By WARREN RESEN, North American Travel Journalists Association
Heading west from Santa Fe, my GPS informed us that we were on the correct heading for our next destination of “le-joe-la.” Obviously La Jolla is a difficult pronunciation for a computer generated program.
It had been years since my last visit to this playground of the rich and famous. The Village of La Jolla listed the highest home prices in the nation during the years 2008 -2009. This affluent neighborhood is 12 miles north of downtown San Diego.
The area’s year-round sunshine and breathtaking views of the majestic Pacific Ocean certainly gives the local Chamber of Commerce bragging rights. I remembered the brilliant Pacific skies from my previous visit, surf crashing on the rocks, upscale world-class shopping, entertainment and elegant restaurants. Some refer to La Jolla as San Diego’s Rodeo Drive.
And then there is the unique Scripps Children’s Pool a/k/a Seal Beach. It was built to provide a safe place for children to swim in the ocean. About 60 years ago harbor seals discovered this sheltered beach and they now “own” this prime waterfront location making it a major tourist destination.
La Jolla was just as I remembered it except for the lack of a brilliant cloudless southern California sky. Our arrival was in early June during what the locals refer to as “June Gloom” when temperature differences between water and land produce days of fog and sweater weather along coastal areas.
While the weather was not conducive to fun in the sun, the purpose for our coming to La Jolla was to visit the elegant Grande Colonial hotel. The hotel, in the heart of Jolla, is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. The Grande Colonial is the oldest operating hotel in La Jolla and a proud member of Historic Hotels of America.
In 1894 a trolley line from San Diego to La Jolla was completed bringing vacationers and day trippers in on the Abalone Special, a quaint trolley with open-air cars. This was replaced in the early 1900s by a streetcar named the Red Devil, a name which today would be considered politically incorrect.
The beaches, superb climate and scenery of La Jolla were the draw and Paradise was discovered by the outside world. But it was a paradise devoid of “modern” conveniences. Accommodations consisted mainly of tents set up by visitors for overnight stays. The one existing “downtown” hotel suffered the fate of so many early wooden structures. It burned down.
La Jolla’s adolescence began in 1913 with the publishing of a local newspaper, establishment of the La Jolla Women’s Club and the opening of the Colonial Apartment and Hotel. Over the ensuing years,the sleepy seaside village of La Jolla and the small hotel have grown up side-by-side.
The Grande Colonial isn’t just part of La Jolla; it is the heart of La Jolla. The Grande Colonial grew to its present size and elegance because of the vision of its owners who wanted to provide civilized, comfortable and convenient accommodations for visitors.
This historic landmark hotel is located just steps from miles of beautiful southern California beaches. Many of its rooms overlook the Pacific providing guests with dramatic views of the seemingly endless Pacific and crashing surf on the cliffs below.
Grande Colonial’s modern 5-story main building opened in 1928 as the Colonial Hotel. Since then the hotel has gone through several extensive renovations. After major renovations in 1976, the name was changed to the Colonial Inn. The last renovation was completed in 2008 when the hotel was given its current name…the Grande Colonial.
The year was 2001 when the street level space previously occupied by Putnam’s Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, and then Putnam’s Grill, was transformed into the elegant NINE-TEN Restaurant and Bar just off the hotel’s lobby. A world-class restaurant was born. Since opening, the restaurant has received many prestigious awards including an “extraordinary to perfection” rating by Zagat and was named “San Diego’s Best Hotel Restaurant.” Our dinner there was excellent and the staff was very knowledgeable and attentive.
Eighty-five years ago, Putnam’s Pharmacy and Soda Fountain provided outdoor seating for its patrons who ordered ice cream sodas. The hotel has continued this 85 year old tradition but today’s patrons order cocktails and food served in an upscale setting.
During its pharmacy and soda fountain days, the father of actor Gregory Peck (To Kill A Mockingbird, et al) worked at Putnam’s as a pharmacist. After WW II, this local boy and world famous actor would add greatly to the renown of the village when he and other famous stars opened a summer stock theatre. The La Jolla Playhouse became an overnight success bringing the luminaries of Hollywood to the village earning La Jolla the title of “Little Hollywood.”
The Grande Colonial was the hotel of choice for Hollywood notables. It was, and still is the center of elegance and dining and continues to be the residence of choice for celebrities.
Within walking distance of the Grande Colonial are world class shopping, dining and entertainment. A short drive will take you to an abundance of excellent golf courses and of course the La Jolla Playhouse is still open for business.
The Grande Colonial is a complex of four buildings surrounding a heated pool. In all, there are a combined total of 93 guest rooms and suites. Today, its 5-story signature Main Building has 61 rooms and suites. When it opened in 1928 rooms went for $3.00 to $6.00 per night and included golf privileges at the La Jolla Country Club.
Guests opting for extended stays and wanting a measure of extra space, privacy and kitchen facilities can stay at any one of three boutique hotels adjacent to the main building. Two of these buildings, the Colonial Hotel and Apartments and the Little Hotel-by-the-Sea, are the last of the area’s original small inns and have been designated by the Village of La Jolla as historic sites.
Accommodations in the original 2-story, 10-suite Colonial Hotel and Apartments building went for $1.00 per night when it opened in 1913. It was designed in the popular Prairie Style of the time. The advertising boasted that rooms had private baths, steam heat, electric lights and other modern conveniences.
The Little Hotel by-the-Sea, the building closest to the ocean and built in what I would call “California beach-style apartment design,” has eight extended-stay suites. The original self-service Otis elevator with its accordion or scissor gate is still in operation “whisking” guests to their suites on the second floor and the rooftop patio.
The last building in what the hotel refers to as its Grande Hotel Family, is the Garden Terraces. The Spanish-style design building has clay roof tiles and a stucco exterior. Ten extended-stay suites are spread out on over two floors.
The Grande Colonial Family has been referred to by many as one of the most elegant boutique hotels in California. We can certainly agree with that. found everything to be as advertised.
It was a delight being a guest here and we definitely plan on a return visit.