The Friendliest Place in La Jolla: The Grande Colonial Hotel
Celebrating 100 years of friendly service and hospitality is La Jolla’s Grande Colonial, the oldest original hotel in the serene seaside village of La Jolla (“The Jewel”). The hotel is actually a collection of five different buildings, going back to 1913. In 1928 the present concrete structure on Prospect Avenue became the third and largest building of the 75-room property. Later, the eight-suite Little Hotel by the Sea, known then as the smallest hotel in the world with an elevator, and the ten-suite Garden Terrace Hotel were acquired in an expansion of the company’s holdings. After millions of dollars and years of renovation, the complex has been completely updated in time to celebrate its centennial in 2013.
General Manager Terry Underwood believes the Grande Colonial is a place that embraces warm, gracious, and genuinely friendly hospitality. We found that to be true from the time we checked in until our departure. Every staff worker greeted us with a smile and offered to help if we needed something. We took them up on their offer! For example, on our second day at the hotel, we were expecting guests to arrive for a visit. The Grande Colonial’s excellent valet staff assisted our guests with their car and we enjoyed a pleasant visit with our friends in our room until about the lunch hour. As we exited the hotel, we asked Benny, one of the popular hotel doormen, about local dining options. Our friends wanted Mexican food, but the distance was a little more than they wanted to walk. Benny said, “Well, I’ll take you in the hotel’s London Cab!” The four of us hopped in the black, very London-looking sedan and Benny whisked us off to the restaurant. “Just have the restaurant call us when you’re done and I’ll pick you up,” he said. Sure enough, Benny came back a couple hours later, smiling and chatting easily with us. What could have been an otherwise forgettable meal had been turned into an adventure, a lively memory the four of us now share.
The Grande Colonial is justifiably proud of its long celebrated history. The original 1913 buildings were designed by Richard Requa, the master architect of the California Exposition in Balboa Park. In 1925 architect Frank Stevenson was commissioned to design another building (the present façade on Prospect) that would “rival anything in the West.” Hollywood actor Gregory Peck’s father was the pharmacist in the drug store once part of the hotel. Peck later founded the La Jolla Playhouse in 1947 and celebrities who performed there, such as Charlton Heston, Dorothy McGuire, Groucho Marx, and David Niven, were also guests who stayed at the Grande Colonial. Today the most famous celebrities connected with the hotel are actually the two chefs who perform their daily and nightly magic in the Grande Colonial’s Nine-Ten Restaurant & Bar, Chef Jason Knibb (San Diego’s 2014 Chef of the Year) and pastry chef Rachel King (one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Pastry Chefs of 2013). [Read more about Nine-Ten in our accompanying article.]
Along with its proud past, The Grande Colonial is also home to, uh, well, some “unusual light entertainment.” From time to time, the hotel has had reports of some strange happenings—nothing serious or alarming—but strange nevertheless. In fact, there have been enough cases of unusual phenomena that the hotel itself has assembled a sampler of some “ghost stories” it has collected over the years. Most of this lore amounts to harmless incidents of strangely dressed people suddenly appearing, then disappearing. Strange noises or incidents in which lights have been either turned on or off have also been reported. In one humorous, re-occurring case, it seems as if some of the visiting actors of long ago return to play jokes on the staff. One guestroom, in particular, was a favorite of actors because it had a semi-private entrance and exit, allowing for increased privacy. Today, the reception desk receives phone calls from this room from time to time, but when the call is answered, there is no one on the other end of the line. Each time this happens, an employee is sent to the room to make sure everything is okay, only to find it unoccupied. Even when the phone is kept off the hook, this phenomenon still happens. Perhaps it is old Groucho, ever the practical joker, up to his old tricks.
At one time in the hotel’s past, most of the rooms had kitchens. This was partly to do with the extended stays sought by many of the guests, who lingered several days in La Jolla after traveling long distances on dirt roads to get there. Over the years, with the changes in travelers’ needs and renovations to match them, many of the hotel’s kitchens have been removed and the remodeled rooms are now much larger than many average hotel rooms. Our room on the corner of the 3rd floor was quite large, allowing for a sofa sleeper, two large swivel-type easy chairs, and a coffee table, in addition to the king-size bed, side tables, desk, television cabinet with flat screen TV, and vanity. Also, there was a large bathroom with separate vanity area and a large walk-in closet with a safe, iron, ironing board, and Kashwere Bathrobes. Everything about the room was top-notch. The 93- room Grande Colonial also offers 18 extended-stay suites, with kitchens or kitchenettes, for those who desire additional privacy and living space.
We enjoyed using the single serving Keurig Coffee Maker each morning—far preferable to the small coffee brewing machines still found in many hotels. Complimentary in-room bottled water was re-stocked each day, a welcome gesture. The complimentary high-speed wireless internet allowed us to use our laptops and iPhones. Next to the bed was an iHome—iPod Docking clock Radio/Stereo. The HD television offered a full HD channel lineup including HBO. Housekeeping Service came by our room twice daily, once in the morning to freshen our room and a second time in the evening, offering turn-down service. Each morning there was a USA Today newspaper delivered to our door. Although we didn’t require the use of our central heat and air conditioning, the ceiling fan circulated overhead, adding to our enjoyment of the sea breezes coming in through our open windows. At night our comfortable bed was made even more so by the goose down comforter and pillows.
Over the past 40 years we have had the opportunity to stay at several La Jolla hotels, resorts and inns, largely because La Jolla has always been a favorite getaway for two people who grew up in Southern California but then moved out of the area. This was our first visit to the Grande Colonial, but we hope, not our last. It far exceeded what we thought it might be like. With its close proximity to the beach and to all the shopping and dining of the best part of La Jolla, there couldn’t be a more perfect location. The staff is first rate and the restaurant is five-star. It would be difficult to match or exceed a place like La Jolla’s Grande Colonial Hotel.
After checking out, as we awaited our valet to bring our car to the front of the hotel, Benny the doorman asked us how we enjoyed our stay. After making a few comments about his enjoyment of working at the Grande Colonial he shook my hand and said, “Remember, you’ve got friends in La Jolla.” Yes, we do.
Grande Colonial La Jolla Hotel
910 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037
Reservations: (888) 828-5498; (855) 267-4884
Fax: (858) 454-5679