If we had gone to Rancho Bernardo first or instead of The Grand Del Mar (more on that resort here), I’m sure we would have been thoroughly delighted with the experience. The décor felt hipper, less intimidatingly luxe. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, with winding paths among the resort’s buildings and features like outdoor fireplaces tucked into lush corners. We spent a lovely day in a poolside cabana, which segued to terrific massages, followed by a delicious dinner at Rancho Bernardo’s ambitious Avant Restaurant.
But as much as the vibe at Rancho Bernardo was more relaxed and approachable than that at The Grand Del Mar, the reality was exactly the opposite, with staff that sometimes seemed detached to the point of rudeness. It would have been hard to meet the superlative standard set by the Grand Del Mar, where you felt enveloped in the arms of an all-loving goddess mother. But on arriving at Rancho Bernardo, we were left to manage our own luggage over a long hike up and down stairs, and on leaving, found ourselves locked out of our room without warning by an overzealous checkout staff.
Unfortunate, as the prices at Rancho Bernardo are truly reasonable for a resort that offers a similar range of services and activities—including spa, several pools, tennis, and golf— as the much pricier Grand Del Mar. The private spa pool is surrounded by tented cabanas, worth every penny of the $125 extra daily fee, with their upholstered sofas and chaises and waiter service for food and drinks. The saline pool leads seamlessly to the spa where treatments take place in individual garden casitas, a lovely experience with the sound of water in the nearby fountains and wind in the palms. My Arnica Intensive Massage left me drooling.
The saline pool leads seamlessly to the spa where treatments take place in individual garden casitas, a lovely experience with the sound of water in the nearby fountains and wind in the palms. My Arnica Intensive Massage left me drooling.
And the Avant Restaurant is worth a visit to Rancho Bernardo even if you’re not staying at the hotel. Especially notable is the artisanal charcuterie including house-made pate and mustards, with salami and soppressata that would impress Tony Soprano. The drinks list includes six signature cocktails, such as the Barrel Aged Negroni, and an excellent range of local craft beer such as Sculpin and Mission Amber on tap.
But Avant saves the best for last, with its PacoJet ice cream, a modernist treat found in very few restaurants because of the expense of the equipment. The result is the icy essence of fresh raspberries or salted caramel, which made for a heavenly end to a heavenly weekend.
Pamela Redmond Satran
Pamela Redmond Satran is a novelist and an entrepreneur who lives in Los Angeles.