People often ask me what I do on my trips. The answer for a travel writer, “I work!” Maybe I get in a few minutes in the fitness center or pool, but mostly I am reviewing all the press material I have collected (some gets thrown out) and writing notes about the events of the day while they are still fresh in my memory. “Love You Baby Love You; Let’s Do Lunch.” I have a car in New York City because I need transportation to several universities where I teach; to visit my family in the Hamptons and friends who live 1 to 2 hours outside the city. But it seems to be a God given right for every Californian to drive everywhere; (the public transportation leaves a lot to be desired). Rush hour at Noon and 9PM; what’s up with that?

I decided to give it my all and booked nine different luxury hotels (and one budget) in an 11 day 575 mile driving odyssey from San Diego to the Los Angeles area and back. This is that story. (If the truth be told I was comped at all the hotels and treated as a VIP). Hardest to find at night and the best room- Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe, 25 miles from downtown San Diego and my first night’s stop. Huge living room, Jacuzzi, wet bar, gigantic bathroom, fireplace, cathedral ceilings, lots of closets, outdoor patio, three TV’s, fresh orange juice and newspaper delivered every morning. Built in 1989, the city of Rancho Santa Fe does not allow large outside lights, hence the 18 tennis courts are sunlight only. There are four nearby golf courses and a new spa. The soon to open Villas at Rancho Valencia, a private residence club are shared ownership condos (not time shares). This area was once part of the Fairbanks (Douglas) Ranch. A member of Relais & Chateau the 40 acre, 49 villas was named the #2 North American Resort by Conde Nast Traveler, which also placed them in their 2006 Gold List and called them “very secluded California hacienda.” Tennis Magazine said they were one of the top 10 tennis resorts in the US. ( (800) 548-3664)

Best view from a hotel restaurant- La Valencia Hotel in downtown La Jolla, 15 minutes from San Diego and a sister resort to Rancho Valencia. The hotel was built in 1926 with many rooms (and the terrace restaurant) facing La Jolla Cove and the Pacific Ocean. There are 115 rooms, suites and villas and interestingly no floors 1, 2 or 3. There are separate suites that are not attached to the historic older portion and can therefore offer modern touches. The 10th floor Sky Room French restaurant has 12 tables and booths and superb service.” Envision a huge pink estate from the Golden Era of Hollywood.”
Best in unusual design- Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa doesn’t look like its interior. Location isn’t everything- it is located on a main road outside town opposite the University of California at San Diego and 14 miles from the San Diego airport. General Manager Guiseppe Lama came from the classic Hotel Del Coronado and brought most of his staff with him including Executive Chef Jesse Frost. He helped design the rooms because he came aboard while the hotel was being built in 2004. The 210 rooms are set in an octagon around a courtyard with pathways, gardens, fountains and feature an Executive Learning Retreat. Passionate about service and details Giuseppe is proud that Conde Nast Traveler referred to The Estancia as “one of the world’s hottest new hotels for 2005/2006”. It is also on their Gold List and a 4 Diamond AAA property. ( (877) 437-8262)
Most romantic getaway and best place to kiss-L’Auberge Del Mar Resort & Spa : Located in the coastal village of Del Mar, 20 minutes north of San Diego, it is an AAA 4 Diamond property. Built in 1989 it replaced two older hotels that were the home away from home of Hollywood Celebrities who attended the nearby Del Mar Racetrack. Bing Crosby was one of the owners of the track & photos of his cronies are scattered throughout the hotel. There is a private path leading from the 120 room main building to Torrey Pines State Reserve and the Pacific Ocean below. I loved the Chardonnay Vitalite Spa Treatment using Chardonnay grapes, of course. ( – (800) 245-9757)
Best resort even if you don’t gamble (nor are a high-roller)-Barona Valley Ranch Casino Resort: With 2,000 Las Vegas slot machines and 70 table games it offers more than just gambling to its visitors. The Barona Ranch land was purchased by the Barona Band of Mission Indians in 1932 and the resort/casino was opened in 2003 (there was Bingo in a tented area for years previous) located 30 minutes from downtown San Diego on reservation land. Their golf course was rated as the third best resort course in California and the 400 rooms resemble the rustic California ranch-style of the 1930’s. I enjoyed dinner at the Barona Oaks Steak House & a relaxing massage in the spa. I was given a tour of the very secluded private gaming rooms located downstairs and available only to players with a credit limit of at least 7 figures. There is a helicopter and limousine available to take the individual or family directly into the private parking garage. Slot machines are $500 & $1,000 and the non-gamblers in the group have a private chef and entertainment available in an adjacent room. ( (800) 722-7662)
Best place to play three golf courses by walking from your room- Temecula Creek Inn is under the same ownership as Rancho Bernardo Inn and my balcony overlooked the first hole of three 9 hole courses. Built in 1968 on 350 acres with 130 rooms, many of which face the San Jacinto Mountains. The 130 year old historic Stone House is the site for many weddings. There are winery tour packages (The Temet Grill has a great local wine list) and the largest Indian casino in California is only three miles away. The town of Temecula with its 24 family owned wineries has grown to over 100,000 populations. ( – (877) 517-1823)

