Joan Larsen’s Travel: California Dreaming – The Allure of La Jolla

Posted on September 10, 2014


By Joan Larsen


Courtesy Freddy Winter, Media 4 Life Photography


Fall is definitely in the air . . . and, if you are like me, you wait out the packed highways of summer travel, knowing that a far less crowded season awaits– with all the hidden delights that California seems to pull out of its sleeve for the visitor “in the know”. The weather in Fall? Normally perfect. The huge crowds that can spoil your trip? Gone.

If you have been to this glorious state more than once, there is little doubt that you have made San Diego a prime stop. Who hasn’t?   The animals, I believe, call me by name by now when I arrive at one of my favorite zoos in the country, aptly named The San Diego Zoo. Their wild creatures then know that Fall must have arrived – for I am again ohhing and ahhing over their beauty or their antics. And – until quite recently – Sea World was drawing the most crowds.

BUT generally, I avoid the tourist destinations . . . far more interested in telling you about the almost hidden wonders of the San Diego area that I have discovered over time. These are the ones you are going to remember, I have found. So let’s head north along the beautiful Pacific Ocean – just a few miles – to the village of La Jolla. . . more than lovely, of course, and with views to kill for.

But be prepared . . . as I have found some active sports that even those over 50 should be game to try in this quite hidden paradise.

Let’s begin with those:

6a-lajollaAs you stand on the beach at La Jolla, snapping photos like mad, if you are like me, you secretly think that you might give gentle surfing a try. Well, maybe. I did say “gentle waves” as, believe me, I am not into killing myself on the first try.


A phone call to La Jolla’s Menehune Surf School is all you need. They fit you out with everything you need to transform yourself visually into a surfer-of-note, and then they take you to “the baby waves” and start you off. Your instructor has the patience of Job, doesn’t laugh at your total inept first half hour, and in two hours’ time, you either like it – or you don’t. OK. NEVER give up!! You definitely may then want to learn the latest craze – “stand up paddleboarding” – taught also by Menehune. It is great for “dropping” into conversation once you get home I found. Once home, I could tell I was definitely thought of as being “with it” – all the way to receiving“raves” — raves that I almost came to believe myself. (I said “almost”!!)


Memorize the name “Torrey Pines Gliderport” as it is straight up the road north of La Jolla. For the first few years, I became only “a groupie”, content to watch others paraglide or hang-glide off the sand cliffs there, gliding in this beautiful fashion gracefully toward the ocean.  The Cliffhanger Café has long since been my port of call to lunch and watch the colorful scene going on off the low cliffs.


After playing “chicken” long enough, I signed up for a tandem paraglide with a very experienced glider. He did all the work. Attached as I was below him, you could say that I “went along for the ride”. Not flying to the heavens – no way — but definitely floating on air, the grand finale was a soft beach landing.   Heavenly. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have gone back, absolutely hooked on paragliding!!!!


lajolla-snorkelI snorkel. But if you don’t, even your kids can learn it in minutes. The ocean close to shore buoys you up – so no worries that way – and, with your rented equipment for snorkeling – you wade out at the La Jolla Underwater Park, well-marked, and lie face-down, drifting along as you see underwater life, large and small, who are as curious about who you are as you are about them. No work on your part as you are drifting . . . but “the forever memories” are of the stunning coral, filled with eye-appeal – as well as the large assortment of colorful creatures that swim underwater. All are invisible to the rest of the seaside crowd but now you are an “insider”. This is one of my secret “can’t get enough” locations that every water lover shouldn’t miss. It also gets you all set for the Caribbean waters where you will already be “a pro”.


I fully understand if you now say that dipping your feet in to the Pacific was for your younger days.   So let’s drive a few miles north, directed by well-marked signs along the ocean drive, to the absolutely stunning Salk Institute for Biological Studies. You remember Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, I am sure.


He asked architects to design buildings on a bluff overlooking the ocean with breathtaking views to inspire its scientists. On a week day, take the one-hour tour and you won’t ever forget it. But no matter what, get out and stroll the campus that is now designated a national historic site. You won’t be sorry!

As you head the few miles south to coastal San Diego again, there is nothing like hanging a right onto the most sweeping modern bridge that will take you to Coronado Island. While accommodations in San Diego fit every price range, just do not miss the old but absolutely wonderful Hotel Del Coronado right on the beach.


Their tradition remains their Sunday brunch – and it will stand out among all dining spots during your stay. You will find me there, soaking in the atmosphere and eating far too much.


But I am sure you will remember it for being the location for the most memorable movie – Some Like It Hot – starring Marilyn Monroe at her best and Tony Curtis in his only role as a woman. Priceless.


Beautiful San Diego and its endless coastline northward with so much to see and do in Fall is a destination all to itself. But the sea, the sun, and the waves are spellbinding. For the perfect ending, I have found the perfect music combined with the perfect wave – a compelling combination put together just for you.

JoanAvatarWriter Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”