Patron Services: 858.550.1010

Plan Your Visit
Home Plan Your Visit About La Jolla
History of La Jolla

Located just 15 minutes north of downtown San Diego, La Jolla's seven-mile stretch of coastline property is technically within the San Diego city limits. Yet, La Jolla has undoubtedly earned a reputation as a city in its own right. Known as one of the most affluent communities in the United States, La Jolla boasts premium beaches, fine dining and distinguished art galleries. In addition, this seaside town hosts world-renown research institutions such as the Salk Institute.

First Inhabitants
Artifacts found in this geographic area indicate Native American settlements along the La Jolla shoreline over 3,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found stone utensils and Indian metates. However, the remains are small and scattered, leaving historians unclear about the fate of these earliest inhabitants.

Modern Settlers
The La Jolla lands became incorporated as part of San Diego in 1850. However, there were no permanent settlers in this section of town until 19 years later. Two brothers, Daniel and Samuel Sizer, each bought a plot of La Jolla land in 1869. The City of San Diego sold these 80-acre plots for the price of $1.25 per acre. Little did the Sizer brothers know that their plots of land, located between present-day Fay Street and La Jolla Boulevard, would be worth $1.25 million per acre by the late twentieth century.

When Frank Terrill Botsford arrived via boat in San Diego in 1886, he scribed in his diary, “Magnificent day at La Jolla!” Like the Sizer brothers, Frank Botsford purchased a plot of land, but Mr. Botsford also went a step further. He was the first to develop La Jolla property, earning his title as “the father of La Jolla.” With the help of George Heald, who purchased one-quarter interest of this property, Frank Botsford surveyed and subdivided the land. Although Botsford could not find drinkable water in the area, he still attempted to auction pieces of the land, with Bob Pennell serving as the auctioneer. The auction was successful and Pennell's persuasive techniques were so effective, he even convinced himself to purchase a plot of land.

What's in a Name?
La Jolla's name is a somewhat controversial subject among town historians. No one has an absolute account regarding the establishment of this name. What has been confirmed is the meaning of La Jolla, which stands for “the jewel” in Spanish. It is also confirmed that this name has appeared in all land grant and mission records since 1928. Yet, the name “La Jolla” also appears in scattered documents prior to this date, including one 1870 map designating plots of land in “La Joya.”

While mystery surrounds the exact date, place and circumstances surrounding the origin of La Jolla's name, there is no doubt about the validity of the name. Between the sparkling Pacific waters, deep caves and glorious beaches, this stretch of land is clearly “the jewel” of Southern California.

The Town Grows
In the 1890s, the railroad extended to La Jolla, enabling additional growth for this booming suburb. Around this time, real estate developers began to take an interest in the coastal property of La Jolla, constructing resorts to attract visitors from San Diego proper. La Jolla Park Hotel opened its doors in 1893, boasting three stories and 80 rooms. In addition, cottage-style homes were built along Prospect Street and Girard Avenue. The Union Congregational Church was established, as well as the La Jolla Woman's Club, which began as a women's reading circle.

During this time frame, La Jolla's devotion to the arts was born. One of La Jolla's citizens, Miss Anna Held, established her famous “Green Dragon Colony” in 1894, where she allowed artists and novelists to work without expense.

Newspaper heiress Ellen Browning Scripps settled in La Jolla in 1896. Her countless gifts to the La Jolla community are clearly noted in the plethora of institutions bearing her name, such as Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Ellen Browning Scripps Park.

However, growth was not entirely smooth sailing for the seaside town of La Jolla. The La Jolla Park Hotel had difficulty maintaining business and eventually burned to the ground in June 1896. Regardless, La Jolla continued to flourish into the twentieth century.

Twentieth Century Development
The twentieth century marks the establishment of countless institutions as the small town of La Jolla grew into a world-famous city. The first building of Scripps Institute of Oceanography was erected in 1909. This world-class research institute, which includes Birch Aquarium, has since become part of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD ), founded in the La Jolla community in 1959. In addition, La Jolla's first newspaper, known as The La Jolla Breakers, began in 1906.

In 1913, the The Grande Colonial Hotel opened for business with 28 apartments and 25 single rooms. Charging $1 per night, the hotel experienced such incredible success that a second building opened shortly after. The hotel has since been renovated many times and stands today, open for business, in the heart of La Jolla Village.

By the 1930s, La Jolla's luxurious resorts and incredible beach views attracted scores of Hollywood stars. Initially, celebrities simply came to La Jolla for relaxation and retreat. Yet, by the 1940s and 1950s, a few Hollywood stars began creating and producing plays at The Summer Playhouse, located in the auditorium of La Jolla High School. This is the theatre now known as La Jolla Playhouse.

The Present Day
Remnants of the La Jolla's early settlers are still evident throughout the town, from the names of key institutions to the eclectic form of architecture, primarily Mediterranean-style, which has evolved over the decades. With a current population of 38,000 people, La Jolla manages to host world-renown research institutions, breathtaking beaches, distinguished art galleries and top-notch restaurants – all in a seven-mile stretch along the Southern California shoreline. Thus, while the mystery of this town's name may never be solved, La Jolla's tourists and residents clearly see why it is called “the jewel.”