Rosewood Miramar Beach | Montecito, CA

The mere mention of Santa Barbara, California conjures up images of sunshine, pristine beaches lined with Palm trees, lavish Mediterranean-style homes and the beautiful people and celebrities that live inside of them. This appeal has long enticed visitors to this area and, as such, resorts have been stepping up to the demand by providing upscale accommodations and a portal into this luxurious lifestyle…even if only for a weekend.

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Allegretto Vineyard Resort | Paso Robles, CA

When someone mentions the California Wine Country, I’m pretty sure Napa Valley is the first place that comes to mind for most people. However as some wine lovers are aware, there has been a quiet evolution going on in California’s Central Coast for the past decade or so that is offering a viable alternative to Napa Valley…if you are not already aware of this area, let me acquaint you with the Paso Robles Wine Region.

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The Paso Robles Wine Region is located approximately equal distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles and is home to more than 200 wineries, most of which are family owned and operated, and has the perfect climate for producing award-winning premium wines. The Paso Robles AVA {American Viticultural Area, a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States} is acknowledged for its wide range of grape varietals including ZinfandelBordeauxCabernet Sauvignon, and most recently the Rhône varieties, including the first Syrah planted in California. Paso Robles is also receiving recognition for its original Paso blends that are unique to the area.

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Belmond El Encanto | Santa Barbara, CA

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Discretely nestled in the foothills overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean you will find an enchanting hideaway called the Belmond El Encanto. This property exudes glamour and elegance in an understated manner and offers a sophisticated comfort that is captivating from the moment you arrive.

The Property

The property has a vast history with the original craftsman-style cottages being built in 1912 to serve as housing for students and faculty in the area. In 1918, the property and cottages were converted into a hotel to serve the growing tourism market. In addition to the original craftsman-style cottages that still occupy the property today, several Spanish Revival style cottages were built on the property over the years which explains why the property has two distinct architectural styles.

@2016 Susan Edel

In 2004, the property was sold to the Orient-Express Hotel Group {now known as Belmond Hotels}, based in large part on their reputation for restoring historic properties. After a seven year and 130+million dollar renovation, the hotel re-opened its doors and is currently (2016) the only Forbes Five Star hotel in Santa Barbara.

The serene grounds consist of seven lush acres of mature plantings which include some Eucalyptus trees originally planted in the 1870’s. As you stroll down the brick walkways between the bungalows, you can’t help but be enraptured by the hanging foliage from the trees, colorful Bougainvillea, dense plantings, water features…and, oh yes, the glistening Pacific blue ocean beyond.

An arbor covered with 100-year-old Wisteria vines and a lily pond are located toward the front of the resort and is used for special events. During my stay, the area was set up for a wedding. It was quite romantic with the chairs flanking each side of the lily pond and the altar set up under the arbor…and the resident ducks don’t seem to mind the visitors.

Check-In

On arrival, you are greeted by the valet who escorts you into the main building. Upon entering, there is a small, nondescript front desk where the business of check-in is quickly conducted…and then you turn around.

As you move past the entrance, your eyes feast upon what I can only describe as a warm and inviting, upscale residential-style living area. One corner of the large room is a cozy area with rich, dark wood-paneled walls, a cushioned reading nook and an alluring fireplace; while the larger area is bright with white wood-paneled walls, small conversation seating areas and floor to ceiling glass paneled doors that fold back to expose the large outdoor patio and crystal blue ocean beyond. It feels sophisticated and decadent, as well as warm and comfortable all at once. I found it extremely welcoming.

Guest Rooms

The guest rooms are a unique aspect of this resort and what makes the property so desirable. There are 92 units {70 bungalows + 22 suites} scattered throughout the 7-acre property, ranging from standard bungalows to specialty suites {too many different categories to describe, click {here} for descriptions}. Some of the units are stand-alone, while others might have several units attached or an upper and lower unit.

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The bungalows each have their own characteristics and charm, some still have the original 1920 era fireplace surround and offer unique details that give the rooms their abundant charm. All bungalows are designed in a clean, contemporary style with the same upscale residential feel as the lobby. The renovated bathrooms are large and most with double sinks, large rain shower-heads and tubs, along with radiant-heated floors and luxury amenities. Plush robes and slippers are provided and the quality of the fluffy cotton towels feel quite indulgent.

Each guest is welcomed with a complimentary bottle of wine from one of the local wineries. In general, a white wine is offered in the Spring/Summer season and a red wine is offered in the fall/winter season. Each room offers a coffee maker, mini-bar amenities and complimentary wi-fi.

