If you think California is all about the ocean, you haven’t been to Rancho Valencia hotel in Rancho Santa Fe. Set inland from the Pacific, the cluster of Spanish-style bungalows is spread over 43 acres of flowering trees, manicured croquet fields, champion-staffed tennis courts and olive groves, with a spa and a top-notch restaurant at the core.


  • Vast gardens and grounds

  • Word-class tennis

  • All-natural spa

Smith extra

Breakfast for two each day (up to $40 a person, including tax and gratuity)

In the know

Also need to know:

Almost anything you forget can be found at the hotel's two boutiques. The main shop off the lobby has designer clothes and Alexis Bittar jewellery; the smaller shop in the spa has beauty products, gym gear and swimwear. The spa could be a destination all its own. Set off to the side, the building has its own adults-only pool, a Watsu treatment pool, a sauna and steam room and a fitness centre along with several treatment rooms for organic massage and facials. There is a spin studio, Pilates studio, and space for Zumba, boxing and TRX classes. The hotel offers several daily yoga classes, dawn hikes and other activities.

Packing tips:

Tennis whites: Rancho Valencia has a renowned tennis program, with immaculate courts, and an array of former pro champions as instructors.

Dress code:

Southern California chic. Flowing dresses and crisp button-downs are ideal. Don't forget a light jacket, as nights can be chilly up in the hills.

Mr and Mrs Smith reviews

I recognized that grunt. Definitely female, and somewhat NC-17.

I was sitting by my blissful lonesome at the near-isolated lap pool of Rancho Valencia, a luxury resort in Rancho Santa Fe, where the glamour arrives discreetly packaged, and the colour-scheme was of an edifying tangerine and a Moorish blue. I began, suddenly, to hear many-decibel vocalizations.

Just over the wall, and somewhere past the proud swaying palms I detected a merciless loop of pneumatic drills. The grunts also accompanied the distinct ponk-ponk of tennis balls.

Could it be? The racquet and the racket of a Sharapova? After all, the courtside action is nothing to sneeze at here, and the pro-level facility is widely considered to be among the best in Southern California.

An attendant – as much of a whiz at unobtrusively folding towels around this gleaming basin hidden inside the grounds as he was at humouring guests – set me straight when I snooped about the player’s identity. ‘Oh, she's there everyday,’ he told me, smiling.

Ok, so it turned out this mystery tennis star wasn’t the magnificent Maria. But it’s not unusual to spy an A-list guest or two hiding behind dark sunglasses here. And it's not just the tennis fiends grunting with pleasure at this village-like compound, set amid the horse farms and the citrus groves 25 miles north of downtown San Diego.

For those on a steadier diet of sloth, or perhaps just the tiniest round of non-gruelling croquet before a lobster salad at the Pony Room – a little den of a restaurant – there's more. Emphatically so.

Basking in its recent 30-million-dollar renovation, this retreat consists of 53 home-away-home casitas. And though it is a Relais & Châteaux-rated sanctuary, it is, all things considered, more Relaxed & Châteaux than it is Relais & Chi-Chi.

I settled in all too comfortably in the split-level villa-style Agave Suite. It was light-flooded and filled with so many distinct details – cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, hand-painted Mexican tiling, a private patio with fragrant gardens, steam showers, soak tubs, wrought-iron chandeliers and very happy-making linens. You get the pic why I could never leave, right?

Waking up here is an anticipated event. After all, what better motivator is there for springing out of bed than to collect the carafe of freshly squeezed orange juice, made right on property, at one's door? All just part of the morning routine.

Designed with the lingering escape in mind, this is the spot where I'd run away to recuperate if I was a first wife banished by the arrival of a second trophy-ier wife. Likewise: if I was a scion of a captain of industry, and I needed a place to come and mull my options to either stay in the family business or summon up the courage to say no to daddy.

Walking around the olive grove on the property – all the herbs for the kitchen are grown on-site, and there are also six honeybee hives – it hit me, too, that this might be a good place to come and write a two-act play. Peace. Serenity. And a more likely retreat scenario for yours truly.

