In one prized pocket of La Jolla are three glorious landmarks: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Torrey Pines Golf Course, and the Lodge at Torrey Pines.
By J.C. Thomas
The Torrey pine tree (pinus torreyana), the rarest pine species in North America, is an intriguing natural treasure. It’s very finnicky about its home, existing only in two spots in the world: a 2,000-acre natural reserve in La Jolla, north of San Diego, and on Santa Rosa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park. At the same time, this tree is impressively resilient. Mainland specimens survive only on a narrow strip of coast, the last remnant of a habitat once widespread. With a unique microclimate, this pocket of La Jolla offers enough springtime fog to sustain the ancient pines. Bent and gnarled by gusty winds, the namesake trees scattered amid coastal sage and chaparral in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve characterize a breathtakingly beautiful California landscape.
Torrey pine trees also lend their name to two other significant landmarks in La Jolla, each a major draw for visitors. Torrey Pines Golf Course, comprising two 18-hole courses winding along coastal cliffs, is famous as the annual host of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open. A municipal course, it offers the rare opportunity for the general public to play in a world-renowned setting. Adjacent to the golf course and sharing its splendid spot at the edge of the continent is The Lodge at Torrey Pines. It’s a luxury hotel, a dining destination and a true architectural gem. If you’re planning to spend a night or two in La Jolla, there’s no finer place to book a room.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines: An Overview
The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a special place where the scenery, lodge setting and guest experience are all equally memorable. Taking inspiration from the finest examples of turn-of-the-century Craftsman design, the lodge is an artistic marvel. Its structure, surface design, furnishings and accents are all handsomely rendered in hardwoods, leather and leaded glass. The lodge offers 170 guest rooms and suites, all luxuriously appointed and many overlooking the golf course and Pacific Ocean beyond.
There are two restaurants on site: A.R. Valentien, offering refined farm-to-table cuisine; and The Grill at Torrey Pines, an upscale-casual spot specializing in wood-fired fare. Guests enjoy access to a heated pool and spa with cabanas and poolside food and drink service, a croquet court with other lawn games, and a full-service spa and fitness center. (Available amenities are affected by pandemic regulations. Call or check online for up-to-date details.)
Since it opened in 2002, the Lodge at Torrey Pines has received AAA’s Five Diamond rating every year. Among many other prestigious awards, US News and World Report called it the No. 4 best resort in California in 2021, and in 2017 Sunset Magazine named the lodge No. 1 on its list of the 25 Best Hotels in the West.
The Lodge’s Remarkable Architecture
The Lodge at Torrey Pines is a contemporary ode to the American Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s. More specifically, it is directly inspired by Pasadena’s landmark Gamble and Blacker houses, two master works by Charles and Henry Greene. Those “ultimate bungalows,” meticulously designed large-scale residences, are celebrated as epitomes of the Craftsman style in California. In every inch of its public space, the Lodge at Torrey Pines replicates those Greene-and-Greene models on an impressively expanded scale.
An aesthetic experience begins with arriving guests’ memorable first impression of the property. The entranceway stars a copy of the iridescent oak tree that reaches across the Gamble House’s triptych of glass-paneled doors. Warm tones of natural light filtered over smoothed panels and beams of dark hardwoods throughout the lodge give it a calm and cozy atmosphere. Characteristic of the lodge’s Craftsman inspiration are clean lines, seamless wood joints (not a nail nor a sharp edge in sight), natural materials and only the most thoughtfully edited ornamentation. Stickley-style furniture, art-glass light fixtures and framed woodcut prints define the interior décor. A harmonious connection with the outdoors is another Greene-and-Greene motif, as seen in the trickling ivy over weathered brick walls around the lodge’s perimeter.
Overall, the exemplary architecture and design at The Lodge at Torrey Pines communicates a sense of unpretentious luxury, a celebration of nature and organic form that translates into an unrivaled guest experience.
Accommodations at The Lodge at Torrey Pines range from 500-square-foot guest rooms with one king or two queen beds, to the 2,500-square-foot Gamble Suite with two bedrooms, presidential parlor and full kitchen. All are luxuriously appointed with Egyptian cotton linens, marble-clad bathrooms and elegant décor fitting the Craftsman theme. Most have a balcony or patio – ask for one with golf course and ocean views to take in glorious sunsets – and many feature a fireplace and jetted tub as well.
