If you think California is all about the ocean, you haven’t been to Rancho Valencia hotel in Rancho Santa Fe. Set inland from the Pacific, the cluster of Spanish-style bungalows is spread over 43 acres of flowering trees, manicured croquet fields, champion-staffed tennis courts and olive groves, with a spa and a top-notch restaurant at the core.
Get this when you book through us:
Breakfast for two each day (up to $40 a person, including tax and gratuity)
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £691.22 ($863), including tax at 8 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of 0.245% per room per night prior to arrival and an additional resort fee of $40.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates usually exclude breakfast (from $15) and a nightly $30 a room resort fee, but include in-room minibar, fitness classes and bicycle use.
The spa could be a destination all its own. Set off to the side, the building has its own adults-only pool, a Watsu treatment pool, a sauna and steam room and a fitness centre along with several treatment rooms for organic massage and facials. There is a spin studio, Pilates studio, and space for Zumba, boxing and TRX classes. The hotel offers several daily yoga classes, dawn hikes and other activities.
At the hotel
Spa, yoga pavilion, fitness centre, tennis centre, bocce ball court/croquet lawn, gardens, boutique, DVD/CD library free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, minibar.
Our favourite rooms
Each room has outdoor space and an indoor fireplace for chilly nights. Olive Grove Suites have outdoor hot tubs. Room 140 has an outdoor dining area with leafy views and extra privacy. Rooms nearest the main building have better access to the pool.
The family-friendly outdoor pool has a hot tub, plenty of loungers and a nearby bar. The indoor spa pool and hot tub are strictly for the grown-ups.
Tennis whites: Rancho Valencia has a renowned tennis program, with immaculate courts, and an array of former pro champions as instructors.
Almost anything you forget can be found at the hotel's two boutiques. The main shop off the lobby has designer clothes and Alexis Bittar jewellery; the smaller shop in the spa has beauty products, gym gear and swimwear.
Welcome. The hotel has cribs available free, and each room has a queen-size sofa bed for older children. There is also a welcome backpack for children, which includes a colouring book and stuffed toy. The hotel can arrange babysitting, from $18 an hour.
The staff compost food waste, recycle wherever possible and convert oil into bio-diesel fuel to power local school buses.
Nab a spot on the terrace if the weather is warm. For the best views on cooler nights, snag a window table near the fireplace.
Southern California chic. Flowing dresses and crisp button-downs are ideal. Don't forget a light jacket, as nights can be chilly up in the hills.
The setting of Veladora, from chef Eric Bauer, nearly matches the excellent coastal-ranch cuisine. The dining area is split between a large, fire-warmed terrace and a Spanish-style dining room with an original Damien Hirst painting and valley views. The ultra-seasonal menu includes dishes like pastrami-spiced ono and roasted lamb, all served with local vegetables. The kitchen staff tend the hotel gardens, and make olive oil, honey and preserves.
The polo-inspired Pony Bar is a cozy mix of overstuffed chairs, dark wood and worn leather, with patio dining that has perfect views of the nearby hot-air balloons. Open only to those 21 and older, the bar serves prosecco on tap and over 100 tequilas. The bar menu includes sirloin sandwiches, flatbreads and a charcuterie board.
Breakfast is served from 7am until 11am, and lunch from 11 until 2.30pm. Dinner is between 6pm and 9pm. The bar opens at 11am each day and closes at midnight on weeknights, and 1am on Friday and Saturday.
A selection of dishes from Veladora is available 24 hours a day.
5921 Valencia Circle
Mailing address: P.O. Box 9126
Rancho Santa Fe
Rancho Valencia is located in Northern San Diego County, a few miles off Interstate 5 in Rancho Santa Fe.
San Diego International Airport is the nearest, a 35-minute drive from the hotel, and has direct flights from New York (www.jetblue.com), Chicago (www.united.com) and other major cities. Los Angeles International Airport is the largest regional hub, less than two hours from the hotel.
