Considering I've lived in Los Angeles for over five years, it's pretty pathetic how little of California I've actually taken the time to go and visit. So when a friend (a very well-travelled, chic friend, with impeccable taste in restaurants and wine) said that Rancho Valencia was an absolute must, and only two hours away, I hit the road that very weekend.
In the midst of horse and wine country, I drove by copious vineyards, ranches and the Del Mar Thoroughbred racetrack, before pulling into Rancho Valencia's lush, manicured grounds. The resort is a 45-acre, newly renovated (and by renovated, I mean the privately-owned hotel dropped a whopping $30 million bucks on revamping it) oasis of calm-meets-country club, with 49 elegantly-decorated haciendas nestled into rolling olive groves. A mere 45 minutes from the Mexican border, you'll notice some great Mexican design influences here, such as beautiful, bright hand-painted tiles which pepper the bathrooms and outdoor fireplaces, and a mean tequila tasting course -- more on that later. Slap bang between bustling San Diego and the upscale village of La Jolla, Sante Fe is one of SoCal's best-placed towns for a weekend trip.
So how's this sound for a fun weekend away? My wake up call: A rustic little wood crate filled with freshly squeezed orange juice and a newspaper, left on the doorstep as the sun comes up. A free (yes, actually free) Porsche to borrow and drive to the beach with. Yoga classes on the sun-drenched deck. Three pools -- including an adult-only one (yay!) nestled next to the brand new spa, where every treatment ends with cake and champagne on squishy sofas, warmed by the al fresco fireplace. A game of sunset croquet on the lawn. Delicious cocktails mixed at the Pony Room bar -- where over 100 brands of tequila are on offer, served up next to the ambient jazz of a live band. In fact, if, like me, you're a tequila fan, then definitely invest in the tequila tasting session. Two hours of fascinating education, history and sipping of the drink, the latter of which soon dominates the former, so write your Cliff notes while you can still hold the pen! Then dinner across the courtyard at Veladora, a fine dining restaurant with a relaxed vibe. I highly recommend the grilled octopus with chilli vinaigrette, followed by the Maine lobster and spaghetti nero, cooked with garlic, basil and white wine. It's light and delicious. A nightcap from the minibar in your casita's Jacuzzi (did I mention the minibar is also complimentary?) is the perfect way to cap off your ridiculously perfect day.
Next up, it's time to explore. I hit the road (yup, in my new pretend Porsche), and hit the shops in La Jolla. An affluent area with cute independent boutiques, it's worth a wander. Once you get hungry, don't miss Georges at the Cove for a yummy lunch right on the water. For adrenaline junkies, La Jolla provides everything from hot air ballooning and sailing lessons, to surfing and award-winning golf courses. 30 minutes away is San Diego, which is great if you're visiting with kids -- check out Legoland and Sea World. Oh, and something I had no idea existed in California, San Diego is home to America's largest urban cultural park, Balboa Park, measuring over 1,200 acres and dubbed "The Smithsonian of the West." It's home to 15 major museums, gorgeous botanical gardens and the San Diego Zoo. Don't miss the Dead Sea Scrolls here, an exhibition of some of the world's greatest archaeological treasures including parchment and papyrus scrolls authored around 250 B.C.
And if you're really going to do this weekend trip like a boss, here are my top tips... book in for a tennis lesson with Robin, who as well as teaching me a mean topspin forehand and imparting her genius sense of humor, was also once a doubles finalist at the U.S. Open. Very cool. Reward your sporting prowess with a bespoke dinner in the impressive private dining room, and order a round of the hotel's speciality: a Sassy Sangrita (made with Herencia Blanco Tequila, Cointreau Noir and a spicy homemade Sangrita, full of chilli, spices and orange) and stay in the one-off 5000 square foot private guesthouse, which makes gigantic Vegas penthouses suites look a little lame, quite frankly. Three bedrooms, totally chic décor, wood-burning fireplaces in every corner, 600-thread-count linens, Illy Cafe Espresso Machines, Bang and Olufsen stereos, jetted plunge pools and a private deck -- you get the idea. And apart from making you want to steal all the interior design ideas and spend a fortune redecorating your entire house and garden, there is nothing not-perfect about staying here.