Opt for one of suites to enjoy superbly spacious indoor and outdoor accommodations. Those on the ground floor, such at the 900-square-foot Robinson Suite, have French doors that open onto a wrap-around patio with incredible golf course views. A low brick wall winds around the furnished space for privacy, but the panorama of the 18th green and ocean backdrop is otherwise uninterrupted. You’re close enough to hear the “thwack” of golf balls and follow their flight, yet secluded in your own private space.
Inside the suite is a plush king bed set back from those same views, plus a long living space divided by custom furnishings into a dining area, work space, and cozy living-room nook around a fireplace. There’s an oversized jetted tub in the enormous marble and hardwood bathroom as well as a walk-in shower and dressing area. Calming earth tones, landscape paintings and an impressive collection of Tiffany-style lamps make the Robinson Suite a deliciously serene retreat.
Two Top-Notch Restaurants
The Lodge at Torrey Pines’ two restaurants each have a distinctive vibe, but share a commitment to showcasing local ingredients in dishes inspired equally by California and diverse global cuisines. The signature restaurant, A.R. Valentien, is named for an early 20th century California artist whose works are on display inside the timbered Craftsman venue. The fine-dining establishment is the domain of executive chef Jeff Jackson, a farm-to-table pioneer with classical French training. His frequently changing menu might offer such creations as mushroom dumplings in smoked tea broth, caramelized sea scallops with butter-braised radishes, and swordfish with Salt Spring Island mussels, white wine, fennel, garlic and saffron aioli ficelle.
The Grill at Torrey Pines specializes in open-flame cooking on its custom wood-fired rotisserie. Its menu is available for room service and take-out as well as dining on the coastal-view patio. Look for wood-roasted vegetables as a side option, chimney-smoked carvitas with refried beans and avocado stuffed in a tolera roll, and chimney-roasted chicken with farro verde and its own jus. All-American comfort food makes up some of the menu’s most-tempting lunch and dinner choices. Among them are a sloppy Joe, pimento cheese BLT, rotisserie chicken salad, and the Drugstore hamburger, a true classic with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. More exotic choices might include Spanish octopus with Romesco sauce, and crispy-skin Scottish salmon with baby bok choi and black forbidden rice.
The Grill’s drink menu nods to wood-fired flavors too, with its chimney-smoked margarita. It also offers a comprehensive array of all-local craft beers from San Diego’s Alesmith, Ballast and Mother Earth brewing companies, among others. Visitors and overnight guests alike might be tempted to take a patio seat by a firepit and order just drinks and appetizers – the house-made potato chips with a thick, rich onion dip is ideal – while watching the slow rhythms of the golf course under shifting clouds. On the sweeter side, the homemade ice cream and cookie plate is perfection on any sunny day.
Things to Do at Torrey Pines
The Lodge at Torrey Pines charges a resort fee that covers weekend yoga classes, the use of poolside cabanas, loaner putters and golf balls to use on the putting green (plus many in-room amenities).
Ask at the front desk for maps for a self-guided botanical tour of the property, or children’s self-guided scavenger hunt. On Fridays through Sundays the lodge hosts guided hikes in Torrey Pines State Reserve. Guests may also reserve electric bikes, and request assistance with tee times at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a must-see for lodge guests. It’s a National Natural Landmark with eight miles of trails along a wild, unspoiled stretch of coast. Along with the rare Torrey pine trees, the habitat is a refuge for waterfowl. Its tall, crumbly cliffs, deep ravines, springtime wildflowers and miles of sandy beaches at Torrey Pines State Beach are very photogenic as well as a top destination for hiking, bird watching, and occasionally even whale-spotting. Also in La Jolla is the Birch Aquarium, just 3 miles from the lodge.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines also makes an excellent base for visiting San Diego and its countless tourist attractions. San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Balboa Park and Coronado Island are all less than 30 minutes away by car.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines, 11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037
Disclaimer: California News Press and its contributors received goods, services and/or other professional courtesies to facilitate this review. All opinions are those of the author.