Recognizing the truth to the adage that home is where the heart is, we have assembled a selection of 10 American cities, towns, and other locales best suited for specific tastes and preferences or for pursuing individual passions. Therefore—based on months of research, dozens of interviews, and our staff’s own firsthand knowledge—we present our choices, among others, for the best island on which to own a home, the superlative setting for rustic living, the preferred place for those who love to golf, the ideal address for skiers, and the seaside community capable of addressing a megayacht owner’s every need. While acknowledging that every heart beats differently, we also selected one town possessing so many aesthetic and social attributes that anyone would be happy calling it home, or calling it home to one of his or her residences. We designate that town, La Jolla, Calif., as simply the best place in America to live.
Many residents of La Jolla, a town located in the greater San Diego area, like to believe that it derives its name from la joya, the Spanish word for jewel. This story, however, may be no more than an etymological urban legend; a competing theory claims that the name comes from a word meaning hidden cave or hollow in the language of the Kumeyaay, the Native American tribe of the region.
Word-nerd quibbles aside, La Jolla is indeed a jewel, as precious to La Jollans as any that can be found at the local Cartier boutique on Girard Avenue. Like those jewels, it is comfortably sized (20 square miles, a population of about 35,000), multifaceted, and placed in a beautiful setting.
La Jolla’s gloriously mild Southern California weather and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean are essential components of its identity and appeal. Its seaside location also sets La Jolla apart from a nearby noteworthy affluent community, Rancho Santa Fe, which lies about five miles inland.
Although the average temperature is 74 degrees, and the sun shines more than 300 days a year in La Jolla, few homeowners install swimming pools. With such a diverse selection of beaches at their disposal, there is no need to.
La Jolla Cove, for example, is an underwater nature preserve forested with kelp and teeming with sea life. Secluded Black’s Beach is a favorite with the clothes-optional crowd, and surfers still flock to Windansea Beach almost 35 years after Tom Wolfe portrayed its surf scene in his book The Pump House Gang. La Jolla has more than a splash of literary cachet. Raymond Chandler spent the last 13 years of his life here, and Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was also a resident.
La Jolla’s many facets enhance its luster. Shoppers, diners, and art and antiques collectors will all come away satisfied. Golfers have several options, including the Torrey Pines Golf Course, one of the top municipal courses in the country. It hosts the Buick Invitational, a PGA event, on its South Course every February, and the sixth hole of its North Course offers a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and La Jolla.
Live theater is served by the La Jolla Playhouse, founded by native Gregory Peck and now run by two-time Tony Award–winner Des McAnuff. The playhouse is located on the campus of the University of California at San Diego, which has impressive credits of its own: U.S. News & World Report ranks its biomedical and biomedical engineering programs second in the nation, ahead of those of MIT, Northwestern, Duke, and Stanford. The university’s presence has helped make La Jolla a leading center for biomedical research. Dr. Jonas Salk, creator of the polio vaccine, spent his later years here researching a cure for AIDS, and his local namesake institute continues his important work.
Mind you, this gem is not absolutely flawless. There are the occasional traffic problems in the busier areas, and it is afflicted by the Southern California phenomenon known as June Gloom, when cold marine air collides with hot inland air to create a fog that usually clears by midmorning. Still, no matter how you tilt it, La Jolla shines brightly. —sheila j. gibson
The Best Places to Live by Sheila J. Gibson et al.