With its bevy of beaches, abundant sun and healthful food focus, San Diego makes a great place to escape and recreate. Long known as a superb surfing spot, the city’s also got some great hiking and biking, and boasts some of the best spas in Southern California. For maximum relaxation, exercise and spa experiences, we skipped Downtown and the big tourist spots and pitched camp in the La Jolla/Del Mar area. Be well, friends.
The beaches of San Diego are so scenic and serene with ocean breezes that even the wildlife seems deeply contemplative. We did breathe-and-stretch-focused vinyasa yoga on the beach with Nicole Barraza from Spa L’Auberge (laubergedelmar.com/spa), and were wonderfully distracted by a squirrel sitting upright on a stump for 10 minutes, holding still and staring out at the ocean as if it were meditating, or maybe thinking about joining the surfers down on Del Mar Beach – a mellow stretch of coastline about 20 miles north of the city where breaks are great and novice surfers are welcome to wobble on the water.
But don’t dare be a Barney (surfer slang for a beginner or a bad surfer) at Windansea Beach. Some skilled and serious surfers ride the waves at this legendary La Jolla spot, and they have no patience for plebes. Bicyclists, however, are well-tolerated here and all around San Diego, which is great because this city is bike-crazy (see sidebar). Seeing the shores and homes of La Jolla from two wheels is especially fun on a tour with San Diego Fly Rides (1237 Prospect St., Suite X, La Jolla, 619-888-3878, sandiegoflyrides.com), which peddles electric bikes for both sale and rent. We took the 2.5-hour “SoCal Riviera” tour ($99 per person) on a comfy electric beach cruiser and saw the Children’s Pool at Casa Beach (now a lounging ground for hundreds of harbor seals and pups), Mitt Romney’s house among the $20 million cliffside mansions overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and a massive agave plant with a 30-foot-high flower stalk (where we stopped to take a shot of tequila, natch). We rode to the top of Mount Soledad, where the headwinds are heavy and the views are breathtaking (on a clear day, you can see all of San Diego and even into Mexico). A U.S. military veterans’ memorial was recently erected at the summit of Soledad, and includes reflective plaques embedded with the names and photos of soldiers who served in every military branch and every conflict from the Civil War to the War in Afghanistan. President Harry S Truman, actor Bob Hope and Arizona native Lori Piestewa are among the notable names.
Nature walks around the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (torreypine.org) provide easy to moderate hikes and marvelous to magnificent views. Trails include the 2/3-mile Guy Fleming loop, which breezes by windswept sandstone formations and flora-flush forests of the namesake endangered Torrey Pine, a broad and open-crowned tree that grows only on these bluffs; and the popular Beach Trail (3/4 mile), a footpath to Flat Rock that descends to the shore.
Plan to spend at least half a day walking the lush labyrinth that is San Diego Botanic Garden (230 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas, 760-436-3036, sdbgarden.org). At this 37-acre oasis, everything from steep stone waterfalls to mariachi topiaries to mixed-media sculptures line the four miles of pathways that lace through the various gardens representing flora from around the globe. Highlights for us included the Australian Garden, with its squat bottle trees, fragrant eucalyptus and scarlet kangaroo paws; the canopy of cork oak trees (from which we create wine corks) and deep purple irises of the Mediterranean Garden; and the Old World Desert Garden, dappled with dragon trees and bright green and yellow euphorbias. Find further peace in nature at nearby Self Realization Temple and Meditation Gardens (215 West K St., Encinitas, 760-753-1811, encinitastemple.org), where colorful and colossal carp in koi ponds surface to stare at humans and the sounds of the surf on the beach below and the wind through the Japanese trees is somehow unmarred by the surrounding city. There are plenty of benches in shady groves and carefully cultivated coves, as well as seats overlooking the ocean, for people to sit and pontificate.
Farm-to-table is king of cuisines in San Diego and its surrounds. And the shortest distance from the dirt to the restaurant door is probably the three miles that separate The West Farm in Carlsbad from Bistro West (4960 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad, 760-930-8008, bistrowest.com). The 3-acre farm is dedicated to growing ingredients exclusively for the bistro and its sibling restaurant, West Steak and Seafood. Farmer Raul Castillo grows a wide range of crops at Chef John Miller’s request; spring’s bounty included turnips, kale, fava beans, Brussels sprouts, sugar snap peas, oats, and shiny and sweet Albion strawberries – a rarity in restaurants and not available in stores due to their 3-4 day shelf life. The ingredients quickly find their ways onto plates, in fresh forms like a breaded and deep-fried squash blossom stuffed with a scallop- and peppercorn-purée, and their signature beet salad (punctuated by a potent breaded goat-cheese ball).
