Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two days in La Jolla: The perfect #GirlfriendGetaway

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My wonderful Girlfriend Getaway pals Patti Londre (Worth The Whisk) and Dorothy Reinhold (Shockingly Delicious) looking out over the Pacific in beautiful La Jolla, California

My house is full of MEN. One full-size. One almost full-size. And one well on his way to teenager status. They're all sweet and well behaved and don't smell too bad, but still, this girl lives with a lot of testosterone.

Which means that when I get the opportunity to leave the men at home and take off on a road trip with two excellent girlfriends, I am out the door so fast even my head spins.

A recent "Girlfriend Getaway" to La Jolla marks the third trip I've taken with fellow bloggers Patti Londre (Worth The Whisk) and Dorothy Reinhold (Shockingly Delicious). We travel well together - and what a blessing it is to find compatible travel companions! It actually helps, I think, that we haven't known each other that long. It's the way I imagine dating after divorce: We've all had very full lives, so our pasts are mostly conversational virgin territory. And we still laugh at each other's jokes.

I highly recommend La Jolla as a getaway destination for people who live in or are visiting Los Angeles. It's on the edge of San Diego, but it's nothing like San Diego. It's far enough to feel like another world, yet the drive is manageable (under two hours if you drive the way I drive) and there's no jet lag. You'll find lots to do, great food, and sea lions. Really, La Jolla is the perfect Girlfriend Getaway or romantic weekend destination.

Here's what made our Girlfriend Getaway perfect.

The lobby bar at La Jolla's historic La Valencia Hotel

La Valencia: A first-class hotel by the sea

We were lucky enough to be hosted by La Valencia Hotel, an historic property overlooking dramatic La Jolla Cove. Rambling, covered in pale pink stucco, and oozing Old California charm inside and out, La Valencia is one of those hotels that makes you wish you had a novel to finish (and an impatient editor to pay your bills). Painted beams on the ceiling, brightly colored tiles on the walls and floors, stunning ocean views in every direction.

The long entrance hallway is lined with potted palms and helpful valets

La Valencia's outdoor restaurant has the best view in town

Patti couldn't get enough of the view from the floor-to-ceiling picture windows in La Valencia's lobby

The best scenic breakfast in La Jolla: The corner table of La Valencia's outdoor dining room has an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean

"The Pink Lady" tile portrait adorns the garden terrace, where weddings are performed every weekend

One of the many original hand-painted tiles on the walls of La Valencia 

We arrived mid-afternoon and our hosts at La Valencia showed us to our villas. Can you ever be too pampered on a Girlfriend Getaway? We don't think so. I stayed in Villa 2, with a lovely sitting room, a generous bedroom, and a huge bathroom. Villa 2 is bigger than my first apartment (by a lot) and looks out over the gorgeous La Valencia pool. It has a fireplace, a patio, a wet bar, and a bed that was so comfortable I could have slept for days.

Looking from the sitting room to the bedroom of Villa 2 - I'm still dreaming about that bed

The comfortable sitting room in Villa 2 - see me in the mirror?

Luxurious Frette cotton sheets with the La Valencia monogram - no wonder we slept so well!

We chatted up other La Valencia guests during our stay, and every single one was delighted to be there. La Valencia is definitely a place that makes people happy.

Great food makes a Girlfriend Getaway even greater

We are three food-loving women, so we plan our Girlfriend Getaway meals carefully. Our first night we were treated to dinner at The Med, La Valencia's elegant dining room. This is a special occasion spot, the kind of stately hotel restaurant where you know families have celebrated weddings, graduations, anniversaries, and promotions for several generations. Where you wouldn't be surprised to see heads of state tucked away in the corner outlining trade agreements over filet mignon. Where you look at the couple at the next table and wonder whether the nervous young man has a Tiffany box in his jacket pocket.

But for all that history and tradition, the food at The Med today is modern and breathtaking. Chef Daniel Barron joined La Valencia earlier this year and has taken the kitchen by storm. He is a chef in the truest sense of the word, obsessing over every ingredient, every supplier, every preparation.

Crispy Brussels sprouts with pancetta and parmesan cream at The Med

Food bloggers that we are, we tried to cajole him into sharing a recipe with us - those amazing crispy Brussels sprouts, we hoped. Chef Daniel smiled and politely refused. His food isn't meant to be made in a home kitchen by a home cook, he said. He hinted at molecular gastronomy and walk-ins full of curing meat. We stopped asking. The more we tasted, the more we understood that our job was to enjoy and savor, not to figure out how to recreate his dishes at home. Dinner at The Med is like staying at La Valencia: It's all about being taken care of.

