La Jolla

WORDS: Gloria Lin
PHOTOS: Randy Ronquillo

You think you know a place enough to say goodbye for good, and then you come back and find home.

La Jolla lies at the intersection of 40,000+ scrappy students on the hunt for bargain burritos and well heeled residents of one of the nation’s wealthiest communities. Multimillionaires in Maseratis brake alongside first-generation premeds whose 1993 Corolla’s check engine light never turns off. I come to the beach with my textbooks, hoping mitochondria will make more sense if I’m sunbathing next to tourists in paradise.

It’s upon my return that I find value in the steps I took as a frazzled undergrad, retraced now as a lucky resident. There’s the tasty treats of Pearl Street with the Taco Stand, Don Carlos Taco Shop, and El Pescador Fish Market. A short drive takes you to the ocean by way of a cliff view and parasailing at Torrey Pines Gliderport, a nudist community and The Mushroom House at Black’s Beach. Turn in any direction and there’s a narrative: the beach, the cliffs, and the waves all speak to the natural beauty this state is known for. It’s easy to run into cliches when it comes to San Diego, and in the well-to-do La Jolla, stereotypes of sunny California come naturally.

Mankind puts its own stakes in the looks department, too: the Murals of La Jolla project carves a walking tour of the seven-mile community. The architecture of the University of California, San Diego is often overlooked as haphazardly planned, with Brutalist structures confronting more conventional styles without warning. The concrete tree of Geisel Library is a campus symbol and neighbors multiple pieces of the Stuart Art Collection and student-created George Winne, Jr. Memorial, named after a student who self-immolated himself to protest the Vietnam War. This places the university’s history of student activism with donor-approved aesthetics right in vicinity of each other, denoting a colorful history in what otherwise feels like the most peaceful town around.

As a resident, I’m almost angry a town so picturesque exists. As a student, I remember it’s not all peace and quiet. As an explorer, this community tells a tale I keep finding more to learn from.

You’re in one of the wealthiest communities in the nation, and it costs $8 to get a burrito that’ll redefine gastronomic nirvana and a view that is Instagram-worthy even in December. The library walls that imprisoned me are now art that fascinates me. The injustices I saw as a struggling student standing in line for tacos behind the CEO who funded my department building linger in my mind, and I’m grateful finding self-care amidst these concerns is available right at my fingertips.

La Jolla tells a story that goes beyond “Wish You Were Here!” postcards and Coppertone: it’s a day trip worth making again because it reminds you why we travel: there is so much more to a destination than its Foursquare recommendations.