by Mia Taylor
Last updated: 7:32 PM ET, Thu September 23, 2021
For those who call the San Diego region home, Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa is a property that needs little introduction.
Tucked discreetly amid nine acres of inviting gardens along La Jolla's picturesque coastal bluffs, the hacienda-style resort is well-known for its peaceful luxe vibe, its popular outdoor yoga offerings and a renowned upscale spa that's an attraction entirely on its own.
Over the years, the Meritage Collection property has quietly racked up a long list of industry awards including being named one of the "Hottest New Hotels in the World" by Conde Nast Traveler when it first opened in 2005, and more recently a 2019 Readers' Choice award winner by the same publication.
All of which made the resort an intriguing place for my son and me to say goodbye to summer 2021 with one last staycation hurrah and finally explore this long talked about coastal gem.
From Equestrian Estate to Boutique Hotel
The property on which Estancia La Jolla is located was once a California equestrian rancho estate, and that history has been artfully retained and weaved into the boutique hotel that now inhabits the space.
A cluster of elegant Mission-style buildings with terra-cotta tiled roofs surrounds picturesque courtyards and meandering gardens. As you wander these elegant spaces during early morning, before other guests have awoken, it's easy to imagine it's still the 1880s estate once owned by the affluent Black family.
A press release about the hotel from 2005 explains that in fact many of the buildings incorporated into its present design were modeled after and utilize materials from the original structures. The property's business center, for instance, was designed to look like the estate caretaker's cottage, while Estancia's lobby was actually created from the old farmhouse. The popular onsite restaurant Mustangs & Burros meanwhile was inspired by the estate's tack room, and vintage bricks from the original property were preserved and used to build the restaurant and bar.
Estancia La Jolla has lovingly maintained the ethos of the property's roots while also adding modern whimsy and surprise. Walking along its tree-lined walkways and adobe corridors today, you'll come upon stairwells decorated with colorful murals by local artists or inspiring and uplifting quotes painted on a corridor wall:
"You're so Golden"
"To Live Will be an Artfully Big Adventure"
The art installations throughout the property enhance the already vibrant gardens, which are a large part of the hotel's allure. The grounds feature hundreds of trees including Eucalyptus, Pineapple Guava, citrus, Chinese Flame Tree, Fig, Olive and Italian Stone Pine. There are also some 165 palms, vines and espaliers. The ground cover along walkways ranges from rosemary to sage, lavender and thyme.
Each of these elements combined create a uniquely peaceful atmosphere that inspires thoughts of finding a quiet, flower-shaded corner and curling up with a novel and a cup of tea, or skipping the book altogether and simply watching the clouds roll by.
It's not often you come across a saltwater pool at a hotel, making it a treat to find one at Estancia La Jolla. This was easily our favorite feature of the property (and as an added bonus the pool is heated). Surrounding the pool there are luxury cabanas and a pool bar. For younger guests, there's also a poolside life-size chess board to occupy moments not filled with splashing and swimming.
Come mealtime, my son and I dined at the property's signature restaurant, Mustangs & Burros, which was named one of OpenTable's Best Outdoor Dining Venues of 2019. Known for its Baja coastal-inspired cuisine with a Southern California twist, the menu features items such as albondigas (house-made Mexican meatballs) and vegetarian-friendly options like cauliflower frito (crispy cauliflower, tequila-soaked sultanas, spicy pepitas and lime crema) and vegetable tostadas. The tacos are also a must-try including the Baja fish tacos and vegetarian tacos filled with roasted wild mushroom, corn, black bean, baby arugula and jicama. For young visitors, there's also the option to ask for the off-menu kids food such as pizza and macaroni and cheese.
Those who have the time will also want to book an appointment at the hotel's world-class spa (often described as a retreat within a retreat.) Spread over an expansive 7,000-square-feet space, the Moroccan-inspired spa includes nine treatment rooms and a couple's bungalow featuring a private deck and outdoor soaking tub for two. Additional amenities include a reflexology garden (yes, please) and eucalyptus steam rooms.
The facility has repeatedly been recognized as one of the region's top spas include being named "Best Spa" by San Diego Magazine, Best La Jolla Day Spa by La Jolla Village News Readers' Choice awards and the number two ranked La Jolla Day Spa by La Jolla Light.
"The spa is extremely special," the hotel's Director of Marketing Sarah Abelsohn tells me. "It really has a very unique and transformative approach when it comes to spa treatments and offerings. We offer all of the typical amenities and services, but also provide a more holistic and organic approach to healing."
The various transformative treatment options include facials tailored toward age prevention and results-driven anti-wrinkle, plumping and soothing facials. And being that this is Southern California, just a stone's throw from star-studded Los Angeles, you'll also find a glow facial on the menu fit for Hollywood A-listers. Massages are another option, as are mini-treatments such as restorative foot repair.
Targeting Locals and the Staycation Crowd
Already a favorite among locals, Estancia La Jolla has worked even more over the past year or so, amid the realities of COVID-19, to position itself as a property for San Diegans and out-of-town visitors alike.
This effort has included ramping up its range of fun and whimsical events, including everything from monthly vinyasa and vino gatherings to high tea amid the resort gardens.
And in one of the property's most recent (and brilliant) moves, they decided to tap into the runaway popularity of the Bridgerton television drama, by hosting a boozy tea party and Halloween masquerade ball to celebrate the hit show. For the ball, guests are invited to come dressed in their Regency-era costumes, whether that means the colorful gowns of the Featheringtons or the more muted tones of the Bridgerton family. Sadly, there's no word on whether Bridgerton's resident heartthrob Regé-Jean Page will attend.
For those unable to make it to the ball, there will also be boozy garden tea times inspired by the show. The tea times will take place through November. Tickets are available online, starting at $80, and include two gin cocktails, gourmet tea, delicate pastries and elegant finger sandwiches.
"We used to be such a group events based resort, but now we're leaning heavily into this brand-new demographic, which has been fun for us," says Abelsohn. "We're really focusing on new programming. And watching how it attracts so many locals has been really great for us. We want to be a place where locals and guests alike can come and enjoy dynamic experiences."
Most Memorable Moments
A local myself, the resort's dynamic yet peaceful and luxurious vibe is what I found so attractive and worth exploring.
But in the end, for my son and me, Estancia La Jolla was in many ways about quality time together while enjoying inviting surroundings and peaceful, quiet moments. We had a memorable mommy and son dinner together amid the night skies at Mustangs & Burros and spent a happy morning exploring the walking trail that circles the perimeter of the property.
We also spent hours splashing in the pool and later, on another walk around the resort grounds, were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a wishing tree along a trail at the back corner of the hotel. Tucked beneath the large tree there was a small wooden box filled with pieces of paper for guests to scribble their wishes upon and hang amid the tree's branches.
We spent a fun few minutes reading the many wishes of others dangling from the tree - wishes that the world could be a more caring place; for loved ones to have a good life; and wishes that the year ahead will be far more peaceful than the one we all just experienced amid a global pandemic. There were also wishes for health and happiness.
When it comes to that last wish, Estancia La Jolla certainly delivered.
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