It is always a joy to visit California.

By Elaine Ubiña

When you’re invited to Rancho Santa Fe, you go!  A dear friend was planning to be at her home in Del Mar and I was delighted that we could fly down after our visit to Sonoma to see her.  I did a little research, as I loved our last trip to northern San Diego, particularly discovering the hamlet of Rancho Santa Fe.  This would be a great opportunity to spend more time there.  Rancho Santa Fe has a wonderful, rural, horsey vibe.  

It is located approximately 20 miles north of downtown San Diego and is set in the hill country. It is less than five miles from Del Mar, Solana, Cardiff and Encinitas beaches (each has its own personality) and when you are at the peak of one of its hills, you can see the ocean. Rancho Santa Fe’s town center was designed by Lillian J. Rice an “eco-conscious” architect, who generally used the California Spanish Colonial Revival style in her work. Most of the homes, clubs and resorts are constructed in this style and set thoughtfully into the landscape. It makes everything cohesive and a pleasure to look at.

It makes everything cohesive and a pleasure to look at.

Through my travel research, I discovered the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa, an award winning Relais & Chateaux resort.  It’s a neighborhood made up of 49 luxurious, hacienda-style casitas with red clay roofs.  Each suite has a private terrace, living room, large main bedroom and grand bath designed with Mexican rustic charm – dark woods and Spanish tile. The casitas are scattered throughout 45 acres of gardens, citrus groves and tennis courts.  I knew this would be a perfect place to drop ourselves for a weekend and rest.  It was flawless!  My son, Julio and I arrived on Friday early afternoon. San Diego Airport is so easy to maneuver!  I had booked a 3pm spa treatment and made it right in time to relax with a Nourishing Wrap, massage and an outdoor shower in a gorgeous sun-filled, peaceful private garden.

The spa offers hydrotherapy, plus top-of-the-line fitness programs including Pilates, TRX, weight training, spinning, cardio workouts and other advanced exercise programs. The yoga area is in a serene spot surrounded by water.

The first night, Julio’s water polo buddy came for a visit with him – this involved a swim and pickle ball with a 14 year old girls’ soccer team from Los Angeles, who just happened to be staying at Rancho Valencia for a tournament nearby. I headed to dinner with my San Diego pals – Del Mar is 8 minutes away and Uber Eats delivers to the casitas – so I knew the teens would be in good shape. There was a kick off party for the Del Mar Racing Season going on at the resort and the boys were entertained counting the Rolls Royces rolling up the driveway.

The next morning, we ventured out to the tennis courts, where we were graciously suited up by the tennis staff for pickleball and tennis. Rancho Valencia has four pickleball courts, 14 Plexipave championship courts and three European clay courts. They are beautifully maintained and situated handsomely in the landscape with very comfortable chairs placed in shady spots, so one can sit and relax between games. Lessons, clinics and camps are available for every age. It is a wonderful set up for a family vacation. Golf can be arranged at a nearby club through the concierge. 

Apres-tennis, we witnessed quite an international set having power breakfasts in the Pony Room. There were lots of accents filtering through the air with jovial chats about Miami, Ibiza, and investments in Crypto.

The sunset views are of the valley and hot air balloons are floating in the sky.

One luxuriates in plush Frette towels and lounge chairs by the pool.  There are a couple of hot tubs pool-side, as the air does get a bit chilly in the evenings.  It was amusing to see the cute families with little boys and dads in their matching Vilebrequin bathing suits.  There were a couple of Dallas families “beating the heat” in southern California.  Their kids were participating in horse riding camp in the morning and surf camp in the afternoon.  The pool menu has a nice variety with lots of clubby food (the fish tacos were amazing!) and cocktails – including Rancho Valencia’s house champagne.

At dinner on the terrace, you feel like you are on the veranda of a picturesque Mexican hacienda. The sunset views are of the valley and hot air balloons are floating in the sky.  The “coastal ranch cuisine” is made up of fresh and flavorful ingredients from “the country’s most notable farms.” It was my pleasure during my Sunday morning walk, around the property, to happen upon Simon Harris, the Food and Beverage Director of Rancho Valencia, with his daughter, Valantina. They were feeding the chickens and tending to the resort’s culinary garden, where they grow some of the produce used in the menu items.

It is always a joy to visit California.  The weather is beautiful, the lifestyle runs at a good pace and the people’s joie de vivre is contagious.