One of our favorite getaways in the southland is driving down to the horse county estates surrounding Rancho Sante Fe with a stay at the sprawling 45 acre Rancho Valencia in one of the 49 villas or casitas. Celebrating 25 years, the resort has recently undergone a $30 million facelift while adding a new equestrian themed Pony Room that extends out to a cozy fire pit laden patio for evening cocktails.
Most people associate the California ranch meets Spanish hacienda resort with nearby horse training but Rancho Valencia was originally constructed in 1989 by Harry Collins, a passionate tennis player. If you want to try a tennis match on the grounds – this is a top spot for pros to play with 18 tennis courts, consider a private one-hour lesson first. The Director, Robin White has won two U.S. Opens and played against all the greats from Martina Navratilova to Steffi Graff, and will help you conquer your backhand in just a few strokes. This is one of the best $100 or so you will ever spend if you’re a fan of the sport and want to improve your game.
You’ll start your morning with a small pitcher of freshly squeezed local Valencia oranges in a tiny crate. There are plenty of active pursuits and pools to lounge around during a hot summer day at Rancho Valencia, including the renovated spa, your villa plunge pool or tree-shaded casita patio, but a top past time is the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club only a few miles down the road.
Securing a spot for opening day at Del Mar is a sport unto itself with six levels of viewing and strategic maneuvering. It starts with nachos, beer and Hawaiian print shirts on the ground level and moves up to shrimp cocktails, martinis and cocktail dreses by the time you reach the Turf Club on level four. Your best bet is to try and secure a table to watch the races and have a civilized lunch with plenty of wine. Level 5 has private boxes and is reserved in many cases for corporations or sponsors, while the top tier level seems to be reserved for high-rollers and horse owners. This is one time where you want the nose-bleed seats. The views are incredible and Vintage Champagne is flowing with stylish women teetering around in Manolo Blahnik’s and sporting over-the-top hats while their husbands bet with wads of cash. The good news for all levels, the season has been extended this year to November, in part to the closing of Hollywood Park, so try to reserve a spot early.
Back at Rancho Sante Fe the dining rooms and lounge will be buzzing with locals and post-race guests celebrating a big win. Grab an alfresco banquette to nibble on roasted peppers stuffed with quinoa, mustard spiced humus and lobster tacos while the sunsets over the valley.