Travel Feature- Pantai Inn Brings the Mystique and Beauty of Bali to La Jolla


By Lynette Carrington

There is nothing like a seaside retreat to relax and rejuvenate your mind and your senses. I recently had the opportunity to stay at the Pantai Inn, a luxury Balinese-themed hotel on the historic oceanfront landscape of La Jolla, California that just completed an extensive renovation. La Jolla has long been an esteemed destination for those who want a picturesque escape in an oceanfront community with character that imparts an upscale-yet-relaxed attitude. Just like La Jolla itself, Pantai Inn is in a distinguished class by itself. The property has evolved, with patience and perseverance to where it is today and I was excited to discover it with my family.

To fully appreciate the Pantai Inn, I have to share just a bit about its unique history as there clearly is not another property like this one. The original owner of this beautiful property was Max Heimburge who acquired a collection of seaside cottages and art deco buildings that were built in the early 1900s-1930s, eventually converting them from apartments to the Shell Beach Motel. Now known as the Pantai Inn, it is operated by the third generation, Heimburge’s grandchildren Laurnie Durisoe and Larry Jackman. With the recent completion of a multi-million dollar, top-to-bottom renovation, the ocean view studios, one-bedroom cottages and three-bedroom suites at the Pantai Inn have been painstakingly restored, keeping respect for its unique history while including all the contemporary conveniences and comforts of the finest hotels.

It is remarkable that the Pantai Inn remains under the ownership of the same family as when it was known as Shell Beach Motel. When Durisoe and Jackman assumed ownership, they recognized that there were renovations that were needed. It was a huge undertaking. The original cottages and buildings creating the Pantai Inn reflected a variety of architectural styles spanning over a century. It was decided that a Balinese theme was perfect for this beachside gem, also serving to preserve its unique history and charm. When our family experienced the Pantai Inn, we entered La Jolla, but felt as though we were whisked away to Bali in the process!

The Property

As we approached the lobby to the Pantai Inn, we immediately noticed the two stately sculptures that flank either side of the lobby entrance. These are Padma sculptures, a signature architectural element of Bali. Padma is representative of achieving harmony. Certainly, this special place is a gateway to exactly that. The lush grounds include many of the gorgeous plants and flowers that are characteristic of Balinese vegetation and the inclusion of Balinese statues and images in art further its appeal. In this coastal location, the greenery both flourishes and beacons guests to discover a little slice of paradise. 

Many authentic elements of the Indonesian island of Bali are utilized throughout the property. Indigenous Balinese mahogany and teak were utilized in the making of various furnishings throughout the Pantai Inn. Indonesian batik textiles also serve as a basis for the overall color palette at the property, which have seamlessly melded with the surrounding beach environment to create a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. The Pantai Inn majestically sets perched cliffside to the Pacific Ocean, almost perfectly centered between the Children’s Pool on one side and the La Jolla Cove on the other. The property stands watch over the excitement and recreation that takes place in and around the adjacent Ellen Browning Scripps Park. 

Inside the lobby, guests have access to refreshing fruit-infused water and afternoon treats ranging from key lime cookies to coconut chocolate chip macaroons. The staff went above and beyond at every turn with its hospitality and in sharing their knowledge and history of the property. We especially appreciated the personal escort to our full ocean view one-bedroom suite when we arrived. We were shown all of the amenities and features, where we could find everything, and as a sweet surprise, we were greeted with a beautiful assortment of desserts and chocolate cups filled with fresh fruit.

Design and Amenities

Cottages and suites at Pantai Inn include a gorgeous implementation of Balinese art and design touches. Our suite included a stately carved stone fireplace, a large carved wooden dolphin sculpture, bamboo blinds, beautiful batik art, carved wood dressers and nightstands, a bed wrapped in gossamer white drapes with seashell tiebacks, and even a Balinese carved headboard above the bed.  

A few other unique touches included an ornate carved wooden “privacy” door hanger for the front door and hand-written notes left in our suite upon our entrance and at turn-down. Each day, a beautifully written note is left on the refrigerator outlining the breakfast menu for the following day. Keeping on the local angle, at turn down, guests also receive a gourmet chocolate bar from San Diego’s own Eclipse Chocolate.

The kitchen came fully equipped with just about anything and everything needed to create a home-away-from-home feel, including dishes, glasses, pots, pans, utensils and all the things one needs to cook comfortably. The hand-pounded copper sinks in both the kitchen and bathroom give an extra touch of Balinese design and earthy elegance. There is also an under-sink reverse osmosis system at the kitchen sink that ensured that all of our drinking water was exceptionally pure. In fact, I cannot recall another resort property that has included a reverse osmosis system in its rooms. What a bonus! The beach pebble backsplash helped to carry the Balinese style into the kitchen and flowed nicely with the granite countertops.

