Just Back From: Southern California


One of Andrew Harper’s editors recently spent a lovely two weeks in Southern California. The late-April visit began with downright brisk weather but ended up having exactly the type of crisp, sunny days you would expect near San Diego. She began her trip in La Jolla and threaded her way up the coastline to Carlsbad. We talked with her about how California was coping with COVID-19 and about her stays in five hotels — three on the beach and two inland. She’ll be writing a full review in the July issue, but here are a few highlights from her trip.

What hotels did you visit: La Valencia in La Jolla, Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe, the new Alila Marea in Encinitas, Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad and L’Auberge in Del Mar.

Did you have a favorite? Yes, but you’ll have to wait for the July issue of the Hideaway Report to find out which one and why!

Favorite moment: Standing at Swamis Seaside Park on a bluff in Encinitas overlooking the ocean and watching the surfers catch waves.

You can’t stop thinking about: Reading a book while cozied up next to the fire in our suite at Rancho Valencia.

Favorite meal: Pacific Coast Grill, on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). The sun had set by the time we arrived, but we were seated outside right in front of the crashing waves.

Favorite restaurants: We had a memorable five-course meal at the Michelin-starred restaurant Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in Carmel Valley. The dishes were incredibly inventive yet approachable. 

Favorite sightseeing: I really enjoyed visiting the San Diego Botanic Garden. We especially loved the Orchid Show, with its exotic arrangements. I came away with hundreds of photos.

What you will do the next time you visit: Get tickets to the San Diego Symphony’s new outdoor performance space, the Shell, which opens later this summer. We got a backstage tour while we were there; the architecture is exquisite and the sound promises to be out of this world. About 10,000 people can be seated, all with unobstructed views. Besides offering grab-and-go food that guests can eat comfortably at their seats, celebrity chef Richard Blais will also be serving full dinners — on real ceramic plates — from an on-site kitchen.

Where or what to drink: Cocktails at sunset on the terrace of the Park Hyatt Aviara were lovely. The hotel has just undergone a $50 million renovation and it shows. We had sweeping views of the vast acreage of the property, along with the Batiquitos Lagoon and the Pacific in the distance.

The coast in La Jolla, California
The coast in La Jolla, California - Photo by Andrew Harper editor

Area to explore: Downtown La Jolla is nice for boutique shopping and getting a coffee at Better Buzz. If you’re interested in midcentury-modern antiques, then head about 30 miles north to Oceanside. I particularly liked browsing the selection at the sprawling Sea Hive Marketplace. Be sure to plan on spending a couple hours there, as it’s much bigger than it appears from the outside.

Day-trip suggestions: We borrowed electric bikes from the new Alila Marea hotel in northern Encinitas and rode down the PCH. One lane is devoted to cyclists, and there are plenty of restaurants, shops and bars to stop at as you pass Leucadia on your way to Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

How did you feel about traveling during COVID: This was my first trip since the pandemic started. We’ve been vaccinated, but it was still nice to see all the hotels and guests following state guidelines. We had to wear a mask in all public facilities, except when eating or drinking, and a couple of the hotels were taking temperatures at check-in.

Surprising fact or tidbit: San Diego’s North County was once considered the flower capital of the world due to the fact that Paul Ecke’s Poinsettia Ranch was located in Encinitas. Today, the Flower Fields, in Carlsbad, keep up the tradition by growing 50 acres of ranunculus, resulting in a sea of colorful blooms in the spring.

The Flower Fields, Carlsbad
The Flower Fields, Carlsbad - Photo by Andrew Harper editor

Souvenir: The U.S. Open golf championship will be held at Torrey Pines in June, so I surprised my father with a golf towel that had the lodge’s iconic insignia on it. The Park Hyatt Aviara had a positively bubbly sales clerk in its well-stocked shop.

What to pack: A wide-brimmed hat to protect you from the strong rays of the sun, and plenty of layers for those cool coastal evenings.

Insider tip: Southern California is a mecca for tennis players. I hit with a couple of pros at the resorts and played matches at Balboa Park Tennis Club, one of the nicest public tennis facilities in the nation. Guests can pay $10 to jump on a challenge court and keep playing if they keep winning. It’s a great way to experience the club and meet new people. 

Overall impressions: I’ve spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, but on this trip I really came to embrace the California ethos. The surf culture along the Pacific Coast Highway is so vibrant, it makes you want to grow your hair out, forget the sun block, grab a surfboard and go!

By Andrew Harper Editor Andrew Harper editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.