By Madison Rutherford and Craig Outhier
Stay close to home, relatively speaking, with an autumn trip to one of five West Coast locales.
“Fall is totally a secret travel hack in Southern California,” the public relations pro says slyly over her plate of avocado toast. “It’s not high season with prices, but it still is weatherwise.”
And that, in a nutshell, explains our present focus: a curated selection of top-flight resorts in Mexico and Southern California, where Arizonans can escape the September and October heat to find appealing off-season deals in slices of paradise still warm enough to beckon a dip in the Pacific Ocean, or a round of Frisbee on a breezy beach. “The industry still hasn’t wised up,” the publicist concludes.
But we have.
Los Cabos Pedregal
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Though it’s technically located in Cabo San Lucas, and barely a five-minute drive from the party-prone city’s legendary bazaar of nightclubs and whistle-tooting cantina hombres, this Waldorf Astoria property feels a world apart. It might have something to do with the tunnel its owners blasted through a small mountain to access the placid private cove where Pedregal was eventually built: Today, the 1,000-foot subterranean entry is the only way in or out of the property, and the psychological sense of occasion that visitors experience, emerging onto the resort’s bright outdoor foyer and its stunning view of the sun-dappled Pacific, is profound.
Could be. The more likely reason Pedregal doesn’t feel like typical Cabo: It’s simply the nicest thing around. Named the No. 1 Resort Hotel in Mexico by Travel + Leisure in 2019, it ticks off all the boxes on your mental paradise-vacation checklist: spectacular swim-up bar where you can camp out all day watching yachts taxi in and out of the nearby harbor; lovely rooms with universal ocean views, from the base-model king all the way to the 1,400-square-foot beachfront suite ($1,250/night), with an attached private swimming pool perfect for late-night laps para dos; and an elite culinary program.
On that last point: Enjoy a dinner, or four, at flagship restaurant El Farallon, which translates loosely to “rock jutting out of the sea” and was so named for its perch along a sinuous, rocky ridgeline overlooking the ocean. The views are exalting, and so is the daily local seafood catch – red snapper, sea bass, dorado and more – splayed on ice for your viewing pleasure, and roasted whole for your gustatory ecstasy.
El Farallon also boasts an accomplished Champagne program, and offers a curated tasting before dinner on a deck near the restaurant. (A recommended add-on, for sure.) Naturally, you can also order a tequila shot, if that’s your bag. Whistle not included.
If You Go: Camino Del Mar 1, 52-624-163-4300, theresortatpedregal.com
Seasonal Splurge: Book a class with the tennis pro, who excels at simple but meaningful tweaks. Before-backhand: horrible. After-backhand: Nadal-like.
Fall Special: Celebrate Pedregal’s 10th anniversary with the Decade of Luxury package, featuring 10 components, from a complimentary one-night stay to daily breakfast and free airport transfers.
Fall rates start at $325/night.
Belmond El Encanto
Fall is a magical time in Santa Barbara. The coastal water that crests onto the beaches of the Southern California town still has a hint of summer warmth, and the region’s wineries – which number more than 200, according to the local visitor’s bureau – are in full harvest-and-crush mode.
A little swimming, a little sipping. Sounds like a spot-on weekend escape to us.
Which leaves the no small matter of your base of operations. You could always stay near downtown Santa Barbara’s well-trafficked Fun Zone – there are plenty of affordable options, including the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort ($233/night) – but for a more singular vantage of “the American Riviera,” the Belmond El Encanto deserves a hard look. Set in the foothills just north of the city, this sprawling historical hybrid of Mediterranean and Craftsman styles offers serene but commanding views of the ocean, which purportedly made it a favorite of visiting plein-air artists and sun-tanning Old Hollywood weekenders during the resort’s infancy in the 1920s.
Today, those same views are handsomely framed by the resort’s long, negative-edge swimming pool – so lovely and surreal, it seems stolen from a 1990s Chanel No. 5 commercial.
