I used to think the best kind of San Diego staycation would involve a coastal location and view of the water. But then two weeks ago I stayed at Rancho Bernardo Inn, a resort located about 15 miles east of the water, and I realized that not once did I think about missing the beach.
That’s because RBI has created a SoCal oasis, one with lush, verdant landscaping (olive trees! tangerine trees! roses!), a gorgeous spa pool, and dreamy Spanish-style architecture. They’ve done something that’s hard to achieve: instill a sort of laid-back comfort to a space so decidedly luxe. Relaxed but regal, and very SoCal.
I was invited to a stay at Rancho Bernardo Inn as part of their INNfluencer program, and though last weekend’s crazy torrential rainstorm dampened things a bit on Saturday, the rain actually made the greenery smell that much better. #glasshalffull
Here, four reasons Rancho Bernardo Inn is oh so magical: read more
They call it “the sunny side of the Bay.” The area more commonly known as Tri-Valley—located 45 minutes east of the Golden Gate Bridge and comprised of the towns of Danville, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore in Northern California—is a laid-back alternative to the more expensive wine country experiences further north in Napa. Prices are lower, crowds are smaller, dogs are welcome almost everywhere, and nothing feels commercial. It’s a slice of charming, pastoral Americana.
A few weeks ago, the team at Visit Tri-Valley invited me to check out the area for a weekend getaway. Along with my friend Cindy, we scoped out each hamlet-like town, toured the quaint downtowns, sipped wine amongst the vineyards, spotted cows along each drive, dined on farm-fresh eats, and even made our own bottle of vino to take home. All of that in 30 hours, and it was still a supremely relaxing trip.
Here’s where to go, what to do, and how to plan your getaway:
Just one hour north of San Diego is Temecula Valley, the laid-back wine region that boasts more than 40 wineries. Its rolling hills and Mission-style architecture—not to mention loads of wine tasting opportunities—make for an amazing day trip from San Diego or L.A. I was grateful to be there for a few days for a freelance assignment, and in our 2.5 days, we fell in love with this slice of SoCal country.
Here are a few places you need to visit: read more
While doing research for our vacation, I realized that even though we wanted to go to Cabo—it was the most affordable, logistically-sound beach destination to fly from San Diego—we did not want to go to Cabo. Let me explain.
What I had found in Cabo were tequila-shot-chugging parties, massive/generic hotel chains, wildly expensive luxury resorts, and more often than not, a lack of availability given our last-minute planning. (I’m sure there are wonderful off-the-beaten path finds, like this restaurant I want to visit some day, but I couldn’t find many. I wanted to get really off-the-beaten-path.) I wanted something quiet, on the beach, and for $100-200/night. I was told that would be impossible.
But I prevailed! In a last-ditch effort, I looked up ideas on one more site, and on a map of hotels, I saw a star indicating a hotel on Cabo’s East Cape. As it turned out, it was the dreamy hotel Villa Del Farro, and this is where we spent a glorious 4.5 days last week.
Villa Del Farro is located on 12 acres in Baja’s East Cape—a sprawling mansion split up into individual accommodations with a breakfast room, pool, and the great outdoors to share. Owned by an extended family of siblings and their spouses, VDF has seven different casitas, each with its own decor scheme. The grounds of the property are lush like a rain forest, with the desert on one side and the beach on the other. Because getting there requires an hour’s drive on a dirt road—we rented a car for $4/day—and there’s almost no other sign of life in the area minus a few homes, it’s incredibly, wonderfully secluded. That means it’s also very much an eco-hotel and suited to a certain type of traveler. There are no power lines, water heaters (solar panels instead), or air conditioning (you’ve been warned!), and drinking water is trucked in from a local ranch. With the area’s iffy plumbing network, guests also can’t flush toilet paper down the commode.
That said, as long as you’re willing to handle a few glamping scenarios, the payoff is 100 percent worth it. Nay, 200 percent. The owners have paid such amazing attention to decor details, the breakfast (included in the rate) is huge and delicious, and most importantly, the area is so quiet and the stars shine so bright, that it was just the recharge we needed. The world is so big that I rarely say I’ll revisit somewhere so soon, but I can absolutely see us making this an annual trip. It’s a special place.
I appreciate my hole-in-the-walls and fun-for-free beach excursions, but SoCal isn’t SoCal without some floss, no? With that in mind, I had been itching to check out Rancho Valencia ever since I moved to San Diego and got wind of this sprawling, glossy property located in one of America’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Rancho Santa Fe.
The award-winning hotel is comprised of suites, villas, a luxury spa, fine dining restaurant, croquet lawn, and equestrian-themed bar, all of which together has earned it the number one spot on U.S. News & World Report’s list of best hotels in America. When you pull up to its Veladora restaurant, you can’t even see where all the cushy accommodations are. That’s how wide this place stretches.
Lofty title aside, would you just look at that design? Spanish-style architecture, bougainvillea to the left and right, and a perfectly pristine attention to detail. And that’s just the space allocated to the resort’s restaurant.
