By Roger Cox, Editor
Set amid the horse farms, citrus groves, and multi-million-dollar houses in the hills 24 miles north of San Diego, Rancho Valencia hugs the eucalyptus-capped slope of a secluded valley not far from Rancho Santa Fe. The access road loops around the 18 courts—built in three clusters connected by walkways—before ending in front of a Spanish Colonial-style clubhouse inspired by old Rancho Santa Fe estates.
For a tiny resort it has remarkable breadth of dimensions, not only the tennis but a spacious outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, a 10,000-square-foot spa, a croquet court, and putting green. The nearest golf course is immediately adjacent, though guests have privileges at half a dozen in the area. And all of the rooms are just short walk from the resort's award-winning restaurant.
Rancho Valencia underwent an extensive renovation in 2012, remodeling all 49 of the suites, expanding the spa, and enhancing the reception, dining, fitness, and meeting spaces. The tennis complex remained open throughout the renovation, and now that the hotel has reopened, there is a new tennis director: former touring pro Robin White. White won the U.S. Open Doubles title with Gigi Fernandez in 1988 and the U.S. Open Mixed Double Championships with Shelby Cannon in 1989, as well as a dozen other doubles titles and three singles titles. On my last visit, she sat down with me to talk about how she came to be at the resort and plans for the future. A video of that interview follows, along with some history of the resort's tennis enthusiasm and photos of the resort.
Pro Shop: 858-759-6224
Tennis Staff. As evident from the large number of courts relative to rooms, Rancho Valencia has had a deep devotion to tennis ever since it opened. That shows in its choice of a tennis director: former WTA touring pro Robin White. White brings exceptional credentials, having won the U.S. Open Doubles title with Gigi Fernandez in 1988 and the U.S. Open Mixed Double Championships with Shelby Cannon in 1989, as well as a dozen other doubles titles and three singles titles. She leads a strong staff that includes Eduardo Sanchez, whose roots at Rancho Valencia date all the way back to 1989 when he helped launch the John Gardiner Tennis Camps here.
"Eduardo is a legend here and a very big staple. He knows everything backwards and forwards about this place, he's experienced so, so much," White told me. "Arturo Navarro is crucial as well. He's a character all in himself. He teaches here on stadium court and talk about energy," she continued. And then there is the part-time staff: "I've also added a gentleman I actually played on the tour with from San Diego, Todd Nelson. And then my secret hire, I like to call her, is Amanda Fink, who played at USC and retired from the tour. And she has just been a joy. She's a great young-spirited addition, willing to learn, willing to do anything."
Game-Matching: Marie Dietz, a talented player herself, manages the pro shop and serves as tennis concierge responsible for, among other things, finding opponents for guests either among others staying at the resort or the local members.
Tennis Programs: There are hour-long clinics and drill sessions most days. For guests looking for something more intensive, there is an option to book a mini-camp that runs 3 hours/day and the very reasonable price of $100/person. These are notable for the small size of the groups—never more than four players per instructor and often less—and a philosophy of tailoring the instruction and drills to the particular needs of each session's players.
Courts & Fees. There are 18 hard courts (none with lights) arranged in three clusters variously called Palm, Citrus, and Sycamore for the trees planted around them. One of these courts has been dedicated to a self-feeding ball machine. Court time is free.
Spa & Fitness
Spa & Fitness Center.
At 10,000 square feet, the Spa at Rancho Valencia is very large relative to the number of rooms. Decor runs to hand-crafted European tiles and Italian fountains, while the treatments focus on using such local ingredients as avocado, grape seed, and natural healing agents from the ocean. The treatment rooms open onto private outdoor gardens. A saline pool is part of the complex, as is a yoga studio seasonally open to a reflecting pool with an island platform at its center. The fitness center has moved here as well, offering such wellness workouts as yoga, Pilates (private Reformer Sessions and group mat classes), spinning, and TRX (there's a tennis and TRX combo that, Robin White promises, "you will feel it the next day—in a very good way." There is also a suite of Cardio machines each with personal televisions and attached DVD players. Remarkably all of these classes—some 75 in all—are free to registered guests.
Croquet. There is a regulation croquet lawn adjacent to the main clubhouse. Use of the lawns and equipment is complimentary.