No visit to Santa Barbara would be complete without at least a brief encounter with the city’s fabled “Coastal California” cuisine traditions, and chef Johan Denizot has you covered there, with unmistakably California-fied delights like market oysters with jalapeño, lime and green apple, and spicy clay pot grouper with coriander rice cake.
Comprising 90 suites – many of those stand-alone cottages – held in suspension by a meandering, leafy network of footpaths, the Belmond is a refreshingly cloistered option for a Santa Barbara visit, particularly if you get your fill of the Fun Zone.
If You Go: 800 Alvarado Pl., 805-845-5800, belmond.com
Seasonal Splurge: Opt for the resort’s Spa Retreat special ($635/night in the fall), which includes a $185 wellness credit, plus a spa amenity, in the spacious warren of treatment lounges, steam rooms and fitness spaces that serve as Encanto’s wellness center.
Fall Special: Make like a Golden Age movie-star couple with the 101 Escape to the American Riviera package ($1,170 for a two-night stay), which includes dinner for two, plus a limited-edition vintage picnic hamper and $40 lounge credit to cover the obligatory classic cocktails.
Fall rates start at $495/night.
InterContinental San Diego
Celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, the InterContinental San Diego is among the newest luxury hotels in “America’s Finest City” – and among the most strategically situated for activity-minded visitors. Little Italy and its resurgent culinary scene, including Ballast Point Brewing, is a short walk up the waterfront. The Gaslamp Quarter and its bonanza of nightlife attractions is within a quick scooter ride. The USS Midway Museum is literally across the street.
But there’s plenty of appeal within the 400-room high-rise, too, starting with the soaring views of San Diego Bay, which glistens to singular effect every afternoon – a hypnotic, rippling quilt of light and vastness, best enjoyed from the hotel’s rooftop relaxation pool and adjacent bar. (Pro tip: Save your complimentary cocktail tickets, issued upon check-in, for your pool visit.)
The resort’s flagship eatery, Vistal Bar + Restaurant, is similarly special. Authored by chef Amy DiBiase, the menu makes a bracing first impression with unusual cuts, treatments and iterations of interesting proteins – e.g. “honey-glazed pork cheeks,” “Moroccan lamb ribeye,” “crispy skin local fish” and “pickled black cod.” If you’re like us, it will lead to an utter conundrum come ordering time, but if you opt for the GoneStraw Farm duck confit – featuring a tender fowl leg so densely flavored it suggests bacon, served over roasted turnips and a bed of spinach with a zingy hillock of rhubarb – you won’t be disappointed.
Another San Diego selling point for fall: October is the city’s annual Kids Free San Diego month – when your young’uns can eat, stay and play for free all month long, courtesy of 100-plus partners representing some of the region’s best attractions, museums, hotels and restaurants. Check kidsfreesandiego.com for more information.
If You Go: 901 Bayfront Ct., 619-501-9400, intercontinentalsandiego.com
Seasonal Splurge: If you’re in full-on spendy steakhouse mode, look no farther than the InterContinental’s ground floor, where the California outpost of Texas-based Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse resides. Enjoy your $80 bone-in ribeye and God bless. delfriscos.com
Fall Special: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, they say, and InterContinental is ready to facilitate with its Bay & Breakfast package, which affords visitors a $60 brekkie credit for rougly an extra $25 to their room rate ($360/night). Can’t argue with the math.
Fall rates start at $323/night.
Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This all-inclusive Puerto Vallarta posada is aptly named. With the azure water and ivory sand of Banderas Bay and the stunning Sierra Madre mountain range as the backdrop, the Grand Velas is decidedly grand. Throw in a three-tiered, multi-temperature infinity pool, full-service spa, five award-winning gourmet restaurants and 267 ocean-view suites with private plunge pools and you’ve got your own personal paradise.
Choose between 30 different treatments at Se Spa, many of which are inspired by native Mexican traditions. Try the Water Journey, a tranquil tour of the senses that includes hydro-reflexology, eucalyptus inhalation and a multi-jet pressure shower. Challenge yourself with fitness classes like Aqua Forza, a mood-boosting water exercise that features low-impact routines on non-slip mats secured above the water.
