Driving south on Interstate 5 toward San Diego, there is little evidence that just a couple of miles east of the freeway is a legendary sports resort that actually was the first destination spa in the United States.
Back when La Costa Resort opened in 1965, the areaaround Carlsbad probably felt a little more remote than it does today. Some 30 miles north of San Diego, the area's building boom has created non-stop residential neighborhoods from Oceanside — just north of Carlsbad — clear down to the Mexican border. Fortunately, the resort set aside 400 acres back then to build a complex that would become well-known in the tennis and golf worlds as one of the best places to play either of those sports.
Today La Costa continues to host world-class golf and tennis events and attract a regular clientele of affluent travelers from around the country. While a stay at the resort can be pricey, there is no denying that the abundant creature comforts here are worth the splurge — especially now that a $140 million renovation has brought aging rooms and facilities right in line with the best in the industry.
"Virtually everything at La Costa has been touched by this renovation," explained Denise Chapman, the resort's director of marketing.
Three years ago, KSL Resorts bought La Costa because of the brand name that has been built over 40 years of televised golf tournaments and 20 years of tennis. The greatest names in those sports have played at La Costa and those events have been beamed to millions of TV viewers each year. "We've been in people's living rooms," is the way Chapman puts it.
But truth be told, the resort was showing its age. So KSL decided to renovate all of the resorts 500-plus rooms and suites, a well as invest in a new $12 million spa, a new Clubhouse, a new ballroom and a new pedestrian plaza that helps create a campus atmosphere — a kind of Disneyland for those who love luxury resorts.
Spanish architecture is used throughoutLa Costa, which is really a complete village with accommodations, restaurants, shops and, of course, the recreational facilities that have earned the resort its fame. Lushly landscaped meandering pathways connect the rooms, buildings and facilities, making each stroll through the grounds a scenic little mini-escape. The village plaza has several stylish shops and a "marketplace' with a built-in Starbucks coffee counter. The nearby lobby is a gateway to the fairways and includes a choice of fine restaurants. Everything seems to have a spectacular view of the golf course and impeccable grounds.
Upon arrival, our bellman took us by golf cart to our suite with — you guessed it — a view of the golf course. The resort is so spread out that there really isn't a practical way for you to drive to anyplace near your accommodations. But once you're settled in, it's easy to quickly get the lay of the land and enjoy the curving pathways to and from your room.
Our suite had not one but — count 'em — two wide-screen flat TV's. Tasteful dark wood cabinets and tables contrasted the light beige walls and marble tops, and the unit overall had a bright feeling enhanced by the two sets of French doors opening onto a small patio and view of the greens. The over-size bath area with double marble vanities was a treat and included both a deep, spacious tub and a walk-in shower.
We spent some time exploring the grounds, stopping by the new fitness center that has a 270-degree view of the golf course. Dozens of treadmills were available and getting some serious use by La Costa guests. Whether you're running or walking in place, there is TV to watch throughout your workout. This is not one of those fitness centers hotels install in a basement somewhere just to say they have one — this was the real deal and just like one where you would buy a membership.
By early evening it was time for dinner at one of the resort's newrestaurants ' Legends California Bistro. Chef Hans Wiegand does his magic in this elegant room where you can also choose to be seated on a patio overlooking the fairways. Our choices of New York steak with a tasty cabernet sauce and pan-roasted halibut both were prepared to perfection. The wait staff was entirely professional and courteous, a definite cut above your average fine restaurant.
It was then back to the suite for a lazy soak in that big tub and an early lights-out. Next morning it was up and at 'em for a 9 a.m. visit to the resort's new spa facility, where the lady in our household experienced a facial like none other. A professional attendant first gave her entire middle-aged body a scrub — or exfoliation as they call it. Then it was off to the steam room, followed by a cool shower. Finally, facial expert "Annie" took her subject through a complex process that involved Pevonia facial cleanser, followed by a marine d.n.a. cream, then a gentle exfoliating cleanser, eye cream, lip cream and a seaweed mask. Along the way, she also had her hands, arms, shoulders and neck massaged with invigorating oils and lotions.
Just try and get that done at Motel 6.
Such was the attention to detail at La Costa, which places a premium on good health, exercise, nutrition and total relaxation. That's one reason why the world-famous Chopra Center chose to locate at La Costa. It's at Chopra Center that you'll be introduced to services and products that will heal your mind and body.
Of course you don't have to be particularly health-conscious to enjoy La Costa Resort. There are several fine restaurants and snack bars that will tempt you to over-indulge. Romantic couples can come here and laze away the day, reading a good book or just enjoying good company, always with some sort of spectacular view right out the window.
Or you can even leave the La Costa campus and drive a few miles to downtown Carlsbad and enjoy the long, scenic beach that is one of San Diego County's best. Along Carlsbad's State Street you'll find numerous one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, and proprietors who know that tourists are their bread and butter. Everything in this area is within walking distance, including a wide beach that offers good swimming and even better people-watching. Expensive vacation homes are set back from the beach and, further down the coast you come upon scenic walkways that are well used by locals and tourists whose exercise routines become almost spiritual when performed in this majestic environment.
Late in the day, State Street and downtown come alive as visitors stroll through the area in search of a restaurant or outdoor caf'. A vibrant music scene has emerged in recent years, with outdoor bands at the Coyote Caf' most nights and several other bars offering live music. On any given night downtown Carlsbad attracts many of the young people who might otherwise go to San Diego's Gaslamp District except for the distance.
Then, when you tire of the crowds, it's just a short drive back to the tranquility of La Costa — an island of luxury that most travelers don't even realize is right off Interstate 5.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: La Costa is located about 30 minutes north of San Diego and 90 minutes south of Los Angeles, just a couple of miles from Interstate 5 in Carlsbad.
WHAT: La Costa is a 400-acre resort offering world-class golf and tennis facilities as well as a resort village that includes accommodations, several restaurants, a major spa facility, fitness center, shops and more.
WHEN: Year-round. San Diego County's coastal climate generally is mild and sunny regardless of the time of year although the month of June and certain other times of the year might have more early morning fog and clouds.
WHY: La Costa offers the ultra-resort experience — not cheap by most travelers' standards but a top-drawer experience for those who want to splurge.
HOW: For more information on La Costa Resort and Spa, phone 800-854-5000 or visit www.lacosta.com. Room rates start at about $300, but be sure to ask for special package rates. For more information on Carlsbad, phone 800-227-5722 or visit www.carlsbadca.com.