I believe we all should have a lovely shingled cottage overlooking the ocean that we can retreat to when we’re seeking peace and renewal. Or, failing that, we at least ought to have friends who invite us to their gracious beach retreat for the weekend.
Sadly, though, I have neither cottage nor invitations. I did, however, find a good stand-in for my dream beach home in the L’Auberge Del Mar, located on the Southern California coast an hour and a half south of Los Angeles and about half an hour north of San Diego. The beautiful, 5.2-acre property is nestled just below street level in a commercial stretch of main street, Camino Del Mar, in the village of Del Mar, which is best known for its historic horse-racing track. Situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific, L’Auberge Del Mar has views of the ocean from most rooms and all the open-air public spaces. It’s a short walk down the hill and across the railroad tracks to the wide, seemingly endless beach, where I spent a pleasant hour walking along, collecting sand dollars and small seashells (a rarity on Southern California beaches).
Situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific, L’Auberge Del Mar has views of the ocean from most rooms and all the open-air public spaces. It’s a short walk down the hill and across the railroad tracks to the wide, seemingly endless beach, where I spent a pleasant hour walking along, collecting sand dollars and small seashells…
The highlight of the hotel for me is, of course, its spa, which inhabits its own freestanding California beach “shack” on the property. The 5,000-square-foot, low, gray building has almost as much outdoor space as indoor—there’s a spacious walled indoor-outdoor relaxation area with bright orange chaise lounges arranged around a fire pit. Blooming vines cover the white wooden privacy fence and succulent plants thrive around the edges of the patio. There are 10 treatment rooms, so it’s the perfect size for hosting a private event, if you’re inspired to bring your bachelorette party or girlfriends’ getaway there.
My massage room was also designed for indoor-outdoor use: There was a large tub on a sunny private patio for post-massage relaxation. The spa’s signature massage itself (50 or 80 minutes, $130, $180) included a choice between half a dozen fragrant oils and offered two of my favorite small luxuries: warm, moist towels for my feet and an eye pillow. The locker room also featured lots of little treats: a eucalyptus-scented stream room; Morrocanoil to apply to my hair while in the steam; and plenty of generous fluffy white towels. I liked the elegant sea-themed décor, which is the work of Cary Collier of Blu Spas Inc., who reinvented what was the hotel’s coffee shop as Spa L’Auberge five years ago.
The sea theme is carried through into the treatments, as well. After the massage, I had a gentle Signature Seashell Antioxidant Facial (80 minutes, $200), designed to moisturize skin like mine that’s been stripped of its natural oils by too much swimming and sun exposure. The Spa’s small boutique, which has a fun selection of merchandise, features the Malibu-based Osea organic-algae skincare line. The spa director, Leah Strohecker, who arrived seven months ago from the Westin Maui’s Heavenly Spa, told me that her goal is to add even more marine-based treatments like the Signature Seashell Antioxidant and Ocean and Oxygen Facials to L’Auberge’s menu, as well as commissioning some skin- and hair-care products exclusive to the spa from the San Diego Soap Co. “We want to be known for creating wellbeing using the properties of the ocean,” she said.
Toward that end, Leah is continuing to revise the spa’s line-up: Last month, the spa began offering the California Rejuvenation Treatment (110 minutes; $250), which includes exfoliation, a detoxifying mud wrap and an aromatherapy massage. It’s particularly good for surfers and runners, Leah says. She also just added a Soothing Renewal Facial (50 or 80 minutes; $135, $185), using EmerginC’s Scientific Organics line. This month, with the Del Mar horse-racing season in full swing, the spa added some specials: a Daily Double (two services for the price of one); an Exacta (mint-julep body scrub and Soothing Renewal Facial); and a Trifecta (massage, mint-julep scrub and Renewal Facial).
(I was surprised to see a few men among the guests while I was enjoying some iced tea on the spa’s patio. Leah confirmed for me that the spa does draw a fairly large number of male customers: She says the male female ratio is 30:70. So remember to keep your robe on in public areas!)
The healthy spa ethos flows through into the dining experience at the hotel’s Kitchen 1540, which is a destination in itself. Under the direction of chef Brandon Fortune, the menu is an adventurous homage to Southern California’s agricultural bounty. Although you certainly don’t have to eat healthy (there’s beef tenderloin and even chicken-and-dumplings on the menu), you can opt for a highly evolved meal if you want one. Dining outside in a private cabana under twinkling strings of lights, I chose the Leaves, Roots and Shoots, which was a kebab of spring vegetables that included fiddleheads (it has now rotated off the menu for summer).
The healthy spa ethos flows through into the dining experience at the hotel’s Kitchen 1540, which is a destination in itself. Under the direction of chef Brandon Fortune, the menu is an adventurous homage to Southern California’s agricultural bounty.
Returning to my room to sleep was a delight, since it featured soundproof, double-pane windows (remember those train tracks? That’s Amtrak’s Surfliner route and the train sounds its whistle when it passes through the village). During the day, it was pleasant to open the French doors onto the small balcony so I could see the waves rolling in and watch the other guests around the courtyard pool. I could even check out what people were eating at the Waterfall Terrace restaurant—the 120-room hotel is that compact.
I loved the hotel’s ocean-themed décor, but I was glad to note that the dramatic chunks of white coral that decorated the bedroom and bathroom were lifelike casts, rather than real coral. A white-marble-fronted fireplace was the focus of the room and a nice amenity when the fog rolls in on the coast, as it often does in Southern California.