Galaxy Taco (2259 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla, 858-228-5655, galaxytaco.com), Chef Trey Foshee’s tribute to out-of-this-world Cali-Baja cuisine, launched less than a year ago down the street from the beach in La Jolla, and has quickly become a popular spot for surf-loving locals and out-of-towners alike. In addition to its robust offerings of rich enchiladas and smoky, fat carnitas, the menu includes vegetarian fare filled with local and seasonal ingredients, like a flavorful grilled San Diego avocado taco wrapped in a soft blue corn tortilla and nestled on a bed of creamy street corn and earthy refried black beans. The tequilas and mezcals are carefully curated by beverage director Mark Broadfoot, and the stellar cocktail list includes strange brews like the Margarita Zanahoria (Cimarron blanco, carrot, lime, agave, orange, black pepper, celery salt rim) and the – better sit down for this – Maximilian Affair with Pierre Ferrand Ambre cognac, Nuestra Soledad mezcal, St. George absinthe, vanilla gomme, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters.
Among the cluster of locavore eateries in Encinitas, Solace & the Moonlight Lounge (25 East E St., Encinitas, 760-753-2433, eatatsolace.com) stands out with its sun-splashed balcony, summery craft beer selection (Mother Earth’s Cali Creamin’ vanilla cream ale is especially awesome, and tastes just like vanilla cream soda), and classic rock on the speakers (our baseball glove-size Niman Ranch burger paired perfectly with the Led Zeppelin). Solace is also known for its oyster bar, full of fresh shucked clams on ice.
REST WELL (AND EAT EVEN BETTER)
The finest dining in San Diego is embedded in resorts, but some 4-star boutique properties boast top-notch restaurants, too. Case in point: Kitchen 1540 at L’Auberge Del Mar (1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, 858-259-1515, laubergedelmar.com), frequently named Best Hotel Restaurant by Ranch & Coast magazine. Executive Chef Nathan Lingle’s “coastal harvest cuisine” runs courses ranging from a light and citrusy Kona Kampachi with grapefruit and white ponzu on a biting spring radish, to an umami-bomb farro piccolo dish with forest mushrooms, spinach and sprouted wheat, to a juicy and tender New York prime strip steak. The dessert of craft beer beignets served with Cali Creamin’ cinnamon sauce didn’t suck, either. If you need to waddle away from the table (as we did), L’Auberge Del Mar offers 121 well-appointed guest rooms and suites. Their spa treatments include an 80-minute hot stone massage that penetrates deep into muscles and relaxes every part of the body, right down to the spaces between one’s toes (where the therapist places smooth little black stones).
We embarked on an epic odyssey of pampering at The Lodge at Torrey Pines (11480 N. Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla, 858-453-4420, lodgetorreypines.com), which is known for its 36-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course (site of the 2008 U.S. Open championships), proximity to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Torrey Pines State Beach, and its restaurant, A.R. Valentien, a fine dining establishment with farm-to-table flair that hosts an “Artisan Table” dinner every Thursday, and winemaker dinners once a month (the June 9 dinner features Robert Craig wines president Elton Stone). The feng shui-inspired Spa at Torrey Pines earned four stars from Forbes magazine, and it earns a constellation of stars from us for treatments like the Signature Ritual, which starts with a “Coastal Sage” body scrub with lemongrass and sage sea salts, followed by a revitalizing soak in a hydrotherapy tub, and concluding with a personalized massage.
Another place to taste paradise is the over-the-top opulent Fairmont Grand Del Mar (5300 Grand Del Mar Court, San Diego, 800-257-7544, fairmont.com/san-diego), where the staircases are gilded in 18-karat gold, and painstaking attention has been paid to every detail, down to the concrete under the grass on the wedding lawn so bridesmaids’ heels don’t sink during wedding ceremonies. We had the best meal of our lives at Addison in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Chef William Bradley, formerly of (now defunct) Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, has been helming the kitchen here for 10 years, and his tasting menus make magnificent culinary marathons – once-in-a-lifetime, 11-course epicurean adventures with things like langoustines en feuille de brik with espelette, saffron-uni butter and baby romaine, and an unforgettable lasagna printemps made with stinging nettles, morel mushrooms and Parmesan. Work off the dessert with myriad activities at the resort, from golf clinics and tennis lessons to kayaking tours of the La Jolla Sea Caves and horseback riding through the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve. The spa is one of few in the U.S. to have garnered five stars from Forbes and five diamonds from AAA.
Fitness fans also have a fondness for the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa (2100 Costa Del Mar Rd., Carlsbad, 760-438-9111, omnihotels.com/hotels/san-diego-la-costa), for its action-packed athletic club offerings as well as the on-site Chopra Yoga Center. Families like it, too, for its kid-friendly activities, and its short distance to LEGOLAND. The spa design combines Romanesque architecture (outdoor Roman showers, marble hot tubs and manicured bushes) with Art Deco interior flourishes. Treatments incorporate fragrant nature-based touches like beeswax menthol rubs and powdered strawberry and hibiscus body buffs.
Speaking of nature, the outdoor spa treatments at Rancho Bernardo Inn (17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive, San Diego, 888-976-4417, ranchobernardoinn.com) make a great denouement to a long day of golfing on the 27-hole executive course or swimming in one of the saline pools. Walking the grounds makes for good exercise as well as glimpses of global art – the family that owns the inn collected 26 fountains from all over the world and put them around the property.
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