La Jolla

LJ PS in foreground LJ Looking north-Houses and seals

By Land, Sea, or Air

As I was driving through La Jolla just recently it suddenly hit me on how much there was to do in this city.

As a leisurely Sunday drive, La Jolla is one of the best in Southern California.  The scenic route takes you to the bluffs above the ocean and, eventually, weaves you back down to sea level.

Along the way on La Jolla Scenic Drive or Torrey Pines Road, you will run into the Torrey Pines Golf Course, a PGA caliber course with the cliffs and majestic Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.   This remarkable golf course has hosted PGA events through the years and has attracted some of the best golfers in the world.

During the times when special events aren’t happening, this becomes a public course so give it a try if you dare. This is a challenging course with some of the holes sitting right on the ocean bluff.    As you enjoy the view of the sparkling ocean and the sprawling beach below, it just might take the sting away from scoring a 7 on a par 4.

La Jolla is also home to the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve with walking trails giving you unobstructed views of the breathtaking coastline.   There are 8 miles of trails, a visitor center, and guided nature walks on weekends and holidays.

Just a short drive away you come across the Gliderport where you can take a tandem ride on a paraglider or hang-glider.  Many years ago on rare occasions they offered glider plane rides.  On one such day long ago, I was fortunate enough to be there when they were giving these rides.  I jumped on the opportunity and enjoyed a 30-minute exhilarating flight over the bluffs with the waves of Blacks Beach crashing some 500 feet below.

Today there are plenty of pilots available to give you tandem paraglider and hang-gliding rides, but we recommend getting reservations as this daring adventure fills up fast.

LJ Hang glider
LJ Lone parasailer
LJ Tandem riding
If stepping off a 300 foot cliff isn’t your cup of tea, you can enjoy the whole scene and the amazing view at one of the many sitting areas at the Gliderport.

You can bring your own lunch or purchase something from the café located in sute and kick back to enjoy the feeling of being on solid ground, unlike the crazies flying just above your head.

LJ Multiple parsailers

As you make your way towards the beach you will come across the popular La Jolla Shores.  With plenty of parking, this is a great place to swim, surf, and enjoy the day.   Just south of the shores you can rent kayaks or take a supervised kayak tour of the 7 caves of La Jolla. These caves are only accessible by sea and can be dangerous, so it’s best to let an expert show you the way if you are not experienced.

LJ Kayaks in bay
Another interesting attraction in this area, one that I was fortunate enough to experience as well , is swimming with the sharks.  A guide takes you to an area where the sharks congregate every year beginning in June.   The sharks hang out in the shallows so you don’t have to go very far to see them.

I was expecting little sharks about twelve inches long, so imagine my surprise when I dunked my masked head beneath the water to see my first shark of the day and it was five feet long!   Quite a surprise, but the leopard sharks are harmless and leave you alone while you are swimming among them.

If being close to sea life isn’t your thing, the Birch Aquarium along the scenic drive may be a little less stressful.  There are aquariums of all sizes full of every type of sea life imaginable. The sea horse display is most interesting and, if you are lucky, you can see the male seahorses giving birth to over 200 babies.

A live tide pool gives you a chance to experience sea life up close and the supervisor will let you lightly touch some of the species. Don’t worry, you will not have to swim with five feet long sharks. There are also interactive displays and plenty for the kids to do.

Caves and Seals
Following the scenic route you will soon reach the Cave Store just off of Prospect Ave. A man-made tunnel takes you from the gift store entrance to the actual cave.  I have not visited this interesting attraction but always make a note to do it every time I am in town.

Beyond the Cave Store you can park along the road and take a walk along the rocky shore with beautiful views up and down the coast.   There are accessible tide pools and close by is Seal Beach where you can view dozens of seals basking in the sun.  In fact, there are seals on almost every rock formation around the area.

There are areas where you can swim and La Jolla is known as having some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in California.

LJ Rock formation
LG Rocks along beach
LJ Seal Beach
LJ Seals on rock
LJ Sleeping Seal
LJ Swimming beach
Shopping and Eating
Just up the street a little bit east is Prospect Avenue where you can shop and eat at some of the finest stores and restaurants in the county.  Georges at the Beach features an ocean view and the ultra yummy Donavon’s is just a few doors down.

LJ Donavons
LJ Shops

In the evening there are bars, nightclubs, comedy stores, and of course the La Jolla Playhouse where top-notch actors perform in highly rated plays and musicals.

For more shopping, head east to the Westfield UTC mall which houses all the top stores, a theater, and an ice skating rink, or visit the mountaintop site of Mt. Soledad which is the home of the Mt. Soledad Cross, a memorial for fallen military, and 360 degree views as far as you can see.

The Jewel
La Jolla is known as a wealthy/affluent city and that is evident in some of the homes along the coast as well as inland.  However, it is a wonderful playground for every type person.  Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, adventuresome or safe, there is an activity for you.

Where else can you fly over the ocean with the wind at your face?  Where else can you swim with human sized sharks?  Where else can you play golf on the same holes that were played by the likes of Tiger Woods or Phil Michelson,  and where else can you walk into a gift shop and then right into an ocean cave?  LA JOLLA!

I read that there are two possible explanations for the origin of its name.  One answer is that La Jolla comes from the Spanish word “La Joya” which means “The Jewel.”

With what I have seen, I’m going with that one.


