La Jolla

Drawing an eclectic mix of artists and writers, this California seaside town is more than just another pretty place.

November 06, 2005|By GARY A. WARNER | GARY A. WARNER,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

At first glance, La Jolla, Calif., seems merely Malibu meets Beverly Hills. One part beach town, one part trust-fund enclave. Combine the two, and out pop guys with liposuctioned abs and ladies with severely pulled-back blond hair. All orbiting in Lexus SUVs hunting for Armani, Rolex and the other usual high-end retail suspects.

Robb Report, the magazine for millionaires (and the wannabe wealthy), once crowned the town as the best place to live in America.

But a closer look shows La Jolla (pronounced la hoya) to be a far more intriguing stop than the usual west-of-the-freeway suburban seaside pack.

La Jolla has attracted legions of offbeat authors, most notably Theodor Geisel, better known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss. Mystery writer Raymond Chandler called La Jolla a haven for old folks, while Tom Wolfe wrote that one of its best beaches was segregated - only the young could be seen on the sand.

Gliders circle above the nation's most-famous nude beach. Body surfers (clothed) share the waters with nasty-looking but harmless small leopard sharks (though a possible great white shark report was made in August).

New-age guru Deepak Chopra has decamped from downtown to the golf resort at nearby Carlsbad, but La Jolla remains a place where a dozen or so establishments will clean your aura or unlock your hara.

All this is packed into a gorgeous 20 square miles at the northwest tip of San Diego that's home to just 35,000 of the metropolis' 1.2 million residents.

"I love the way the mountains coalesce with the sea," says Michael DiGruccio, a local. "It's a beautiful place to live andwork."

The signals that you are someplace apart start at the off-ramp. You know you've hit La Jolla when the bland corporate boxes along Interstate 5 suddenly give way to an urban fantasyland. Post-Mod architect Michael Graves' Hyatt hotel looks like a 1930s radio. The gleaming white Mormon temple resembles a rocket ship ready to blast off.

La Jolla has been a San Diego hot spot since the early 19th century. Locals joke that the last real estate bargain was in 1886 when Frank Botsford, the "father of La Jolla," sold lots for $1.25 per acre. Today it would top $2 million per acre. The average home price is now $1.2 million.

At the north end is Torrey Pines State Reserve, the 1,700-acre green space with its famous pine trees atop steep sandstone bluffs. Nearby is Torrey Pines Lodge, with a spa offering Clarity Sage- an aroma emitted in a glass-boxlike therapy room. For $275, guest s c an part a ke of a 140-minute Ayoma Ritual based on 5,000-year-old Indian wellness concepts.

For millions of fans of the little pock-marked ball, Torrey Pines is synonymous with pro golf. Home of the Buick Invitational, the resort features two championship 18-hole courses. Along with the usual sand and water traps, golfers have to deal with the frequent roar of F/A-18 Hornet jets streaking overhead from nearby MiramarMarine Corps Air Station.

Just down the hill is the Salk Institute, which from the outside looks like just another office complex. But walk into its magnificent main courtyard and you are standing in one of the shrines of modern architecture created by Louis I. Kahn.

The buildings on either side seem to fold back, as the expanse of white stone stretches toward the sea. It's a stark, simple and oddly calming space.

Occasionally, visitors will see what looks like a parachutist floating by next door. Torrey Pines Gliderport is said to be one of the most popular spots in the country for non-motorized aircraft. U-shaped paragliders float off the towering sea cliffs. Neophytes can come to ride tandem with an experienced flier.

"It's the only legal way I could think of telling my kids to go jump off a cliff," says Danny Dominguez, a visitor from El Paso who was treating his 12-, 13- and 1 5 - year- o l d daughte r s to $150-apiece tandem flights.

If something goes wrong, it is a long way down to Black's Beach, the area's famous nude beach. From high up on the cliffs the notso- buff folks in the buff are tough to see, though their monochromatic skin tone indicates they are sans swimsuits. The most established nudists have their own club, the Black Beach Bares.

Up on the cliffs, a lifeguard perched on a wooden platform keeps tabs on the goings on, radioing down to a beach patrol below.

"There's a spot for girls who like boys and one for boys who like boys, though some of the girls who like boys go to the boys-wholike- boys area to get away from the boys who like girls a little too aggressively," the lifeguard says. He declines to give his name because "my boss probably wouldn't like it."

Down the hill is the famous Birch Aquarium, essentially the public-outreach arm of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Literary lineage

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