Stay Classic, San Diego
As the train continued its leisurely progress south it swung inland towards Anaheim and the overall aspect out of the panoramic windows changed from stunning ocean views and beautiful beaches to a distinctly more industrial hue. And to be fair – compared to the incredible coastline near Ventura and Carpentaria this bit of the track is definitely a bit ‘Mickey Mouse’, although of course this may be because at Anaheim there’s a connection to Disneyland. Anyway, it does get a bit industrial at times, although the Art Deco splendour of Los Angeles Union Station is quite impressive.
After a somewhat protracted stop at Anaheim the Surfliner got under way again and eventually left the suburbs and rejoined the ocean near Dana Point. The view improves exponentially at this point and all was well, although there was one slightly tense moment when one of my companions went to the train’s Seaview café’ for some food and returned somewhat embarrassed to his seat. “I only asked her for a quickie” he said – “and she really got the hump!” “It’s pronounced ‘quiche’ I replied.
Luckily by now we were approaching our destination of Solana Beach, from whence we were conveyed by limousine to our next destination, the truly fabulous Rancho Valencia. Our driver told us that this is the third most expensive ‘zip code’ in America, and as we wended our way up into the hills I could see why – you could practically smell the scent of money in the air.
As we drove through the gates and into the palatial grounds I was instantly taken by the superb setting and could see straightaway that the Rancho Valencia is something special. As the evening was already getting on and I had a mouth like Gandhi’s flip-flop I quickly dumped my gear in my room (which was actually a large apartment) and went to join the others in the western-themed ‘Pony Room’ for some delightful food, washed down with some excellent local beers and a couple of cocktails. Suitably lubricated, I eventually waddled back to my apartment and tottered into the ‘restroom’. The toilet looked at me – and then automatically opened its lid slowly and invitingly…
“Oh for fucks sake” I involuntarily blurted out. Has Western Civilisation really come to this I mused to myself – that we can’t even be arsed to simply lift the bog seat anymore. However, my initial and somewhat drunken disdain soon turned to delirious delight when I discovered that this technological toilet was controlled by a keypad that positively bristled with buttons and switches! There are 13 in total and Gentle Reader you won’t be surprised to learn that I played that keypad as if it were a piano’s keyboard – and I’m a shocking piano player! Indeed, my initial scepticism soon turned to appreciation and I found myself warming to this computerised commode – although that may have been because I’d found the button that turned the electric seat warmer on! My companions were equally as enchanted as I was with this world-beating WC, and it proved to be a rich comedy seam which I mined assiduously. Apparently they cost $17,000 each, and we all agreed how truly brilliant it would be if as the lid opened it growled “I’ve had enough of your shit for one day!”
The next morning I enjoyed a bracing swim in the delightful pool and then had a superb breakfast at Rancho Valencia’s Veladora and a tour of the facility with Rancho Valencia’s urbane manager Simon Chen. Simon clearly takes a great deal of pride in the hotel – and I could see why. What an amazing place! We then set off to explore San Diego with our affable guide, Joe Timko of the San Diego tourist board. Of particular interest to me was the world-famous hang glider site at Torrey Pines, which also provided some stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. After a very nice lunch at the Mission Beach boardwalk (I know people often say that travel broadens the mind, but this particular trip was certainly widening my arse) and after an agreeable stroll on the pier (no pressure) we had a great drive around San Diego, checking out Mount Soledad (which has great views), Pacific Beach, Little Italy, Balboa Park, and Coronado Island.
It’s a beautiful city, and I wish we’d had more time as I would’ve loved to have visited both the Zoo and the Air and Space museum, which are both recognised as being world-class.
Back at Rancho Valencia (and after yet another swim) I explored my apartment. This actually took some time as it really was absolutely enormous – I particularly appreciated having my own private Jacuzzi on my private verandah – but then who wouldn’t?
That evening we went to San Diego’s famous ‘Gaslamp Quarter’ for dinner at BiCE. This is one of San Diego’s top Italian restaurants, and the cuisine was simply superb. Of particular note was the incredible cheese bar, which featured a fine collection of formaggi Italiani. Apparently this cheese bar has won awards – and I can well believe it. It is personally curated by top chef Francesca Penoncelli. This excellent meal (and more fab local beers) was followed by a leisurely stroll round the ‘Gaslamp Quarter’ and sampling various bourbons, before winding up in a great nightclub which featured a pool on the roof. God knows what it was called…
The next morning I was revived with an incredible massage. I had the Bourbon Cowboy Signature treatment and it was brilliant, although whether I really needed any more Bourbon at all was probably debatable. After a wonderfully relaxed morning it was off to the Brockton Villa in La Jolla for Brunch. Again – the food was simply superb. I dived into the aptly-named ‘Naughty Burrito’ which proved to be one of the finest burritos I’d ever had – and I’m a bit of a connoisseur of Mexican cuisine señor! Consisting of scrambled eggs, the house carne asada, cheddar cheese, potato, poblano peppers, an excellent guacamole, chili, crème fraiche and a side of tortilla chips the ‘Naughty Burrito’ was truly naughty! To wash it down I drank a ‘Keith Richards’, which is four shots of Espresso, sprinkled with Mexican chocolate and topped with foam. Now I was fat and wired, so the only sensible thing to do was hit the Pacific Ocean with the ‘Surf Divas’ and try to learn how to paddleboard. This was tremendous fun, but the sheer enormity of the ‘Naughty Burrito’ I was digesting meant that despite the best efforts of the ‘Surf Divas’ I never really got the hang of it. Later, while laying on the beach and trying to recover several well-meaning people from Greenpeace tried to refloat me, which left me wondering that if after all that food and drink I really was starting to get a bit big and that maybe I should try and get some emergency liposuction.
Later, back at the ranch (I’ve always wanted to say that) we went to a Tequila tasting session, hosted by the bar manager Chris Simmons. Chris really knows his stuff and I was amazed at how much variety there is with Tequila – in many ways it’s just like a really good malt whisky, with a surprising variety of different colours, tastes and smells depending on whether they’re grown in the highlands or lowlands, the type of soil etc. I delighted my companions with the tale of how I’d once tried the ‘Tequila Diet – and lost three days!
That evening we had yet another amazing meal in the Velodora Fountain Courtyard. Now you might’ve thought that after all the incredible dining I’d done over the previous five days I’d be getting pretty blasé, but this mean was simply sublime. Both manager Simon and Executive Chef Eric Bauer joined our party – and the food, setting and company were truly magnificent.
As the limo set off towards San Diego airport I suddenly realised that the only aspect of Rancho Valencia that I didn’t like was leaving it.
Rancho Valencia San Diego, rooms from $700 per night: visit the website www.ranchovalencia.com, or call +1 866 233 6708 for reservations. For more information on California check the Visit California website: www.visitcalifornia.com.