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San Diego’s new hotels offer exciting staycation destinations

Travel Editor Elizabeth Hansen explores four unique beachfront destinations to make for the perfect staycation

Oceanside Pier at sunset
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I think I’m starting to understand how bears feel when they venture out after hibernating. Like many fully vaccinated San Diegans, I’m exploring the world around me and finding it at once both familiar and new. I’ve met a friend’s grandson who was born while we were staying home and enjoyed a restaurant that didn’t exist pre-COVID. I’ve also stayed in a striking recently opened hotel and toured a beloved local property that has been completely re-imagined.

A Brand New Beach Resort 

Stretching along a bluff from PCH to the shoreline, the 130-room Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas offers coastline views, access to Ponto Beach, and a rejuvenating spa that is open to the public. Shades of gray dominate the modern décor throughout the property, creating a restful atmosphere and an ideal backdrop for the colorful work of acclaimed photographer Aaron Chang. A local resident and a pioneer in the art of in-water photography, Chang’s images of waves and surfers help to connect the property to its surroundings. 

Aaron Chang’s in-water photography connects the Alila Marea to its surroundings
Aaron Chang’s in-water photography connects the Alila Marea to its surroundings

Encinitas board shaper and “ding king” Brian Szymanski also contributed local color to the resort. His board-like panels hang on the walls in The Pocket, an informal dining spot next to the hotel’s oceanview relaxation pool, infinity-edge whirlpool, and four cabanas. Nearby, cozy seating around two fire pits provides a good spot for dolphin spotting and sunset viewing. 

While The Pocket is only open to overnight guests, the hotel’s Vaga Restaurant & Bar will be open to the public starting May 5 and as COVID tiers permit. This area, with both indoor and outdoor seating, is also great for watching the sun sink into the ocean, but it’s the food — not the view — that’s creating the buzz among savvy foodies. 

Vaga is the creation of celebrity chef Claudette Zepeda, who competed on Bravo’s Top Chef in both Mexico and the U.S., was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef, and developed a loyal following during her time as executive chef at El Jardín in Liberty station. 

At Vaga, Chef Zepeda embraces the flavors of the global cuisines she knows and loves, having grown up on both sides of the border and cooked on three continents. The name of the restaurant, she told me, is derived from her “vagabond life.”  

My favorite dishes were the crispy gnocchi, made with potato, Vermont butter, celery root, and spicy greens, and the Baja black sea bass served with green goddess sauce, almond basmati, and lemon confit. My husband especially loved the crispy octopus and the Saraspe blue fin tuna crudo with lemongrass broth and wild cilantro oil. 

What’s Chef Zepeda’s secret? It’s apparent that she has a loving, generous soul and cares deeply for her suppliers, her staff, and her culture. I think that love is the key ingredient in her cuisine. alilahotels.com/marea-beach-resort-encinitas

The new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas stretches along the bluff from PCH to the coast
The new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas stretches along the bluff from PCH to the coast

A Beloved Hotel Re-Imagined

L’Auberge Del Mar is not only located in the heart of its seaside community, in many ways the hotel is the heart of Del Mar. Many local residents have standing appointments at the spa and think of the restaurants as extensions of their homes. Given this, you 

can imagine the concern caused by the current multimillion-dollar renovation. But fear not, I’ve toured the property and can assure you that when it reopens (by mid-May), you are going to love it more than ever. In fact, I was so impressed that I plan to drive up from La Jolla and stay for a couple of days. 

The lobby of L’Auberge Del Mar has been completely re-imagined
The lobby of L’Auberge Del Mar has been completely re-imagined

In general, the goal is to open up the resort and create more indoor-outdoor spaces and better ocean views from more areas. Adelaide, the new outdoor restaurant on the coastal deck, will be one of the first places to open, followed by Lyric, a casual spot serving coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. The Pacific Terrace, which has been redesigned and refurnished, remains a great spot for watching
the sunset.

The new guestrooms have beautiful gray, white, and soft blue interiors and marble surfaces that create the feeling of staying in the guest bedroom of a friend’s luxury home. In fact, the whole property feels elegant and residential.

The tennis courts haven’t been reimagined, but the new fitness center now sports two Peloton spin bikes, and the pool deck and bar have been expanded. There’s also a complimentary bike loan program for guests, but what I’m most excited about is the summer season beach valet service that will carry guests, lounge chairs, and toys to Powerhouse Park and Beach. I can hardly wait to check in. laubergedelmar.com

Guestrooms at L’Auberge Del Mar have elegant, restful decor
Guestrooms at L’Auberge Del Mar have elegant, restful decor

An Anticipated Pair

Like a just-awakened bear trying to make sense of his surroundings, I recently found myself staring in disbelief at the Oceanside waterfront. Apparently, even before COVID kept us at home, O’side city officials had a plan for revitalizing the area and building two luxury hotels. And, while we were locked down, they got the job (almost) done. Opening this month, The Seabird Resort and Mission Pacific Hotel — together the largest oceanfront hotel development in San Diego County in more than 50 years — will overlook the historic pier from the foot of Mission Avenue.  

The Seabird Resort’s pool area includes private cabanas, lounge seating, and a Jacuzzi
The Seabird Resort’s pool area includes private cabanas, lounge seating, and a Jacuzzi

The 226-room Seabird is six stories with a pool and spa on the third floor and a family-friendly vibe. Chef Kurtis Habecker, formerly of the Park Hyatt Aviara, will be the executive chef. theseabirdresort.com 

Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier on the West Coast
Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier on the West Coast

The 161-room Mission Pacific is seven stories with a rooftop pool and bar and the historic “Top Gun House” (from the 1986 movie) nestled in its courtyard. With Chef Roberto Alcocer of Malva Restaurante in the Guadalupe Valley in charge of the restaurants, this hotel is best suited to adults in search of a getaway. Guests can use either hotel’s pool and will share a beach kiosk across the street where chairs, umbrellas, light snacks, and surf lessons are available. missionpacifichotel.com

Oceanside’s historic “Top Gun House” has a new home at the Mission Pacific Hotel
Oceanside’s historic Top Gun House has a new home at the Mission Pacific Hotel

Are you ready to venture out? Is it time to stop hibernating and start traveling? That’s a personal decision, but if you’re thinking of a “starter trip,” I can’t think of better places to stay than these Oceanside hotels, the Alila Marea, and the re-imagined L’Auberge.  

Image Credits Aaron Chang, L’Auberge Guestroom & “Top Gun House,” Photography by ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS oceanside pier: Photo courtesy of Visit Oceanside All other photography: courtesy photography

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