Amtrak and Coaster offer train service down the Southern California coast, from Santa Barbara through Los Angeles, down to San Diego. The nearest station is Solana Beach, a 15-minute drive from the hotel.
Californians drive everywhere, so those wishing to see more than the hotel are best renting a car. There are ample rental kiosks at the airport, and the drive is a fairly straight shot north on Interstate 5. The hotel has plenty of parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
There are so many fitness classes, spa treatments and tennis tricks that it can be tempting never to leave the 45 rolling acres of Rancho Valencia. But if you do head out to explore, take to the skies for a hot-air balloon ride. Nearby Temecula and Del Mar send dozens of balloons up on clear days, and offers spectacular views of the mountains, Pacific ocean and San Diego sprawl. Due west, Del Mar and Solana Beachare laidback coastal towns with cute shops and classic California beaches. Bring boogie boards and surf gear if you want to take advantage of the waves. Or bet on winning horses at Del Mar's race track. Those who prefer golf clubs to a tennis racket should have no trouble finding a good place to tee off. Torrey Pines,Aviara and The Farms are all top-rated courses, and should pose a challenge for even the most confident golfers. Don't overpack: San Diego has excellent shopping for all types. Charming La Jolla has the best independent boutiques, and is an excellent place to stock up on kaftans, sandals and swimsuits. (Those who aren't interested in shopping should check out the coves, where seals often beach themselves for afternoon naps.) Further south, Fashion Valley is an outdoor promenade-style mall with all of the top shops, including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and an Apple Store. Even bargain hunters won't be disappointed. Carlsbad Premium Outlets® has well-discounted duds from retailers including Barneys, Ralph Lauren and Theory.
San Diego has exceptional dining, from dive Mexican restaurants to upscale California cuisine. When it comes to romantic dinners, locals have long turned to Mille Fleurs, a 10-minute drive into Rancho Santa Fe, for its traditional French dishes. The menu of lobster salad, prime fillet from Snake River Farm, pumpkin bread pudding and other elegant dishes pairs perfectly with the stellar wine list. Trendy Market, a short drive west of the hotel on Via De La Valle in Del Mar, has a sushi bar, craft cocktails and a varied menu that includes cabernet-braised short ribs, blue cheese and persimmon soufflé and grilled swordfish with a sherry glaze. If you're looking for authentic Southern California-inflected Mexican fare, head toward the coast. Roberto's on Carmel Valley Road packs burritos with juicy carne asada.
Before exploring the best of Del Mar, pop into Pannikin, a retro coffee shop in a converted rail station on Via De La Valle (+1 858 481 8007; pannikincoffeeandtea.com). The cafe serves strong coffee, fantastic baked goods and tuna sandwich that is perfect for beach picnics. Thyme in the Ranch (+1 858 759 0747; www.thymeintheranch.com) in Rancho Santa Fe is ideal for casual lunches or snacks. The coffee shop makes all of its ingredients in-house.
I recognized that grunt. Definitely female, and somewhat NC-17.
I was sitting by my blissful lonesome at the near-isolated lap pool of Rancho Valencia, a luxury resort in Rancho Santa Fe, where the glamour arrives discreetly packaged, and the colour-scheme was of an edifying tangerine and a Moorish blue. I began, suddenly, to hear many-decibel vocalizations.
Just over the wall, and somewhere past the proud swaying palms I detected a merciless loop of pneumatic drills. The grunts also accompanied the distinct ponk-ponk of tennis balls.
Could it be? The racquet and the racket of a Sharapova? After all, the courtside action is nothing to sneeze at here, and the pro-level facility is widely considered to be among the best in Southern California.
An attendant – as much of a whiz at unobtrusively folding towels around this gleaming basin hidden inside the grounds as he was at humouring guests – set me straight when I snooped about the player’s identity. ‘Oh, she's there everyday,’ he told me, smiling.
