A weekend of culture, kisses and kayaks proves it: couples that paddle together stay together.
By Randall Tierney
It’s late October, the week of our wedding anniversary, and my wife, Ronda, and I are on the beach in La Jolla listening to our guide’s instructions on how to “put in,” kayakspeak for the launch, jumping in and paddling past the waves. We are about to hop in a tandem, a two -seater kayak, which, unlike the solo version, requires that the paddlers either work together or realize any or all of a number of unfortunate consequences that can be looked at as relationship metaphors. There is a reason why the tandem kayak is sometimes called the “divorce boat.”
Of course, divorce due to irreconcilable kayaking differences can be avoided if you make a kayak outing one of your early test dates, like we did. If you ever find yourself looking for your next wife or husband, rent a tandem kayak. You’ll end up either canceling your wedding plans or you’ll make kayaking part of every wedding anniversary you’ll have for the rest of your lives together, which is our plan. Two paddles, two minds, when one Yins, the other Yangs. Paddling hard or laying back, goofing or giving orders—these things must be done in perfect harmony or you rock the boat and maybe capsize altogether.
Your odds of achieving sweet Valentine harmony while doing just about anything shoot way up when visiting this gem of a seaside village called La Jolla, endlessly scenic, with hilly ocean bluffs and sandy beaches, and cultured to the bone. The pulse is both laid back, with a surfer vibe and old-monied, with a sophisticated-yet-casual blend of theatre, art, nature and science, with a little Hollywood. Raymond Chandler and Dr. Seuss lived and wrote here, actor Gregory Peck was one of the founders of the La Jolla Playhouse, Newspaper publisher and journalist Ellen Browning Scripps gifted most of her earned and inherited fortune to La Jolla development, including the iconic breakwater called the Children’s Pool and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Torrey Pines Golf Course, the host to the 2021 US Open and where the Farmer’s Insurance Open plays each year is part of La Jolla. The course borders The Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve a 1,750-acre park with a network of ocean-view trails. The namesake and gnarled Torrey pine is found only here.
Luminaries and millionaires began to define La Jolla more than a century ago. During our visit, we stayed at one of the most storied landmarks of the Village, the beautifully restored and renovated Grande Colonial Hotel, which celebrated its centennial in 2013 and completed a $4 million renovation in Spring of 2019. Charlton Heston, Dorothy McGuire, Groucho Marx, Jane Wyatt, Eve Arden, Pat O’Brien, David Niven and many other celebrities stayed at The Colonial while they were performing at the La Jolla Playhouse in the ‘40s and ‘50s. More recently, guest rooms, suites and most of the bathrooms received a new design in 2019: classic European ambiance with a refined sophistication.
We stayed on the 5th floor, in room 505 on the northwest corner, where our windows overlooked the breakwater and framed spectacular sunsets. Even the shoulder-high window in the shower features an amazing ocean view to soak in while you soap up. The entire suite was so beautiful and pleasing to the senses, we spent more time there than we had planned and found ourselves rearranging the furniture, placing a bench in front of the window, creating a front-row seat on which to sip champagne while savoring the sunset colors over the sea.
Only the promise of fine dining at the Grande Colonial’s NINE-TEN Restaurant would be enough to get you out of this room. On the deck, as the sunset turned darker, we toasted with Tattinger champagne, and received from our server an anniversary card signed by the entire hotel staff. For dinner we were at “The Mercy of the Chef,” NINE-TEN’s name for a special, six-course prix fixe menu created for the two of us at the whim and inspiration of the chef. On our night, each inventive and elegant dish outdid the next: Chestnut & Squash Ravioli, Grilled Octopus, Roasted Pear & Apple Salad, Farmers Market Roasted Vegetables, Hamachi Sashimi, Baja Striped Crudo. Executive Chef Jason Knibb, who trained under Wolfgang Puck and worked with Roy Yamaguchi, has created a menu that has brought awards and accolades, including most recently a “Plate Distinction” in the California Michelin Guide. For Valentines, on February 14, Chef Knibb plans a special four-Course Dinner with wine pairing options, including “Sommelier-Selected Premium Wine.”
