Back in high school, I worked for my dad on Saturdays at the liquor store he managed in La Jolla. One of my jobs was home delivery, using the store’s giant 1971 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon.

With cases of high-priced booze sliding around in the back, the Country Squire, which had seen better days, climbed the hills of the Muirlands and Mount Soledad. I managed, without scraping other cars, to maneuver the very narrow streets of the Shores, Hermosa, Bird Rock and the rest of “old La Jolla.”

I had secret parking spots; friends were angry when I refused to divulge the locations.

Parasailer soars over cliffs at Torrey Pines Gliderport. Snack bar and store are seen at top of cliff.
Parasailer soars over cliffs at Torrey Pines Gliderport. Snack bar and store are seen at top of cliff.

The Squire really isn’t the car for a beach cruise. On the other hand, La Jolla, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and my test car, a Fiat 124 Spider roadster are made for each other. Japanese with Italian touches, the 124 is a car for the beach.

Where is the best beach viewing in La Jolla? Just keep turning right off the main streets to find little-known beach-access points with great views and maybe a parking spot.

This tour started where I never made deliveries and, honestly, I hadn’t been in years: the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Perched on the cliff 371 feet above the Pacific, this historic spot is known for its winds that can be near-perfect for flying without a motor.

The large, dirt parking lot takes a bit of hunting to find a spot. It’s pretty full even on weekdays, used UC San Diego students, workers from nearby offices, as well as surfers and others that take risky climb down to Black’s Beach, the famous nude beach.

Parasailer flies over the ocean at Torrey Pines Gliderport in a view from rooftop picnic area.
Parasailer flies over the ocean at Torrey Pines Gliderport in a view from rooftop picnic area.

A deli at the gliderport, the aptly named Cliffhanger Café, has good sandwiches, plus picnic tables for diners enjoying the almost-constant sea breeze and watching parasailers. Next door is a parasailing flight school and service where an experts will take you flying.

From southbound Torrey Pines Road, turn right onto La Jolla Shores Drive, which winds down the cliffs to La Jolla Shores through Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Once the main road from San Diego to Los Angeles, before the freeway or anything else, its steep curves were known as “Biological Grade” because of Scripps. Now part of UC San Diego, the institution dates to 1903 and is one of the premier ocean research institutions in the world. Access its Birch Aquarium from Torrey Pines Road.

Continue the right turns to visit La Jolla Shores beach, where the parking lot fills on busy beach days. In the Shores, some east-west streets just dead-end at the beach; the pavement ends, there’s a barrier and there’s the sand.

Back on Torrey Pines Road, I next cut to Coast Boulevard for a drive past the Cove and along the coast. It’s about a mile to south Pearl Street, where my dad’s store was located at La Jolla Boulevard. I made most of my deliveries south in the La Jolla Hermosa and Bird Rock neighborhoods.

La Jolla's Calumet Park has clifftop view of Pacific.
La Jolla’s Calumet Park has clifftop view of Pacific.

Some of the homes here date back to the 1920s. The neighborhoods have crazy, narrow streets and a couple of great oceanfront parks: La Jolla Hermosa Park and Calumet Park. Beach. Ocean and Bird Rock views abound.

The narrow streets were a challenge for the Country Squire, but no problem in the Fiat. A partnership between FCA and Mazda, the 124 Spider is built by Mazda on the MX-5 platform, with a different engine, body panels and trim. The as-tested Abarth edition had FCA’s Italian-made, 164 horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. Compared to the MX-5, the 124’s styling is a bit more angular on the outside, with minor trim minor changes inside.

The drive is all 21st-century roadster. Handling is excellent, the ride is somewhat stiff and bumpy, but much improved over my 1991 Miata. The loaded test car included full GPS and infotainment, and Sport Leather seats. The optional blind-spot detection came in handy when the top’s up and visibility is limited. EPA mileage is 26/35/30.

The well-equipped 2017 Abarth tester was $35,875, including a $995 destination charge from Hiroshima, Japan. 2018 changes are limited to trim updates; 2018 pricing hasn’t been announced.

Driving these streets in the nimble Fiat made me appreciate the excellent driving of my 16-year-old self. I never hit anything with that Country Squire. My today-self didn’t hit anything with the Fiat, either.

Route and Info

  • From November 2017


  • Google Map
  • To Torrey Pines Gliderport: Interstate 5 to Genesee Avenue. West to Torrey Pines Road.
    • Left at Torrey Pines Road.
    • Right at Torrey Pines Scenic Drive. Park and parking are at end of road
  • To La Jolla Shores: South on Torrey Pines Road, right at La Jolla Shores Drive.
  • To La Jolla Cove: Torrey Pines Road south. Right at Exchange Place. Right at Cave Street, continue onto Coast Boulevard.
  • To La Jolla Hermosa and Bird Rock neighborhoods, use La Jolla Boulevard south from Pearl Street.



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