The jilted first wife, the confused scion, and the aspiring playwright could all use this opportunity to think and plot while taking advantage of a does-the-trick spa. Most delicious on the menu was the Harmonizing Scalp Massage, a tingling treatment with organic Mediterranean myrtle, juniper, jojoba, avocado, and oils.

Of course, if not content to just lounge, there are more than 75 health and fitness classes offered each week. Madonna's butt-kicking dream come true, I tell you. The kind of place where a gal named Misty – as a printed sked, left daily in the suite, informs – leads a 9:00-9:50 a.m. sweat-shop, so to speak, entitled Chair Pilates Level 2.

Whether or not you work up a sweat, a person has to eat. And well-heeled guests (a younger crowd that one might expect) and local denizens-at-large, even the odd genius (Bill Gates famously lived at the Rancho Valencia while his house was being built) – are often spotted at the main restaurant, Veladora.

Admiring the million-dollar Damien Hirst butterfly objet that stands at attention when you enter the sleek room, I chose to have lunch at Veladora most days, and also to get a good telescope of the crowd. Such as the two overly polite women - typical BFFNs (Best Friends For Now) – as well as a Zooey Deschanel type on a date with a Bradley Copper type.

Evenings my preferred spot was the aforementioned Pony Room. A distinguished hideout, indeed, where all the wooden barstools have feet shaped like cattle hoofs, and a spot-hitting burger.

I learned that Jenny Craig (yes of the weight loss and nutrition empire), likes to drop-by sometimes, her own horse-stables being across the street from Rancho Valencia. And, having spotted the stables as well as her Hermitage-sized estate – and her private race-track – it was clear that pounds-dropping is where it's at, and that I may well be in the wrong business.

‘What does Jenny Craig have here?’ I asked a regular beside me at the bar.

‘Oh, she indulges,’ Mr Regular told me.

Well, grunt, grunt to that, I thought as I tucked into my expertly-grilled burger. And got to pondering the bigger question at hand: what role whould I play on my return visit (oh yes, I'll be back) to this fantasy retreat? The jilted first wife, the confused scion or the aspiring playwright, the weight-loss guru… the possibilites are endless. 


Accommodation details


5921 Valencia Circle, Mailing address: P.O. Box 9126, Rancho Santa Fe, California 92067, United Stat
Rancho Santa Fe


18.8 mi / 30.4 km from city centre

General facilities

  • Valet parking
  • Pool
  • Spa
  • Aerobics instruction
  • Exercise gym
  • Internet services
  • Tennis court
  • On-Site parking
  • Golf
  • Complimentary in-room coffee or tea
  • Room service
  • Lounges/bars
  • Onsite laundry
  • Restaurant

Dining information


The setting of Veladora, from chef Eric Bauer, nearly matches the excellent coastal-ranch cuisine. The dining area is split between a large, fire-warmed terrace and a Spanish-style dining room with an original Damien Hirst painting and valley views. The ultra-seasonal menu includes dishes like pastrami-spiced ono and roasted lamb, all served with local vegetables. The kitchen staff tend the hotel gardens, and make olive oil, honey and preserves.

Top Table:

Nab a spot on the terrace if the weather is warm. For the best views on cooler nights, snag a window table near the fireplace.

Last Orders:

Breakfast is served from 7am until 11am, and lunch from 11 until 2.30pm. Dinner is between 6pm and 9pm. The bar opens at 11am each day and closes at midnight on weeknights, and 1am on Friday and Saturday.

Room Service:

A selection of dishes from Veladora is available 24 hours a day.

Hotel Bar:

The polo-inspired Pony Bar is a cozy mix of overstuffed chairs, dark wood and worn leather, with patio dining that has perfect views of the nearby hot-air balloons. Open only to those 21 and older, the bar serves prosecco on tap and over 100 tequilas. The bar menu includes sirloin sandwiches, flatbreads and a charcuterie board.


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