There are fewer places more relaxing to me in this country than that beachy/resort area around San Diego. The city is apparently the birthplace of California, and the best representation of that that sunny, active, free-spirited, life-is-good vibe that I always associate with The Golden State. So it was not only appreciated, but much needed after a particularly stressful beginning to summer (and some travel plan hiccups), that I started my first vacation of the year right in the midst of that beautiful Southern California landscape. Last week, I finally checked out of crazy New York City and checked into Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa, just north of San Diego.
Opened in 1989, Rancho Valencia has long been considered one of the area’s most luxurious resorts. In 2012, however, the entire property underwent a $30 million renovation, including updated guest villas, a brand new restaurant and bar, and enhanced Spa and fitness areas, that once again brought the property to the forefront of media and travelers’ attention. In fact, this year the property was named one of the best resorts in America by numerous magazines–to say that I was excited to check it out myself, would be an understatement.
I rolled up to the Relais Châteaux resort around 10PM on a Friday night. “We’ve been looking forward to seeing you!” the gatekeeper exclaimed before I even opened my mouth, and greeted me by name. I’m always impressed by the level of coordination and personal service that I find at luxury properties, and Rancho Valencia was definitely at the top of the their game. It seemed that every day, every person I encountered called out my name with a warmth that belied our day old acquaintance. The shocking thing was that it wasn’t just the hotel staff, but even other property guests and area neighbors! I quickly got the sense that this resort wasn’t just a place where strangers met by chance, but a place where every person was welcomed with neighborly love and an experience crafted around making guests feel right at home in San Diego.
Of course a lot of resorts call themselves a “home away from home,” but Rancho Valencia makes this a bit more literal by providing guests with their own suite, villa, or guesthouse complete with a personal parking space and all the amenities of a private house. In fact, it was in our suite kitchen that my boyfriend perfected the art of the do-it-yourself latte, that so inspired him that he placed an order to send the exact same milk frother to our NY apartment right then and there (much to my chagrin as I examine our already over-crowded city space). Guest suites average over 1,000 sq ft (that, in fact, is larger than my actual apartment) and feature separate bedroom and living areas. My room, a Valencia Suite, featured not only a bedroom, bathroom, living, and dining area, but also an expansive patio with private garden, lounging area, and our own whirl-pool hot tub. I definitely didn’t have a problem “fitting right in” to my new surroundings.
As part of the renovations, all the bathrooms were redone and outfitted with a walk-in closet, deep soaking tub, steam shower, double vanity, and in my case, new, heated Toto toilets. There are fewer luxuries in life I love more than a heated toilet (now if my boyfriend had decided to send one of those to our apartment instead of the milk frother…) and became my favorite feature of the space. I rarely see Toto toilets outside of Japan and was surprised to discover one in my bathroom, but I soon discovered why…
You see, in addition to being a luxury resort, Rancho Valencia is also a bit of a fitness resort. The spa, tennis, and fitness facilities are open to hotel guests and neighborhood residents alike, and every day the hotel boasts a comprehensive list of workout classes that are free for guests. Inspired by the healthy California lifestyle, my boyfriend and I decided put our work+wine+takeout+sleep routine behind us and sign up for the resort’s “fun, outdoor-fitness circuit class.” An initial glance at the set-up on the croquet lawn seemed harmless enough. “How tough can a little jog around this pretty lawn be,” I asked him. “After all, we probably run faster to catch the closing subway doors every morning!” Let’s just say, two wind sprint “suicides” later, we were both singing a different tune and an hour after our yoga cool down, both of us were immensely appreciative of a little toilet heat therapy on our aching legs (after we actually managed to sit down, of course).
In between trying to prove to local Californians that New Yorkers can take a little daily working-out and soothing our sore muscles by alternating in between hot tubs and hot toilets, we spent a lot of time tasting fresh cocktails and fresher California farm-to-table cuisine at the resort’s beautiful new restaurant Veladora. We took all our meals in the “Tennis Patio,” overlooking some of the resort’s 18 tennis courts, and while listening to the pops of the tennis balls did inspire us to order the healthier “Daily Fish Plank” instead of “Belgian Beer Waffles” at brunch, it didn’t stop us from indulging in a few Bloody Marys and Mimosas (the resort is famous for their fresh squeezed orange juice) with our meal. In the evening, Veladora transforms into a bustling yet romantic fine-dining, destination restaurant.
Three days, two fitness classes, one pool-side yoga class, one walk in the Olive Grove, God knows how many DIY lattes, and a lot of heated toilet muscle therapy later, my boyfriend and I sadly left the resort in pursuit of our next adventure. But thanks to the Rancho and some of that golden California sun, I checked out with my spirits in a much better place–and one more entry on my “must return to” travel list.