sunshine and endless beaches: the vaunted 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.
miles north of San
Diego, the Estancia La Jolla—which opened in
June 2004—draws from the region’s rich rancho
heritage. Hence, distinctive accents such as a small decorative
pool are reminiscent of a horse trough. The property was
inspired by the architecture of Southern California’s
early Spanish colonizers, and the 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
be frank, despite its attractive design, the resort is
unimpressive upon arrival. This is mainly due to the surroundings:
it’s 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 nine-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.
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—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 guestrooms and spa.
resort has earned International Association of Conference
Centers (IACC) certification thanks in part to its 6,000-square-foot
ballroom, permanent break stations, executive boardrooms
(complete with ergonomic chairs, non-glare work surfaces
and tackable walls) and 125-seat learning theater. But
despite its top-notch business facilities, 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.
those seeking a little peace and quiet, the grounds are
the star. They are landscaped with 600 types of plants,
including eucalyptus, lavender and citrus trees—it
was tempting to swipe a lemon or two while wandering around.
We enjoyed simply lazing in the postmodern Adirondack
chairs in the main courtyard, a fresh breeze coming in
off the ocean, listening to the silence—it’s
unbelievably quiet here. 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.
210 guestrooms and suites encircle two sunken courtyards
(the larger with a fountain) on three floors that have
been built down into the property—you approach from
the third story. They were designed with residential living
in mind. The 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, great customized bath products, an iron and
hair dryer hidden away in tidy cloth bags in the closet
and coffee makers whose enormous glass cups were hand-selected
by GM Giuseppe Lama, formerly of the Hotel
Del Coronado. His attention to detail (as well as
many of his old staff) can be found throughout the property.
We particularly loved the bedding—these are beds
for living in. All of the rooms have balconies, we highly
recommend getting one that faces one of the courtyards.
those who came with Lama are sous chef Chris Bennett,
whose Grilled Grasslands Rib Eye Steak in a Zinfandel
Emulsion wowed us at Adobe El Restaurante, and executive
chef Jesse Frost, who brings his Mexico City upbringing
and training in France and Spain to the Estancia La Jolla’s
tables. Frost has come a long way from his days of rebellious
skateboarding through the Hotel Del Coronado grounds.
Experiences such as buying live grouse from hunters in
France have influenced his philosophy, which relies on
building relationships with local farmers and purchasing
the freshest produce possible.
with the main restaurant, there is Mustangs & Burros.
Its welcoming, casual vibe is boosted by the large, al
fresco fireplace and immense trestle table (Lama’s
doing, once again) that brings to mind convivial family
gatherings in the European countryside—just the
sort of atmosphere Frost wants to encourage with his “breaking
bread with friends”-style dishes. 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.