Destination: La Jolla - Family-friendly weekend getaway

It was the last week of August and our family was searching for a relaxing retreat before the hectic schedule of the new school year began. Our wish list was pretty specific: the destination needed to be easily accessible to our South County home and somewhere coastal to accommodate the kids’ desire to build sandcastles, search for seashells and play in the surf. We were hoping for a hotel with many dining, shopping, recreation and attractions within walking distance – so we could park the car when we arrived and ideally not need it again until it was time to check out.

You might think it a tall order, but we found exactly what we were looking for in La Jolla. Although it was less than a 45-minute drive, this picturesque seaside village felt worlds away.

Our accommodation couldn’t have been more ideal – The Grande Colonial Hotel (www.thegrandecolonial.com). La Jolla’s oldest original hotel is centrally located to everything – restaurants, world-class shopping and is literally steps away from “Children’s Pool,” a kid-friendly beach with tide pools plenty of hands-on exploration and rocky coves the local harbor seal population calls home.

This historic landmark boasts a signature Colonial revival-style architecture, premier corner location one block from the beach and a wonderfully storied past. The 93-room boutique hotel started out as an apartment/hotel in 1913 and housed a pharmacy run by the father of legendary actor Gregory Peck, who grew up in La Jolla. It eventually evolved into a luxurious vacation destination for a veritable “who’s who” of Hollywood celebrities including Charlton Heston, Groucho Marx and David Niven.

We checked into a beautiful fourth floor junior suite with enormous windows that opened wide to cool breezes and sweeping ocean views – plenty of space to spread out with two queen beds, HDTV, office work station with desk and WiFi and an essential to get the morning started - a Keurig coffee maker.

At the front desk, we checked out everything we needed for an afternoon of surf and sand – towels, sand toys, boogie boards and even a beach umbrella. We walked the block to Children’s Pool (the kids had so much fun the first afternoon, they begged to go back the next day – what a great way to while away the afternoon).

We didn’t need to trek too far for dinner either – located next to the hotel lobby is the highly-acclaimed NINE-TEN Restaurant featuring “evolving California cuisine” and a Wine Spectator-recognized wine list. Led by award-winning Chef Jason Knibb and Pastry Chef Rachel King, the restaurant offered the perfect combination of sophisticated and casual elegance along downtown La Jolla’s historic Prospect Street.

The diverse menu showcases farm-to-table specialties ranging from house-smoked salmon and artisanal cheeses to nightly specials fashioned from market-fresh seasonal produce.

The kids ordered penne pasta with butter, which doesn’t differ much from what they eat at most restaurants, but for my husband and I, our meals were delicious and inventive dishes. We started with the Hamachi Sashimi with marinated baby shiitake mushrooms and scallion vinaigrette and the Spring Vegetable & Burrata Cheese salad made with roasted and raw peas, carrots, fava beans, radishes, snap peas, asparagus, pickled cherries, Treviso, pea tendrils and miso-yuzo vinaigrette. Another popular appetizer is the Jamaican Jerk Pork Belly with baby carrots, Swiss chard, plantains, black-eyed peas, spicy jellies and sweet potato purée.

For the main course, my husband selected the melt-in-your-mouth tender Braised Prime Beef Short Rib which arrived accompanied by roasted spring onion, asparagus, black trumpet mushroom, ramp top puree, mushroom and picked ramp duxelles. I opted for the flavorful Anson Mills Farro (a type of hulled wheat) and Roasted Chino Farms Vegetables.

Outdoor endeavors

The beauty of California is in its sandy beaches, iconic coastline and sunsets beyond description. In its carefree attitudes and no worries. Sandals and board shorts everyday of the year. It’s a lifestyle, a choice to live life to the fullest and have fun everyday. California is a State of Mind. And it’s everyday. This is the philosophy behind the La Jolla-based Everyday California (www.everydaycalifornia.com) guided sea kayak tours.

We discovered firsthand that all the staff members – those in the store, at registration and the tour guides for our group – really live by these words. Everyone we encountered was super friendly – our guides were clearly passionate water enthusiasts who made our open-ocean “tour” a safe and fun afternoon excursion. Our kids loved being on the water kayaking in the La Jolla Sea Caves and Ecological Reserve to get up close and personal with the abundant marine life, including sea lions, garibaldi fish and harmless leopard sharks.

Eating Out

Right across the street from Everyday California is Galaxy Taco (www.galaxytaco.com) - home to what is arguably one of the best Mexican-inspired menus I’ve ever sampled. No kidding. I expected casual, fast-food style tacos, burritos and the like and was surprised to find that while the ambiance and price point were pretty casual, the dishes here were off-the-hook delicious.

Most of Chef Trey Foshee’s menu is based off their wood-burning grill (a staple of Baja cuisine) and they grind their own masa from scratch starting with heirloom, non-GMO corn from Masienda in Mexico to craft their housemade tortillas.

Chef Trey’s love of Mexico, its people, culture and cuisine is evident in every bite. He says that he wants to create “a dining experience that is fun and where the only thing we take seriously is the quality of our ingredients” and their guests having a good time. Galaxy Taco delivered on every count – the signature Tacolandia ($5) is made with marinated, braised and seared pork shoulder, jalapeno slaw and chicharron, while the Chicken Adobo taco ($5) was flavorful with tender chicken, cucumber, crema and cilantro and the classic Baja Fried Fish Taco (also $5) combined fresh batter-fried fish with cabbage, pico de gallo, chiptle crema, radish and avocado.