Guest commentary: Can the Jewel beat the Big Apple? This transplant says absolutely

An artist paints a view from La Jolla Hermosa Park.
(Phyllis Thomson)

It’s been a little over a year since we moved into our new home in La Jolla and about 17 months since we left New York City, our home for 22 years.

Actually, we fled NYC in March 2020, when COVID broke out, to seek safety in a secluded home on Long Island for a few months, and then hit the road exploring the United States for 10 months, only to go back to NYC for two months with the intention of packing up our lives to relocate to La Jolla. Then we took another three-week road trip, making our way back across the country. I know, that’s a full load!

When we arrived in La Jolla, we lived in a temporary home for four months, and then finally we moved into our current home on Dec. 15, 2021. What a journey! After so many beds, homes and suitcases packed and unpacked, it felt so good to finally hang our photographs and resurrect sentimental artifacts from the past to proudly display in our new abode.

Now I contemplate what we left behind and what we now call home. Below are my personal pros of living in La Jolla vs. the pros of living in NYC.

Pros of living in La Jolla

The people: La Jollans are welcoming, happy, inclusive and, most noticeably, no matter how successful they are in their careers (and they are very successful), they don’t have the same chip on their shoulders as New Yorkers. We didn’t know what people did for a living until we hung out with them several times because hardly anyone inquires about or cares what anyone does for a living here. In NYC, the question immediately asked when meeting someone new is “What do you do for a living?” New Yorkers size one another up, openly compete over whose life is busier and shamelessly ask you for a dinner date four months in advance.

The folks in La Jolla have nothing to prove. Somehow they are never too busy for a drink, a walk, a party or a dinner date. Planning for something more than a month in advance here is a ludicrous concept. While New Yorkers boast about who they rub elbows with or their SoHo House memberships, they’ll rarely make an introduction with the supposed people they are close to or help you join the club they rave about. Yet, in La Jolla, we were immediately introduced to the most incredible network of kind, fun, accomplished people who will only mention their club memberships in the context of helping you join. People in La Jolla share their friends, their contacts and even their money. New Yorkers are very protective of those things.

The politics: In NYC you are often shamed for not sharing the same political views as the masses. In La Jolla, most people are centrist, normal, unaggressive, moderate folks who genuinely want to help others and support social justice while protecting themselves from a meddling government. In fact, I have witnessed many civil conversations between left-wing- and right-wing-minded people that entailed no judgment, name-calling or even an ounce of tension as they hashed out their differences. You are free to think and believe what you want here, openly. And what I love most is that no one seems to have a need to display their political thoughts on their lawns with flags or signs or pins on their lapels, which tend to alienate others and create a community of exclusion. No one is concerned with others’ personal choices. There is no requirement to conform here.

Sunset and clouds cast otherworldly hues in the sky over La Jolla Shores.
(Simon Factor)

The weather: OK, this one’s a no-brainer. With temperatures between 62 and 72 degrees throughout the year and 263 days of glorious sunny skies annually, it’s clear why most people are happier here. However, contrary to popular belief, La Jolla does have seasons. As I type this, it is 51 degrees ... there is a legitimate winter here (not compared with New York, but I swear, it does get cold). I won’t lie, there is nothing I miss about snow in NYC. I remember getting the kids ready for school in their endless winter gear, just to be greeted by filthy piles of snow clumped in gray sadness and adorned with yellow bursts of dog urine and not-so-artistically placed cigarette butts on our walk. Snow is beautiful ... in Tahoe.

The school system: Once we left the private school system and joined the public school system in NYC, we quickly learned that getting into a top public school is as difficult as getting into a coveted private school. The stress that parents and students endure getting into a reputable public school in NYC surpasses the stress of getting your kid into college, because in New York City you have to go through the unwieldy process three times: once for middle school and then again for high school and then finally for college.

In La Jolla, there is one middle school and one high school. There is zero stress around preparing for an admission spot. Middle school kids can enjoy their middle school years without having to continuously prepare for high school. There are no required test preps for entrance exams or crazy lottery systems that leave a computer to randomly assign a school to a child. Instead of graduating from elementary school and seeing their friends get scattered throughout the city based on the schools they get accepted to, they move on with them to middle and high school.

