The Big Chill: Hideaway in Big Bucks Rancho Santa Fe

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) — Sometimes the Southern California beach bustle is just too much. We’ve got two days of downtime on the West Coast and are trying to get away from the noise and the crowds.

Driving north from Pacific Beach to La Jolla, we’re beset by rampaging reality-TV film crews, get-out-of-my-way surfers and as much concrete as beach.

Not quite what I had in mind when I was envisioning sun and solitude around San Diego.

When we reach the beachside community of Del Mar, we point our car inland, toward the lushly moneyed hills of Rancho Santa Fe. Silence, the kind that can only be bought with bucketloads of cash, soon surrounds us.

To take advantage of Rancho Santa Fe’s hush-hush ambience on a mortal’s budget, we’re staying at the venerable Rancho Valencia for $400 a night.

Spread over 40 acres of green-blanketed hills, the property is one of the best ways to enjoy the privacy and solitude of this tony zip code five miles from the Pacific.

On our way to the hotel, we pass country clubs, thoroughbred horse farms and closed gate after closed gate, $2 million houses imagined but unseen.

Rancho Valencia has a gate and guard of its own, but since we’re driving a Bentley (a benefit of my job reviewing cars), he recognizes us as one of the tribe and we’re waved in.

The property just had its 20th anniversary in June and is now managed by Auberge Resorts, whose portfolio includes top- rated hotels like Napa’s Calistoga Ranch and Esperanza in Los Cabos, Mexico, so my expectations are high.

Lime Trees

Some places age better than others, and this one has benefited greatly from its original landscaper. The lane leading to the main building is a path into a lush oasis, awash in chlorophyll greens and flowering pinks, reds and violets. Palm trees, lime trees and flowers fill every nook and cranny.

With 49 rooms in free-standing haciendas, Rancho Valencia is indeed more like a ranch or village than a get-in-the- elevator hotel. The architecture throughout is Spanish, with adobe-colored walls, ochre roof tiles and window frames painted southwestern blue.

Finding our way to the main building, we enter a cool interior courtyard, check in and are rolled to our room by a solicitous golf-cart-driving employee.

Room choices are simple: There are two classes of suites, from 850 square feet to 1,250. All have private patios. Our room is No. 106, a hacienda choked by greenery that’s a 30-second walk to the main pool.

Sunken Room

A private entrance leads to a wet bar and a large sunken living room. It’s an open, welcoming space with a vaulted ceiling and fireplace, and is remarkably self-contained.

Glass doors lead to chaises lounges in a walled courtyard, so we can get sun without seeing anyone else. Very Brad and Angelina.

The bathroom is huge, with a separate changing area, a tub, and a vanity so long I could spread out and sleep on it. The king bed is new, and I’ve been in Manhattan movie theaters with smaller screens than the Samsung TV in the living room.

Not that all is perfect. The shower head is in serious need of an upgrade — it won’t stay up and is aimed at my elbow. Also some of the furniture, like the rickety coffee table and the overstuffed and uncomfortable couch, need rethinking.

The ambience is quiet-quiet-quiet, and you’ll rarely see other guests — perfect for Hollywood entertainment types avoiding autograph seekers. The foliage would be a paparazzi’s worst nightmare.

Party Place

If you’re looking to import a party, your best bet is to bring two other couples and spring for the Hacienda, the original 1970s brick house with three bedrooms and its own courtyard and swimming pool, which goes for $5,000 a night.

Rancho Valencia started its life as a tennis getaway, and still has 18 courts, with available instruction. It also offers privileges to several golf courses nearby. Torrey Pines is a short drive away.

Our aspirations are less industrious. We make for the 10,000-square-foot spa, a recent addition, which also has its share of private outdoor hot tubs and hideaway niches. The service is excellent.

Afterward, we want to be outside, and have a choice of two pools. While the modest spa pool has a few other couples around, the larger one is ours alone both days we go there, with tall palm trees on either side and thick shrubbery lending shade.

As we lie listening to the sound of nothing, I feel briefly guilty. We’re in California, after all. Should we go down to the beach later and see what’s going on?

We look at each other. Maybe tomorrow.

Rancho Valencia; 5921 Valencia Circle, Rancho Santa Fe, California, 92067. Information: +1-858-756-1123;

The Bloomberg Questions

Best amenity? The privacy and absolute serenity.

Service? Mostly unseen, and therefore ideal.

Food? It’s a Relais & Chateaux property and the new chef, C. Barclay Dodge, lives up to expectations with his “coastal ranch” style.

Bathrooms? Big and cushy enough to nap in.

Spa? New and well appointed, with great therapists. Recommended.

Price? From $395 a night.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos and travel for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at