by Michael Blanding
Jaw-dropping. There’s no better word to describe the effect of walking into this resort in the San Diego hills. Modeled after a Spanish villa, the exterior is all archways of pink stone beneath red terra cotta roofs. Inside, no expense has been spared to create a lavish playground of marble and Spanish tile, crystal chandeliers, dark wood, and brocade furniture splashed throughout halls and 249 guestrooms.
The Grand Del Mar’s true luxury, however, is its tranquility. Located on the grounds of the Los PeÃ±asquitos Canyon Preserve 5 miles inland from the Pacific coast, this resort is a sprawling refuge from the world, with sunshine and the scent of cypress trees mixing with sounds of silence from the surrounding hillsides to create a luxurious, natural escape.
Peaceful doesn’t mean inactive, however; the resort offers an overwhelming range of activities for families to experience separately or together. A short list of offerings includes a 350-acre golf course, a stable full of horses, world-class tennis courts, canyon excursions, yoga, croquet, and no less than four pools. The only thing missing — ironically, for Southern California — is the ocean, though the resort makes an effort to offer that to guests with beach shuttles to the Pacific and a range of water sports excursions.
In short, if your idea of a vacation is lying on the beach undisturbed all day, this may not be your best choice. If you are looking to be pampered with a unique respite from the world’s cares, however, you’ll find this to be on par with the most luxurious getaways on the continent.
Our Editor Loves
- Feeling like Spanish royalty
- The mind-blowing range of activities
- The excellent kids' programs
- Horse Back Riding
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Grand Del Mar calls its 500 square foot standard rooms Resort Kings, befitting their luxury status even at the lowest level of room offerings. DÃ©cor is all dark wood and royal blue and beige fabrics, with LCD TVs surrounded by gold frames on the wall. Beds have huge headboards and brocade benches at their foot, along with luxe Pratesi linens and goose-down pillows. Bathrooms contain dual marble vanities and soaking tubs, along with a separate shower, and Red Flower bath products. Other perks include an in-room wet bar, plush bathrobes and slippers, Nespresso coffee machines, and iPod docks. DVD players, microwaves and refrigerators are all available on request.
The slightly larger Fairmont Rooms are 550 square feet and offer the choice of two queen beds or one king, in addition to all of the luxuries included in standard rooms.
The 550 square foot Deluxe Veranda Rooms offer the option of two queen beds or one king, and also include a private balcony with a view of the grounds or the adults-only pool.
The Terrace Rooms offer 550 square feet of space and a king-size bed, as well as an expanded outdoor terrace area overlooking the adults-only pool.
The smallest category of the Grand Del Mar's 31 suites, the Prado Suites offer a spacious 1,000 square feet of living space, including a bedroom with king-size bed, and a pull out sofa in the living room. They also include expanded bathrooms with large double vanities (and TVs in the bathroom).
The 1,100 square-foot Toscana Suites includes all the amenities of the Prado Suites, but up the ante with a kitchenette with full-sized dining table and remote-control fireplace. These suites also feature a large terrace or balcony space overlooking the golf course.
These suites offer families room to spread out, with a full 1,500 square feet of living space, divided into one, two, or three bedrooms, with a king-size bed in each, in addition to a pullout sofa. They include all of the amenities of the other suites, including a kitchenette, banquet-sized dining table, and fireplace.
The resort's two presidential suites are the ultimate in comfort, with nearly 3,000 square feet of space, including two king-size bedrooms, stone fireplaces, 40-inch TVs hidden behind retractable faux-paintings, sitting rooms, and ample outdoor balconies.
Situated around the golf course, the resort's villas offer 4,500 square feet of living space divided into two floors, with three bedrooms with king beds. They feature full kitchens, as well as living rooms with 60-inch TV, 4.5 bathrooms, sitting rooms, terraces and a Jacuzzi.
This is one of the very best hotels that I have stayed in. First class service. Spectacular architecture and landscaping in a serene canyon location.
Breakfast is outstanding. The golf course is absolutely fabulous.
Hard to think of enough superlatives to describe this property.
Massive elegant resort with spa and golf course, it’s like escaping to an European estate. The rooms are luxurious and spacious with well-stocked amenities such as minibar, robes, and plush slippers. The marble bathroom has dual sinks and separate shower and bathtub. The added balcony provides a great space to sneak out and catch the morning sun or to take in some fresh air. The resort grounds provides a couple great trails for one to explore the surrounding nature.
Transportation to the hotel can be made by taxi/uber or by car. There's also helicopter transportation option when arriving at LAX but it must be coordinated through the concierge no less then 3 days prior to arrival.
Thanks to hotel operator Monica for assisting with information prior to arrival and during the stay. Additional thanks to Manager Gill for making the stay exceptional.
Looking forward to another future spa escape at the Grande Del Mar.
The Grand Del Mar has four separate pools, three of which are family-friendly (the fourth is adult-only). The largest pool is rectangular in shape, and ranges from a depth of 3.5 feet to 8 feet. It is surrounded by a sunny pink stone patio and lounge chairs with umbrellas. An archway leads to a somewhat smaller and quieter oval-shaped pool, which ranges in depth from 3.5 to 4.5 feet. Next to it, a kiddie wading pool ranges from 0.5 foot to 1.5 feet deep.