The next morning, we headed out to Everyday California Adventures to do something we don’t do everyday: a kayaking adventure. Everyday is an amazing eco-friendly coastal tour and outfitting operation that is also a lifestyle brand. In addition to guided kayaking and snorkel excursions, surf lessons and paddle-board lessons, Everyday is an outdoor-fashion store for California-inspired apparel and accessories.
We met our Everyday guide and the rest of our small group and walked together two blocks past sidewalk cafes to La Jolla Shores beach, where the kayaks waited. Sturdy sit-on-tops, hardly tippy at all, these Hobie kayaks have comfortable seats that make you feel like you could paddle for days. Once launched, Ronda and I hit our soulmate rhythm and tried not to fall too far behind our little group, all of us doing our best to follow our guide while avoiding the zig-zag pattern that can add unintended distance. Destination: Clam Cave, where if we are lucky, we can paddle in. In the salty breeze, we stroked and watched cormorants dive-bomb for fish, while seals and sea lions lounged and bright-orange Garibaldis swam below us. Garibaldis are a protected species of fish everywhere you go, but all marine life is protected within La Jolla cove, a designated ecological reserve. If you want to take a fish, you’ll have to go beyond its 6,000 acre reach for starters, but the draw here are the seven sea caves and the sights.
I learned the hard way paddling into cove caves on the Central Coast that timing, swell size and tides are everything when entering and exiting the opening. Too high of a tide and too big of a wave and the space inside a smaller cave disappears in an instant, filling with water and rapidly forcing your head to the rock ceiling. But conditions on our morning were perfect for sea spelunking. We all still wore our helmets when our guide escorted us into the cave mouth and back out in pairs. When it was our turn, the water was calm, and with a small swell, we glided easily into the quiet, dark space of Clam Cave. Ronda would never have seen the sea lion and its pup on the ledge a few feet above her head if the protective mom hadn’t let out a teeth-rattling bark directed at her helmet earhole. Ronda’s shriek followed the bark and our laughs added to the cacophony that echoed through the chamber. The cave opened further in and was revealed to be more of a tunnel than a cave, to a small rocky sea lion shore. Not every kayak group gets to enter one of the seven caves, but we were lucky that day. Even more fortuitous, I spotted a green sea turtle below our kayak, and our group quickly circled around as we waited for it to come up for a gulp of air, which it did to everyone’s delight. I thought we had to be in Maui to see one of these, but they are in La Jolla too, though sightings are rare (I got an attaboy from the guide). In addition to mate compatibility, clear sky, flat water and good underwater visibility definitely improves a kayak outing. The visibility at La Jolla cove can exceed 30 feet on a good day. While there were a large number of groups out, it never felt crowded, a testament to how well all these guides herd the humans.
With all that paddling and sunshine we had worked up a big appetite and a thirst for margaritas, an after-effect not lost on Galaxy Taco, which seems strategically placed right next door to the busy kayak operation of Everyday California on Avenida de la Playa. Offering ingredients like mushrooms, lengua (beef tongue) and grilled avocado, the tacos here have been elevated to epicurean status, especially when served with their equally inventive and colorful craft cocktails and margaritas. Day of the Dead décor keeps it lively, along with an effervescent bartender. A perfect apres-kayak feast.
As the weekend came to a close and it was time to leave La Jolla, there were so many things that we had wanted to do and see but will have to wait until next time. The seahorses are waiting for us at the Birch Aquarium, our appointment with Dr. Seuss’s collection at the Legends Gallery will have to be rescheduled, the show will go on without us at the La Jolla Playhouse. A stroll on the breakwater at Children’s Beach will take place during our next sunset here. To create your romantic La Jolla getaway plan for a Valentine’s Day or any day, go to SanDiego.org.
The Grande Colonial (left), which celebrated is centennial in 2013, is the most storied hotel in La Jolla. Room with a View (right): from suite 505 at the regal Grande Colonial, we looked over the breakwater at Children’s Beach.