The drive from Los Angeles wasn’t long, but typical of any California road trip, there was traffic through most of Orange County, of course. With lots of stopovers on my itinerary, I didn’t arrive to La Jolla (a coastal city near San Diego) until late at night. But once I got there, the fresh sea air and the cute downtown of La Jolla were immediately appealing. I knew this would be a perfect beach weekend.
Beaches are one of my many happy places. To be at the seaside, nothing really seems to matter. There’s a smell; the sounds are so solitary and secretive. There’s a simple beauty found at the seaside. The wide expanse of of the ocean, the sand under your toes. A chance to turn off the world behind you while watching a sunset.
And I found that all again in La Jolla—a picturesque little town on the Pacific coast just outside of San Diego.
My hotel, the Empress Hotel part of the Greystone boutique hotel properties throughout California, was easy to find and just near the main shopping road in La Jolla. I pulled up late at night and checked into my room quickly. The lobby restaurant was still buzzing with a crowd and a distant piano, but up in my room, it was calm and quiet.
I couldn’t see much out my hotel room window, but could hear the waves and seagulls nearby. With a glass of wine before bed, I was content and happy. At the seaside, it’s easy to be calm.
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Over the next 3 days in La Jolla (the perfect long weekend trip), I had plenty of opportunities to experience the famous La Jolla coves and beaches, the picturesque viewpoints, and the other local attractions. The local population is relatively affluent and that’s apparent in the types of shops and restaurants in the town.
For a weekend trip, La Jolla provides the opportunity to live rich while on a budget. Like other Californian cities with resort vibes (Palm Springs?), La Jolla has a lot to offer but there are also plenty of ways to just have a quiet, relaxing holiday. Below, my La Jolla travel guide & tips for the perfect weekend.
La Jolla Travel Tips & Highlights
What to do in La Jolla
La Jolla Coves
La Jolla is famous for its natural wildlife. The main town center is just on the edge of the seaside, with small, picturesque cove surrounded by rocky cliffs. It’s a protected marine reserve, with underwater reefs and caves, making it especially popular with snorkelers, scuba divers, and kayakers. But even if you decide not to get in the water, it’s possible to walk along the rocky shore alongside the seals and sea lions that call the area home.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Part of the University of California – San Diego, the public aquarium houses hundreds of species, including a world-renowned exhibit on seahorses and sea-dragons! It’s located pretty high up along the coast, so from the outdoor terrace, the aquarium also has a really beautiful view over the shoreline.
Black’s Beach (the gay nude beach)
A short drive from the downtown area of La Jolla is the famous Black’s Beach. While it’s not explicitly a gay beach, it is popular with a lot of gay locals from the region. That’s because of its picturesque location at the bottom of a seaside cliff, it’s relatively exclusivity, and the fact that it’s unofficially a nude beach.
Getting to Black’s Beach isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s also not as difficult as other blogs make it out to be. It’s just a short hike down the cliff, but because of it’s relative isolation, it’s important to bring plenty of water and whatever other beach essentials you want to pack. The hardest part is the climb back up. Black’s Beach is beautiful and definitely worth the trek.
Where to eat & drink in La Jolla
Brick & Bell Cafe
Just off the main street, Brick & Bell Cafe is a local chain coffee shop and bistro. The location in La Jolla has a sweet little terrace where you’ll almost certainly see some dogs out. Inside, the homemade pastries & sweets inside are delicious (but you can skip the sandwiches).
Another small cafe, Girard Gourmet is a bakery and sandwich shop with a pretty unique collection of treats. It’s right on Girard Avenue (the main drag), so it’s pretty convenient and a nice place for a relaxing cup of coffee while shopping. Their sweets are also especially well-decorated; they even sell sugar cookies in the shape of Trump dressed as a baby!
Living Room Café
At the end of Girard Avenue, with ocean views, the Living Room Café operates as a coffee shop during the day, but a bar in the evening (serving wine from an upstairs balcony). It’s the perfect spot to end a relaxing weekend in La Jolla!
La Jolla has a lot of upscale activities, shops, and restaurants thanks to its luxurious location and history as a luxury resort destination. That’s best represented in the upscale Manhattan Restaurant—a steak and seafood restaurant that feels like an old-school New York City steakhouse. Located in the lobby of the Empress Hotel, the restaurant attracts a crowd of locals (especially on Wednesdays when live music is performed). Serving steak, seafood, and Italian food classics, it’s a cozy and inviting atmosphere with plush booths and top-quality dining.
Where to stay in La Jolla
Part of the Greystone Hotel group, the Empress Hotel is an independent boutique property in the heart of downtown La Jolla and walking distance to the shoreline. Rooms are very spacious and decorated as if you’re in a beach cottage, which really enhances any type of beach holiday. It’s quite a cozy hotel and there’s a small terrace on the second floor where a complimentary breakfast is served. View more photos & find special deals for Empress Hotel (La Jolla) here.
La Jolla is a great weekend destination for those in Southern California. It’s got the charm of a bigger city, but the benefits of being right on the coast and near some of California’s best beaches (Black’s Beach).
Read more of my gay travel stories from California here:
• California Travel Tips •
• Pride Ride 2019: The Ultimate California Gay Road Trip Itinerary •
• San Diego Travel Guide •