The food: While NYC is unsurpassable with the endless creativity of cuisine and culinary talent and countless Michelin-starred restaurants, San Diego’s produce is the freshest I have ever tasted. I never knew what a cucumber or strawberry actually tastes like until I moved here. San Diego has an incredible food scene and its own list of Michelin-starred restaurants, and you don’t need to pull favors or set your alarm at midnight for the night the calendar opens at a restaurant to snag a table.

The pace: The pace in La Jolla is unbelievably different than the one in NYC. Even though you may find yourself busy with life in La Jolla, you aren’t constantly stressed out because you are sitting in a taxi for 45 minutes for a 5-mile journey, nor will you find yourself standing in the rain for what seems like hours waiting for an Uber or a taxi.

I often walk in La Jolla along the coast, I watch sunsets in La Jolla, I walk our dog in La Jolla (I never would have agreed to have a dog in NYC), I talk on the phone with friends rather than text them, I go on weekend hikes. The pace here is unarguably slower, in the best way possible.

Everything is just “20 minutes away.” I can easily list a bunch of neighborhoods that are just a 20-minute drive from La Jolla: Coronado, Little Italy, downtown San Diego, Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Ocean Beach, Balboa Park, Mission Beach, UTC, Hillcrest, etc.

In New York City, what should be just a 20-minute commute often can turn out to be way longer. Commuting in NYC requires a strategy. In La Jolla, commuting just requires that you get in your car.

In NYC the most popular local escapes are the Hamptons (a two- to five-hour drive, depending on the season) and “upstate” (generally a two- to three-hour drive). In La Jolla, within an hour you can drive to Laguna Beach or Rosarito, Mexico, or the wine region of Temecula Valley. Within 90 minutes you can get to Newport Beach or escape to Julian or Mount Laguna for some snow in the winter. In about two hours you can get to Los Angeles or Palm Springs.

Pros of living in New York City

Lower Manhattan as seen from Jersey City.
Lower Manhattan as seen from Jersey City.
(Daniel Gaines / Los Angeles Times)

It’s the city that never sleeps. You can find anything you crave at any hour of the day. La Jolla, on the other hand, shuts down ridiculously early, like 9:30 p.m. You’ll be forced into a more sedate nightlife here. But then again, in La Jolla we have some amazing house parties.

A hub of culture: New York City is the epicenter of culture, known for its music scene, museums and, of course, Broadway. But let’s be honest, how often do NYC locals splurge on a Broadway show that costs $350 per ticket?

In La Jolla, we have The Conrad and La Jolla Playhouse, which I frequent just as irregularly. So unless you are an art buff or have endless supplies of cash to book orchestra seats for your family to watch a show together, I think you’ll do just fine in La Jolla.

Travel: Oh boy, do New Yorkers like to travel. When we lived in Manhattan we hopped on a plane every chance we could, along with most of our friends and colleagues. La Jollans like to stay put. Few of them talk about travel plans. In fact, when we have asked others what they are doing on a school break, they mostly stay local. Now that we have been here for a year, I realize that people like it here and don’t dream of going anywhere else.

In NYC we had to get away as much as possible for the sake of our sanity. Since we’ve been living in La Jolla, we haven’t gotten on a plane.

Sports: Yes, San Diego has the Padres, but you can’t compete with New York City in the pro sports department. From the Knicks and Nets to the Mets and Yankees to the Giants and Jets and the Rangers and Islanders, NYC is unrivaled when it comes to sports.

I’ll take La Jolla

So there you have it. New York gave us an incredible couple of decades filled with wonderful memories, friends and opportunities. I will always love it dearly. But I have yet to yearn for a return visit. I found a better place for me, for this chapter of my life. I don’t miss the hustle or grind of living in the big city. I don’t miss the seasons that come with too many cloudy, cold, rainy, snowy days or extreme heat. I don’t miss floating around with very busy people.

La Jolla truly does offer everything anyone could ever need. I guess that’s why locals love to call it paradise.

Liat Cohen-Reeis, author of the blog Sunday Strolling and a parent of three children, has lived in La Jolla for just over a year after living in New York City for 22 years.