“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.”

~T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

I’m not exactly certain how it all began, but one New Year’s Day in the early 2000s, our family decided to head out on a walk along the La Jolla coast. As we welcomed a new year among sea lions, sea birds and the gentle, lapping sounds of the Pacific, we had no idea that a lovely tradition was quietly weaving itself into the fabric of our family. Even after our son and daughter moved on with their own lives, Herb and I have carried on the tradition every New Year’s morning we’ve lived here.

That is, until 2021. With the pandemic circling about and vaccines not yet on the horizon, we stayed close to home last New Year’s Day, steering clear of public spaces – even outdoor ones. But this year, we were oh-so ready to dust off the cobwebs from our packed-away tradition and return to La Jolla on January 1st.

January 1, 2022, 8 a.m.

We park the car near the entrance to Sunny Jim Cave on Coast Boulevard and begin our walk at the wooden staircase leading to a lookout point that hangs over the Pacific. I’m surprised by how many people are already on the path – clearly more than I remember from past years. There are many more photographers as well, their long zoom lenses propped up on railings and tripods, cameras focused on pelicans dotting the rocks and shoreline cliffs.

We pass two lifeguards on the path, heading to their station. “Happy New Year,” we greet each other, exchanging smiles. You can almost hear the hope in our voices.

View from the path…the lookout point and a dreamy blue Pacific.
Entrance to Sunny Jim Cave, the only sea cave in California that is accessible by land.
The double-sided Clam’s Cave, La Jolla’s only sea cave that is visible from the shore.
Wooden stairway leading to the lookout point.
Sitting on bare-branched cliffs…
…and hanging out on rocks near the edge of the Pacific…
So sweet.

High Tide

Our arrival at high tide plays momentary tricks with my memory’s recollection of gentler sounds. These waves are putting on a show, as if to usher in the new year with a burst of hope and energy. We stop to watch sea lions swimming in the foamy ocean, almost as if they were playing in piles of snow. Pelicans seem to be reveling in the waves as well, soaring overhead and landing like graceful dancers on nearby rocks. The bubbly champagne sea spray crashes against the shore – a visual metaphor for a new year.

A sea lion swims near the shore while several others hang back beyond the waves.
Two little heads among snow-like foamy waves
…and a close up!
A perfect landing.

Heading to Shell Beach & Seal Rock

The path takes us past Ellen Browning Scripps Park and La Jolla’s bright green belvederes, open-sided huts offering a place to sit and take in the Pacific views. According to the La Jolla Historical Society, the seaside gazebos have been part of the city’s coastal landscape since the 19th and early 20th centuries. We reach Shell Beach, home to the area’s tide pools. Although they’re only accessible during low tide, we head down the stairs and are treated to a terrific view of Seal Rock.

Ellen Browning Scripps Park, looking east.
 One of La Jolla’s charming belvederes, whose rooftops always seem to be a popular perch for seagulls.
I love this plaque near the entrance to Shell Beach.
No tide pooling during high tide!
View of Seal Rock from the Shell Beach entrance.
Sea lions and harbor seals on the rocks…
…and on the beach. 
An extremely non-camera-shy seagull!
A few tips for spotting the difference between sea lions and harbor seals.

The Final Stretch

The La Jolla Coast Walk winds along the water’s edge until it spills into a residential neighborhood along Coast Boulevard. The path becomes more crowded as we retrace our steps back to the cove, and we are grateful to have arrived early. The tide is moving out as well, offering a calmer ocean scene.

The mood at this section of the walk is festive, lively, a contrast to the early morning magic. Vendors set up souvenir stands, arranging jewelry, hats and trinkets on foldable tables. Artists display their paintings, propping them on wooden boards near stone-covered walls. We pass the Museum of Contemporary Art on one side of the street and a couple’s beach-side engagement proposal – complete with rose petals arranged in the shape of a heart – on the other.

The morning feels like a celebration, as if there had been no gap in our New Year’s Day tradition.

The quiet of the early morning gives way to a festive feel.
Herb picks up a coffee before heading back to our car.
The Museum of Contemporary Art.
Happening upon a New Year’s Day proposal.
A reflective spot.
Looking north, back where we began.

*     *     *     *     *

The best traditions are the ones that sort of sneak up on you. They unfold slowly, carrying no expectations, no intentions of becoming anything more than the moment. And yet over time, they blossom into an anticipation, like signposts directing the way, as if they’ve always been an integral part of our lives…part of the treasured story we have created for ourselves.


    • Thanks so much, Dixie. It’s wonderful hearing from you here! I’m delighted to have had you along on the tour, but I do wish it could have been in person 🙂 Happy New Year and love to you and Steve!

  • Aaaah, how lovely to read and feel the fresh air on my face! Ok, so only in my imagination, but thank you for sharing your New Year tradition and for bringing memories back from a fun day we spent there when in San Diego a few years ago. Our friends from Carlsbad met us and said they’d take us to a favourite spot…

    Happy New Year to you both!

    • Gill, I’m happy to have sent some fresh air to your imagination 🙂 And how fun that you have been to this beautiful spot as well! It was very special to rekindle our tradition this year. Here’s to a Happy 2022 and to travels near and far!

  • A wonderful tradition for your family! We live in a beautiful state and blessed with a alluring coastline. The King Tide made for a spectacular show New Years weekend. Happy 2022 to you and Herb!!

    • Thank you, Nancy! I know what you mean about California. I truly love this beautiful state of ours – most especially the coastal areas – and continually remind myself not to take any of it for granted. Best wishes in the New Year!

  • Mary, as always your narrative and photos are stellar. The ‘treat earth well’ sign was right on the money. Thank you so much.

    • Happy New Year, Linda! Many thanks for your kind words here. I completely agree with you about the the “treat the earth well” sign. I’m not certain how long ago it was placed there, but I was immediately struck by its relevance today, especially at such a lovely place.

  • Your photos are stunning. I’ve done this walk many times and never tire of it. Early morning is the best time (and the only time dogs are officially allowed). Don’t you think the trees in Ellen Browning Scripps Park may have been an inspiration for Dr. Seuss? Thing One and Thing Two seems to emerge from those trees!

    • Janet, thank you! I agree with you about the early morning, and I love your thought that Dr. Seuss was inspired by those magnificent trees. It seems quite possible, especially since he lived in La Jolla and the way they so perfectly fit with his wonderful imagination!

  • Very refreshing stretch.
    Nature cannot reset itself. We cannot reset our life.
    But we can reset Calendar on January 1st and we can write our life on it.

    Happy New Year!

    • “Writing our life on a reset calendar.” What a beautiful thought, Myron! Thanks so much for sharing that. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post, and I wish you a very Happy New Year!

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