Sarah Gold

Rancho Valencia

  • Where:Rancho Santa Fe, CA
  • Why:A three-day getaway.
  • When:October 2013
  • Who:Just me.
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At the resort’s boutique, Sheridan, covetable merchandise includes hand-tooled leather belts, jeweled sandals, and pony-skin bags.

Sliding doors in each casita’s bedroom open onto the private patio, which is wreathed in bougainvillea and shaded by palm trees.

The awning-striped chaises on my patio (I tried both) were perfect for private sunbathing.

The larger of the property’s two pools attracts lazy lap swimmers, splashing kids, and socializing tennis moms.

Inviting outdoor gas fireplaces punctuate all of the property’s common areas—including the reception area, the spa lounge, and, seen here, the courtyard of Veladora restaurant.

At the center of the resort’s spa is a calming water-lily pond; circling it are private treatment rooms for facial, massage, and herbal detox therapies.

The soaking tub in my indoor/outdoor spa treatment room (inside, a massage table waited for me to finish my bath).

Both resort guests and a chic after-work crowd gather at the Pony Room for cocktails—especially those made with top-shelf tequila.

“Imploration,” the $1.1 million Damien Hirst piece that dominates the dining room at Veladora, is made entirely of real butterfly wings.

Below Veladora restaurant, the low-ceilinged, subterranean Wine Cave hosts private and group tastings from its cellar of mostly domestic labels.

Each of the 49 casitas are, as the name suggests, their own little house—with a cavernous living area, a bathroom bigger than most NYC apartments, and a private patio with Jacuzzi
and outdoor fireplace.

Highs & Lows

  • The resort’s tennis program is terrific, with 18 spanking-new plexi-pave championship courts, regularly held clinics, and a half-dozen onsite pros to help you improve your game. My (admittedly terrible) groundstrokes were vastly improved after a single lesson here.

  • The spa’s signature treatment, the Sixth Sense Ritual, is the perfect antidote to jet lag (or too many hours hunched over your laptop). The 90-minute bliss-out starts with a soothing mineral soak in a private outdoor tub, followed by a scalp and full-body massage.

  • The Pony Room’s Rancho Burger—a half-pound of Angus beef, topped with crispy pancetta and slathered with black-truffle aioli and chipotle mayo—it’s a delicious, glorious mess. If you’re not wearing a rain poncho, consider using a knife and fork.

  • Until you get used to it, the high-tech Japanese-style toilet in your casita—which automatically opens when you approach, and squirts jets of water at your nether regions—can be disconcerting.

The Barometer

  • Design

  • Website

  • Mini Bar

  • Environmental Consciousness

  • Night's Sleep

  • Service

  • Amenities

  • Takeable Treats

  • Refer a Friend

  • Overall Value

  • Life Changing

Total: 44/50

Important Bits

  • Type

    Boutique Spa Resort

  • Vibe

    Exclusive but welcoming private club (this is, in fact, what it was in its first incarnation).

  • Location

    25 miles north of San Diego.

  • Rooms

    49 casitas

  • Music

    In the bar and restaurant, Sinatra and Peggy Lee. In the spa, ambient electro-chill.

  • Year Opened

    Originally opened in 1989; reopened after a $30-million renovation in 2012.

  • Designed By

    Todd Avery Lenahan of TAL Design Studio (whose other clients include Auberge Resorts and L’Ermitage Beverly Hills).

  • Pool/Gym

    Two outdoor pools—one for families and one for sanctuary, and a fabulous spa/fitness center.

  • Restaurant

    Veladora, serving refined farm and ocean-to-table cuisine in a room dominated by a dazzling Damien Hirst butterfly-wing piece.

  • Bar

    The Pony Bar, a lively amber-lit space with a menu of artisanal tequila cocktails and gastropub small plates. Also, the subterranean Wine Cave, where tastings are held from a 200+ label wine list.

  • Children

    Bring them. The resort has a great junior tennis program, as well as a large pool, bikes and croquet lawn.

  • Price

    Pricey and worth it.

a 2,000-acre park that winds along the San Diego coast. The eight miles of trails here snake along high bluffs between sandstone cliffs and a sweeping stretch of Pacific beach.

A hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve

12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037

a 2,000-acre park that winds along the San Diego coast. The eight miles of trails here snake along high bluffs between sandstone cliffs and a sweeping stretch of Pacific beach.

in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood—where the wood-oven baked Neopolitan-style pies come with toppings like brie, speck, and house-made fennel sausage.

Pizza at Buona Forchetta

3001 Beech St, San Diego, CA 92102

in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood—where the wood-oven baked Neopolitan-style pies come with toppings like brie, speck, and house-made fennel sausage.

Polite Provisions. My favorite: the Ocean Side, made with gin, lime, mint, celery bitters, and a pinch of sea salt.

Libations at one of San Diego’s hottest mixology meccas

4696 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116

Polite Provisions. My favorite: the Ocean Side, made with gin, lime, mint, celery bitters, and a pinch of sea salt.

Rancho Valencia

5921 Valencia Cir, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067

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