La Jolla California – A Jewel of a Town for Families

Genie Davis December 6, 2010 No Comments

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La Jolla, Spanish for jewel, is more than just a suburb of San Diego. Only fifteen minutes from San Diego proper, it features lovely beaches, pleasant dining spots, and a number of fun tourist attractions. The town also holds the relatively small, family friendly Stephen Birch Aquarium and Museum, and the longtime home of the late Ted Geisel otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.  

La Jolla Beaches

Sea life in La Jolla – great viewing and lovely beaches.

Outside, the beach beckons. La Jolla Shores is a great, broad, clean stretch of sand with gentle, kid-friendly waves. Closer to downtown is La Jolla Cove, frequent home to seals, basking on the rocks, with some wonderful tide pools. This is a spot for exploring and enjoying the close look at the harbor seals, rather than swimming. With a cement walk and guard rail, it’s easy to walk out nearly over the ocean, enjoy the crashing waves and a good look at the seals here in the cove. Originally called Children’s Beach, the protected cove was once a play spot for kids, but it’s the seals’ habitat now and an excellent spot for your kids to experience the wild life from a protected vantage point.  

We stayed near the Cove, in the heart of the charming shopping and dining district that is downtown La Jolla. Our hotel was the Grande Colonial La Jolla, a fully refurbished historic hotel with striped awnings, wooden blinds, and beautiful tile. The pool isn’t large, but it’s pretty, situated in the center of a lush garden. The staff is friendly and laid back, and the rooms, while not enormous, are well laid out with high ceilings and many in-room fireplaces. The La Valencia Hotel just down the street is another well known, boutique-style hotel. More Mediterranean in feel, we loved the courtyards, mosaics, and patio dining with a view of the Pacific as well as the beautiful lobby and piano bar, but found the rooms geared more toward couples than families. Some rooms do have kitchenettes.  

There are plenty of other lodging choices too: The La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club contains the only private beach in San Diego County, with beach furniture and cabana boys offering food and beverages all day long. Another plus: you can rent a grill on the sand for a minimum charge and bar-b-q your own meal. Away from the beach, the modern Hotel La Jolla at the Shores has chain hotel feel with ocean views and discount rates often available. If you’re interested in camping, the popular and well maintained San Elijo State Beach grounds in nearby Cardiff has an even better ocean view just above the waves.  

We began our exploration of La Jolla with a stop at Dr. Seuss’s Library. The author’s widow, Audrey S. Geisel, founded this decidedly Jetson-esque tiered glass structure. Suspended on stilts, the Geisel Library contains over 2.5 million books – most of them not by Dr. Seuss of course – and is free to the public. If you’d like a Seuss lithograph, you can purchase it in downtown La Jolla at the Fingerhut Gallery. We passed on the art purchase, and instead splurged on small toys at Geppettos, a homey toy store on Girard Avenue, with bins of inexpensive and unique toy items that are fun to select.  

Birch Aquarium at Scripps La Jolla

Scripps aquarium isn't huge but offers many lovely exhibits that fascinated the kids.

Not far from the library is the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, a part of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Easy to tour and featuring a circular sardine exhibit that kept us occupied for a long, long look, the aquarium also offers live animal feedings and dive shows. The exhibits are centered on California marine life in marshes, lagoons, and sea. We loved the kelp tank and the giant octopus. The touch pool was outdoors with a great beach view to supplement those stroke-able sea urchins.  

Afterward, we had a fun lunch on the outdoor patio of Rudy’s Cafe La Jolla in town. Child friendly to the max, there’s even peanut butter sandwiches on the menu along with burritos and tacos. Another excellent al fresco dining choice is the Cliff Hanger Cafe beside the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Here you can watch the gliders take off over the cliff, or simply gaze out at the lovely aqua sea, and enjoy reasonably priced salads and sandwiches.  

For more pleasant sea gazing and strolling, enjoy the two mile beach boardwalk stretching along the downtown water front. If you don’t mind carrying the little ones, check out Sunny Jim’s Cave and The Cave Store. In the early nineteen hundreds, two years of work were devoted to creating a steep tunnel into the cave. Today, visitors descend the tunnel via one hundred and forty five steps from the cave store. We loved the descent, but the ascent can be a bit tricky if you have a squirming toddler in tow. It’s a truly fun and well known iconic site though, and we recommend a visit if your kids can walk it or you don’t mind carrying them. After all, Sunny Jim is the only land access cave on the California coast. As you go through the tunnel, you’ll see shell fossils and water level marks, and interesting pink, yellow and red colorings in the sandstone walls from mineral deposits. The Cave Store itself, with a wide selection of touristy souvenirs, is fun to visit. And there’s a pretty spot with a gazebo adjacent to it with an expansive ocean view – watch for dolphins. 

We could hear the ocean from our hotel room, and after a good night’s sleep we spent the next day at Torrey Pines State Reserve. Here you’ll find the rare Torrey pines growing above ocean cliffs and along miles of easy, sandy trails. The brief High Point Trail offers a stellar ocean view, sandstone rocks and pines are easily viewable on the Guy Flemming Trail. Broken Hill leads a mile to the beach. These paths are easy on toddlers but varied and interesting enough for older kids. The views are lovely, wild flowers and herbs grow along the paths. It’s another child-friendly gem of a spot in a town named Jewel.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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