It’s a testament to the popularity of tennis in California that the United States Tennis Association, the national governing body for the sport, had to create two separate sections for competitive play there — the only state in the country to get that treatment because there are just so many players. With pleasant weather year-round, Southern California, especially, has long had a reputation for being a mecca for tennis enthusiasts. The area produced the likes of Billie Jean King and the Bryan brothers and has hosted the wildly popular Indian Wells Masters (now called the BNP Paribas Open) since 1976, when Björn Borg, Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors competed. When I recently visited the San Diego area, I brought my tennis rackets with me, and between hotel reviews, carved out time to hit the court. Here are a few hotels and facilities I recommend.
Tucked away in the hills of tony Rancho Santa Fe is Rancho Valencia, one of the top tennis destinations in the world and a favorite hotel of Andrew Harper members. Not only does the 49-casita hotel boast 14 Plexipave and two pristine European clay courts, but it also has a charismatic tennis director in Eduardo Sanchez. He’s been with the hotel since it opened in 1989 and is a boon to the program: His enthusiasm for the game is infectious, and his instruction is excellent. Book private lessons or group clinics with Sanchez or one of the other nine pros. Alternatively, have the pro shop schedule a match for you with another guest or club member.
Steve Halverson, the director of tennis at the recommended Park Hyatt Aviara, calls the tennis facility here his very own Shangri-La. Located down the road from the 327-room hotel, it is surrounded by palm trees and lush gardens filled with birds of paradise. The site offers four hard courts and two Har-Tru clay courts. I had a lesson with Halverson in which he tried to help me perfect Federer’s “squash shot.” That’s still a work in progress, but it was an enjoyable hour nonetheless.
This family-owned establishment has been a destination for tennis players for more than 80 years. La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club has 11 USPTA pros on staff, 12 hard courts and has been named one of the best tennis resorts in the United States. The club has hosted the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup and continues to showcase high-profile national tournaments. Guests can stay at the La Jolla Shores Hotel or the more clublike accommodations at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, where one- to three-bedroom suites range from 650 to 1,300 square feet. The lodgings are more modest than luxurious, but the setting — directly on one of California’s few private beaches — can’t be beat.
San Diego’s Balboa Park consists of 1,200 acres containing 17 museums, the San Diego Zoo, myriad gardens, hiking trails and a variety of other attractions. Set in the northeastern corner is Balboa Tennis Club, with 25 well-maintained hard courts, one stadium court, a pro shop and 11 tennis pros. The club is a public nonprofit that has been chosen as America’s Best Public Tennis Facility by the USTA. For $10, visitors can get an all-day pass and either play on an available court or enjoy competitive play on one of three Challenge courts, where players can find a game by dropping in. The day I visited, a group of seven needed one more person for two courts of doubles. I ended up joining them and having so much fun that I went back the next week.
There is currently a two-year waiting list to become a member at Rancho Penasquitos Tennis Center, located in Canyonside Community Park. But because this is a nonprofit club, they keep one of the 12 lighted courts open for public play ($5 per person per hour). In 2017, Rancho Penasquitos was named an Outstanding Facility by the USTA.
Adjacent to the Coronado Yacht Club and half a mile from the storied Hotel del Coronado is Coronado Tennis Center, an eight-court facility with 11 other associated courts sprinkled around the peninsula. Nonresidents can book a two-hour court for $15, a ball machine for $25 or sign up for a lesson with one of the seven pros on staff.