Yes, I’m going to Cabo tomorrow! The idea hatched just a month ago within a few days of deciding that Eaman and I really needed a vacation. It’s the quickest I’ve ever planned a trip, and I’m so, so excited.
As I mentioned here, I’ve been burned out. A new work schedule and my mom’s surgery have been recent stressors, but both events made me realize how the last 2.5 years of freelance hustling and being the supportive sounding board for a boyfriend creating a start-up had taken a toll on me, on Eaman, on our relationship, on our health, you name it. I’ve been exhausted, eating poorly, becoming increasingly forgetful, and worst of all, anxious. There were some mornings I had to turn on talk radio just so I could drown out the to-do lists running through my head or go to evening yoga because I was starting to have mini panic attacks every day at 5:30pm. And seeing my mom in the E.R., coping with a broken ankle and then surgery, made me realize that I needed to take care of my physical and mental health. I needed a vacation.
Around this time, I was also reaching out to a few girlfriends, all of whom are successful business owners. Quite simply I asked them, “How do you do it without pulling out your hair?” All of their tips had a common thread of traveling. One had just come back from a trip, another was about to leave for one, and the third travels so frequently (for fun) that she might as well be a travel writer. One of them explained that she just books a trip for the future so she’s committed. Leading up to it, she makes tweaks—maybe less shopping or less eating out—and it’s worth it because getting that change of scenery is rejuvenating. We’re all struggling, we’re all hustling, and we all don’t quite have the funds, but they all seem to make it work, so why can’t I?
For 2.5 years, I’ve been really hard on myself, whether it was talking myself out of going to the movies or getting a manicure because I thought I had to save money. Well yes, I do need to save money, but I also need to take care of myself, lest I want another epic meltdown.
Visiting family is not a vacation. Weddings are not a vacation. Press trips, while great and I know I’m lucky, are not a vacation. Two-day weekend getaways are not a vacation. I needed something longer.
So one day last month, feeling totally worn out from my anxiety, I texted Eaman that we needed to book a trip asap. To my surprise, he was 100 percent on board. (Usually one of us checks the other when it comes to finances.) And before we knew it, we decided on Mexico, then Cabo (big ups to Alaska Airlines for affordable direct flights!), then found this relatively cheap and secluded eco-resort. All of a sudden everything was booked.
I’ve packed sunscreen, my swimsuit, books, and a big floppy hat. I may or may not Instagram. I may or may not blog about it. But finally, I am doing something good for me, and it already feels right. (Cabo was under hurricane watch this past weekend—”Blanca” was the earliest-in-season tropical cyclone to make landfall in the Baja peninsula—but it was downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday and will dissipate today, so I think we’re in the clear *fingers crossed*. And more importantly, it doesn’t look like the area endured much damage.)
The blog will continue as normal on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so see you Thursday! I hope to come back a little sun-kissed, a lot relaxed, and full on tortilla chips.
I went to the Surf & Sand Resort back in 2010, as part of our weekend getaway to San Diego. It was during that trip that we got the idea to drop everything in New York and move to SoCal, and part of that inspiration came from a day spent in Laguna Beach, the dreamy, prototypical SoCal destination. At the top of my list was brunch at the oceanfront Surf & Sand property to try pancakes with lavender butter (or syrup, I can’t remember) with the Pacific by my side. (It’s also where the kids of Laguna Beach had their black and white party.)
Cut to five years later, and the resort invited me and a few other bloggers to check out the resort, its restaurant, and Laguna livin’. We had a beautiful and luxurious two-night stay at the Resort, including oceanfront rooms, dinner at their excellent restaurant, and a hybrid body scrub-massage at their spa. Funny how things can come full circle like that.
Staycation or getaway, it’s a treat of a vacation, and I’m going to show you why:
April is a good month. Not only does it include my birthday, my dating anniversary, and the anniversary of when we brought Teddy home, it’s also the first full month of spring. In these last few years, April has felt like the perfect time to reflect, celebrate, and enjoy nature.
I turned 30 this year, and to enter a new decade, I knew I wanted to travel somewhere. But being on a tight budget, I stuck to Southern California locations within driving distance. I thought about Joshua Tree and considered San Luis Obispo but ended up choosing Ojai. The hippie, community-driven town 30 miles east of Santa Barbara covered my most important extracurriculars: good food and beautiful outdoor opportunities. We also wanted to take Teddy with us, and finding a dog-friendly Airbnb in our price range was incredibly difficult. The cabin we found in Ojai was just perfect.
It might sound intense, but 2.5 days in the Ojai Valley were enough for me to get attached. In fact, I got emotional about leaving! Ojai is such a beautiful, positive, friendly, and accommodating place. I don’t want to pretend like I’m an expert, but I connected with Ojai and could feel just how special it is. Part of the reason could be that it was a full moon weekend, and I am all about that full-moon power and pull. I’d be so, so, so happy to do this same trip on an annual basis.
Since I’m a Type A planner, I did research before visiting, made us a rough itinerary, and took copious notes. So here, a guide to Ojai, including where to eat, shop, play, and more: