Looking for the ideal “couples” vacation – the getaway where you can focus on your Significant Other and step away from the cookie-cutter rooms and hub-bub of a big-city hotel? A trip to Paris and a cozy inn on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees might fill the bill, but there are some great options closer to home right here in California.
Consider a “village vacation” like our most recent getaway – an unforgettable combination of two Southern California villages within easy driving distance of each other and each commanding its own glorious view of the Pacific Ocean. For us, splitting our week in two between San Clemente and La Jolla offered a little more variety than staying in one place for the entire time, and a chance to experience two of Southern California’s most charming beachfront communities. Each offered its own set of attractions, yet both were the same kind of getaway – a quiet, relaxing stay in a place known for its charm and natural beauty.
Our week began in San Clemente which, if you’ve traveled through this area on Interstate 5, may seem like anything but a small village. Motorists on the interstate drive for miles, north and south, through seemingly endless neighborhoods built up on both sides of the freeway. The one constant is that the Pacific Ocean never seems to be far away and you can glimpse from your car just how beautiful this coast line is.
But take the exit for the San Clemente Pier and you will drive curvy, scenic residential streets all the way down to the water where you will find a European-style beach community that looks as if it could have been transplanted from the coast of Spain. Yes, the architecture here is all Spanish -- white stucco and red-tile, the buildings pressed together like villages were hundreds of years ago. It’s a cozy place, just a half dozen shops and restaurants surrounded by condos and vacation rentals, most of them facing out to the gorgeous sea.
Waiting for us in this village was our third-floor waterfront room at the Casa Tropicana, a bed and breakfast that offers several distinctive rooms, each with its own design and special features. Our own room looked out on the beach and pier across the railroad track, and featured a king bed, sitting area, a high-definition TV, a small kitchenette and an over-size jetted bathtub. Just a couple of steps out of our front door was a patio area with three tables and multiple chairs for enjoying breakfast or simply nursing a morning cup of coffee while observing the beach life below.
From our room at the Casa Tropicana we would launch expeditions to explore the beach – which goes for miles in each direction – and to explore the downtown restaurants and shops of San Clemente, a short walk up from the Pier area. There are good restaurants right in the village – fresh crepes, delicious and authentic pizza and, on the pier itself, superb seafood offered by the Fisherman’s Restaurant.
This village at the pier was just about right for half the week. We never felt trapped or lacking for things to see or enjoy. The atmosphere in this area is vintage California with a European flair, and the ideal place to spend a few nights with Someone Special.
From San Clemente, we drove to La Jolla for the second half of our week. It’s only about an hour’s drive on the Interstate 5 freeway and offers yet another village atmosphere, although this has many more shops and restaurants right in the village. Everything’s still within walking distance, which is part of the charm of a village vacation.
La Jolla is one of the most desirable places to live in the San Diego area and its prime oceanfront and ocean view real estate commands some of the highest prices in all of California. It’s really quite separate and apart from downtown San Diego and other parts of the city, requiring you to drive a few miles west of Interstate 5 to enter this popular enclave. The views of the Pacific are spectacular from the hills of La Jolla and visitors will enjoy taking a little extra time to drive through the neighborhoods, up Nautilus Street to Soledad Park and the panoramic views of San Diego County.
For the visitor, La Jolla represents a unique collection of upscale shops and restaurants all within a five or 10-minute walk from your hotel. There are walkways along the seashore where you can observe sea lions, swimmers, divers, pleasure boats and, of course, incredible sunsets and ocean views. There are tourists in La Jolla, but not like the throngs you might see down on the San Diego waterfront or at the San Diego Zoo. Mixed in with the tourists are some very well-heeled locals who come to shop at the trendy clothing shops in downtown La Jolla, or enjoy lunch at one of the city’s hottest new restaurants. Don’t be surprised if you run into celebrities in La Jolla – we have.
There are several inns located in the village such as the Grande Colonial Hotel, the La Valencia and the Pantai Inn, all of which feature spectacular views of the Pacific. On this particular trip we had an oceanview room at the La Jolla Inn, a small European style inn in the heart of the village. The inn reminded us of a place we once stayed in Paris, mainly for its simplicity and the relatively small size of our room at the top of the stairs. Yet it was quite comfortable with its small kitchenette and flat-screen TV, and we found it enjoyable to wake up each morning to views of the Pacific Ocean.
The fun of a stay in La Jolla Village comes with the choices you have – which restaurant are we going to try today? What high-end clothing store is going to have something on sale that we just have to buy? What sea life are we going to see on our regular walk up and down the shoreline? We never tired of our stay in La Jolla Village but, if we had, a whole host of attractions was a 20-minute drive away in downtown San Diego where you find the city’s waterfront area, Balboa Park and lots of other places well worth seeing on your “village vacation.”
Photos, from top: Village at San Clemente Pier, La Jolla wildlife, San Clemente Pier, La Jolla waterfront park
Photos by CARY ORDWAY