Parting Shot: The La Valencia Hotel. Many a movie star has stayed at this landmark hotel.

LJ Pink hotel

Photos and Story: Debbie Colwell


Capistrano Beach, Capo Beach

Capistrano Beach, Capo Beach

The air conditioner is blasting as I am driving along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway on a super hot summer day in California.  The ocean to my right is a vibrant sparkly blue and is producing waves no more than two feet high.

Way out to sea there is a subtle outline of a gray marine layer making its way inland.    Will the dark gloom hold off so we can see one of California’s glorious color-splashed sunsets?  Only time will tell, as there were still two hours remaining of daylight.

In the meantime, I suddenly noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road.   I am the only car heading south and once in a while one passes by traveling north.  There is always traffic on PCH.  How could this little stretch of road, only about a block from the ocean be so deserted on this warm afternoon?

Still scratching my head in wonderment,  a group of palm trees caught my eye as their fronds were  swaying  from the gentle ocean breeze.   Looking west now, I was admiring the rows of multi-million dollar seaside homes lucky enough to have the  sand and sea as their front yards.

The beach front homes start after the parking lot

It almost looked like the more crowded Malibu up north…almost.

However, here, you felt like it was old California, back in a day when Woodies cruised the roads stacked high with surfboards and the beaches weren’t packed as they are today.

So where is this mysterious un-crowded spot on PCH?

This is the small stretch of the coast called Capistrano Beach, otherwise known as Capo Beach.

As mentioned,  PCH is THE road in coastal California.  On any given Southern California day in summer it is packed with cars filled with beachgoers.  PCH or Highway 1 winds and curves all along the coastline from Southern California to Northern.   In certain places it runs right along the coast where you are so close, you can almost touch the sand and water with your finger tips.

So why is it so un-crowded in Capo Beach?

Here are my theories:
One,  Capo Beach isn’t a large area and actually skirts the very edge of Dana Point and Doheny State Park.   In fact, part of Dohenys day parking borders Capo and Dana Point.

Along the stretch at Capo, there is one small pay lot that can be used for accessing the beach and a few parking spaces along the road itself.  So it doesn’t have massive parking lots like you will see in cities such as Huntington Beach.  That alone keeps the crowds away.

Two, there is a railroad track that divides the road to the beach.  You can only get across it in a few select areas.  One is at the said parking lot where you just step over the tracks and you are on the sand.  The other is a multi level walkway that takes you high over the tracks and brings you back down to the day parking area of the state park.

This pedestrian bridge is a real test of endurance, especially if you have kids, chairs, or surf toys in tow.  It’s a treat that I tried once and it felt like I was climbing Mount Everest.   I was ready to call out for my Sherpa but realized I was just in an oxygen deprived state.

The pedestrian bridge, also know as Mt Everett

Catering to visitors along this section of PCH and close to this bridge, there are a few hotels and restaurants with amazing ocean views.

A few hotels in Capo Beach

Also, if you don’t feel like taking that trek, north is Dana Point with the popular Doheny Beach and State Park. This is where the crowds congregate.   This well known surfing beach is the perfect place for families as it has plenty of sand,  parking lots, bathrooms, lifeguards, etc.  The waves are great for every type of surf vehicle,  including long boards, short boards, and SUP’s.

Dana Point Harbor is nearby and offers up all that you want for a vacation, including restaurants, shops, boat rentals, fishing trips, tours, etc.  The same can be said for San Clemente which is situated south of Capo Beach.

Looking north towards Dana Point

Theory three,  the shoreline itself has sand but is intermixed with rocks in certain areas.   So sometimes walking into the water is a little tough on the feet.   It isn’t bad for a family beach except for one dangerous factor…the waves break right on shore!

A rocky area and a wave breaking on shore

There is a drop off that slopes down and even on small wave days, the breakers can pull you right up off your feet.

It makes it hard to allow small children to go anywhere close unless you are tightly holding on to their hand.

On this day, I sat briefly to watch the few swimmers braving the waves.

Three grown men were only knee high when a nice roller was making its way to shore.  These were not small men yet they were swooped up and slammed to the sand as if a rope was tied to their ankles.   I suppressed a small giggle and nonchalantly looked the other way only because the same has happened to me.

I was thinking that if these three got pushed around, what would the waves do to a child?   So this is part of my theory on why there are not that many people on Capistrano Beach.  You want to be able to go in the water on hot days and not risk life and limp. Slight exaggeration I know but it is one of the reasons I feel the crowds go north to the mellower Doheny State Beach.

Theory four on why the road was so empty on a bright summer day, it’s because most of Capo Beach is filled with the aforementioned million dollar homes.  Built steps from the sand, these grandiose abodes are in a gated community, so there is no public access to the shore.

Looking south, you can see where the seaside homes start

Theories aside, Capistrano is one of a few what I call mellow beaches in Southern California. It has a great bike and pedestrian trail and is an extremely picturesque area.

If you want to get away for the day, weekend or even week, this is a place to relax and enjoy a pure California experience.

I will be making this drive many more times as this is one of my favorite areas.   Because of the lack of cars, you can, for a brief instant imagine what it was like to cruise the coast fifty or sixty years ago…but only for a moment.   Soon you will be reaching a street light and all will be back to normal.

Thanks to Capo Beach for that few minutes of going back in time.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell