Navigating La Jolla’s Top Restaurants With Kids

This seaside resort town caters to a well-heeled adult crowd, but that doesn’t mean its fine-dining establishments don’t welcome children. Read our expert’s picks for which restaurants work best for families.


La Jolla is an upscale community, and many of the restaurants qualify as “fancy.” This gives most parents pause: Will the little ones be welcomed? Sometimes. Frankly, some fine restaurants in the city do not welcome children under the age of 15 or 16. But there are plenty of establishments that encourage (or at least tolerate) families with young diners, and these are among the best restaurants in La Jolla.

Price code:
$: Moderate (less than $30 for an appetizer, entrée, and dessert for one person, excluding tax, tip, and beverage)
$$: Expensive ($30 to 50 per person)
$$$: Very expensive (more than $50 per person)

Cody’s (8030 Girard Ave.; tel. 858-459-0040)

Although many restaurants in La Jolla can be intimidating to children—too much silverware, too many waiters, too many French words on the menu—Cody’s is a welcoming, homey alternative. The restaurant is housed in a charming yellow cottage surrounded by a white picket fence, and the inviting patio looks out over La Jolla Cove. We love to have a relaxing breakfast here: My crab-crazy daughter adores the blue crab eggs benedict. I like anything that comes with the decadent home fries. For an intimate dinner, the bistro-style dining room, with an open kitchen and vintage rock posters on the walls, is also comfortable for families. Specialties include seafood and pasta. If you come for dinner, don’t miss the grilled Mahi Mahi tacos served with creamy, spicy black beans. $

Jack’s La Jolla (7863 Girard Ave.; tel. 858-456-8111)

This is my favorite restaurant in La Jolla, and to be honest, it’s not an easy fit for kids. Jack’s restaurant is actually a collection of posh dining establishments and bars spread across multiple levels in an indoor/outdoor venue—and it’s one of the best places for the beautiful people to see and be seen. The trick to making this place work with children is all about timing: Come to Jack’s Grill, the casual and more moderately priced restaurant in the collection (serving smaller plates and kid-pleasing pastas) or Jack’s Dining Room (the finest dining experience at Jack’s—try the deconstructed gazpacho in season) for a very early dinner (around 5:30 p.m.). After 7 p.m., the ambiance is more lounge-like (and less inviting for children younger than 12).

I suggest saving the Ocean Room and Oyster Bar for a couples-only outing: The menu is all about seafood (not universally appealing to kids) and the atmosphere is designed for adults. Note that this is one of the few La Jolla restaurants that enforces a business-casual dress code: No shorts and absolutely no flip-flops. $ to $$

The Marine Room (2000 Spindrift Dr.; tel. 858-459-7222)

The Marine Room is old-school elegance, and is generally regarded as one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. (I’ve witnessed at least three proposals here over the years.) The restaurant juts out over the sand, and during high tide the waves sometimes crash against the huge picture windows. The exquisite food is fancy French, and every time I visit I enjoy a dish that has at least one ingredient I’ve never heard of before. The menu changes daily, but when you can find it, try the sweet corn and mascarpone brûlée appetizer, which is subtle and rich. (My daughter prefers this without the accompanying organic greens and fig jam, and because she has a small appetite and it is especially rich, she orders it as a main course.) My favorite entrée is the delicate fennel-pollen scented Maine lobster tail served with a perfumy fruit polenta and Lemoncello butter.

The Marine Room’s iconic dessert is the cobblestone pie: piles of ice cream studded with nuts and white chocolate on a chocolate crust. Service is formal yet friendly—and even though the restaurant is surprisingly tolerant of children, I strongly recommend bringing only very well-behaved children here, preferably over the age of 10, as fellow diners look on a meal at the Marine Room as a rare (and pricey) treat and will not look kindly on gratuitous noise. $$$

Nine-Ten (910 Prospect St.; tel. 858-964-5400)

Coming in as a close second favorite of mine is Nine-Ten, the onsite restaurant of the lovely Grande Colonial Hotel. The menu is described as “evolving California cuisine,” and the chef concentrates on using local produce and meats, as well as sustainable seafood. Offerings change with the seasons, and I always hold my breath when the menus arrive, lest my daughter’s favorite—braised short ribs drizzled with potato froth—are not on offer. These come to the table looking more like candy than protein, and they taste almost as indulgent. If you or your children are looking for smaller portions, consider making a meal out of the second courses, like the goat cheese and chive tortellini or the lobster risotto. Mom and Dad will enjoy the “Mercy of the Chef” tasting menu; for $120 you’ll experience an unforgettable five-course menu dreamed up by the chef and paired with wines ($90 without wines). $$

