Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not your average Southern California Weekend Getaway

Life is so hectic these days that I find myself in dire need of a vacation at least once a month. Sure, we all wish we could jet set off to Europe or Fiji every time we need to clear our heads, but unfortunately that isn’t always a realistic tripaholic craving.

Got three days? A quick getaway is the best way to really recharge the batteries and rejuvenate the spirit. With only a few days to take off, a weekend excursion, or even a road trip means going somewhere close while still getting far away from it all with some quality “me” time.

Palm Springs or San Diego?  Why not both?
Day 1: The Grand Del Mar

A mandatory first start after checking in, is to head straight to the spa.  With an array of services, 11 treatment rooms and 21,000 square feet how could I decide?  Mental Note: This is the only acceptable form of stress on a vacation.  I went with the spa’s signature Renaissance treatment, a 90-minute body ritual that will blow your mind.   My treatment began with mineral-rich mud and aromatic oils and ended in a relaxing warm body wrap on a free-floating bed. Throw in a rosemary-infused Swiss shower followed by a soothing stretching massage and I was in heaven.

Yes this is how vacation should start, followed by a drink at the Old Hollywood-style swimming pool, some horseplay, golfing and then off to an incredible dinner at the resorts restaurant Addison.  Life is rough.

Sitting in the cart while slinging back margaritas counts as playing golf right? Ok maybe not to some.  The golf course at the Grand is so amazingly beautiful I had to check it out.  Hoping for a quick lesson from Phil Mickelson a frequent visitor and some decent pictures of myself looking like a pro, I set up our tee time.  “All I need are some lessons,” I told myself.  Cute outfit, check, pink golf balls, check and a round of drinks from the beverage cart check, check! 

The Grand Golf Course is a challenging Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole par-72 course fit for all levels of play. Opened in 1999, the Grand Golf Club also provides avid golfers with a 2,000-sq.-ft. putting green and a 5,000-sq.-ft. practice tee.  I should’ve started there!

It looked so easy. The ball just sits there. Any moron could figure it out. But every instinct I had was wrong. You’re supposed to hit the ball down to make it go up. What? I want to hit it up to make it go up. When I try to hit down, it’s like I’m splitting a log with an axe.  The whole thing didn’t make a lot of sense; luckily there was no one else but our caddy to witness my horrible attempt.  I pledged then and there I would get better. At the next few holes I did gain some distance but it wasn’t much to write home about.  I guess I will just have to try my luck in Palm Springs.

Next stop the resorts onsite Equestrian Center, of course I finagled my way into the center and convinced one of the workers to let me feed the horses.  The 20,000-square-foot facility offers kids’ programs, lessons and trail rides for all ages. We fed the horses now it was our turn to be fed.  We headed off to Addison.

Where old money mixes with new money and the Old World gives way, albeit reluctantly, to a bit of modernity the Addison is a must. The only 5 Star/5 Diamond Restaurant in Southern California.  One of those things you should add to the bucket list, yes it’s that good.  Prepare yourself mentally for an extreme dining experience.  This restaurant is no joke with multiple courses and white glove service.  Wine aficionados will face a challenge here with 3800 wines to choose from, selecting a wine could take hours, I suggest adding the wine tasting option and leaving the decision making up to someone else. I kicked off the four-course tasting menu with Black Mission Figs enhanced with whipped Chevre and caramelized endive, then round 2 the Superfino Risotto with preserved lemon and San Daniele prosciutto and finally the Kobe Beef Short Ribs.  Feel free to Google these words, I did while the server wasn’t looking.  For dessert, caramelized banana bread was to die for, if you can still find room. 
Day 2: Goodbye Del Mar we are off to Palm Springs

One more stop before we leave, and what better way to start the day then a leisurely 4 1/2-mile hike through one of San Diego’s most desired trails.  Even if you’re not into crystal balls and vision quests, it’s hard to deny the rejuvenating aura of the majestic Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.  A 4,100-acre spread located 12 miles north of downtown, guests of the resort, as well as the public, can enjoy the parks 37 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

It’s a beautiful day so we roll down our windows, crank up the iTunes playlist and make our way to Palm Springs.  Palm Springs has been a destination of the Hollywood elite for years. For the same reasons that the rich and famous flock here, it's also a great place for a relaxation getaway.  The perfect place to slow down the pace for a while and just relax.  Things to accomplish today include eating, shopping, checking out the zoo, spa time, eating some more and another attempt at trying to learn how to play golf with the hopes of not failing miserably this time.

