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.
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 Playhouse: 2910 La Jolla Village Dr.; 858.550.1010; lajollaplayhouse.org
La Valencia Hotel: 1132 Prospect St.; 858.454.0771; lavalencia.com
La Jolla Athenaeum: 1008 Wall St.; 858.454.5872; ljathenaeum.org
La Jolla Library: lajollalibrary.org
Warwick’s: 7812 Girard Ave; 858.454.0347; warwicks.com
Girard Gourmet: 7837 Girard Ave; 858.454.3321; girardgourmet.com
Nine-Ten: 910 Prospect St.; 858.964.5400; nine-ten.com