I was going again, but this time, with family. And the experience of family, three generations worth at the Grand Del Mar in Del Mar, California, was a first, and happened at a good time.
I had been thinking of an old saying — traveling with children must always be considered a trip, never a vacation. I began to wonder if this adage was true. In my traveling life, with family and without, sometimes it was true, sometimes not. But I know my son, daughter in law, and grandsons ages six and four. They are great parents, the children are mindful, generally.
And we are staying at a great place: The Grand Del Mar – the hotel to which Trip Advisor had given the #1 rating of Best Hotel In The United States. This was in addition to all the other awards: the AAA Five Diamond, Forbes Five-Star property awards, and with local and regional awards too numerous to mention.
There are reasons for these: 249 guest rooms and suites; with San Diego’s only Tom Fazio-designed championship golf course, a Forbes Five-Star Renaissance-inspired spa; regional dining at the hotel, plus, in the hotel area but not directly at the hotel, is the awards-winning restaurant, Addison, with Relais Châteaux Grand Chef William Bradley at the helm.
In the hotel area, four pools: some for families, some adults-only; two outdoor tennis courts; an enclave of large, residential Villas; and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space. There is also an equestrian center and many bike trails. The fitness center is extensive, and there are Yoga classes many mornings outside, and inside also. There is also a children’s area, called The Explorer’s Club.
I am familiar with this resort, because I was born and raised in this area. I have met “Papa Doug” Manchester, the San Diego visionary who envisioned a resort where no one ever considered building one before, in Del Mar, near the Los Penasquitos Nature Preserve, and I have written before about the greatly talented interior /architectural designer of this resort, Warren Sheets.
In all, I knew the multi-layered resort identity that infused this hotel — but I had never taken my family there, because rightly or wrongly, and as the old adage of trip vs. vacation implies, there is a different meaning to vacation when children and grandchildren are along, relaxation being harder to conceptualize, much less to attain.
So this was a good test of the meaning of family-friendly. Five of us in a family suite; time in the Explorer’s Club for the children, a great meal at Addison Del Mar, and a trip to the Del Mar beach.
The family suite first: It turned out to be an exceptional design, combining the two elements necessary for family gatherings: separate areas, and gathering areas. Two large bedrooms with closing doors were on either side of the living room, dining area and kitchen. The master bedroom had a large king bed, a large bathroom, and a fold-out couch; my room had two queen sized beds, and a large bathroom. In the living area was a couch that folded out also. The dining area was ample also, as was the kitchen. More than enough room for our family, and a few more relatives!
The family suite also had something that we will all remember: because it was near the Spa, we heard the sound of the fountains along with the soft sounds of harp and soft pipe music playing when we opened our balcony doors.
My grandsons, especially loved the music. It calming and beautiful; it just seemed to be in the air, of the air, and they liked listening. They also liked the Explorer’s Club, where they stayed a few times during our stay.
The first time was before we went to the great Addison restaurant. My son and daughter-in-law, like any set of dedicated, watchful parents, wanted to look around the facility before they left their children there. But they were immediately relieved to see the boys start to run and play. I thought this was the first time I could see them actually begin to relax.
The meal, at Addison, deserved all the accolades it has won, as it was one of the best dining experiences we ever had. Not only was the design of the food superb, the service, the discussion of the food from our waiters, the taste and delicacy of the wine and dessert defined culinary perfection. And this was just the first night.
When we picked up the children, both boys did not especially want to go back to the suite with us. This was something unusual! But my son and daughter in law didn’t mind at all. They had a wonderful time, as did we. Separating, then gathering again.
One of the great Grand Del Mar services is taking guests to the beach. Little did we know they also supplied the chairs, the striped towels, the umbrellas, bottled water, chairs and even sand toys for the kids. They found a place for us at Del Mar beach, and set us up. They took us at noon, and picked us up at 3:30PM. In that time, the boys ran in the water, my son and I went body surfing, my daughter in law read a book. This was a vacation!
At 3:30 PM, we were picked up, went back to the resort, and then went into the family pool, where we splashed and played until dark. It was one of those magic days where the practical issues of parenting – picking up the beach stuff, packing it into the SUV, going back, cleaning up, eating, were taken care of – leaving my adult children, me, and grandchildren the rare pleasure of enjoying the destination and each other’s company — a beach- and pool-bonding experience, compliments of the Grand Del Mar.
When the children, both adult and not-so, were at the pool, I thought of all the things we hadn’t done and were available here: horseback and pony riding at the Equine center, bicycling on the nature trails near the Preserve, golfing on the Fazio course. Maybe next time.
As I was sitting at the pool, I heard a gentleman and his friend talking. They were sitting in the chairs next to me, watching their children play in the family pool. I heard him say, he said he hated to go home.
“But you have to go home!” the friend said, smiling.
“ Yes, but the children cry all the way back to Australia when we leave here. That’s why we come back every year. They love it here. We do too.”
The best testimonial, ever. And, the most understandable.
And, with just a day remaining, I came to understand what that man was saying. There is something about this place – it is elegant, but balancing the luxury is a sense of fun, a sense of happiness. We didn’t want to leave, either.
About five years ago, at the launch of The Grand Del Mar, I wrote:
The substrata, the essential DNA of the Grand Del Mar combines the context and content of what lasts and what is real. This is the revolutionary idea: in a culture of haste, of the transitory, a resort was created that remembers the gifts of time, and the relevance of legacy.
It is as true today as it was then. You can have a vacation with children, as family friendly at the Grand Del Mar is not theory, it is real — the gift of family friendly, full of grace and life.