If you’re staying at one of the grand resorts in San Diego’s North County, it’s tempting to stay put. Heaven knows that we never want to leave our splendid suite at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa. But a perfect holiday in these seaside communities in northern San Diego County includes time both on and off the resort property, whether it be touring a private art museum, strolling a seaside meditation garden, getting into position at the yoga studio or thinking about your next glorious meal. Here’s our plan for two perfect days of doing a little bit of it all in San Diego’s North County.
Sip coffee or tea in your Rancho Valencia casita, while you peruse the daily activity schedule and spa menu. There’s plenty to do around the resort, so get your day off to an energetic start with a spin class, a game of tennis or a workout in the first-rate fitness center. Keep on the health program with a granola-topped acai breakfast bowl or a Valencia protein smoothie at Veladora, the resort’s Four-Star dining room.
After a leisurely morning meal, hop in the car and head north to Carlsbad. It’s about a 25-minute drive to the entertaining Museum of Making Music. Not just for kids, this interactive attraction takes you through the history of American popular music from the 1890s to the present with permanent galleries and temporary exhibits that will have you rockin’ in no time.
When you’ve had your fill of fiddling with the fiddles, your next stop is nearby at the Five-Star Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, where the Aviara Spa awaits. This bespoke sanctuary tailors each treatment to your particular needs, whether you’d prefer a detoxifying herbal mud wrap or a massage. If you’re traveling with your significant other, book the two-hour, passion-boosting Couples Spark at the Park, which combines 50-minute massages, two glasses of champagne with chocolate-covered strawberries, and an hour to yourselves in the couples’ suite.
If all this relaxation has made you hungry, Park Hyatt Aviara has several options for mid-day refreshment. Choose from the Argyle Steakhouse overlooking the golf course, a poolside meal at the Ocean Pool Bar & Grill or the farm-to-table fare at the California Bistro.
En route back to Rancho Valencia, make a stop in Encinitas at the Lux Art Institute. You won’t just be looking at pictures here. This privately owned art museum in a modern “green” building hosts artists-in-residence who exhibit their work and talk with visitors in the onsite studio. Upcoming residencies include Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson (April 4 through May 2), whose work chronicles Caribbean street culture, and contemporary California painter Squeak Carnwath (June 13 through July 11).
Still have a bit more energy? Return to Rancho Valencia for a late-afternoon yoga or stretching class on the tranquil waterside yoga platform, or go for a swim in one of the two heated saltwater pools. But if you’d prefer to snuggle under the 600-thread-count linens for an hour or so before dinner, we’d understand.
Have a cocktail in the resort’s The Pony Room, before moving on to Veladora for your meal. Whether you’re in the mood for seared salmon with herbed farro, Jidori chicken with yams and glazed chestnuts, or a salad of raw and cooked vegetables from nearby Chino Farm, be sure to check out the luminous piece in the dining room that well-known contemporary artist Damien Hirst created from real butterfly wings. A nightcap in front of the suite’s fireplace will cap off this enjoyable day.
After you wake, either ease into the day with a Baja California chorizo and egg burrito from the room service menu or will your way out of bed so you can follow through on that reservation you made for the private session with the tennis pro.
When you’re ready to move on, drive to the nearby town of Solana Beach and spend an hour or two browsing the boutiques, jewelry shops and home interior stores along Cedros Avenue, a compact design-centric district.
When it’s time for a refreshment, sample what’s on tap at Culture Brewing Company, the local microbrewery. Or head a few minutes north for a bite to eat in Encinitas, which has some excellent casual dining options. Our favorite spot is Q’ero Peruvian Restaurant, a colorful eatery serving distinctive Latin American fare. Start with an empanada. The vegetarian version of these traditional pastries is packed with lentils, sweet potatoes and spinach; the camarones empanada is filled with shrimp in tangy aji amarillo (a traditional Peruvian spice paste). Continue with a salad of pan-seared duck breast glazed with purple Peruvian corn on a bed of spinach and butternut squash, or try the classic lomo saltado (flank steak sautéed with onions and tomatoes). To drink, consider the signature chicha morada, a non-alcoholic brew made from boiled purple corn, apple and pineapple, and spiced with cinnamon and clove.
Just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Encinitas is an unusual destination for a peaceful postprandial walk. At the retreat center run by the Self-Realization Fellowship, the serene Meditation Gardens are open to the public (the entrance is on K Street), whether you’d like to stroll along the shaded pathways or enjoy some moments of serenity overlooking the sea — it offers one of the best vistas in the beach town. The ocean views along the cliffs are spectacular in the afternoon sun. Either way, it’s a relaxing wrap-up to two reinvigorating days in North County.