Golf. Although it lacks a golf course of its own, the resort has a putting green and has playing privileges at several nearby courses, free loaner clubs, and the option of a golf package that can include nearby Torrey Pines Golf Course, home of the 2008 U.S. Open.
And ... Outdoor heated lap pool with adjacent Jacuzzi, complimentary mountain bikes, maps of walking/jogging trails in nearby hills.
Although you may not at first expect Rancho Valencia to lure families, it does accommodate guests with kids by offering summer and holiday tennis camps for juniors. During the summer months, the Junior Ranchers Kids Camp, which provides organized swimming, crafts, sports and more, is also available to guests. In addition, there is a junior tennis academy for those ages 7 to 20 that although established for the children of members also welcomes the children of guests.
Short of booking a luxury condominium at some of the better tennis resorts, nothing comes close to the elegance, comfort, or spaciousness of Rancho Valencia's accommodations. Lodging at the resort consists of 49 lavish suites and a 3-suite Hacienda. The basic suites—if "basic" is the right word for these lavish spaces—have three floor plans. The smaller Del Mar suites are technically junior suites since there is no wall separating the bedroom from the living area. However, at 850 square feet, these suites hardly deserve the diminutive "junior." The 1,200-square-foot Rancho Santa Fe suites, by contrast, do have a completely separate bedroom and more space than most one-bedroom condos. The newest Grove Suites are, like Del Mar, technically junior suites, but provide a very ample 1,000 square feet of living space. All three types have a sitting room with a fireplace, a private patio with views of the surrounding hills, and a mammoth tiled bath with separate soaking tub and steam shower.
All of these suites have been spread through some 20 casitas perched in a garden of flowers and trees on a grassy knoll above the clubhouse, except the newest Grove Suites, which cling together along the rim of a ravine overlooking an olive grove. Personally, I have never found anything to criticize about any of these accommodations so I was stunned when in 2012 the resort closed to conduct a gut renovation. How, I wondered, could they possibly improve on what they had? Now that I've stayed there, I can only say that these great suites have been made even better. The wood floors that replaced the terracotta tile are much more elegant, the bathrooms have been greatly enhanced with Spanish tile, Toto automatic toilets, and Bang & Olufsen stereos. No detail went unnoticed, from the 600-thread-count sheets to the remarkably soft robes and towels. The well-chosen furnishings and artwork have a one-of-a-kind feel. There is, of course, a full home entertainment center with a large flatscreen TVs (supplemented by two smaller ones in the bedroom and bath). The mini fridge comes stalked with unexpected—and complimentary—snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and the coffee maker is by Illy and comes with a selection of pods. Scattered throughout are plants, fresh flowers and beeswax candles. As in the past, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a newspaper are delivered just outside the front door each morning. There is room service, of course, and so when you add that outdoor terrace—many with private Jacuzzis—it's no wonder that guests have been known to seldom leave their room.
Veladora, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, looks out across the valley and showcases the farm-to-table cuisine of Chef Eric Bauer while its sister restaurant, a bar and eatery called the Pony Room, serves rustic cuisine, craft tequilas, and cocktails, with a terrace for al fresco dining or drinks.
If you like the sound of Rancho Valencia, you may also want to consider, in this order:
Rates at Rancho Valencia are the same year-round and vary according to the size and location of the suite chosen and whether you're booking midweek or weekend and whether its a holiday. There is also a Hacienda, which contains three suites, a full kitchen, and a private pool.
Visit the website for current rates
Seasons: Year-round. The climate here, 7 miles from the ocean, borders on ideal. Average high temperatures in January hover in the mid 60s and even in August it is possible to sleep comfortably without having to turn on the air conditioning, especially since the rooms have ceiling fans.
Travel Instructions. The resort is 24 miles from San Diego International Airport. To reach it from San Diego or La Jolla by car take I-5 north to Del Mar Heights Road east. Continue to El Camino Real and turn left. Turn right at San Dieguito Road. Turn right on Rancho Diegueno Road, then left (immediately) at Rancho Valencia Road and then left at Rancho Valencia Drive.
General Tourist Information. There are two sources of information: for the immediate area, visit the San Diego North Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 360 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido, CA 92025-2600. Phone: 800-848-3336; for the county as a whole, visit the San Diego County Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 2215 India St., San Diego, CA 92101. Phone: 619-236-1212.