The Grand Del Mar is the kind of hotel where it is possible to feel under-dressed without having a Hermes scarf artfully swirled around one’s alabaster neck. Even if you’re a guy.
O.K., I admit it. Hyperbole for effect. Still, when I grow up, I want to live in a place like the Grand. Or at least be able to afford to stay there on a regular basis. (Room rates begin at $395, but you should be able to do better in these challenged times if you call.)
What Douglas Manchester has wrought on the 300 acres of a coastal canyon just north of San Diego—much of the rest of which is protected in a nature preserve—is nothing less than a $270 million last gasp of the decade of excess that came crashing to a halt in 2007. That’s the same year the Grand opened. Manchester, who apparently is called “Papa,” is a local developer said to be responsible for much of the skyline of downtown San Diego. There are 249 rooms, which works out to $1.084 million per room to build the resort. Remember when a hotel building cost of $1 million per room was a silly fantasy? I certainly do.
And wow, you can see every penny that was spent. The low-rise hotel, a loving homage to early 20th century architect Addison Mizner, is an amalgam of refined styles that seems Spanish, Moorish and Californian all at once. There is also plenty of design reference to the high-ceilinged drawing rooms of the old Europe in the stunning public rooms. Think marble, polished wood, hand-stenciled ceilings and what must have been the commission of a lifetime for the interior designer. Somehow, it never seems overdone, even though our room’s coffered ceiling was upholstered. That’s right. Upholstered.
To paraphrase Conrad’s Kurtz, oh, the money.
To make up for lying a handful of miles inland from the Pacific, there are four swimming pools, the largest perhaps the longest and best lap swimming pool I’ve ever seen at any hotel. Even better, it’s for adults only with mobile phones and all other electronic devices verboten. (Thank you, Papa, for that.) It’s next to the wonderful spa, where Scott will pummel you within an inch of your suddenly-improved life.
Also more than compensating for lack of a sandy front yard is Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, mentioned above. The 4,100 acres rise and fall for seven miles and are laced with hiking and biking trails. The terrain is so expansive and varied that when we went for a guided hike one morning, we ran into only a handful of other people. One of the great perks of staying at the Grand on a weekend is the complimentary Saturday morning hike in the preserve.
Golf is accomplished a five-iron away from the hotel at Papa’s par-72 Tom Fazio layout, an impossibly scenic 18 holes that comes with a waterfall. Tip: the $195 and up green fees fall to $125 for twilight play, which can be as early as 2 p.m. in winter.
Amaya is the only real sit-down restaurant inside the hotel, but do not think of it as one of those three-meal hotel restaurants that try to be all things to all diners and dining occasions. It is, in fact, more elegant and serves better food than what fancy hotels like the Four Seasons like to call their “fine dining” venue. The food here has a Mediterranean cant to it that to me is more Californian than anything and happily doesn’t try to overachieve. At dinner, my short-rib cannelloni was terrific, as was the sea bass main course. Perfect Sapphire martini, too, and big enough to seem like two, which is one past my limit.
The only minor hitch in our stay was dinner at Addison, the acclaimed restaurant in the golf clubhouse whose walls are figuratively wallpapered in raves. The bar looks like it might have been disassembled and sent over from Versailles, but the restaurant is chilly and cavernous. Its reputation and reviews probably set the bar too high, but chef Bradley’s dishes were on the fussy side and a salmon main course was so salty it had to be sent back. But the menu is a brilliant do-it-yourself prix fixe, one course from each page, with plenty of choices. The desserts were absolutely top shelf, and sommelier Jesse Rodriguez, who worked wine at the Napa Valley’s famed French Laundry, is a laid-back wizard of wine. Anybody who knows about Hanna Bismarck Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is a pal to me.
The Grand Del Mar Resort, 5300 Grand Del Mar Court, San Diego, CA, 888-314-2030 www.thegranddelmar.com