The bathroom was nothing short of entirely clever in function and design. Keep in mind, our particular suite was built about 100 years ago when housing space was dictated differently than it is today. The multi-million-dollar property renovation certainly addressed the bathroom in a most unique way. The beach pebble backsplash utilized in the kitchen area is matched in the bathroom area by a similarly styled beach pebble style shower that sinuously wraps its way around the corner of the bathroom. The dual shower heads are also a nice modern touch. The floor-to-ceiling granite, quartz, carved tile and stone give the bathroom a beautiful and elegant appearance. The backlighting on the mirror and under the hand-pounded copper sink was a delightful touch of lighting, even serving as an ambient night light for our suite. Turkish towels, Lather bath amenities, cozy slippers and plush Bocca terry bathrobes further added to the comfort factor.

Our master bedroom was wonderfully quiet during our stay and a beautiful retreat. At night, the crashing of ocean waves peacefully lulled us to sleep. The bed and pillows were impossibly comfortable and the Frette and Anichini Italian bed linens were like sleeping on a cloud! The bedroom is further complimented by a carved wooden dresser, dual nightstands and a spacious closet.

Multiple spots in our expansive suite feature docking stations ready to charge a variety of devices and we made more than good use of them. This was a fabulous convenience during our stay as we often visit hotels that don’t offer a specified place to charge phones, iPad’s, etc. This suite also has multiple flat panel TV’s in the living area and master bedroom, although we were too busy enjoying the sights and sounds of the crashing surf, just a stone’s throw from our front patio.

The front patio of our cottage proved to be a special experience all its own. The patio served as a slightly elevated perch straight across from the beach where we could view the ocean and people watch during the day and enjoy the most gorgeous of sunsets in the evening. Once the sun sinks, most people clear the area, leaving nothing but a peaceful and relaxing experience with the serene La Jolla shoreline.

The original Balinese artwork, statuaries, antiquities and gardens throughout the property tie Balinese visuals to every facet of the hotel.  There are many original pieces from museums and art galleries in Bali, as well as pieces specifically commissioned for the Inn.  In addition to the abundance of imported fine art, the Pantai Inn boasts one-of-a-kind murals by the renowned painter Edmond Piffard that depict the daily life and landscape of Bali.

Other amenities include complimentary high-speed wireless Internet - download speeds up to 100 mbps (ideal for streaming video) and upload speeds up to 20 mbps, a morning newspaper (choice of “USA Today,” “New York Times” or “Wall Street Journal”), complimentary fluff and fold laundry service, twice-daily housekeeping service and complimentary on-site parking.  Complimentary transportation is also available within the village via the hotel’s luxurious Mercedes GLS SUV.

The Pantai Inn staff is always front and center to help with any requests that guests have and they were always available with a fun story and smile. Some of the other luxury services that can be arranged through the concierge include private and group sailing excursions, helicopter tours of the area, in-room massage and spa services, and luxury car rentals delivered to the hotel. Although there is not an on-site workout room, complimentary passes are available to nearby La Jolla Sports Club fitness center, just ask. Meeting space is also available for up to 30 people and needless to say, the exterior courtyard is the perfect spot for an ocean view wedding. During our three-day stay in La Jolla, we witnessed three different wedding parties in our immediate vicinity.

Daily Breakfast

Each morning, a full hot breakfast orchestrated buffet style is available to guests of the Pantai Inn. Executive Chef Scott Ingenito has something special in store for guests and has incorporated a nice variety of breakfast selections into the morning menu. As mentioned earlier, a beautiful menu of the next morning’s buffet breakfast is posted in each suite and cottage, and each morning the breakfast is different. There is a picturesque outdoor area to enjoy breakfast that boasts a view of the ocean, whimsical Balinese umbrellas and lush garden foliage. An inside breakfast area provides seating both upstairs and downstairs. The décor inside includes a massive painted tropical mural, Balinese art and bamboo lined ceilings.

During our visit some of many breakfast items included farm fresh scrambled eggs, apple wood smoked bacon, chicken vegetable sausage, brioche French toast, bourbon butter glazed sweet potatoes, cinnamon twists and brie and cranberry tarts. Each morning there is a large selection of fresh fruits, juices and coffee. One particular fruit salad that was outstanding was the Coast Blvd. salad, named for the road on which Pantai Inn is located. This creative selection included watermelon, cucumber and blueberries kissed with a cilantro lime dressing. Having a delicious breakfast available on-site was a nice touch as it gave us even more time to sit and enjoy the Pantai Inn’s lush surrounds while gazing out to the ocean.

