“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”- Susan Sontag
San Diego, CA, known for its temperate weather, beautiful beaches, and the plethora of things to do and see. I have given many friends and family members tips on where to go and see while visiting San Diego, and want to share my favorites with you lucky s.o.b’s. San Diego itself has many smaller towns with their own unique personality and flavor. I started writing about everything I loved while I lived there and the list has grown too long. First on the list that I would like to share with you is La Jolla.
Perched on the cliffs of the Pacific is one of the most beautiful towns in San Diego, La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya, you’re welcome). It is also one of the most elite zip codes on the West Coast, and among the sprawling mansions and beautiful views are great restaurants, shops, and a lively art scene. If you have a weekend or even just a day, La Jolla has something for everyone.
La Jolla Cove is a very popular tourist destination and for good reason. There are countless seals barking away or sunning on the rocks, and a beautiful beach with crystal-clear water. There is an area to bring a picnic, a flat stretch so that you can bring your dog, and a sea wall to get as close to the seals as possible without being in the water. FYI, parking is a bitch, so I would recommend paying $10 in front of George’s for an all-day valet and walking down to the water.
One big regret of mine was never learning how to surf while I lived in San Diego. It was my #1 bucket list item, and I think living there and meeting so many experienced surfers left me intimidated. When I was asking around about the best place to take lessons, Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla Shores was mentioned as the best. I have heard that the instructors are very helpful and personable, and there is no better place to learn to surf than San Diego. La Jolla Shores beach is long and flat and surrounded by a reef so the surf break is fairly gentle, ideal for learning how to surf. The next time I am in town, Surf Diva will be my first stop!
La Jolla Cove is such a special place because of the caves and rocks that offer safety to the seals that live there. It gives you the ability to get up close and personal with the seals and sea lions as they swim right next to your kayak. There are many companies in La Jolla that specialize in kayak tours through La Jolla Cove. There are usually Groupon deals for the tours as there are many competing companies so make sure to check there before you go.
La Jolla has a wide array of art galleries that cater to the wealthy buyers who live here. If you are into art and photography, then don’t miss Peter Lik’s gallery, and my personal favorite The Madison Gallery. Also make sure you look around town to see the painted murals that are above restaurants, in alleys, and on the sides of buildings. There are endless Instagram-worthy shots here and the art scene in La Jolla is thriving because of it.
If you are visiting California in between the months of May and October, then you have the ability to swim in the open ocean with leopard sharks and sting rays. It is not as scary as it sounds, as leopard sharks are harmless to humans. They do grow to 4 or 5 feet as mature adults, and seeing them in their habitat as they scan the ocean floor for clams is once in a lifetime.
I love this place so much but have only dined here on special occasions or when someone else was buying since it is extremely pricey. In my love for the food and the view though, I perfected visiting Eddie V’s on a budget and I have two words: happy hour. There is a fire pit on the second floor that overlooks the ocean, and if you can score a spot there with a half-priced drink then you have the best seat in La Jolla. If you have the means to splurge, do it and get the Miso-Glazed Halibut, the truffle mac and cheese, and the lobster mashed potatoes. Amazing!
George’s at the Cove has long been the place that everyone goes to if they are in town. But Duke’s is quickly taking over as the spot to dine and drink with an amazing view. Stop here instead of waiting over an hour at George’s, and it is easy to see why I recommend Duke’s. Get a seat outside overlooking the Cove, and order a Mai Tai with poke tacos. The Mai Tai’s are dangerously delicious, and after one or two at happy hour you will really start to enjoy your night.
Barbarella is a family friendly spot in La Jolla Shores that serves yummy cocktails and delicious homemade pasta dishes. It makes my list as one of my favorites though because of the way they treat every holiday. They decorate so over-the-top that if you are in town during any holiday (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day) you have to stop here. Halloween at Barbarella is the absolute best. They deck out the whole place with mummy’s, witches, pumpkins, and more and the wait staff is in costume every day. It is such a fun place to celebrate a holiday and is great for adults and kids alike.
For the best date night locale in San Diego, go to Piatti in La Jolla Shores. This restaurant is one of the most romantic restaurants I have been to and features delicious drinks, a superb wine list, and homemade pasta dishes. To really amp up the romance, sit outside on the patio where the big tree in the middle has twinkle lights strung throughout the branches. My personal favorite dish is the wild mushroom Rotolo and the grilled chicken Orecchiette.
My pick for best secret spot in La Jolla is Caroline’s Cafe. I stumbled upon this place after a hike at Torrey Pines, and it has been the best little secret to bring visitors. Their food ranges from very healthy juices and salads to immense chocolate-chip pancakes and omelets. There is free wi-fi, the patio is dog friendly, and the best part is that it is right on the beach. Enjoy your waffles in the sun while watching surfers catch waves, and know why you want to keep this place to yourself as well!
La Valencia is right in downtown La Jolla village and is known as “The Pink Lady.” As soon as you pull into town, you know why as the exquisite mediterranean-style facade is painted pepto-bismal pink. With views of the Pacific from almost every room, this enchanting resort really makes you feel as though you are on vacation in Italy. The Kardashians also stay here while in town, and whether you love them or hate them they have good taste in hotels. La Valencia’s on-site restaurants serve delicious meals as well, and brunch at The Med cannot be missed.
The hacienda-style hotel Estancia sits inland from La Jolla and away from the hustle and bustle. If you want a relaxing retreat with an unbelievable spa and amenities then book your room here. It is truly a lesson in luxury and can also be a fun day-cation if you are living in the San Diego area and need a quick getaway. The pool here is wonderful as well, and they rent cabana’s to non-guests to use. If you are sick of the beach and just need a day by the pool, then leave your car with the valet, book a cabana and lounge by the pool all day. In the afternoon hit the spa and end the night with haute California cuisine at Mustangs & Burrows.
Whether you spend the weekend in La Jolla or just pass through while visiting San Diego, I hope my suggestions help you have the best time! Please let me know if you have any questions or comment below! xo Meghan