Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( - 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.

Offer many ways to conquer stress and balance your life

If you feel like your stress is robbing you of your life, your connection to your loved ones, and a deep feeling of joy, it’s probably because it is. Recent research has pointed to stress as a trigger for inflammation, which plays a significant role in the development and progression of a multitude of chronic conditions, from digestive problems to heart disease, from weight gain to diabetes to sleep issues.

Regardless of the physiological mechanisms, it’s clear that if we want to be physically and mentally well, we must conquer our stress. A tall order for any Southern Californian.

If you could use a “reset” to break out of your negative patterns – whatever the cause – Utopia Within and Awoken Life Brainwave Optimization® may be just what you need. Based in San Juan Capistrano, this comprehensive center offers a new and innovative approach to stress reduction where “advanced technology meets ancient techniques.” The Utopia Within team helps you address the stressors that are leading you to feel unwell and unhappy.

Some of these modalities include Brainwave Optimization®, Tibetan Singing Bowls, hypnotherapy, meditation/guided visualizations, Reiki, individual and group life coaching, and more.

Mary McPherson Founder of Awoken Life and Utopia Within, holds a degree in chemical engineering and has earned numerous certifications in the healing arts including Certified Advanced Specialist for Brainwave Optimization.  Michelle Newell, associate and Brainwave Optimization Specialist, also holds certifications and specific knowledge that make her a unique addition to the team. 


Through Utopia Within, Mary and Michelle are able to combine their education, skills, talent and training with a deep desire and passion for helping people live their best lives. 

Mary has also put together a team of skilled professionals who’s proven, cutting edge techniques with highly personalized care can help individuals get back to balance – or find it for the first time ever.

When I met with Mary for this feature, it was immediately evident that she loves what she does – helping individuals “awaken their limitless potential” by focusing on providing the highest level of personal care to each and every client. 

For the many clients who have come to Mary over the years suffering from a feeling of “being disconnected from themselves,” Utopia Within is quite literally an oasis – a sanctuary in which to rediscover a sense of happiness and joy that comes from within. 

“In life, there are moments and decisions that define the course of your future,” says Shana, age 40, of San Juan Capistrano. “When I found Mary and the team at Awoken Life, I knew I had come upon something that would help elevate my health and life to a new level. As a nutritional coach, I have tried many healing modalities over the course of my life and none have had the powerful impact of Brainwave Optimization.

Shana continues that she believes that Brainwave Optimization “is a 21st century tool to maximize your human potential and live a balanced, peaceful and productive life. I found Mary to be professional, kind and deeply passionate about her work. The additional modalities offered at Awoken Life serve to deepen and support the work of Brainwave Optimization and provide a rich canvas on which to create a life that inspires you.”

In the following interview, I asked Mary to share her thoughts on common questions prospective clients might ask when considering incorporating these holistic modalities into their lives.

South County Magazine: Many of our readers have not heard of Brainwave Optimization®. In layman’s terms, please explain what it is and how it can benefit individuals suffering from a wide range of ailments including sleep disorders, depression, feelings of anxiousness and inability to focus.

Mary McPherson: Brainwave Optimization is an amazing EEG-based technology that helps one’s own brain relax in a deep and profound way to achieve dynamic flexibility.  The benefits from this flexibility are increased cognitive performance, better sleep, enhanced self-regulation and diminished feelings of anxiousness, sadness, and hopelessness. Brainwave Optimization® acts a catalyst to support the brain to optimize itself in a way unlike any other approach that has come before.  

At Awoken Life, we start with a complimentary consultation to fully explain the process and answer any questions. Then we conduct a comprehensive assessment and design customized sessions based on your specific brain patterns.  Each brain is like a fingerprint - unique to you as an individual. This noninvasive procedure offers measurable results in as little as five days!

SCM: What do you feel sets your office apart from others in the industry?

MM: Our office approaches every client as an individual and takes into consideration their unique circumstances and overall goals to create a personalized program.  

We deeply value each client’s time and pride ourselves on supporting their growth and education.  Our goal is to help each person understand how life experiences, including injuries and traumas, may result in a non-optimized life and how Brainwave Optimization® supports the brain’s own ability to heal itself. 

SCM: After four years as Awoken Life Brainwave Optimization, why are you introducing Utopia Within and adding so many new modalities?

MM: In the four years since I founded Awoken Life, I have come to realize that one of the greatest obstacle people face is ongoing stress. People find it hard to relax and just take a moment to breathe. It’s important to us that our clients know we care about their journey to wellness.

With that in mind, we opened a new branch of our business -  Utopia Within – to expand our services to incorporate several complementary modalities that support stress reduction, greater cognitive performance and personal awareness such as hypnotherapy, life coaching, nutritional counseling, Reiki, Tibetan Singing Bowls, meditation classes and self-improvement workshops. Clients can incorporate any of these modalities into their Brainwave Optimization package or participate in any or all a la carte.

Brainwave Optimization is an amazing EEG-based technology that helps one’s own brain relax in a deep and profound way to achieve dynamic flexibility.