Considered “The Jewel” of San Diego, La Jolla is filled with gorgeous coastline, lush palms and marine life, making it the ideal destination for a long weekend. Whether getting away means shopping, kayaking, hiking, gallery hopping, museum and aquarium visits or simply a day on the beach, this little town packs a punch for outings.
I spent three days here, taking in just a few of the numerous restaurants, key sights and attractions around La Jolla and San Diego (about 25 minutes south).
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a great way to explore marine habitats found along the West coast — from the north Pacific to warm tropics.
Diverse displays offer a glimpse into lagoons, coral reefs, undersea canyons, bays, open coasts, tide pools and kelp forests.
The Aquarium also aims to educate visitors on our changing oceans’ chemistry via CO2 emissions, bleached reefs and sea expeditions. This is a fun and interactive learning center for all ages, located at 2300 Expedition Way.
Open just under two years, Catania Restaurant’s owners were inspired to open an Italian restaurant following a trip to the Sicilian town of the same name located about 30 miles south of Mt. Etna. Their menu includes lots of Sicilian and Tuscan-influenced dishes.
On the menu are wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas, seafood, meats and salads lovingly prepared by Executive Chef Dustin Karagheusian and his team.
The restaurant’s signature pasta is duck sugo orecchette served with braised duck, tomato, porcini mushrooms, juniper and parmesan. I much enjoyed the tagliatelle alla Portofino (basil, pesto, creamy San Marzano tomato sauce, parmesan) to lead into wood-grilled half chicken saved with roasted baby carrots and a mint pesto combining carrot tops with mint leaves.
Almonds, gremolata and charred lemon add a unique combination of flavours to this tasty dish.
Save room for the semifreddo! This one’s the most popular on the menu. Nutella is frozen into a soft ice cream consistency and contains a biscotti and hazelnut crust on the bottom. It’s finished with extra virgin olive oil, saba and Maldon sea salt. Get two spoons and share the goodness.
Also on the dessert menu: If you loved your meal, add six bucks to your bill and buy the kitchen a round of beer (Cucina Sixer). I’ve not come across this menu concept in Vancouver just yet.
Find Catania at 7863 Girard Avenue on the top floor of shopping center La Plaza La Jolla.
At the time of its 1913 opening, La Jolla’s oldest original hotel, the Grande Colonial, was a fixture in the seaside community.
Designed by architect Richard Requa, the hotel has undergone several renovations and played home-away-from-home to new Hollywood stars of the era: Charlton Heston, Groucho Marx, Eve Arden, David Niven and others who performed at nearby La Jolla Playhouse, founded by Gregory Peck.
In the mid-1970’s, the hotel was purchased by local partners and underwent a $3 million-dollar restoration to bring the property back to its former glory. In 2013, the Grande Colonial celebrated its centennial anniversary.
The stately lobby, interior and 93 rooms and suites are elegantly furnished to evoke a classic European style hotel.
The Grande Colonial is also where you’ll find NINE-TEN Restaurant. San Diego’s 2014 Chef of the Year Jason Knibb creates California cuisine dishes with a focus on fresh, seasonal products, fish and meats. On the night of my visit, I was treated to a beautiful plate of seared local tuna atop cauliflower purée, sesame cocoa crumb, brown butter emulsion, princess grapes, baby Swiss chard and tamarind-glazed salsify.
I was impressed by the bold variety of flavours and ingredients to marry with the tuna. Equally impressive are Pastry Chef Jose Alonzo III’s desserts, so save room for his hazelnut chocolate bar with ice cream!
Allow the culinary team to prepare a special prix-fixe menu with wine pairings for your table with NINE-TEN’s Mercy of the Chef option. The Grande Colonial Hotel and NINE-TEN Restaurant are located at 910 Prospect Street in La Jolla.
With over 45 museums, a zoo, Old Town, Balboa Park and SeaWorld, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to making a plan for a San Diego visit.
Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot in what is now the USA. Though he died before the expedition was fulfilled, the adventure helped make future expeditions safer by recorded summary accounts on landmarks, winds and currents.
Driving into the park, you pass through Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery containing green lawns filled with countless white markers, a reminder of battles fought in the early days of the California Territory as well as remains of 62 sailors who lost their lives during a boiler explosion aboard the USS Bennington in 1905.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse with its cute white picket fence commands an imposing view out of sea. It was in operation until March 1891 and mariners reported being able to see its light from a distance of over 30 miles. It’s a beautiful, well-restored building but don’t count on being able to get up to the top: only the first two levels are accessible.
If you drive down the road, you’ll come across tide pools filled with preserved intertidal areas for exploring. Note the tidepools close at 4:30 pm (the visitor’s center is open until 5). If you’re lucky, you might spot Gray whales during their annual migration from the Arctic down to Baja California. They pass through Point Loma in mid-January and are typically visible through March. Note there’s a $10 fee to enter and park on the premises.
Naval history buffs shouldn’t miss out on a visit to the USS Midway Museum along San Diego’s harbor (901 North Harbor Drive). While a visit could easily take a few hours (there’s a LOT to take in here), the highlight is the top-level Flight Deck, containing an impressive collection of fighter jets of all shapes and sizes.
The view is amazing from up here and you’ll gain an appreciation of the sheer size of the vessel from various vantage points.
Aircraft recovery, landing and launch talks are given throughout the day conducted by former Navy vets (including former Midway pilots).
The most visited ship museum in the world, the Midway pays tribute to over 200,000 sailors who served aboard the USS Midway over the course of its 47-year run. The ship cost $90 million dollars to build back in 1945 and received a $260-million-dollar overhaul between 1966 to 1970.
Interactive exhibits and flight simulators (additional fee) are located on the main level. Included in admission are self-guided audio tours narrated by Midway sailors in multiple languages.
Located in San Diego’s Little Italy, Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen serves up a great selection of California coastal cuisine created by San Diego native and Top Chef alumnus Giselle Wellman.
The building has an Art Deco-inspired neon-accented tower, an ode to former restaurant Fat City. The interior is modern with a central bar and outdoor patio.
Bar Manager Ryan Baldwin has created an inventive cocktail menu using homemade, organic infusions, tinctures and reductions. The wines are Californian, beers local — Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen likes to promote local purveyors and vintners.
My meal starts with a plate of homemade brioche and herbed ricotta; pulling apart the warm bread and spreading that ricotta is a decadent moment that leads to a beautiful salmon served with a mixture of wheat berry, farrow and quinoa. The salmon has a lovely crispy skin and I enjoy my meal as a variety of tunes shuffles on the sound system.
Desserts feature pecan pie with salted caramel and candied kumquats; spiced honey-poached pears with spice bread and chai milk foam; assorted gelato and sorbet and one offering that catches my eye: a cereal milk-filled donut.
This colourful concoction is a fun throwback to late baby boomer cereal fave Fruity Pebbles.
The filling is a cream with crushed cereal, the topping has more of that lovely cream with more cereal on top. The tasty treat reminds me of Portland (and Austin’s) Voodoo Donuts, and perhaps the craze is no longer new, but the restaurant’s pastry chef knows a thing or two about a delicious ending to a great meal.
The donut hole version is available during happy hour, making a fun pairing for a glass of chilled white wine or bubbly.
Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen is located at 2137 Pacific Highway.
My hotel stay, meals and activities were hosted by San Diego Tourism Authority. Opinions, as always, are my own.
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