While there are certainly enough chain hotels to appease the skeptical traveler, it’s the small boutique hotels that truly reflect what Palm Springs is all about.  Which is why our hotel of choice was the Los Arboles Hotel located in the Movie Colony Neighborhood. A brand new hotel opened by the same family that created the legendary El Mirasol Restaurant.  Although many Palm Springs hotels are stuck in the past, with outdated décor and under-par entertainment, there are a few desert gems that are definitely worthy of your time, this was one of them.

We couldn’t wait to eat at El Mirasol so we didn’t waste any time.  Table for 2 please.  Bravely we let the server decide our meal and ended up with Shrimp in Pipian because the story sounded cool.  According to our server in pre-Columbian times the Tarascans and the Aztecs in Central Mexico created this sauce with ground pumpkin seeds and chiles to accompany their fish and wild game.   There’s a reason the restaurant is still thriving after all these years and it just might be this sauce!
After our full meal it was time to try my luck at the game that had defeated me the day prior.  Off we go to PGA West at the La Quinta Resort & Club.  We get paired up with none other than pro golfer Lucas Lee, this ought to be good.  After watching him at the first hole I am intimidated, on the other hand maybe he will give me some pointers and at least help me hit the ball in the right direction.  We approach the 9th hole and I am still waiting for that a ha moment but unfortunately it never comes and again another golf resort has defeated me.

Day 3:  The end of the trip is near, must fit in some more me time!

We woke up at about 4:30am to get ready for a hot air balloon ride. We had spent a lot of time debating whether to do this because 1) neither of us are morning people and 2) one of us was scared to death of heights! Boy was I glad we didn’t hit the snooze button.  The massive pilot lights and rising balloons against the pre-dawn sky was really amazing. Once in the basket, we took our positions along with a few other couples and prepared for takeoff.  It didn’t even seem like we were moving.  It was actually great and the fear of heights never surfaced as a factor. We ended up loving every minute of it.  We landed in a field a ways from where we started after a 45 minute flight. The company, Fantasy Balloon Flights was first rate and we were thrilled to celebrate with a champagne toast once we were back on solid ground. 

Next stop for the day the Living Desert Zoo.  I wasn’t sure what I was expecting out of the Living Desert Zoo before I arrived. A few desert animals and some birds hiding from the desert heat in small enclosures surrounded by cacti.  To my surprise there were all types of animals from North America and Africa.  The big horn sheep walking along the side of a rocky hill is definitely not to be missed. If you can catch a glimpse the cheetahs and jaguars are incredible. We arrived at just the right time, at 10am the zoo allows guests to feed the giraffes.  What amazing creatures, with beautiful eyelashes may I add…are those extensions?

A trip to the Parker Palm Springs was a must after watching the former reality series, reality junkie that’s me!  I wanted to see what all the hype was about so we headed over to check it out and spend some time at the spa, PSYC.  Once again the only stress at the Parker comes from deciding which massage to get: Thai, Swedish or Deep Tissue.   I chose the Swedish; now my next dilemma presented itself.  Which playlist would I like to listen to during my massage?  Chilled but not Zen?  Young Divas?  I guess that seems more on my level, young divas it is.  After my massage a see-and-be-seen brunch at Norma’s sounded like the perfect compliment.  We opted to share the Chunks of Lobster Swimming in Cheesy Macaroni.  Mimosas topped it off and we were stuffed, it was time to head home. 

I hated leaving Palm Springs, but I made an obligatory stop at the Cabazon outlets on the way home.  Shopping is the perfect way to end a trip, especially when there is a GUCCI outlet involved!