for worldwide are still the stars. Across the street, Red O crafts its own take on Mexican food with many of the traditional dishes you love plus some modern adaptations and additions (see: Blackened Keto Salmon Risotto).

Have Fun An eclectic mix of nature, adventure, culture, and history make exploring and playing in La Jolla truly a world unto itself. How better to first take it all in than from above? Flights from Torrey Pines Gliderport take off from this scenic blufftop site daily, where thrill-seekers can book a same-day (as long as winds are cooperating) tandem paragliding experience with veteran pilots to soar over breathtaking stretches of the coastline.

Flights from the Torrey Pines Gliderport offer unparalleled coastal views of La Jolla
Flights from the Torrey Pines Gliderport offer unparalleled coastal views of La Jolla

For an experience that’s elevated in a more figurative sense, La Jolla is a destination for the arts in all forms. Praises cannot be over-sung for The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, home of The La Jolla Music Society. Its state-of-the-art concert hall was masterfully designed to enhance every performance on its packed calendar. This month, LJMS’s annual SummerFest will be the largest ever in its history, with 21 performances featuring jazz and dance in addition to classical compositions. Off-stage, SummerFest’s Belle Époque-themed gala takes place on August 13, supporting the Society’s children’s educational and musical programs. On Prospect Street, we’ve been rejoicing since the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego re-opened its La Jolla flagship this spring. The celebrations continue on September 10 when the arts institution presents The Gala @ MCASD, the reincarnation of its long beloved Monte Carlo fundraising bash (see page 38 for complete details). 

In a different corner of the culture world, The Comedy Store on Pearl Street has been the place for a good laugh since 1977, when David Letterman proffered the Store’s inaugural act. Feeling brave? It hosts weekly open-mic shots for aspiring comics on Tuesdays at 7pm. Or grab dinner and a show at The Lot La Jolla, featuring new releases screened in luxury, reclining leather-seated theaters with a waitstaff on hand to serve made-to-order gourmet dishes — because don’t we all deserve to enjoy a flat iron steak with our flick? 

Don’t be the local who refuses to do touristy things just because they’re touristy — some are very much worth the hype. Down at the cove, explore La Jolla’s storied sea cave, dug more than a century ago and the source of local lore from Hollywood highlights to Prohibition-era smuggling. If the water is calling, rent a kayak from Everyday California. Bonus: guests of The Cormorant enjoy a 20 percent discount on rentals. And to unlock the mystery of what lurks beneath the waves here and beyond, be sure to visit (or revisit) Birch Aquarium. Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins, its newest exhibit, brings guests up close and personal with these burrito-sized cuties as they waddle, swim, and glide about their new home. The 2,900-square-foot habitat mimics the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, where these penguins can be found in the wild. For more family-friendly fun, the La Jolla Open Aire Market offers 120+ vendors every Sunday at Girard Avenue and Genter Street. Open from 9am-1pm, festivities include live music, a food court, full-time masseuses, and even complimentary dog sitting.

Just Go Maybe you were just there last week, or maybe it’s been a while. Maybe you’re just looking for a beautiful way to spend a day or weekend. Whatever the reason, it’s time to rediscover what makes La Jolla such a treasured destination for people around the world.   Mia Park & Deanna Murphy

Image Credits Intro: Photo by Vincent Knakakl. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa: Courtesy Photography. The Lodge at Torrey Pines: Courtesy Photo. Piazza 1909, El Pescador, Sugar & Scribe, Glider Port: Photography by Evan Stefanko. Birch Aquarium: Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium

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