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.
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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. Head tennis pro Eduardo Sanchez has roots at Rancho Valencia dating back to 1989 when he helped launch the John Gardiner Tennis Camps here. The Gardiner method underpins his teaching—he learned it from Grand Slam singles and doubles champion Ken Rosewall, who was then the tennis director—but he wins over the resort guests with his passion for the game and diligent pursuit of client-focused service. "I just love what I do," he says of his devotion to teaching. "I have always just wanted this place to succeed." A boutique resort with no golf course and a large tennis complex is an anomaly—a "white elephant," Sanchez calls it. "It's surprising we're still here," he notes, alluding to resorts whose tennis courts fell victim to condominium development. "We're lucky to have private owners [the Jacobs family of Qualcomm] who take price in what we do."
Taking care of guest's needs extends to finding games. "[The entire teaching staff] is responsible for game matching and we have three ladies who play leagues and know the local players," he told me. "We don't just set up games with players of the same level [using the UTR system]; we try to match chemistry as well, even if that means recruiting players from other clubs."
Tennis Programs: It's emblematic of the resort's service focus that the daily clinic goes beyond the usual hour of drills. It covers all aspects of the game and expands or contracts based on the number of players: 90 minutes for one-on-one, expanding to 150 minutes if at least two are signed up and maxing out a four players. Either way, the session includes a juice break and pro/student match play. There are family options as well and a weekend men's drop-in doubles.
Pickleball Programs. Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa has 4 pickleball courts. Of those, 4 are permanent In addition to offering private pickleball lessons, the resort stages clinics, social round robins, . We have 4 Pickleball courts for our guests and members. And we have open play on Mondays 10:00am to 12:00 noon Wednesdays 9:00am to 11:00am and on Saturdays from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. We have private lessons and semi private lessons and group lessons.SES Tennis Center Fundraising Pro-Am. Every fall, Sanchez stages a pro-am as a fundraiser for the SES Tennis Center in Tecate, Mexico, a public facility he founded in memory of his late son, Sean Eduardo Sanchez. As many as two dozen pros take part, pairing with amateurs for an afternoon of tennis followed by a barbecue. For more information, visit SES Tennis Center Fundraising Pro-Am. Courts & Fees. There are 16 hard courts (none with lights) and two new red-clay courts, a rarity in South California that has proved so popular that they've thinking of putting in two more. And what had previously been a tennis court has been converted into four pickleball courts. The courts have been arranged in three clusters variously called Palm, Citrus, and Sycamore for the trees planted around them. 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, TRX, and a suite of Cardio machines each with personal televisions. Remarkably all of these classes—some 75 in all—are free to registered guests.
Golf. Although it lacks a golf course of its own, the resort has playing privileges at several nearby courses, free loaner clubs, and the option of a golf package, which 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.
The Pony Room, which spills out on the adjoining terrace, stands out both for its locally sourced "Coastal Ranch" cuisine and its views of the valley. An inviting bar within specializes in craft cocktails and tequila. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all available here.
If you like the sound of Rancho Valencia, you may also want to consider, in this order:
Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa
5921 Valencia Circle
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 (SAN).