Whisknladle, A Culinary Delight of La Jolla

Only a five-minute walk from Pantai Inn, Whisknladle is an engaging restaurant that has been dazzling La Jolla for more than a decade. We dined at Whisknladle and were delighted to discover that a plethora of its ingredients are locally sourced. Our dinner kicked off with the restaurant’s signature multi-grain and sourdough breads with butter. The breads were incredibly tasty and a perfect prelude to our meal.

The entrees do rotate on occasion, so be prepared to be tempted with a unique variety of entrees. Of particular note, Whisknladle makes its own pasta in-house and it is outstanding. So, if you can choose an entrée with pasta, it’s a great way to get introduced to the restaurant’s culinary prowess. Executive Chef, Keith Voight has gone to great lengths to showcase foods that highlight unique flavors and flavor profiles. This was evident with our appetizer, the flatbread. Sure, lots of places have flatbread, but the crisp texture and flavors of this version marry to create the most fabulous flatbread I’ve ever tasted. The Whisknladle version boasted fontina cheese, crisp bacon, spiced caramelized onions, grapes and a sprinkle of rosemary. It’s big enough to be its own meal, but it’s also great as a sharable appetizer for the table.

Next were the entrees. The first was the Spanish octopus boil, an upscale version of a Southern favorite. The beautifully prepared dish included octopus, full prawns, baby corn, baby potatoes, Andouille sausage and cornbread croutons. The textures of the seafood combined nicely with the spice in the sausage and created a uniquely tasty dish showcasing the fresh seafood. The second entrée was the entirely engaging squash blossom fettuccine boasting chanterelle mushrooms, parmesan, soft boiled egg and cracked black pepper. The entire dish was topped with squash blossoms and it was beautifully presented.

Further delving into the seafood side of the menu, our third entrée was the prawn and calamari pasta with smoked paprika tagliatelle, house made nduja sausage, squid ink aioli and Espelette pepper. This outstanding entrée was such a creative use of ingredients and both the prawn and calamari were tender, fresh and kicked up a notch in flavor with the inclusion of the spicy nduja sausage.

I am a huge of lamb, so I chose the buttermilk braised lamb manti, a Turkish style dumpling. It was further accented by cipollini onions, trumpet mushrooms, dijon and thyme. The very approachable entrée included a wonderful orchestration of flavors and although sometimes the flavor of lamb can overpower a dish, in this version of manti, the lamb was very mild. The final entrée was the Scottish salmon with citrus pesto, braised cucumbers, and cooled chino potatoes, crème fraiche and pickled mustard seeds. This mild and flakey salmon was also a perfect showcase of what Whisknladle does so well with seafood.

Although we dined later in the evening, the whole restaurant was buzzing and the warm lighting and open patio made it a very inviting setting. It was a meal we will never forget and most certainly a shining example of the vibrant La Jolla dining scene. Whisknladle is located at 1044 Wall St., La Jolla. Visit www.whisknladle.com for more information.

Endless Things to Do

We did find a bit of time to venture out and take part in a few special events during our stay at the Pantai Inn. On the weekend, we ventured up the street to take part in the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival, featuring a wide variety of local and regional artists, wine tasting and other fun demonstrations. We also drove about 20 minutes to Balboa Park, which on any weekend has a variety of museums and special events taking place. But during the time of our stay, Maker Faire San Diego was in full swing and we enjoyed displays and interactive events involving technology, 3D printing, robotics and more.

There is no shortage of things to do in and around La Jolla and San Diego. In the immediate vicinity of Pantai Inn, visitors can explore the tidepools located just across the street, visit the Children’s Pool to watch sea lions and seals basking in the sun, watch for dolphins and whales, enjoy beachfront jogging, go snorkeling in the La Jolla Cove or take a trek into the La Jolla Cave through the shell shop entrance. You will also enjoy an exciting of variety of upscale retailers including my personal favorite, Kate Spade, jewelry stores and even a truly exciting toy store called Geppetto’s. The Inn is also within walking distance to many world-class restaurants, boutiques and art galleries of ‘The Village.’ Other nearby attractions include the La Jolla Playhouse, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Salk Institute, La Jolla Contemporary Art Museum, University of California San Diego, Torrey Pines Golf Course, Mission Bay, SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego Zoo, Cabrillo National Monument and San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

We enjoyed every minute of our stay at Pantai Inn and the recent renovations have firmly placed the property in the “world class” category. Although we were sad to leave our perch by the ocean, we will anxiously anticipate a return to the hotel next year.  

Pantai Inn is perched cliffside at 1003 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA. Visit www.pantai.com for more information or call (858) 224-7600 or (855) 287-2682 toll free. Join the social community on the Pantai Inn Facebook page or on Instagram.

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