It's love in La Jolla

There's more to this Southern California beach town than just romance

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  • La Jolla has long been one of Southern California's leading centers for the arts. Nancy Rubins's "Pleasure Point" boat sculpture dominates the ocean-facing side of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

    boat sculpture

    Gina Sabatella

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A graceful village

Centered on the pink-hued, tile-topped tower of La Valencia Hotel, La Jolla climbs from the water's edge up gently curving, sloping streets. The village ― nobody in this swanky community would ever call the commercial district anything so urban as downtown ― tops a rocky peninsula. It gives the ocean a more tangible presence here; look up from the village streets and you might see squadrons of pelicans gliding just above rooftop level.

La Valencia commands the village, both geographically and spiritually. It's one of those grand Southern California hotels that recall the era when wintering in balmy climes was part of the annual cycle of the well-to-do.

Elaborate tilework and painted Spanish details adorn its main lobby and lounge. Here you can settle in with a drink and take in a view across the hotel's red tile roof and through the swaying palms to the ocean. But its most evocative spaces are subtle ones: a tiny elevator still run manually and the Whaling Bar and Grill, with vintage red leather banquettes and a now politically incorrect whale hunt mural.

A few minutes' walk away, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego takes a similarly elevated position above the shore. There isn't a more beautifully situated museum in the country ― and while you might expect a museum here to be devoted to something traditional, the collection is instead filled with challenging contemporary works. Many keep the sea close in mind, including Pleasure Point, a Nancy Rubins installation of canoes, rowboats, and kayaks that literally bursts from the building like the id of an REI catalog.



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