I stayed in room #2601, which is a spacious unit located on the lower level of a two-story bungalow. The room is bright with two sets of French doors and a patio. A seating area in front of the fireplace creates a cozy place to relax. I would definitely recommend this bungalow as I liked its size and location; and although I was on the bottom level, I didn’t hear anyone walking around upstairs, I only heard them when they came down the exterior stairs.

Other units that are highly requested are the Hummingbird {#1001} and Wishing Well bungalows {#1201/#1202 ~ there really is a historic wishing well on property}, as well as the Oaktree Suite which arguably offers the most private setting on the property. Bungalow #401 has a large private deck and an original circa 1920 fireplace surround that I thought was charming.

Something to note is that due to how the bungalows are situated on the property, most bungalows have garden views, with a select few bungalows offering peeks of the ocean. I did not have an ocean view but I found the garden views very pleasant. A hammock near the wishing well looked quite inviting for a nap or a leisure read, but unfortunately for me, I never made it there.

Dining

Dining at El Encanto is a pleasurable experience for both hotel guests and locals alike. The Dining Room offers an elegant indoor setting for a more refined dining experience, offering California-coastal cuisine paired with a sophisticated wine list.

@2016 Susan Edel

The Terrace offers spectacular ocean views and outdoor seating for a relaxed atmosphere and has an inviting ambiance with lamp-style heaters, sophisticated outdoor furniture, friendly service, and is a perfect place to plant yourself for a leisurely evening of lively conversation, or maybe a romantic tête-à-tête. But let’s not kid ourselves, the lead attraction here is the stunning view of the Santa Barbara harbor and Pacific Ocean beyond.

For a light meal, The Bar offers appetizers and a limited menu. Live music is performed on Friday and Saturday nights.

A special treat offered each day at El Encanto is the Afternoon Tea located at The Lounge. Enjoy scrumptious pastries and scones made from scratch while sharing special time with friends or family. This is such a perfect way to celebrate a special occasion or enjoy some one-on-one time with your favorite person. Reservations are recommended.

In-room dining is an option as well. As much as I enjoyed dining on the terrace, and as much as I wanted to explore the local eateries, I had brought my girlfriend on this trip and quite honestly, sometimes you just want to curl yourself up in a comfy robe, kick your feet up and chat the night away. It felt quite self-indulgent!

Spa

As you enter the spa reception, the elegant design is quite impressive with its soothing colors, marbled walls, and delicate orchids throughout. The full-service spa offers seven treatment rooms as well as one couple’s room with a vast array of treatments including water therapies for a full pampering and relaxation experience.

All hotel guests are welcome to use the spa facilities including the relaxation lounge, steam rooms, and showers at no additional cost. The spa is open to the public for day use, so do make reservations for any treatments you desire.

This elegant spa is a perfect way to relax and rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul.

El Encanto also offers a state-of-the-art Fitness Studio with treadmills, exercise bikes, and ellipticals for those who cannot miss their cardio workout.

The saline pool is perfect in its simplistic elegance. The beauty is in the exceptional and vast ocean view beyond. Sitting at a certain angle, it may even feel that the pool spills into the Pacific Ocean. The pool is open year-round with cabana service on the weekends. A perfect way to spend a lazy day on the American Riviera.

Activities

There are endless possibilities for staying active throughout your trip in the Santa Barbara area. Starting at the resort, here are a few of the top activities that come to mind:

Bike Riding: The resort lends their guests complimentary regular or electric bikes, the electric bikes are a nice perk with the surrounding hilly terrain. I had never ridden an electric bike before and I found this such an enjoyable way to see the Mission and ride around the surrounding neighborhood with such ease. It was quite pleasurable. A bike ride to State Street or the beach, approximately 1 mile away, is a popular excursion as well.

Tennis/Golf: For tennis and golf enthusiasts, the El Encanto will make arrangements for you to play at a local club.

Shopping: A visit to State Street is a must when visiting Santa Barbara. State Street is lined with both unique shops and national brand stores, restaurants, galleries and much more. This is a fun way to get a feel for the city and spend the day. For additional excursions, visit the quaint and charming towns of Montecito and Summerland for adorable shops and restaurants.

Old Mission Santa Barbara: The historic Old Mission Santa Barbara is a highly regarded attraction for this area. Founded in 1786, the mission’s magnificent architecture makes quite a statement and the collections of colonial-era art, sculptures, artifacts and gardens are worthy of your time.

Wineries: Santa Barbara’s growing wine region is becoming a destination in itself. There are numerous tours offered or drive yourself around this beautiful region and explore the local wineries {listed here}.