Roppongi (875 Prospect St.; tel. 858-551-5252)

Tiki torches and crowds on what used to be a quiet corner of Prospect Street will point you toward Roppongi, an extremely popular Asian fusion restaurant and sushi bar. Expect standing-room only during the weekday happy hour, which spills out onto the lively sidewalk patio and clutters the large indoor dining room, full bar and small sushi bar. At this restaurant, children will likely feel more comfortable here later (past 7:30 p.m.) rather than earlier—once the after-work crowd drifts off. I particularly like this restaurant for children because of the extensive Asian tapas menu: The small portions are ideal for young appetites, and the creations are inventive and visually appealing to even less adventurous eaters.

The signature starter is the Polynesian crab stack, a beautifully engineered tower of crab meat, avocado, mango, red onions and pea shoots served with an oil-free ginger sauce. Other favorites are Chinese potstickers filled with shrimp and scallops (my daughter orders these without the caviar sauce); Mongolian shredded duck quesadillas served with an Asian-style guacamole; and the slightly spicy Indian kefir cheese with a naan-like flatbread. Desserts are supersized, but worth the calories, especially the Tahitian bananas served over vanilla gelato and topped with paper-thin almond brittle. Ask for a table away from the front desk, which tends to be noisy. $$

Tapenade (7612 Fay Ave.; tel. 858-551-7500)

The cuisine of Tapenade is often spoken of in hushed tones by locals, many of whom are devotees of the classic French fare (and the classic French chef who owns the place—culinary hero Jean-Michel Diot). The restaurant has an expansive, elegant dining room and bar, with intimate lighting and comfortable black leather booths. But when dining with children, consider the sidewalk dining space, which is less reverential (the outside acoustics are more forgiving as well). Overly fussy sauces don’t appeal to my daughter, who typically orders the straightforward steak au poivre, which is fork tender, and the accompanying pommes frites, which are crisp and salty. There is also an appealing menu for kids, which includes a Caesar salad, either chicken breast or pasta with fries and a luscious dessert. My husband and I enjoy the hearty coq au vin served with pleasantly lumpy mashed potatoes. $$$

Trattoria Acqua (1298 Prospect St.; tel. 858-454-0709)

There are only a handful of restaurants in the world that can offer diners the kind of views available at Trattoria Acqua. The collection of outdoor terraces, cozy patios and a gazebo room provides several choices for intimate dining, and all are perched above La Jolla Cove, with expansive views over the calm waters. The gazebo room is my favorite when we dine with my daughter and her cousins: The window tables offer glorious views of swimmers, kayakers and even seals frolicking off the Cove, and the space is small enough that we can easily imagine we’re eating in someone’s home rather than in an exclusive restaurant. The large menu concentrates on seafood and Italian pastas (several of which are vegetarian).

I like to start with the paper-thin ahi served with crisp shaved fennel, watermelon and a lemony horseradish vinaigrette. Although kids are often squeamish about fish, they generally like the meaty texture and flavor of Mahi Mahi; Trattoria Acqua serves the robust fish crusted with almonds and served over whipped potatoes. Or try the comfort food favorite: a succulent lobster pot pie that is loaded with a half pound of Maine lobster tail meat and served with herbed French fries. $$$

Whisknladle (1044 Wall St.; tel. 858-551-7575)

This pretty bistro is one of the newest fine-dining restaurants in the city, but it’s already found its way to this year’s Condé Nast’s Hot List. This reflects the rock-solid commitment by the management to serve only the finest, sustainable local ingredients. The team is so devoted to quality that they make everything in house, including pickling their own vegetables, smoking their own meats and baking their own breads. This philosophy explains why the restaurant is kid-friendly. At heart, the dishes offer nourishing, upscale comfort food—and what kid (or adult) doesn’t appreciate love on a plate? The papperadelle pasta comes loaded with tangy meat sauce, the burger is dressed up with gorgonzola and bacon, and mussels and fries are juicy with wine and garlic. Although the décor is elegant, the stone floors and washable surfaces reassure parents that even their messiest little ones will be welcome. $$ 

Destinations: La Jolla

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat

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