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Outside the Castillo Suite at the stunning Rancho Bernardo Inn

Day 10 of the LivingWells California adventure began with an hour and a half drive from Palm Springs to the Rancho Bernardo Inn, which is located in the picturesquely suburban northern climes of San Diego County. Fittingly, the timing of my arrival coincided with the one-year anniversary of Rancho Bernardo’s Mediterranean-themed Avant Kitchen helmed by Argentinian Chef Tomás Baistrocchi. To mark the occasion Chef Tomás and his team held a little soiree for a few guests to preview the restaurant’s fall menu and I was fortunate enough to be among them.

With the sun setting over the expansive property, waiters served the house Smoked Paloma cocktails, an intoxicating combo comprised of Avant’s own double barrel aged Herradura Reposada Tequila, smoked grapefruit juice and Herradura agave nectar, while guests noshed on just a few of Chef Tomás’ soon to debut creations which included a richly flavored duck and pork sausage on braised red cabbage served atop a crostini, shrimp served with what I can only describe as a mini-croquette that was its perfectly crisp complement and a selection of the most delectably bejeweled cupcakes. After the tasting, the team at Avant was kind enough to send me back to my suite with a selection of starters from the current menu which included an Heirloom Beet and Carrot Salad with almond & cocoa dust and tarragon crème fraiche, a delicately crispy Dungeness Crab and Corn Fritter with avocado, hearts of palm and jalapeño aioli and a Warm Maine Lobster Salad with fingerling potato, summer squash and curry. Not only was each creation a brilliant explosion of complex yet perfectly balanced flavors, they were all presented with artful sophistication (even in takeout containers) which made them a feast for the eyes and the palate.

My only sadness as I checked  out of the Castillo Suite at Rancho Bernardo Inn the next morning was that I did not get to spend more time in this sprawling, quietly luxurious corner of San Diego (or enjoy more of Chef Tomás’ creations). Ah well, I suppose that is the reason for which return visits are made.

The next stop on Day 11 was the historic Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island, a place I never miss visiting on a stop in San Diego. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating here —while the beauty of Coronado epitomizes the allure of Southern California, at the heart of the island’s charms is its grande dame, the Hotel del Coronado. An institution dating back to the late 19th century, when presidents, socialites and their families would escape to the prestigious property to avoid the chilly winter temperatures in other parts of the country, the Del remains, more than a century later, Coronado’s  premiere destination.

Though I didn’t stay at the Del on this trip, I did manage to squeeze in a ‘daycation’ at the hotel, which I consider to be the next best thing and an option I highly recommend should you find the hotel fully booked, as is often the case. Just before diving into my daycation, I took a quick tour of the exclusive Beach Village at The Del, a collection of beautifully appointed one, two- and three-bedroom residences that represent the penultimate in luxury.  Taking the Del experience to the next level, a stay at the recently renovated Beach Village offers guests a private entrance, a private pool, access to the members only VIP Windsor Clubhouse and a host of other exclusive amenities that add new luster to The Del experience.

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Hard at work at The Del

Finally, it was on to my daycation which began with checking in at the Spa at The Del, making a quick costume changing and heading down to the beach for a working lunch and cocktails on a canopied day bed with the best view of the Pacific Ocean in San Diego.  After a couple hours of sun and sand, I returned to the spa for the signature Coronado Shell Massage for which Tiger clam shells are gently heated and combined with a massage employing long Swedish strokes and aromatherapy that delivers an hour of pure unadulterated relaxation.

To cap my daycation, I stopped In at one of the Del’s most popular restaurants, Eno, for a sampling of artisan pizzas (the Salsiccia with spicy housemade fennel sausage, charred broccolini and garlic oil is among my personal favorites) and few pours of the eatery’s extensive collection of more than 500 wines and once again with the sun setting in the distance, Day 11 in San Diego ended with that unique touch of dazzling that reminded me why Southern California such a treasure.

Next, it’s on to Autograph Collection’s Pier South in Imperial Beach.

(Additional photography by Rob Musick)