When you live in a town as popular as San Diego, you’re often turned off by the tourist spots by the water. Mission Beach? Pure tourist. But La Jolla is a different situation altogether. This upscale beach town, while it certainly attracts its share of tourists, feels a lot more local than other places do. Still, if you aren’t in the know, you won’t find these hidden gems without a tour guide like me!

1. Start at Warwicks

warwicks

Dive right into your shopping by hitting up the stores lining Girard Avenue, and begin with this local gem. Warwicks is the oldest family-owned and operated bookstore in the country, and its book selection is trouble if you’re a book-lover like me (you want to adopt them all). They’ve got everything from employees’ picks to local authors’ books. On the other half of the store you can find unique cards, stationery, and gift items.

2. Take a Break at Sugar and Scribe

sugar and scribe

Once I realized that my beloved Sprinkles cupcake shop was no more, I told my friend Rose that I needed a cupcake, and I needed it stat. We stumbled onto Sugar and Scribe Bakery near the shopping district. They were about to close (and a bit impatient to get us served and out of there), but we had to gawk at the piles of pastries, the eclectic examples of their artistic cakes, and the bright jars of sprinkles that made the place so Instagrammable. The cupcakes were gorgeous, but in my mind, not as good as Sprinkles.

3. Peruse the Art Galleries

national geographic fine art

Where Prospect Street overlooks the cove (and where you’ll find high end restaurants like Eddie V’s and George’s at the Cove), you’ll find half a dozen art galleries, their doors flung open, inviting you to step inside. Legends Gallery will lure you in with its whimsical Theodore Geisel exhibit (you know him as Dr. Seuss). At Peter Lik, you’ll find life-sized photographs that seem illuminated, thanks to the silver paper used in the processing (at least, that’s what I understood). And don’t miss the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries, which, as you’d expect, houses fine examples of the brand’s best photographs.

4. Watch the Sunset at La Valencia

la valencia

This tip feels like such a secret, though locals are well aware of La Valencia’s appeal come sunset. The hotel overlooks the ocean, and if you time your visit to The Med Restaurant just right, you’ll have a prime seat for the spectacular sunset. But even if you don’t make reservations, you can grab a drink at the bar and hang out on the patio one level down, then make your way up amongst the restaurant tables to take your shot of the sunset with all the other folks. The staff doesn’t mind.

5. Round Out Your Night at Empress Hotel

empress hotel art

After spending hours meandering the streets of La Jolla, maybe stopping here and there for an adult beverage, there’s nowhere better to spend the night than Empress Hotel. I like it for several reasons. First, it’s not on the main drag of La Jolla, which means you don’t have to contend with traffic. Second, it’s got some amazing technological features. The art in the lobby is on digital screens and rotates out. You can order prints of any images you like with a handy touchscreen. In the room, you’ll find a tablet you can use to do typical tablet-y things, as well as put in maintenance requests, order room service, or notify valet that you want your car. The final perk: there’s a lively weekend scene in the restaurant, Manhattan of La Jolla, and they’re all locals. The piano player can be caught playing Michael Jackson and other perennial favorites to an enthusiastic dancing crowd.

empress hotel

La Jolla is appealing to both locals and visitors, and I’m delighted to share some of the ways locals celebrate their little town by the sea so you can try them out on your next visit.

*I was provided with a complimentary room at Empress Hotel in exchange for a review, however all opinions here are my own.