A kaleidoscope of arts and culture exists just beyond the resort. Wander through the charming streets of downtown Puerto Vallarta – a 25-minute jaunt from Grand Velas – and experience vibrant nightlife, cafes, shops and art galleries. Take a peek at popular landmarks like Los Arcos Amphitheater or enjoy live music and an open-air market at Plaza Principal. If golf is your gig, a slew of championship courses are just a stone’s throw away, and the crystalline, cobalt-colored water at Banderas Bay is ideal for kayaking, snorkeling and swimming.
Dining at Grand Velas is also a distinctly grand experience. The resort’s executive chef Guillaume Morancé handpicked each employee in all of the on-site restaurants. He must be doing something right – three of the resort’s five restaurants boast AAA Four Diamond awards for pristine cuisine and presentation. At gourmet Mexican eatery Frida, a live harpist provides the soundtrack for a fresh meal – Morancé recommends the octopus tacos with pork shank and belly in salsa taquera redolent with chile de árbol. And for dessert: The poblano pepper caramelized in piloncillo sugar with sweet pineapple filling and a dollop of pistachio cream might be the grandest thing about Grand Velas.
If You Go: Av. Cocoteros, 98 Sur, 877-418-2722, vallarta.grandvelas.com
Seasonal Splurge: Guests can opt to upgrade to a Wellness Suite, which comes with a personal training session and in-suite massage. Reset with a complimentary sleep kit that includes roll-on aromatherapy lotion, bath salts, handcrafted soaps and a silk eye pillow. Rates start at $425/night.
Fall Special: From September 1 to October 31, guests can take advantage of the Autumn Dream package, which includes a $50 spa or golf credit for adults and a free stay for kids.
Fall rates start at $336/person for double occupancy.
Monarch Beach Resort
Dana Point, California
Nestled along the captivating coast of Dana Point in southern Orange County, Monarch Beach Resort recently underwent a $40 million renovation to enhance its ethereal seaside setting.
The sweeping beachside destination boasts California’s first iteration of Tucson-based Miraval Spa, five new dining concepts, a sprawling pool area with private cabanas and a remote, state-of-the-art beach club. With inviting ocean views and a lush landscape of palm trees and putting greens, the resort feels at once like an opulent five-star vacation destination and a friend’s intimate beach house.
Eschewing the stuffy demeanor of many luxury locales, the resort’s staff is trained in “beachside hospitality.” Upon check-in, each guest is assigned an “experience planner” to curate a personal itinerary. Adventure awaits at Monarch Bay Beach Club, where guests can try surfing or stand-up paddleboarding or explore the coast’s tide pools with an experienced beach ranger. Complimentary wellness classes range from beachside yoga to a relaxing walking meditation, which guides guests through the resort’s rose garden.
The reimagined oceanfront bar and restaurant at Monarch Bay Beach Club features inventive dishes that combine seasonal produce and sustainably caught seafood. Try the tangy octomari or butter-poached black cod. The coastal-inspired cuisine is complemented by an all-California wine list. Precede your meal with a tranquil seaside ukulele lesson and an inspired craft cocktail like the Pilgrim, an indigo-hued martini made with NOLET’s gin, local butterfly pea flower, agave nectar, egg whites and fresh lemon juice. Or simply drink in the Southern California sun setting over breaking waves. Paradise found.
If You Go: 1 Monarch Beach Resort, 949-234-3900, monarchbeachresort.com
Seasonal Splurge: Miraval Life in Balance Spa offers more than 70 signature treatments that incorporate California-inspired elements like crystal salt stones, algae and marine mud. Reinvigorate the senses with the Abhyanga Massage ($185), an ancient Ayurvedic treatment that uses healing herb-infused oils to release toxins and reduce muscle tension.
Fall Special: Monarch’s Complete Retreat package includes breakfast, complimentary valet parking, a waived resort charge and a daily $100 resort credit.
Fall rates start at $589/night.