by Annette Bignami

Decades ago my husband Louis fondly remembers the "Pink Palace" Waikiki Beaches' The Royal Hawaiian. By the time we'd shared a visit there was a massive shopping center on the front end and a huge tower. Things aren't what they used to be. This fall, on a visit to cover San Diego's Big Bay we spent an extra day at what we think of as La Jolla's "Pink Pearl" the rose colored La Valencia so hidden in the confusion of POSH autos parked on La Jolla's shopping street, that it's missed by all save insiders. It reminds us of the best European boutique hotels we've enjoyed in Tuscany or Paris or the coast of Italy. From the street it looks like a two story hotel -- some even confuse it with a patio restaurant, as there's a notable al fresco Sunday brunch on the patio next to the street. But the pearl's pleasures are well concealed as the hotel cascades down to the ocean-front street on scenic La Jolla Cove. It went up in 1924, but was so popular the tower and a second building were added in 1928. This when La Jolla's population was under 6000.

Today, a series the 60 or so rooms, suites and villas cover at least ten levels connected by a couple of elevators -- one is the only elevator still with an operator in San Diego County.

Majestic public spaces such as the long cool central hall that ends at a massive window and tall, cool, beamed and quiet. Private spaces define quality. We stayed in Villa Three -- room numbers are spelled out for the "digitally-impaired" -- with 900 feet of uncluttered sitting room, bedroom and a wonderful triangular marble bathroom with a sauna an separate jetted tub. Special music and DVD systems served the bedroom TV with the sitting room TV periscope up at will. Decent art, oversized furniture and lovely touches like a case of Chinese jars, Best of all sliding glass doors to a breakfast balcony backed with wooden blinds meant we could enjoy the sounds and scents of the shore.

The Sky Room was our choice for dinner with incredible 180 degree ocean views from 12 tables and great reports on the gourmet grapevine about chef Luke Patterson. My husband's duck confit -- his sixth in three weeks -- came with a caramelized red wine risotto, braised Belgium Endive and a pink peppercorn brandy sauce. This after both foie gras and sweetbreads -- he skipped desert.

I started with a lobster and shrimp "white martini" in a very large glass and followed up with the nights special of Kobe beef and Abalone. There was barely room for desert, but I managed.

Even if you can't stay, follow the guide of La Jolla Locals and dine here for that special occasion. Got a business lunch? The Whaling Bar and Grill won the "Best Business Lunch" award in 2001. Going to visit on Sunday. Make reservations for the Tropical Patio's wonderful buffet. Great place. Good values and we'll return as soon as our travels take us back to San Diego.