BY SHELLI DEROBERTIS
The closet-sized outdoor La Jolla Visitor Center, 7966 Herschel Ave. in the heart of The Village, is big in the service department, recording 34,253 walk-up guests last year, an increase of 1 percent from the previous year.
The center has been a community staple for 10 years. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and staffed by eight volunteers and four part-time employees, who work the booth in pairs — rain or shine.
C.J. Middendorf has several years’ experience helping visitors who stop by the portable counter on wheels.
“Most of the time, the question we get from visitors is, ‘We’re here, now what should we do?’ ” Middendorf said. In response, she highlights a route on a paper map to give them a walking path to the ocean.
“The top thing most want to do is walk along the coastline and see the caves. I send them across the street and suggest they start with the seals, and I talk about the seawall.”
About half of the people ask about the seals, and others inquire about the art galleries, she said.
Carole Hutchins, a seven-year volunteer had this insight: “You have two types of travelers — spontaneous and prepared.
“Some people have their travel books with them and write everything down,” Hutchins said. “Others are not so organized. I’m amazed at how many people come from Germany, France and England and they don’t even have a hotel.”
Recently, a man from Italy stopped by and Middendorf said she tried to help him with hotel accommodations, but everything in La Jolla was booked.
“I had to call the San Diego concierge, and the visitor had to stay in El Cajon,” she said.
The volunteers also help guests with transportation out of La Jolla to downtown San Diego.
“Their only option is to take a cab that costs about $40, or to take the No. 30 bus to Old Town, and then ride the trolley to downtown,” Middendorf said.
Both Middendorf and Hutchins said they love what they do.
“Our Visitor Center serves to boost both local businesses and the rest of the city, as many visitors get directions from here to SeaWorld or the San Diego Zoo,” Middendorf said. “Visitors stay here and go to San Diego for the day, and then come back and shop and eat in La Jolla.”
The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau is a non-profit organization that operates three visitors centers throughout the region.
The majority of funds for the centers come from San Diego Tourism Marketing District Assessment Funds and support from members’ dues and donations.
Call Susan Mason at (619) 243-1308.