Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa
This sprawling, residential property celebrates the area's rich ranchero history.
Eternal sunshine and endless beaches: symbols of the Southern California dream. They are the elements most coastal hotels capitalize on when luring guests, which is why Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa stands apart. It chose a different, inland route... despite being just a short walk from the surf.
Fourteen miles north of San Diego, the Estancia La Jolla draws from the region’s rich rancho heritage. The property was inspired by the architecture of Southern California’s early Spanish colonizers, and low-rise adobe structures are spread out across the former Blackhorse Farm, a thoroughbred training ranch established in 1948. Three of the buildings are modeled after the old farmhouse, caretaker’s cottage and tack room, and the white bricks incorporated into their façades were preserved from the original buildings.
The hotel sits across the street from UCSD’s Eleanor Roosevelt College, adjacent to the Salk Institute and embraced by the planned Blackhorse residential community. If this sounds a little too crowded for comfort, withhold judgment until you’re inside. The 9-and-a-half-acre grounds feel surprisingly secluded, thanks to strategically planted trees and a well-calculated layout that begins when you enter the lobby, where a casual living room features terracotta floor tiles, eco-friendly Douglas Fir exposed beams and hand-troweled plasterwork. Check-in is tucked off to the side.
Rather than built up to keep the world out, the design is linear. In regard to privacy, this is quite effective. It’s also successful in preventing business from mixing with pleasure. The Estancia La Jolla is a full-service conference hotel, although it makes a great effort to keep this from being evident at first glance. All business facilities — done in the same low, adobe style as the rest of the structures — are on one side of the property, separated by Mustangs & Burros restaurant from the guest rooms and spa.
The hotel has earned International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) certification thanks in part to its 6,000-square-foot ballroom, permanent break stations, 125-seat learning theater and executive boardrooms (complete with ergonomic chairs, non-glare work surfaces and tackable walls). That said, it caters to a diverse clientele that includes leisure travelers, as well. You won’t find the extravagance of on-site activities normally associated with a holiday resort (tennis, water sports, etc.), but there’s definitely everything you need to relax, including a spa, a nice swimming pool with cabanas and proximity to the beach, golf courses and San Diego.
For those seeking peace and quiet, the grounds are the star. They are landscaped with 600 types of plants, including eucalyptus, lavender and citrus trees — it's tempting to swipe a lemon or two while wandering around. In the evenings, you can take a glass of wine from the lounge to one of the outdoor fireplaces. There’s even a fireplace at the spa, which makes a late afternoon treatment all the better, as you can wrap up in a cozy robe and relax in front of the fire afterward.
The 210 guest rooms and suites encircle two sunken courtyards (the larger with a fountain) on three floors that have been built down into the property — you approach your room from the third story. Each front door opens onto a small foyer with a table for keys and such, and from here you enter your bedroom or, in the case of the suites, a very comfy living room. All accommodations are tastefully decorated in cocoa, caramel and clean white tones, and amenities include laptop-size safes, an iron and hair dryer hidden away in tidy cloth bags in the closet and Keurig coffee makers. All of the rooms have balconies; we highly recommend getting one that faces one of the courtyards.
Mustangs & Burros' welcoming, casual vibe is boosted by the large, al fresco fireplace and immense trestle table that brings to mind convivial family gatherings in the European countryside. A wide selection of margaritas are served in colorful, Chihuly-esque glasses, and although we could do without the sports bar aspect, we’re comforted by the fact that this will never be the kind of place to attract a rowdy college crowd. It’s too low-key. And this is what we like best, not only in the restaurant, but throughout the whole hotel. In overcrowded Southern California, Estancia La Jolla is a real retreat.