Best decorated public rooms and use of art- Rancho Bernardo Inn located on 297 acres 40 minutes north of San Diego. The 287 rooms are scattered among 8 buildings with 12 tennis courts and 45 holes of golf available. The public rooms are filled with antiquities, oriental rugs, lots of art and wood beam ceilings. Tennis Magazine called Rancho Bernardo “Top 50 US Tennis Resort.” El Bizcocho restaurant has a 1,300 bottle wine list that has won the Best of Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator and is Zagat’s highest rated restaurant in a golf resort in southern California. AAA has awarded the Inn its 4 Diamond award. ( (877) 517-9342)

Best view of a vineyard- South Coast Winery Resort & Spa on the main road through Temecula. The 76 private villas come complete with fireplaces and spa tubs. There is a bottle of South Coast wine awaiting you on your private terrace overlooking the vineyards. The Vineyard Rose restaurant serves local cuisine and also faces the vineyards. The winery was built in 2002, along with the spa and conference center in a 400 acre property with 38 acres of vineyards. ( – (866) 994-6379)

Best value family owned venue- The Newport Channel Inn, family owned since 1972. The travel channel called Newport Beach one of the top 10 beaches in the USA. I wanted to stay in a smaller place for a change and this fit the bill. On the main highway just outside town it is steps from the beach. They gave me maps and discount coupons for many of the attractions. I took the ferry to Balboa Island ($1.50 with my car for the 4 minute ride); walked along the Balboa Fun Zone (lots of shops & great for the kids); visited the Newport Pier and the Nautical Museum and briefly stopped at Fashion Island with its 200 stores. Did you know the TV show OC is filmed here? Had breakfast with an old friend Dennis Overstreet from the Wine Merchant of Beverly Hills. He lives in Newport Beach and, with his wife, operates two restaurants (Le Quai & Aubergine) and two bar/clubs. ( (800) 255-8614)

Best Chef’s Cabana Dinner & Best Interior Hotel Design- Viceroy Hotel. When I was invited to dinner at restaurant Whist, voted by Food & Wine Magazine one of the 50 best hotel restaurants in America, I walked across the street from L’Merigot where I was staying. Truthfully, I thought the Viceroy Hotel was an office building when I first saw it. Originally built in 1969 as another hotel it was reborn in 2002 after a complete renovation. But once inside I saw the effort that went into every detail of the hotel from the 14-foot-tall light sculpture to the china displays and oversized cameos. It was a bit too windy to eat outside in one of the cabanas so our Chef’s Cabana dinner (California-French cuisine) moved indoors. I did notice 26 inch LCD TV’s in the black & white cabanas; not what I remember from a cabana while growing up. An excellent value with the tasting menu of 4 courses matched with 3 wines and all for only $100. The 163 room hotel has lots of Pacific Ocean views. ( – (866) 891-0947

Best sunset view from my room & best massage ever- L’Merigot Beach Hotel & Spa is the highest rated AAA & Mobil property in Santa Monica (a JW Marriott hotel). Opened in 2000 with 175 rooms and a pet friendly program. My very large room had a private balcony where I watched the sun rise and set over the Pacific Ocean. Dinner in the Cezanne Restaurant was prepared by Executive Soux Chef Robert Harrison. The French menu was inspired by local Farmers Markets. I had the best massage of my life and I believe I walked out an inch taller after those hands of steel got to my deep tissues. ( – (888) 994-6379)
Best located hotel to walk around San Diego- Hilton Gaslamp Quarter Hotel. Since I went from San Diego (2nd largest city in California & 6th in the US) to Santa Monica and back to San Diego, my last two night were spent in downtown San Diego at the heart of the historic Gaslamp Quarter (National Historic District) and directly across the street from the Convention Center. The National Weather Service called the climate in San Diego the most ideal in America (75-85 both days winter average winter temperature of 65). Within walking distance are shopping, theatres, art galleries and over 150 restaurants and clubs. Even though I had a car the first day I hoofed it past Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, Seaport Village, The San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum, Maritime Museum (5 ships), harbor cruises and cruise line docks and all along the Gaslamp Quarter. The airport was only 10 minutes away which was great when I had to return my rental car and make an 8AM flight home. My room was in The Enclave at the Hilton (30 lofts & suites), a “hotel within a hotel” with 14 foot loft ceilings, a private elevator and entrance as well as a whirlpool tub. Next day I drove to the world famous San Diego Zoo with over 4,000 animals; Coronado Island and the historic (1898) Hotel Del Coronado; Balboa Park with 1,400 acres, 15 museums and 85 cultural institutions the largest urban cultural park in America; the Cabrillo National Monument, the 3rd most visited national monument in the US; Old Town, the birthplace of California history and the most visited site in San Diego. What I did not have time to see were: Tijuana, Mexico a half-hour south of town and Sea World & Legoland, both a half-hour north or get to the 70 miles of beaches surrounding the city. ( – (800) Hiltons) If you reread my opening line I work on my trips. I need a rest from “my vacation trip” but I love my work.