The sun begins to tilt toward the sea, stretching shadows and hinting at cooler temperatures and evening’s approach. It's time. Carts and coolers are loaded with ketchup and mustard, bratwurst and shish-ka-bobs, a tray of brownies, triangles of watermelon. There’s an unspoken buzz of excitement of what’s to come at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.
Despite the luxury price tag, this hotel/private club isn’t all that fancy. But La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club has bragging rights no other property in San Diego County can claim: it's home to the only oceanfront beach where alcoholic beverages can legally be consumed. As a private beach, the local no-drinking on the beach law does not apply. You don’t need to be a big drinker to appreciate this detail either. Each evening in the summer, this exclusive stretch of sand becomes the best family beach party in Southern California.
Booze on San Diego’s public beaches led to littering, crime and a not too child-friendly atmosphere. At La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, on the other hand, parties are family centric affairs. Toddlers sit table-side, scooping sand into buckets. Parents clink glasses of wine together, celebrating another beach day done well. Teens gather in bunches, giggling and pointing at who has a crush on whom this year; many of them have been coming here since they were babies. Families coordinate with beach-found friends and return year after year for the resort’s mellow, beachy vibe.
White tables and chairs are set up for you by the attentive staff, along with beach umbrellas striped in joyous red, yellow and blue. You can order food from La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club: salads, desserts and meat—either raw to barbecue yourself or prepared and delivered in Styrofoam containers. You spare the environment and get in on the grilling fun. Most families pack their own BBQ goodies, with menus ranging from simple dogs and burgers, to filet mignon and grilled salmon.
Table settings are elaborate, but homey. Road trippers hailing from elsewhere in California or Arizona bring cloth napkins with rings, flower vases for fresh-cut floral centerpieces, and votive candles to adorn their tablescapes. Every night might have a different theme, cowboy casual one night and the next evening an elegant meal served on china plates packed carefully from home.
For such an upscale private club, the indoor furniture is surprisingly casual and the in-suite fully equipped kitchen outdated. The resort’s guests don’t come to La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club for elegant décor, though.
This is a place for the simplest and best pleasures. For sea shell collecting and seagull chasing. For cold cereal slurped from bowls on your shared patio, mere steps from a swath of sandy beach. For family tennis lessons followed by romping on the playground. For swimming in the rectangular pool, no waterslides in sight. For doors left open all day so you can hear the swoosh of ocean waves. For the smell of campfire wood burning memories into your family’s favorite vacation stories. For dolphins leaping as the sun sets, while you rush to the water’s edge with the rest of the human party-goers to get a closer look at the evening’s ocean guests.
At once, you are overwhelmed by a sense of connection to the children at your side, the beach, the water, the dolphins, and all of these people standing with you in awe at nature’s beauty and your small role in it. The word, “thankful” arises as the sun lowers itself into the ocean.
Have you ever felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude during your travels? Share your experience with us in the comments below.
A Note from The Travel Mama: My family's visit to La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club was provided free-of-charge. All opinions are my own, as always.
All photos by Colleen Lanin.