Ok, so it turned out this mystery tennis star wasn’t the magnificent Maria. But it’s not unusual to spy an A-list guest or two hiding behind dark sunglasses here. And it's not just the tennis fiends grunting with pleasure at this village-like compound, set amid the horse farms and the citrus groves 25 miles north of downtown San Diego.
For those on a steadier diet of sloth, or perhaps just the tiniest round of non-gruelling croquet before a lobster salad at the Pony Room – a little den of a restaurant – there's more. Emphatically so.
Basking in its recent 30-million-dollar renovation, this retreat consists of 53 home-away-home casitas. And though it is a Relais & Châteaux-rated sanctuary, it is, all things considered, more Relaxed & Châteaux than it is Relais & Chi-Chi.
I settled in all too comfortably in the split-level villa-style Agave Suite. It was light-flooded and filled with so many distinct details – cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, hand-painted Mexican tiling, a private patio with fragrant gardens, steam showers, soak tubs, wrought-iron chandeliers and very happy-making linens. You get the pic why I could never leave, right?
Waking up here is an anticipated event. After all, what better motivator is there for springing out of bed than to collect the carafe of freshly squeezed orange juice, made right on property, at one's door? All just part of the morning routine.
Designed with the lingering escape in mind, this is the spot where I'd run away to recuperate if I was a first wife banished by the arrival of a second trophy-ier wife. Likewise: if I was a scion of a captain of industry, and I needed a place to come and mull my options to either stay in the family business or summon up the courage to say no to daddy.
Walking around the olive grove on the property – all the herbs for the kitchen are grown on-site, and there are also six honeybee hives – it hit me, too, that this might be a good place to come and write a two-act play. Peace. Serenity. And a more likely retreat scenario for yours truly.
The jilted first wife, the confused scion, and the aspiring playwright could all use this opportunity to think and plot while taking advantage of a does-the-trick spa. Most delicious on the menu was the Harmonizing Scalp Massage, a tingling treatment with organic Mediterranean myrtle, juniper, jojoba, avocado, and oils.
Of course, if not content to just lounge, there are more than 75 health and fitness classes offered each week. Madonna's butt-kicking dream come true, I tell you. The kind of place where a gal named Misty – as a printed sked, left daily in the suite, informs – leads a 9:00-9:50 a.m. sweat-shop, so to speak, entitled Chair Pilates Level 2.
Whether or not you work up a sweat, a person has to eat. And well-heeled guests (a younger crowd that one might expect) and local denizens-at-large, even the odd genius (Bill Gates famously lived at the Rancho Valencia while his house was being built) – are often spotted at the main restaurant, Veladora.
Admiring the million-dollar Damien Hirst butterfly objet that stands at attention when you enter the sleek room, I chose to have lunch at Veladora most days, and also to get a good telescope of the crowd. Such as the two overly polite women - typical BFFNs (Best Friends For Now) – as well as a Zooey Deschanel type on a date with a Bradley Copper type.
Evenings my preferred spot was the aforementioned Pony Room. A distinguished hideout, indeed, where all the wooden barstools have feet shaped like cattle hoofs, and a spot-hitting burger.
I learned that Jenny Craig (yes of the weight loss and nutrition empire), likes to drop-by sometimes, her own horse-stables being across the street from Rancho Valencia. And, having spotted the stables as well as her Hermitage-sized estate – and her private race-track – it was clear that pounds-dropping is where it's at, and that I may well be in the wrong business.
‘What does Jenny Craig have here?’ I asked a regular beside me at the bar.
‘Oh, she indulges,’ Mr Regular told me.
Well, grunt, grunt to that, I thought as I tucked into my expertly-grilled burger. And got to pondering the bigger question at hand: what role whould I play on my return visit (oh yes, I'll be back) to this fantasy retreat? The jilted first wife, the confused scion or the aspiring playwright, the weight-loss guru… the possibilites are endless.