La Jolla: A Brief History

First Inhabitants

Artifacts have been found throughout La Jolla over the decades, indicating that Native Americans settled along the shoreline nearly 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found stone utensils and Indian metates. Unfortunately, the remains are small and scattered, leaving historians unclear about the fate of these earliest inhabitants.

So, What’s in a Name?

La Jolla’s name is a somewhat controversial subject among town historians. No one knows where the name originated - whether it comes from the Spanish word La Joya (which means “the jewel”) or from the Indian term Woholle (meaning “hole in the mountains”), an appropriate name considering the caves and rock formations along La Jolla’s shoreline. The name has appeared in all land grant and mission records since 1928 and in scattered documents at least back to 1870 when they appeared spelled “L-a-J-o-y-a”.

Modern Settlers

The lands of La Jolla became incorporated as part of San Diego in 1850. However, there were no permanent settlers in this section of town until 19 years later when two brothers, Daniel and Samuel Sizer, each bought a plot here. The City of San Diego sold these 80-acre plots for the price of $1.25 per acre. Little did the Sizer brothers know that their plots of land, located between present-day Fay Street and La Jolla Boulevard, would be worth nearly $2 million per acre by 2000.

When Frank Botsford arrived in San Diego in 1886, he wrote in his diary, “Magnificent day at La Jolla!” Like the Sizer brothers, Botsford purchased a plot of land and began developing it. With the help of George Heald, who purchased one-quarter interest of the property, Botsford surveyed and subdivided the land. Although Botsford could not find drinkable water in the area, he was still able to auction pieces of the land. Botsford’s foresightedness earned him the title of “Father of La Jolla.”.

The Town Grows

In the 1890s, the railroad extended to La Jolla, enabling additional growth. Around this time, real estate developers began to take an interest in the coastal property of La Jolla, constructing resorts to attract visitors from San Diego and the inland region. La Jolla Park Hotel opened its doors in 1893 and cottage-style homes began to appear along Prospect Street and Girard Avenue.

It was during this time that La Jolla first became an artist colony and when newspaper heiress Ellen Browning Scripps settled here. She was extraordinarily generous with her wealth and her name is on a number of landmarks and institutions here in La Jolla, in San Diego and scattered around Southern California, including the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Ellen Browning Scripps Park.

Twentieth Century Development

La Jolla has grown dramatically from its 350 residents in 1900. From 1900 to 1920, tourism became the economic base of La Jolla. With the end of the First World War, La Jolla grew to 4,000. During this era, the beach cottage look began to give way to the elegant California Spanish style. As elsewhere in the nation, the 1929 stock market crash devastated development in La Jolla and only a few houses were built until after World War II. When the War began, 7,700 people called La Jolla home - after the War, many service members came back to settle in La Jolla and large subdivisions began sprouting up on the mountain slopes and old horse trails were paved over. By 1960, there were over 17,000 people living in La Jolla. Today, there are over 40,000 people living here.

Recreational Destination

As La Jolla’s appeal as a seaside location grew during the century, it became one of the most popular destinations on the West Coast, attracting naturalists, beachcombers, swimmers, divers, and surfers. Additionally, the favorable winds that swept over the hills and cliffs overlooking La Jolla made it a preferred site for flying sailplanes, and Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh learned to fly gliders at Mt. Soledad and Torrey Pines.

La Jolla also is proud to have been home to a number of notable individuals in the arts, sports, and sciences. Cliff Robertson, Gregory Peck, Raquel Welch, Dr. Francis Crick, Theodore Geisel (more famously known as Dr. Seuss), and Doug Flutie all either were born in La Jolla or have called it home.

La Jolla Today

Remnants of La Jolla’s early settlers are still evident throughout the town, from the names of key institutions to the eclectic form of architecture which has evolved over the decades. La Jolla is host to world-renowned research institutions, breathtaking beaches, distinguished art galleries, and top-notch restaurants.

The citizens of La Jolla are some of the most actively engaged in all of San Diego, advocating for or against numerous causes that effect their community. The La Jolla Historical Society is one organization that benefits from their involvement and continues to partner with the community as a resource for learning and gaining a greater appreciation of their heritage.


La Jolla Historical Society