We hit La Med right before some big changes in the menu and decor, so we're looking forward to going back when the renovations are done and the tasting menu is in place. If our meal at The Med was any indication, we're confident Chef Daniel's tasting menu will be one of the great meals in southern California. (The hotel is also putting in a French-style bistro for more casual dining.)

The Med dining room at La Valencia is about to undergo a big renovation - the tiles are staying but just about everything else will look different next time we go back

We found other great food in La Jolla, too. Breakfast at Cody's was the perfect way to start our second day. Cody's was exactly the opposite of The Med: quiet, light, spacious and beachy. I wouldn't have been surprised to feel sand under my feet. My omelet had mushrooms, spinach, and goat cheese, and the grits that came with must have been 50 percent cheese because they stretched when I lifted my spoon. We admired the vertical succulent frames and hanging herb pots on the front patio and, as always, spent a little too much time taking pictures of our food.

Dorothy photographing vegetable hash at Cody's

When our feet hurt later that day we had a quick lunch at Harry's Coffee Shop, a La Jolla institution. The food was only okay, but we love family-owned non-corporate restaurants where the owner's personality shines through. Harry's was the perfect spot for a little pick-me-up. Dorothy and I shared a turkey Ruben and discovered that turkey and sauerkraut are excellent mates.

Harry's Coffee Shop offered six weary feet a decent lunch with lots of atmosphere

On Chef Daniel's recommendation we had dinner at Whisknladle, a loud, buzzy, elbow-to-elbow spot just a block from La Valencia. Everything was divine, including the warm Brussels sprouts salad with snap peas, a local swordfish crudo (seriously right off the boat), and the lamb ragu with gnocchi, but the over-the-top winner was charred bone marrow. Have you ever eaten bone marrow? In this unusual version the bones were split vertically and toasted on the grill. The marrow tasted like the best steak you've ever had; you start to chew reflexively, and then the marrow melts on your tongue like pudding. It left us all speechless - which, for the three of us, is quite a feat.

Whisknladle, from left: Lamb ragu with gnocchi; butterscotch budino; grilled marrow bones

What do three girls do for fun in La Jolla? Play tourist and shop

Exploring La Jolla took us a full day plus an afternoon. The best thing about Girlfriend Getaways is that we have no schedule. No one has to be at football practice. No one has playdates or sleepovers or study groups. No lunches to pack. No laundry to fold. On our Girlfriend Getaways, we do pretty much whatever strikes our fancy.

In La Jolla, that included watching the sea lions flop and bark lazily on the beach at La Jolla Cove. Looking into clothing stores, hat shops, a used book store. Tasting flavored olive oils and vinegars. Listening to a sales pitch for a fancy espresso machine. Wandering through "starfish shops" wondering who actually buys the expensive beach decor chotchkes that crammed every shelf and took up all the floor space. We were tourists, we were on vacation, and we were happy.

A vase? A bowl? We weren't sure but we thought it was cool

Looking for treasures at D.G. Wills Books

Patti playing model at Chico's

A walk through Mary Star of the Sea Catholic church
Cookies for tourists

Descending the small, slippery staircase to the La Jolla Caves

A neglected property near the beach inspired a discussion of real estate prices and feuding families

Tasting olive oils and vinegars at We Olive

California sea lion

A shelf of random (but expensive) beach decor

Starfish for sale

In Sur La Table, we each searched for the cookie cutter that best represented us - this is mine

Preppy clothing

The caves at La Jolla Cove

The best part about exploring La Jolla: The car stayed in the parking garage. Two of us, at least, spend way too much time behind the wheel of a minivan, so a car-free break was most welcome. We hoofed it up and down those hills, earning the calories for our next meal. Exercise!

And then our Girlfriend Getaway tradition: Patti and I always make time for a soak in the hot tub. We still haven't gotten Dorothy into a bathing suit, and I'm starting to doubt we ever will, but she sat on a bench nearby drinking wine and watching our fingers prune up. Girlfriends have good chats in the hot tub. (Psst, husbands and kids - yep, we were talking about you.)

By the time we left La Jolla, each of us had started planning our next visit. Patti would bring Larry. Dorothy thought her husband and son would love a surfing weekend while she and her daughter wandered through the town. And I'd like to take my mom - it's just her kind of place.

Whether you're planning a Girlfriend Getaway, a romantic weekend with your love, or a family outing, put La Jolla on your list.

Disclosure: Many thanks to La Valencia Hotel for providing our hotel rooms and dinner at The Med so that we could experience La Jolla and report about it for our readers. 

1 comment:

Libbety said...

Nice post Erika! I feel like I had a vacation just reading about yours. :)

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