When planning a La Jolla, Calif., vacation, there are plenty of luxury resorts and a handful of perfectly nice chain hotels located in this beachside resort community in Southern California, a few miles north of San Diego. While some people like the new Estancia La Jolla Resort & Spa, I found it to have poor service for a luxury hotel, plus the rooms are noisy and it’s located inland, across the street from the University of California, San Diego campus. Instead, my favorite La Jolla hotels are independent businesses located near the ocean.

Grande Colonial Hotel

The Grande Colonial Hotel is as close to a perfect hotel as I’ve found anywhere in the world—with impeccable service; cozy rooms with understated elegance, many with stunning ocean views; and a welcoming ambiance that you’ll find only in smaller properties such as this one. The historic hotel dates to 1913, and offers an unbeatable location: It’s within walking distance of La Jolla Cove, as well as the area’s best shopping and dining. New to the property this year is the eight-room Little Hotel by the Sea and the 10-room Garden Terraces. Both are adjacent to the hotel and managed by the Grande Colonial but retain separate personalities. The hotel’s small, perfectly round pool is a favorite with my daughter because it’s kept heated to an ideal 82 degrees.

910 Prospect St.; tel. 858-454-2181. Rates starting at $225. www.thegrandecolonial.com

Hotel Parisi

Although the Hotel Parisi is not directly on the ocean, it’s still within walking distance of La Jolla Cove, and it’s set amid the best shopping on Prospect Street. As the name suggests, this relatively new boutique hotel has a definite European flair—the interior reminds me a little of a French castle—but the overwhelming influence is Asian. The property was decorated according to feng shui principles and is heavily perfumed with essential oils. Amenities include an on-site yoga instructor and an acupuncturist, and the guestroom décor is clean-lined and contemporary. The first time I visited, I had a little trouble finding the registration desk: Climb the stairs just off the main entrance and then look for the discreet, slightly off-center table in the second-floor lobby.

  • A room at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.
  • Courtesy of the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club

1111 Prospect St.; tel. 858-454-1511. Rates starting at $295. www.hotelparisi.com

La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

The exclusive La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club is situated directly on La Jolla Shores, which makes it ideal for a beach getaway. The resort offers sumptuous guestrooms as well as one- to three-bedroom suites—the latter of which are perfect for families traveling with children. Private accommodations are light and bright and accented with beach themes, and public spaces are clubby and rich with dark wood accents. The impeccably maintained tennis courts on property are a favorite with locals, and the pool is large and uncrowded. Look for the over-the-top beachside barbecue, where you’ll dine on fine china and tables set with crisp linens—and all this with sand between your toes.

2000 Spindrift Dr.; tel. 800-640-7702. Rates starting at $219. www.ljbtc.com

  • La Jolla Cove Suites is just steps away from the beach.
  • Courtesy of La Jolla Cove Suites

La Jolla Cove Suites

This spacious, vaguely retro motel is a little rough around the edges: The units at La Jolla Cove Suites (studios as well as larger accommodations with separate bedrooms) come with a furnished kitchenette, generous seating area with slightly worn furniture and sparsely furnished patios. Although the property is short on glamour, it has incomparable views over La Jolla Cove and the adjacent grassy Scripps Park—better views, I think, than much pricier options nearby. The property has its own pool and spa in the back and parking on site. Even if you don’t get an oceanfront room, you’ll be able to take advantage of the jaw-dropping scenery from the rooftop deck, where breakfast is served daily.

1155 Coast Blvd.; tel. 888-525-6552. Rates starting at $150. www.lajollacove.com

La Valencia

The “pink lady,” as this 1926 Spanish colonial beauty is known, has no rivals when it comes to cachet: The venerable La Jolla institution has hosted old-time Hollywood, European royalty and international politicians alike. The lure? In addition to stunning views over La Jolla Cove, La Valencia offers sterling service, one of the most gentrified watering holes in the city (the Whaling Bar and Grill), lobby views of the Pacific that won’t quit and a sparkling rooftop pool that is delightful by day and even better under the stars. Standard rooms are shockingly small for the price; if your budget will allow, spring for a more spacious ocean villa, which comes with a wet bar, private butler service and some even boast fireplaces.

  • The Lodge at Torrey Pines overlooks the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course.
  • SD Dirk

1132 Prospect St.; tel. 858-454-0771. Rates starting at $399. www.lavalencia.com

Lodge at Torrey Pines

This sprawling Craftsman-style beauty is just north of La Jolla, and sits adjacent to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (see accompanying article on Torrey Pines). The Lodge at Torrey Pines is best known for its Torrey Pines Golf Course, arguably the finest course in Southern California, home to the 2008 U.S. Open. Hotel guests are assured a tee time on this often-booked course. Accommodations are luxurious and exceptionally spacious—the smallest guest rooms log in at more than 500 square feet—and many have breathtaking views of the golf course and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Don’t miss the chance to relax at indulgent Spa at Torrey Pines: A specialty is the Torrey Pines Cobble Stone massage, a full-body massage that incorporates warm and cold polished stones and heated botanical oils.

11480 North Torrey Pines Road; tel. 858-45.... Rates from $305. www.lodgetorreypines.com