Start: Silverado St. and Girard Ave.
Finish: Girard Gourmet, 7837 Girard Ave.
Time: 3 to 5 hours, depending on how long you linger in the museums and parks.
Best Times: Thur-Tues if you want to see the Museum of Contemporary Art (free admission third Thursdays 5-7pm). The Atheneum is also open Tues-Sat; Sun-Wed-Fri is when bridge is played at Ellen Browning Scripps Park.
Worst Times: The museums are closed on Mondays.
La Jolla is Southern California's Riviera. This seaside community of about 25,000 is home to an inordinate number of wealthy folk who could probably live anywhere. They choose La Jolla for good reason -- it's surrounded by the beach, the University of California, San Diego, outstanding restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and some of the world's best medical facilities. The heart of La Jolla is referred to as the Village, roughly delineated by Pearl Street to the south, Prospect Street to the north, Torrey Pines Road to the east, and the rugged coast to the west; this picturesque neighborhood is an ideal place to simply stroll about. It's undetermined whether "La Jolla" (pronounced la-HOY-ya) is misspelled Spanish for "the jewel" or an indigenous word for "cave," but once you see it, you'll likely go with the first definition.
Take bus route 30 to Silverado St. and Girard Ave. Walk south (away from the ocean) on Girard Ave. until you reach:
1. Mary, Star of the Sea
Dedicated in 1937, this beautiful little Mission-style Catholic church (7669 Girard Ave. tel. 858/454-2631, www.marystarlajolla.org. Mon-Fri 6am-noon and daily services) was designed by noted San Diego architect Carleton Winslow, Sr. Above the entrance, a striking mosaic re-creates the original fresco painted there by Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez. An influential art instructor in Mexico, Martínez once taught Rufino Tamayo and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Inside the church, the unique mural above the altar was painted by accomplished Polish artist John De Rosen. It depicts the Virgin Mary on a crescent moon, presiding over a storm-tossed sea.
From the church, north on Girard Ave. (toward the ocean) for 2 blocks, then turn left at Silverado St. Walk down Silverado until you reach:
2. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Works produced since 1950 include noteworthy examples of minimalism, light and space work, conceptualism, installation, and site-specific art (the outside sculptures were designed specifically for this location). MCASD also offers lectures, cutting-edge films, and special events on an ongoing basis; the bookstore is a great place for contemporary gifts, and the cafe is a pleasant stop before or after your visit. The museum is on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the views from the galleries are gorgeous. The original building on the site, designed by Irving Gill in 1916, was the residence of Ellen Browning Scripps. Admission is free on the 3rd Tuesday of the month; and a paid ticket good for admission to MCASD downtown within 7 days.
From here, head northeast on Prospect Street (with the ocean on your left), then turn left at Jenner St., which becomes Coast Blvd. to:
3. Children's Pool
A seawall protects this pocket of sand -- originally intended as a calm swimming bay for children, but serving since 1994 as a sanctuary for a colony of harbor seals; on an average day you'll spot dozens lolling in the sun. After much heated debate (and even acts of civil disobedience), people were allowed to swim here again -- to the displeasure of many. While it is possible to now go in the water at the Children's Pool, keep in mind those are federally protected wild animals, and it is illegal to approach them or harass them in any way. Volunteers, with speed dials set to "lifeguard," keep watch to make sure bathers don't bother the colony.
From the beach, follow Coast Blvd. northeast (with the ocean on your left) to:
4. Ellen Browning Scripps Park
This park and the bluffside walkway that courses through it afford some of California's finest coastal scenery. There's plenty of soft grass where you can toss a Frisbee, have a picnic, or just laze. A series of rustic wooden shelters -- popular with seagulls, pigeons, and pedestrians -- overlooks La Jolla's shapely curves. The La Jolla Cove Bridge Club (tel. 858/459-7000; www.lajollacovebridgeclub.com. Games Sun, Wed, Thurs, 11am-3p). -- a Works Project Administration structure dating to 1939, where card games still take place -- must be one of the world's most view-enhanced card rooms.
Follow the bluffside walkway to:
5. La Jolla Cove
These protected calm waters, celebrated as the clearest along the coast, attract snorkelers, scuba divers, and families. The small sandy beach gets a bit cramped during the summer, but the cove's "look but don't touch" policy safeguards the colorful garibaldi, California's state fish, plus other marine life, including abalone, octopus, and lobster. The unique Underwater Park stretches from here to the northern end of Torrey Pines State Reserve and incorporates kelp forests, artificial reefs, two deep canyons, and tidal pools.
Leave the park via Coast Blvd., and follow it along the coast until you get to Prospect Street, where you'll find:
6. Sunny Jim Cave
The only one of La Jolla's seven sea caves accessible by land, the Sunny Jim Cave (1325 Cave St., just off Prospect St., tel. 858/459-0746; www.cavestore.com. $4 adults, $3 kids 3-16, free for 2 and under) is reached by a narrow, often slippery, staircase in the Cave Store. (Sunny Jim was a cartoon character created in 1902 for a cereal advertising campaign, and the cave opening resembles his profile.) Part art gallery, part antiques store, this cliff-top shop also rents snorkel equipment. The passageway with 145 steps was dug through the rock in 1902.
From the Cave Store, as you face the ocean, you'll find two paths:
7. Coast Walk
One leads to a fabulous wood-platform overlook, the other continues along the bluffs. It's a cool little trail, affording expansive views of the coast. You can exit at a stairway that leads back to Prospect Street (before you come to the white wooden bridge) and circle back into town. If you continue along the trail, it will put you on Torrey Pines Road, an extra 10- to 15-minute walk back to the village.
Head back to Coast Blvd., taking it south (away from the ocean), until you get to Prospect St., take a sharp left and proceed to:
8. La Valencia
Within its bougainvillea-draped walls and wrought-iron garden gates, this bastion of gentility resurrects the golden age, when celebrities like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin vacationed here. The blufftop hotel, which looks much like a Mediterranean villa, has been the centerpiece of La Jolla since opening in 1926. There are several lounges and restaurants, some with incredible vistas, which can be enjoyed by non-guests; the Whaling Bar is a classic, old-school haunt.
From La Valencia, head south on Prospect St., and make a left at Herschel Ave. and go 1 block, then turn left at Wall St. and go 1-1/2 blocks, where you will see:
9. Athenaeum Music and Arts Library
One of only 17 nonprofit, membership libraries in the U.S., the Athenaeum hosts art exhibits, jazz and classical concerts, lectures, and special events open to the general public. Visitors can browse through the vast collection of books, music, and more, but only members can take something out. Founded in 1899, the library has expanded into adjacent buildings, including one built by Balboa Park architect William Templeton Johnson. It's open Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday 10am-5:30pm, and Wed 10am-8:30pm.
After you finish at the Athenaeum, turn left onto Wall St. and go to the end of the block, then turn right at Girard Ave. In less than a block, you'll find:
10. Take a Break
Girard Gourmet (7838 Girard Ave. tel. 858/454-3325, www.girardgourmet.com), a wonderful small bakery and restaurant that always draws a crowd with its cookies, quiches, soups, salads, and deli sandwiches (the eight-grain bread is a must). The Belgian proprietor also whips up heartier fare like lamb stew and duck à l'orange. It's the perfect place to gather your goods for a picnic, or rest at the end of your tour of La Jolla. It's open Mon-Sat 7am-8pm, Sun 7am-7pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.