As much as I love lazy vacations dominated by overeating and napping by the pool, I always look forward to mother-daughter trips because my mom’s idea of a restorative getaway involves tennis, working out, and plenty of walking. She’s a Canyon Ranch devotee, but I find back-to-back activities too much like camp. When planning a trip for the two of us, I wanted to find a balance of relaxing escape and stimulation. With 13 hard courts, 3 clay courts (red), and 4 pickleball courts, the stunning Rancho Valencia resort and spa was a no-brainer.
The drive from LA to Rancho Santa Fe (just north of San Diego) is under three hours. It was easy to forget we were still in California as we pulled onto the verdant property and were greeted by citrus groves and Mediterranean architecture. The stunning grounds transported us to a completely different world and left no doubt that we had entered vacation mode.
Mi Casita, Su Casita
The resort is home to 49 hacienda-style suites called casitas (as well as villas and private casas) inspired by Spanish colonial design. The casitas are single-level and spread in clusters throughout the grounds, which lends to a neighborhood-like feel, worlds away from elevator banks and multi-story hotels. After checking in, we drove to the parking space allotted for our casita and were met by a staff member in a golf cart who helped with our luggage. Details like a private patio, Natura Bissé bath products, and a fireplace made me want to laze around the suite, but my mom was already consulting the map to see what she wanted to check out first.
I loved that the Agave Suite ($900-2,500/night at time of publishing) has a thoughtfully designed, suitcase-friendly closet. A luggage rack is bare minimum for me, but I still hate the eyesore of an open suitcase in an otherwise beautiful hotel room. Our casita had a large walk-in closet that you enter through the (enormous) bathroom with a high platform for suitcases so I didn’t need to bend over to retrieve things. The gorgeous tile work in the bathroom (and everywhere) was a highlight — as was the minibar stocked with LaCroix, popcorn, and more.
Working Up an Appetite
Our casita was in a great location (equidistant to the spa and restaurant), but we ended up walking the entire property over the course of our stay because every corner was so beautifully groomed. We began exploring right away and followed the walking trail through the olive grove to the culinary garden. It’s as magical as it sounds — amplified by the fact that the herbs and veggies we observed would be used in our dinner at The Pony Room. The entire resort feels like an Edenic paradise (we couldn’t stop taking photos of flowers and trees) and it had none of the stuffy sensibility of an overgroomed English garden — the atmosphere was sanctuary-esque.
As expected, my mom got me on the courts right away. There wasn’t a drill that fit into our schedule so we decided to hit around in the afternoon. The tennis setup is very casual and court reservations weren’t necessary. The pro shop has a moderate selection of demos, and we played a couple of sets on one of the stadium hard courts. I went for a quick swim afterward and the (adult-only) pool area was completely empty. I considered ordering some poolside drinks (there was a phone to reach the kitchen), but ultimately decided not to ruin my appetite.
Restore and Recover
We worked up an appetite checking out the croquet lawn, pickleball courts, and yoga pavilion, so I was thrilled to discover the menu at The Pony Room, which is heartier and more indulgent than you might expect from a resort with a “health” angle. We had tacos, chicken parm, and churros all in one dinner, but kept it lighter at lunch with salads and crudo. My mom is a fan of spa cuisine (think Goop kitchen or The Well), but after a day of tennis drills, I love having steak frites, duck ragu, and lobster nachos to look forward to. It’s definitely not a teetotaling resort — there’s an extensive cocktail and beer selection (unlike Canyon Ranch, which is alcohol-free).
We had our meals at The Pony Room but sat in a different area each time so it didn’t feel like we were returning to the same dining room meal after meal. The outdoor patio is casual and breezy compared to the inner courtyard which has live music (Eagles covers!) and a pretty fountain. When it was chilly, we sat in the indoor section of the restaurant, which felt like the lounge area of a western-themed country club (the resort says John Wayne, James Dean and Johnny Cash were the decor inspiration).
In keeping with the overall feel of the resort, the restaurant never felt overpacked. I equally dislike when you feel like the only guest, but it was a pleasant Goldilocks in-between and service was unobtrusive, but always there when you needed something. I found that our entire stay had the intimacy of a boutique hotel with all the amenities and sprawling sense of a larger resort. ﾠ
I will always appreciate that vacationing with my mom means I never get to that “I feel gross from doing nothing” place, but by day 2 I needed a proper rest. While she went to the gym (I did not inherit her boundless energy), I got a massage. The spa was predictably gorgeous, but I was blown away by the treatment room. The photo above is the view from the massage table. I’ve made the mistake of booking an outdoor massage before and it’s always too humid or borderline cold. The climate in Rancho Santa Fe probably deserves most of the credit, but the indoor-outdoor feel of the treatment room was perfect. I usually associate outdoor showers with spiders and freezing cold water, so when I saw this beautiful one, I couldn’t resist. It was a great way to end my treatment and I continued my love affair with the resort’s tilework.
By the end of our stay, I was equal parts energized and rejuvenated, which speaks to Rancho Valencia’s main strength: it merges cocktails and green juice seamlessly. Even as my mom tested my ability to keep up with her, I managed to get a healthy dose of relaxation. I can imagine a bachelorette party, family vacation, and honeymoon all having great success thanks to the breadth of activities and indulgent-without-being-hedonistic environment.
5 More Reasons to Visit Rancho Valencia
- Fresh squeezed orange juice delivered to your suite every morning—in case you weren’t feeling spoiled enough.
- A totally unnecessary and incredible complimentary experience: Take a Bentley for a drive. Choose from 4-door, 2-door, and convertible models.
- If sports cars aren’t your thing, borrow a bike and explore the resort grounds.
- You don’t need to bring racquets of any sort. The resort has both tennis and pickleball racquets available free of charge.
- Are you a 3.0 player? A 3.5? Get officially rated by a USPTA/USPTR tennis pro.