If you long to wander the boulevards and avenues of Paris or spend a lazy afternoon lounging on a terrace above the Cote d’ Azur but your wallet is full of dollars, not euros, spend a weekend in La Jolla.
This southern California coastal gem bursts with Mediterranean atmosphere from architecture and art to cuisine and couture. The French vibe pulses from the boutiques, bistros and galleries. Spend a few days strolling through this romantic, pedestrian-friendly village and cravings for Coq au Vin, chocolate croissants, Bordeaux and renaissance art will be satisfied.
So, maybe it’s not France, but until the dollar rebounds, you can bask in all the culture your little, Francophile heart desires in La Jolla. Tres Bien!
Friday – Settling In
Depending on your budget, there are various options for accommodations – all within walking distance of the weekend’s activities. For the ultimate splurge, stay at La Valencia Hotel with its sweeping ocean views and Mediterranean décor (www.lavalencia.com).
It’s pricey, but think of the money you saved by not flying to France.
If a smaller, boutique hotel is more your style, then check into the sleek Hotel Parisi. This 20-suite hotel is located in the heart of the village (www.hotelparisi.com).
The Bed & Breakfast Inn at La Jolla has a European ambiance and was the family home of American composer and conductor John Philip Sousa in the 1920s (www.innlajolla.com).
To begin the weekend, stop at the La Jolla Visitor Center (7966 Herschel Ave., www.sandiego.org) for a map and be sure to inquire about discount coupons available. Then, take a walk down Coast Boulevard to Scripps Park and enjoy the view from the cliffs. It’s a popular stroll for both tourists and locals and provides great views of scuba divers, kayakers and hearty swimmers in the surf below.
Continue north on Coast Boulevard until you come to the Cave Store (www.cavestore.com) where you can explore the man-made Sunny Jim Cave. To the left of the store is the Coast Walk Trail, a San Diego historical landmark. This easy dirt trail cuts a path beneath cliff-dwelling, multi-million-dollar homes and offers benches and viewing platforms to watch kayakers paddling below into caves accessible only by sea.
This area is known as Goldfish Point, and the Goldfish Point Café across the street from Cave Store makes a good stop for a cappuccino or latte. Don’t be surprised to find a handful of those little, orange goldfish crackers on your saucer.
For a casual French dinner, dine early and inexpensively at Girard Gourmet. This European bakery and deli serves up fresh-baked goods, plated entrees and specialty cheeses and meats. It has been a favorite hangout in La Jolla for nearly 20 years.
Enjoy hot comfort food like Beef Burgundy, lamb stew, roast duck or roasted chicken for about $8.
After dinner, stroll along Prospect Avenue and peek in the windows for a preview of your next day’s shopping. Before retiring for the evening, enjoy a nightcap or snack at George’s Bar for a panoramic ocean view at night (www.georgesatthecove.com).
Saturday – A passion for fashion
Start the day with an espresso or café latte and a flaky, buttery croissant at Truffles (7857 Girard Ave.) to fortify yourself for a day of power shopping.
A fashionable place to begin is at the corner of Silverado Street and Girard Avenue at La Donna (937 Silverado St.). This boutique specializes in discount, designer fashions from Vivienne, Armani and other Paris runway favorites.
If you left the little ones at home, ease your guilt with a gift for them from Pout, with fashions for newborns to tweens (935 Silverado St.). Here, you’ll find clothes, shoes and accessories from designers such as Belle Aime, Deux Par Deux, Fleurville and Oi Oi.
The ultimate Parisian accessory is, of course, a dog. At Muttropolis, on Girard Avenue, you’ll be amazed at the haute couture for canines. An entire wall is dedicated to a display of pet carriers in hot pink nylon, chocolate brown suede, creamy linen and soft leathers – all of which could rival any Hermes Birkin.
Look for the Chewy Vuiton, Dog Perignon and Chewnel Pawfume-Paris chew toys (www.muttropolis.com).
Just a couple doors down from Muttropolis is My Place, my recommendation for lunch (7777 Girard Ave). Enjoy people watching along chic Girard Avenue while dining at a sidewalk bistro table. Be sure to share a plate of pommes frites.
For the thrill of the hunt, walk two blocks south from Girard to Fay Avenue and browse through Le Chauvinist, a consignment shop for men (www.lechauvinist.com). The store has a large selection of vintage and contemporary hats, shoes, shirts, slacks and accessories for men. If you left your Hawaiian shirt at home, you can find one here.
Head west, back to Prospect Street, to visit Francesca’s Collections (1025 Prospect St.). You’ll swear you’ve stumbled across a bohemian market in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Francesca’s displays hundreds of brightly colored beaded bracelets, earrings, necklaces and faux stone rings, alongside scented lotions, sequined t-shirts, clutch purses, note cards and other novelty gifts.
North on Prospect Street, just across the street from La Valencia hotel, is Sylvie Jourdan of France, a boutique for table linens, tote bags, sachets and Herbs de Provence.
For a romantic dinner for two, dine at Tapenade Restaurant and Catering on Fay Avenue (www.tapenaderestaurant.com). Chef Jean-Michel Diot creates French culinary favorites such as escargot, filet au poivre and raviolis aux champignons.
Sunday – Arts and culture
Start the day with breakfast and a breathtaking view at Blu Wave Mediterranean Kitchen on Girard Avenue. The breakfast menu offers typical breakfast fare including omelets, pancakes and French toast ranging from $8 to $14.
If you prefer to cap the weekend with a Sunday Champagne brunch, La Valencia’s Mediterranean Room and Tropical Patio is the perfect place to toast your last day in La Jolla. Brunch is served from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and the price for adults is $49, plus tax and gratuity. Reservations are highly recommended.
After breakfast or brunch, take a walk south on Prospect Street to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (www.mcasd.org). Guided tours are offered on weekends at 2 p.m. Stroll the outdoor garden to see French artist Niki de Saint Phalles’ fanciful Big Ganesh sculpture.
This wildly colorful, elephant-like sculpture is de Saint Phalle’s 11-foot version of the Hindu god of good fortune and wisdom. De Saint Phalle was a resident of La Jolla until her death in 2002.
Head back up Prospect Street to Simic Gallery of La Jolla (www.simic.com) for inspiring artwork of French country landscapes, Paris cafes and street scenes by masters Luigi Loir, Jules Dupre and Milan Miletic.
Prospect Place Fine Art (www.prospectplacefineart.com) is another not-to-miss gallery, tucked into the northern-most corner of Prospect Street. The works of artists including Joan Miro, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall are on display here.
Take the stairs, at the nearby Crab Catcher Restaurant, down to Coast Boulevard and stroll along the cliffs.
Relax on a bench or just lie on the grass at Scripps Park. As you savor the French impressions made on your weekend, try to hang on to that joie de vivre for as long as you can.
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Martha Christopherson is a San Diego-based freelance travel writer. Her travel stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Christian Science Monitor and L.A. Parent Magazine.