Pacific Paradise: Drinking in the Oceanside Beauty of La Jolla, California


The oceanside paradise that is La Jolla, California (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

When it comes to affluent, sun-kissed Southern California beach communities, the San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla often gets billed below the likes of Malibu or Santa Barbara. Which is a shame, because La Jolla really is the epitome of upper-crust Southern California living. There are abundant opportunities to shop, eat, drink wine at sunset, and gaze at its miles of stunning, sandy cliffs overlooking the Pacific (and the sea lions who live there).


The sea lions dig it here. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

It’s also the home of the University of California, San Diego which makes one wonder: how does anyone get any studying in a town so darned pretty?

Here’s exactly how you can enjoy a town that is so darned pretty.

The hotel


A golfer’s mecca that also appeals to non-golfers: The Lodge at Torrey Pines (Photo: The Lodge at Torrey Pines)

The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a AAA Five Diamond Award winner and a permanent feature on “Best Hotels in the U.S.” lists. It’s easy to see why. The Lodge, located across the 18th green of the Torrey Pines Golf Course (site of the 2008 and upcoming 2021 U.S. Open), rests on lush, deep-green grounds on the Pacific coastline that makes for an amazingly beautiful sight even if the very mention of golf puts you to sleep.

Speaking of which, the golf vibe is inescapable here. But instead of being off-putting for non-golfers, it actually adds to the place’s overall charm. When you pull up to The Lodge, you’re greeted by guys wearing kilts, the native garb of golf’s birthplace.


Don’t worry: only the doormen wear kilts. You don’t have to. (Photo: The Lodge at Torrey Pines)

As you might expect, this is not your typical too-hip-for-its-own-good boutique hotel. The Lodge maintains an unapologetically retro vibe. The architecture is early 20th century California Craftsman with plenty of dark woodwork, stone surfaces, and lots and lots of brick. There are 169 guest rooms and 8 suites, including the insane, 2,500 square-foot Gamble Suite, which opens up right onto two patios directly across from the golf course (yes, balls can and do fly into your patio, but that’s what they yell “Fore!” for).


One half of the ginormous Gamble Suite (Photo: The Lodge at Torrey Pines)

When I told one of the doormen I was staying in that massive suite, he said, “Some famous golfers stayed there” — which impressed me and also made me wonder who Tiger Woods might have “entertained” there back in the day.

If golf isn’t your jam, you can spoil yourself with a massage at The Spa at Torrey Pines. Or you can venture out to see the rest of La Jolla.

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What to do
With the water, beaches and nearly year-round sunshine, La Jolla is the perfect place for outdoor fun.The Lodge sits near The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, a California State Park with a number of hiking trails, sandstone cliffs overlooking the Pacific and a rare American pine tree known, appropriately enough, as the Torrey pine.


Not a bad view during a morning hike on the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (Photo by: Tracey Steinberg)

For more cliffside fun, head over to the Torrey Pines Gliderport. One can easily wile away an hour or two sitting near the cliff and watching the colorful hang gliders and paragliders float against the blue backdrop of the Pacific. And you can cheer on the first-timers as they struggle to get aloft.


Watching hang gliders and paragliders at the Torrey Pines Gliderport is a popular daytime and sunset pastime. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

Head into town to enjoy the shops, museums, restaurants and other attractions on and around Prospect Street. Just off Prospect is Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave, which is known as the only sea cave on the California coast that you can access from land, via a tunnel carved out of the rock and sandstone back in the early 1900s. Descending the 145 steps to the cave is a workout (the walk back up, even more so); it’s not for the claustrophobic, the out-of-shape, the injured or the tall (if you’re over 6 feet, watch your head). But the seaside view from the cave is more than worth it. It costs $5 for adults, $3 for kids.


The long stairway down to Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

If you like artwork, Prospect Street houses the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and Legends Gallery, which is home of The Art of Dr. Seuss, a massive exhibit of artwork by and about the famous children’s book author. Legends is easy to spot; it’s the only spot in town with a statue of Sam I Am from “Green Eggs and Ham” in front of it (Fun fact: Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, lived in La Jolla).


Say “hi” to Sam I Am in front of the Legends Gallery, which houses works by Dr. Seuss. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

But the most interesting art scene in La Jolla is on the street. The Murals of La Jolla is an ambitious project in which the city commissions artists to paint murals on private buildings. A number of them dot the town in the most unexpected places.


One of the Murals of La Jolla (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

Where to eat


The dining at The Lodge at Torrey Pines is every bit as classic as the Lodge (Photo: The Lodge at Torrey Pines)

If you’re staying at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, its main restaurant, A.R. Valentien, is a convenient and delicious choice. The menu, which changes daily, is farm-to-table scene. Its menu selections are familiar steak and fish variations, but yet they’re classically elegant and immaculately presented — just like The Lodge itself.

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For a more casual scene, there’s the new Galaxy Taco on Avenida de la Playa. The housemade tortillas contain a delicious selection of variations on the Mexican favorite. The Lamb Barbacoa, Baja Fried Fish, Carne Asada (with spicy smoked bone marrow-salsa macha) and The Tacolandia (marinated, braised and seared pork shoulder with jalapeno slaw and chicharron) made for a terrific taco constellation. I’m told that in California you’re supposed to finish one before moving to another. But if you’re like me, you’ll just alternate between each one. Hey, you do you!


My taco constellation at Galaxy Taco. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

If you’re in the mood for pizza and other coastal Italian fare, there’s Catania. The merguez and padrons pizza includes padrons peppers, about which they say about one out of every 20 of the peppers is spicy. It’s like playing Russian roulette with a pizza.


Russian roulette never tasted so good. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)

Where to drink
Back at Catania, a “spiked” Italian Soda, especially a Lemon-Thyme with gin, is a refreshing reward for all that walking you did.

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If you wish to look out at the water while drinking, a number of places alongside Prospect offer nice water views. The We Olive and Wine Bar, of course, has an enviable selection of wines you can enjoy with the gorgeous Pacific visage; you can also sample a variety of olive oils while you’re there. The gorgeous La Sala Lobby Lounge at the nearly 90-year-old La Valencia Hotel (aka, The Pink Lady of La Jolla) is stunning place to enjoy a cocktail and the ocean breeze wafting in from the enormous open window.


Enjoy a cocktail with a dash of Pacific Ocean breeze at the gorgeous La Sala Lobby Lounge at La Valencia Hotel. (Photo: La Valencia Hotel)

Final thoughts

La Jolla is a worthy stop on any tour of lovely Southern California beachside areas. Whether you’re a San Diego resident, or an Angeleno looking for a weekend escape from Los Angeles, La Jolla — a 2 to 3-hour drive from L.A. — is a great choice to experience the best of SoCal.

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