La Jolla is a few miles north of San Diego, off the Pacific Coast Highway, and is definitely one of our favorite PCH destinations. It has great shopping, good restaurants, a range of hotels, beaches, wildlife, the impressive La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (an offshoot of the one in San Diego), and the really enjoyable La Jolla Aquarium (officially called the Birch Aquarium at Scripps). It’s great for a romantic break, great for families – great for everyone, really.
We love its laid-back feel. We had heard and read that it was a little snooty, and that it had been called the Beverly Hills of San Diego. Well, that certainly wasn’t our impression. We loved just walking along the sea front, watching the wildlife. Sometimes it’s the little things you like about the place, and for us it was constantly seeing pelicans flying over. There’s just something pleasing about a pelican. It looks odd, for one thing, and they always make us smile. Then you see a flock of them flying over, and you wonder where they’re going. Then another flock flies the other way. Is it the same guys going back? Trying to take a photo of them in flight was quite a challenge.
Hanging Out in La Jolla
From downtown San Diego the quickest way to La Jolla is along I-5, taking Exit 26-A, the West La Jolla Parkway. If there’s no traffic it should take you about 25-30 minutes to do the 15-mile drive, but beware the rush-hour traffic. A lot of people commute between La Jolla and San Diego. From Mission Beach, definitely the most popular beach in San Diego, it’s a pleasant 7-mile, 20-minute drive to La Jolla along Mission Boulevard and then La Jolla Boulevard.
From Los Angeles it’s about 125 miles to La Jolla, which you should be able to do in less than three hours, though with stops you could make the drive last all day. It’s a pleasant trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, passing through places like Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Dana Point.
Well, how long have you got? It’s a great place to kick back and relax, and you could easily spend several days there. If you’re on a tight schedule and planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, then we’d recommend 1-2 days here, if you can. We think the Birch Aquarium is a must-see, and that will take a couple of hours. Even if you’re not interested in contemporary art, or you don’t fancy the exhibition that’s on when you visit, you should try to see the colorful Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Contemporary Art. You’ll also need time to walk along the sea front, watch the seals and other wildlife, maybe go to the Sea Caves, and browse in the great shops that La Jolla has.
There are several top-end restaurants in La Jolla, including NINE-TEN Restaurant at the Grande Colonial, George’s at the Cove, and The Marine Room. But you can eat cheaply too if you’re on a budget, and there are lots of fun restaurants and bars serving great food at affordable prices. When we were there we didn’t book ahead but just strolled around till we found somewhere we liked the look of, and liked the sound of the menu. we ate once at The Spot (incredibly tasty Duck Reuben and Chorizo Burger), and at The Prospect Bar and Grill (fish tacos and a slide sampler). We can recommend both of those, and would go back to either one. So if food is an important part of your vacation, you’ve no worries about visiting La Jolla.
There’s a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets, but we stayed at the Grande Colonial. It’s right downtown, and walking distance from most things you would want to see. We can definitely recommend it from personal experience, and you can read all about our visit in our review of the Grande Colonial here.
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Pacific Coast Highway Travel's website recommendations on Where to Stay in Carmel include reviews of the Mission Ranch, Sea View Inn, The Cypress Inn, Lamp Lighter Inn and Vagabond's House Inn.
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This Carmel dog-friendly hotel, the historic Cypress Inn, is co-owned by movie legend Doris Day and offers luxury lodgings for pet-loving travelers (cats welcome too) in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
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To help you in choosing your Pacific Coast Highway hotel, guesthouse, inn, bed-and-breakfast, resort, motel or other accommodations, we've prepared our Pacific Coast Highway Hotels Guide. In it we do mini-reviews of accommodations along the Highway, from Seattle to San Diego, through Washington, Oregon, and California.
In all there are over 200 hotels listed, complete with 8 pages of color maps showing the towns where our recommended hotels can be found. There are both alphabetical and geographical indexes, helping you plan your journey.
We also include color photos of all the hotels that are our Personal Favorites. Here's the link to read more about our ebook guide to Pacific Coast Highway hotels.
The 2016 edition of our Hotels Guide is available with maps and color photos (if you have a color reader) in the US Kindle Store for only $4.99 and in the UK Kindle Store and other Kindle stores worldwide at prices based on the US price.
If you want a paperback edition of the 2016 guide with only black and white photos and black-and-white maps, it costs $6.99 at the US Amazon Book Store and £4.99 in the UK Amazon Store.