Even though the resort is located inland from the Pacific, Grand del Mar offers a free beach shuttle to a nearby coastal community of Del Mar, complete with all the fixings -- towels, umbrellas, beach chairs, and bottled water. The beach here is sandy with mild surf, separated from a public park by a row of dunes.
Unlike some kids' programs that require families to sign up in advance, the Explorer's Club here allows parents to drop off kids as they please without reservations, from Sunday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Rates are $15 per child, per hour. The club is an instant kid magnet, with murals painted in bright colors on the walls, and an overwhelming amount of activities, including Xbox and PS4 stations, air hockey and foosball tables, arts and crafts, computers, and digital microscopes. The club also offers half-day ($50) and full-day ($90) outdoor programs that include canyon hikes and tidepooling. For date night, it offers a movie program that includes dinner ($50).
A line of stables located on the outskirts of the property hold over a dozen horses, all with individual names and personalities. The resort offers daily trail rides through a nature preserve in a nearby canyon, as well as riding lessons for kids age 7 and over. (Riders must be at least 50 inches tall.)
The Grand Golf Club is an 18-hole course meandering through 350 acres of the surrounding canyons, designed by golf legend Tom Fazio and open exclusively to resort guests and members. The Grand Del Mar offers golf camps for kids, as well as clinics for everyone from beginners to those needing to perfect their swings. Individual instruction and club fitting are also available.
All American tennis pro Lynn Lewis leads lessons on two grass pro-style courts situated by a lovely little tennis pavilion beyond the pools. In addition to private lessons, guests can take advantage of family lessons for the whole clan; tennis camps for teens; and cardo clinics for adults.
Water Sports and Outdoor Activities
The resort offers multiple ways to get out and enjoy nature, including guided canyon and waterfall hikes, kayaking through coastal caves, sunset sails, and surfing lessons. It prides itself on contracting with the best local guides for all of their outdoor offerings.
The resort publishes a monthly activity calendar that is chock full with a plethora of activities, including sandcastle building, pottery painting, magic shows, and animal visits. Many are complimentary for guests or ask a nominal fee. Some require advanced registration.
The Grand Del Mar's main restaurant Amaya is, fittingly, a blend of continental European cuisine, hailing from Spain, France, and Italy. Think Catalan-style shrimp with chili-lime broth; pappardelle with lamb ragout; and steak with scalloped potatoes and Bordelaise sauce. The atmosphere is romantic, with paneled walls and red brocade chairs, but not overly stuffy.
Families with kids are welcomed without a blink, especially on the outdoor patio overlooking the grounds. The kids' menu is impressively comprehensive, with a dozen items including chicken breast, minestrone soup, and all the classics -- hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers, and mac n' cheese. Desserts are decadent, including lemon chiffon cake for adults, and apple pie with graham cracker crust for the kids.
Amaya is opened throughout the day, including breakfast from 6:30 to 11 a.m. (11:30 on Saturday and Sunday); lunch or brunch from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m.; an "intermezzo" from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and dinner from 5:30 to 10 daily.
Located by the golf course, this more casual eatery serves up grilled classics along with tapas and Southwestern fare, such as baja fish tacos and quesadillas. Prices are surprisingly reasonable -- though later in the evening it becomes a more adult-centric happy hour scene -- probably not the best for families with young children. It's open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a chicken-and-waffles brunch on Sundays.
Guests lounging by the pool need not get up during the day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the kitchen sends a full variety of salads and sandwiches out to the pink stone patio. Of course, there's also ice cream available to take the edge off the California sun.
Adults may appreciate having a centrally located coffee bar, with baked goods and light fare. But for kids, this cafÃ© means one thing: real Italian gelato, scooped out in a variety of delectable flavors. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Befitting a luxury resort, the Grand Del Mar offers a range of welcome amenities upon request for kids, including warm chocolate cookies with the child's name written in chocolate on the plate.
Referrals for babysitting are provided at a rate of $20 and hour.
The Art of Smart Timing
San Diego is renowned for its near-perfect weather year-round, with temperatures ranging from 65 in the winter to 75 in summer. The resort offers expanded recreational offerings during summer and holidays. Rates vary throughout the year depending on demand, but there is not really an "off-season."
San Diego International Airport serves all major airlines, including American, Delta, and United, as well as smaller and regional carriers. The hotel does not offer airport transfers; taxi fare is approximately $60 one-way.
The resort offers complimentary shuttle service to the beach, as well as transportation to its recreational offerings and occasional shopping trips to downtown La Jolla. It's certainly possible to spend an entire weeklong vacation on the resort grounds and not run out of recreational and entertainment offerings. If planning to check out Sea World or downtown San Diego, however, it probably makes more sense to rent a car.
For Mom and Dad
The resort's drop-in kids' club makes it easy for parents to sneak away for the many adults-only activities the Grand Del Mar has to offer. Chief among them is its Relais and Chateaux restaurant, Addison, one of San Diego's premier gastronomic experiences (caramelized codfish, iberico ham tartine, Kobe beef short rib, etc.).
The resort is also justly proud of its destination spa, which it touts as one of 27 five-star spas nationwide. Treatments include two hours of complimentary time at the kid's Explorers Club.
The resort's nightspot, Club M, may disappoint those looking for an international dance-club experience; but if you are looking to shake a hip to cover bands for a couple of hours, it'll certainly do.