The Grand Del Mar. One of the country’s best resorts, a stone’s throw from home

We knew we were in for a memorable weekend when the driveway to the Fairmont Grand Del Mar (fairmont.com/san-diego) took its sweet time delivering us to the resort. A canopy of autumn colors rustled in a lazy and surprisingly warm San Diego breeze as we made our way into the canyon just a couple of miles inland from the 5, which might as well have been 500 miles from kids, laundry, work, obligations. The autumn colors eventually broke to reveal an expertly meandering golf course, which in turn gave way to the fountained entrance to our longtime-in-coming getaway with girlfriends.

Situated adjacent to the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego, the Grand Del Mar is a mere hour’s drive from most of Orange County, but, once there, you feel utterly removed to the warmth of a Mediterranean estate. That utter removal can be of just about any flavor – we were making it a girl’s weekend, with a focus on rejuvenation and simple togetherness, but golf aficionados, outdoor enthusiasts, couples, families and foodies will all find something exceptional at the Grand Del Mar.

It is remarkable to think that, with all the affluence and attraction of Southern California, with swank people desirous of swank accommodations, it is the Grand Del Mar, nestled rurally in North County San Diego and quite out of the way of Rodeo Drive, that consistently earns the highest ratings from all the swankest reviewers and publications. Travel+Leisure named the Grand Del Mar as “California’s #1 Resort” and one of the world’s best; TripAdvisor called it the United States’ best hotel; it has swept all categories – hotel, spa, dining – with five stars from Forbes.

The Grand Del Mar is not an historic hotel – it opened in 2007 – but for those who love the richness of historic luxury, it satisfies abundantly. Many varieties of wood, marble and tapestry abound in artisan expression that is opulent without gaudiness, a balance struck by the best historic hotels. Of course, if you are one of those history types, you’ll know that historic properties are typically high on charm and low on space. Not so here. The rooms are commodiously cozy (or cozily commodious, per your preference), where you can sprawl out and never feel cold. Our suite was on an upper level with a balcony overlooking the canyon and portions of the golf course, with palm fronds swaying in the breeze just feet from us as we sipped our morning coffee.

Los Peñasquitos Canyon is a nature preserve with historical significance as the first route from Yuma to San Diego, which is today a beautiful hiking, biking and horseback riding destination. Guests of the Grand Del Mar have access to all the canyon has to offer, with bikes available for pickup at the front desk, and horses at the on-site stables ready for trail riding. For those whose outdoor adventures entail a driver and a putter, the Grand Del Mar features the only Tom Fazio-designed golf course in San Diego, complimented by swing analysis technology services, a SAMPutt lab, specialized practice areas used by some of the world’s top professionals, and more. If you’re of the aquatic persuasion, the property features two pools, one ideal for families and one infinity (read tranquility) pool for adults only. Not far beyond pools are the resort’s private beach and oceanic excursions including sunset sails and whale watching. And this only scratches the surface.

For spa enthusiasts, the Grand Del Mar offers one of the most acclaimed in the country. Naturally it features a comprehensive menu of treatments, such as cleansing facials and therapeutic massages, as well as a custom line of organic products; but it also offers a world-class spa experience, with wet and dry saunas, indoor whirlpools, separate men’s and women’s relaxation lounges with fireplaces, access to the adults-only relaxation pool and all the hot tea, snacks and chocolates you could ask for.

The dining experience at the Grand Del Mar stands on its own and is itself the reason that many travel long distances to visit the resort. Six on-property dining venues offer something for every taste, mood and interest, often to the sound of live music. Addison, led by celebrated executive chef William Bradley, is the Grand Del Mar’s signature dining feature. Local ingredients are combined with contemporary French influences and presented with exceptional service to make Addison Southern California’s most awarded fine dining restaurant.

Amaya is a more casual option fusing Spanish, Italian and French fare with expansive, sunny views of the canyon and golf course. We enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast of various benedicts and the “Black & Blue” Brioche French Toast with granola, lemon crème fraîche and berries, and an immunity smoothie for good measure (the effects were immediate). But excellence does not stop at Addison or Amaya. From its restaurants to its in-room dining, from its robust wine program to its seasonal menus and Afternoon Tea, the Grand Del Mar has something for every epicurean.

With all that the Grand Del Mar has to offer in activities, amenities, services and dining, the delight of being there is ultimately of the atmosphere, and that comes down to two things: beauty and people.

A friend’s gorgeous family photo taken on the bluffs in Del Mar inspired a visit to the stunning site during our stay.

The staff members at the Grand Del Mar have a special quality. While hospitality professionals are typically welcoming, of course, the folks at the Grand Del Mar are authentically welcoming. So much so that either the resort has found hundreds of matchless thespians to do everything from valet the car to turn down the sheets, or the Grand Del Mar’s people truly enjoy being there. I want to believe that it is the latter.

As to beauty, the Grand Del Mar is simply an exquisitely designed place with lovely spaces; from the driveway to the marbled entrance to the furnishings and the vistas, you cannot escape a floor-to-ceiling sense of beauty of the most approachable kind. And so at every turn you are inspired to tranquility and delight. In the end, that is how we spent our 24-hour break from our everydays – enjoying each other, and simply basking in what the Grand Del Mar is. Long, slowly winding driveways always lead to something good.

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