IMG_5824Distinguished by its golden, serrated cliffs, some of the most prized real estate in the nation and some of the finest weather in the world, La Jolla is perfect for a family getaway.

I recently ‘got away’ with a girlfriend and four kids aged 5, 8, 13 and 14. We headed south on a 2-hour drive from LA to the trend-setting, beach community of La Jolla. With a laidback vibe and oddles of culture, this San Diego beach community boasts a punchy personality all its own.

Our base for the weekend was the Grande Colonial. Dating back to 1913, this intimate, boutique hotel boasts classic European styling with the added bonus of superb California coastline views. Years ago Gregory Peck’s father worked downstairs at the one-time revered Putnam Pharmacy. Who knew? The hotel restaurant – NINE-TEN – set us up for the day with a delicious lunch on the stylish outdoor patio. Within view the kids slipped away, one by one, and wore themselves out at the pool. Later we sneaked away ourselves for grown-up hour at the cosy lounge bar with its crackling open fireplace and elegant bar.

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With an average annual temperature of 70? F the city is a mecca for surfers, beachcombers, swimmers, divers and kayakers. Next day we hit the sands at La Jolla Cove, a small beach hidden among rough-hewn cliffs. This magical place has the look and feel of a Mediterranean resort. Pounded by the waves, the kids ping-ponged along the sands for hours.

Approaching sunset we rounded nearby Casa Beach (or ‘Children’s Pool’) on our stroll back to the hotel. It turns out this spot is a magnet for weary harbor seals and sea lions. As high tide swamps the Sea Rock – where the colony rests by day – the waterlogged seals beach themselves for the night. What an incredible chance to get a close encounter with these cute (if not cuddly) creatures. Only downside is that swimming is no longer recommended at this stretch of beach due to safety issues concerning the water quality.

Five minutes uphill from our hotel, the decidedly upscale village was easily walkable with high-end art galleries, boutiques and a glut of top-notch eateries.

IMG_5851Choosing where to have supper was our only dilemma. My son, George, fell for a triple-deck restaurant by the same name. GEORGES caters to a distinctly trendy crowd, still the relaxed menu and superb coastal views made for easy dining.

 

We walked off dessert with a visit to La Jolla Cove’s celebrated caves.
Opened back in 1903, it took laborers over two years to create ‘Sunny Jim’ using just picks and shovels. 145 slippery steps (yes I counted them!) descend into La Jolla’s largest cave. It’s the only one reachable by land, otherwise you need to take to a kayak. But it’s worth the effort. And back up at the entrance the shop sells fun jewelry, shells, nick-knacks and watercolors by local artists.

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The cavernous view inside ‘Sunny Jim’

Before we left next morning we took time for the dynamic Museum of Contemporary Art. Blasted by sculpture the moment you approach the building, even the roof is artful. Nancy Rubin’s extraordinary ‘Pleasure Point’ exhibit is a huge jumble of gravity-defying rowboats, canoes, jet skis, and surfboards held together by welds and wire.

IMG_5813The museum is as well known for collecting works by emerging artists, as for the celebs of contemporary art. Everything here – paintings, sculptures, photography, video and installations – caused a stir with the kids. More than any other gallery I’ve been to, the art here elicited response (both good and bad). The kids all had a blast, squealing, peering, creating, clambering. While there are security guards here, the feeling is very much ‘hands-on’. Less “tut-tut”, more “try-it.” 

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La Jolla is a short drive to:


 

Sea World (10 minutes)

Old Town San Diego (15 minutes)

San Diego Gaslamp Quarter / Petco Park (18 minutes)

San Diego Zoo (20 minutes)

Qualcomm Stadium (20 minutes)

Legoland (25 minutes)

San Diego Wild Animal Park (35 minutes)

Tijuana, Mexico (35 minutes)

 

GRANDE COLONIAL: Grande Colonial Hotel La Jolla 910 Prospect Street La Jolla, CA 92037 

reservations: (888) 530-5766 More info: www.thegrandecolonial.com

SUNNY JIM CAVE: 1325 Cave St. tel: (858) 459-0746 More Info:www.cavestore.com Cost: $4

CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM: 700 Prospect Street?La. tel: (858) 454-3541 More Info: http://www.mcasd.org Cost: $10, kids free