La Jolla, as was fairly typical for a Southern California beach town, started out with residents building beach bungalows, mostly out of redwood, shipped in from Northern California. Subdivisions were laid out, lots were sold individually and at an auction, and speculators abounded. Back then, large tracts of homes were not built all at once, as they are today. The owners of the land made their money on the sale of individual lots alone.

The only Victorian architecture was represented in the La Jolla Park Hotel which burned down in the 1890's. There are few remaining original bungalows now. Since then, most homes have been designed in the style of "California Ranch" and "Spanish Mediterranean." The newest condo buildings are neo-Italian Tuscan style. Today, La Jolla homes include rare craftsman bungalows from the early 20th century, Spanish colonial houses from the 1920's, several wonderful mid-century modern homes built in the late 1940's - 1960's, and some more recent - and quite spectacular - avant garde residences on and around Mt. Soledad.

Some of the new large homes are out of scale with the low-keyed bungalows - hence the word "McMansions." This is probably the only upscale town left in Southern California where there are still fairly modest homes (on very expensive land) that are on quieter streets fronting the ocean. (Try the "Bird Rock" or "Windansea" neighborhoods for a walk.)

Hotel architecture ranges from the 1926 exuberant pink Spanish Colonial La Valencia to the tiny Redwood Hollow craftsman garden cottage colony from 1915. The latter supplies rustic housekeeping cottages of various sizes near "Whispering Sands" beach. There is a Bed and Breakfast which was the former home of John Philip Souza, Jr., designed by architect Irving Gill. Gill also designed the La Jolla Women's Club, the Recreation Center, and The Bishop's School. The Grande Colonial Hotel was built in 1928 and it featured the first sprinkler system west of the Mississippi. Putnam's Pharmacy was located on the ground floor and Gregory Peck's father was one of the pharmacists.

Since there is a 30 foot height limit along the coast, there is only one highrise - built in the 1960's before the limit became effective in the 1970's. The height limit makes the village very human and cozy, but at the same time, because there is lower density, the price of real estate is extremely high. The height limit also - thankfully - has prevented waterfront San Diego from looking like coastal south Florida.

To summarize, La Jolla is a place where the architecture and the layout of the town begs and encourages walking, exploring, and people watching, especially in the downtown "village" area. Savvy travelers will pick up a walking tour brochure from the La Jolla Historical Society (7846 Eads Avenue, tel. 858-459-5335), which is housed in a classic Craftsman style cottage.