Beach: And of course, there’s always the beach. Santa Barbara has a long stretch of sandy white beach perfect for spending the day playing in the surf and building sand castles.

As an added convenience for transportation, the resort has a house van and offers their guest complimentary rides within a five-mile radius.

Summary

This property is truly a five-star retreat without any pomp and pretense. It’s a secluded hideaway that feels more like staying in a luxurious guest house than at a hotel. This resort has a casual elegance that is warm and inviting, and yet feels like a decadent splurge.

The property is child-friendly but in my opinion, it feels better situated for adults. I think this property would be an ideal romantic get-a-away, girl’s spa vacation, family or friends reunion site or even a business retreat. Fido is also welcome as this is a pet-friendly resort.

For a secluded retreat offering sheer luxury and spacious comfort, I think you will find this sanctuary a pleasant escape from the ordinary.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn | Sonoma, CA

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, located in the Sonoma Wine Region of California, is a unique property that sits atop a natural, thermal mineral spring that was discovered by the Native Americans in the early 1800’s.

The Native Americans considered this site sacred healing grounds and as word spread over the years, a hotel was developed and people began to visit the property to “take-in the waters”. The thermal mineral spring is still active and a defining spa element at the hotel to this day.

@2016 Susan Edel

While this property is no longer the newest and trendiest resort in the Sonoma/Napa wine region, there is something to be said about a resort whose history runs deep and who has earned their rightful stature over the decades as a destination spa resort. There is a respective grandeur to the property that can only be derived through time due to a commitment to quality and service. This hotel’s allure is its rich heritage and to this day, is one of the only luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water.

Property

The California Mission style architecture of the main building, built in 1927 after a fire destroyed the original structure, has a serene and tranquil ambiance that is echoed throughout the property.

A historic water tower with a beautiful scrolled SMI monogram stands proudly over the main building. The beautiful and inviting lobby has great detail in the large wood beamed ceilings, carved corbels, wrought iron light fixtures and large fireplace.

Although the resort is located only a mile from downtown Sonoma, the beautiful grounds along with the large majestic trees that inhabit this property create a private oasis that makes you feel as though you are in an isolated sanctuary. Once you enter the resort, there is no need to go beyond as it offers a state-of-the-art spa, gift shop, afternoon wine-tasting, and Michelin rated restaurant…although the charm of Sonoma’s downtown square should not be missed.

Guest Rooms

@2016 Susan EdelThe Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn {SMI} offers 226 rooms with most of them still utilizing the hotel’s original antique headboards.

As a complimentary welcome to each guest, a bottle of  Trinity Oaks Wine is placed in each room. This is not only a nice gesture for the SMI guest but it’s also a nice gesture for the environment as Trinity Oaks plants one tree for every bottle of wine purchased. This is one of the ways SMI maintains it’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Love it! That’s a win-win in my book.

The resort offers a variety of accommodations, ranging from the quaint Fairmont Rooms to the Signature Suites located throughout the property.

The Fairmont Rooms are located in the main historic building along with the Lobby, 38 North Bar and Santé Restaurant. These rooms are considered the entry level rooms on property. They have been nicely renovated and are the smallest in size, there are no balcony rooms but some do have fireplaces.

Something to keep in mind with these rooms is that there are some rooms on the first floor in this building that are located by the entrance and have windows facing the walkway to the lobby where all guests arrive and walk in and out of the lobby. If you are someone who appreciates a little more privacy, I might suggest asking for a second floor room. Otherwise, consider upgrading your room to a Deluxe category located in some of the separate buildings on property. See description of the guest rooms {here}.

@2016 Susan EdelI stayed in an ample Deluxe room located in one of the separate buildings on the third floor with a small balcony facing the foothills. My room faced toward the front entrance but it was set back enough which made for a pleasant setting {room 361} and I found it quite peaceful. The rooms are clean and the interior design is stylish in keeping with a historic property.

There are 60 suites on property ranging from Junior suites to Signature One-Bedroom suites. The suites are scattered throughout the property located in a quiet and serene setting. The suites are very nicely decorated and have a lot of charm and character.

My favorite suite is the Mission Suite elegantly decorated with a four-poster king size bed, separate seating area with a wood burning fireplace and a two-person oversized jacuzzi tub. All of these suites feature patios or balconies with French doors, arched doorways and Saltillo tile accents. See descriptions of all suites {here}.

This hotel has a very pet-friendly policy, providing dog beds and other amenities for your furry friends, so feel free to bring them {pet fee applied}. I will admit that this is one of the main draws for me because of how accommodating the staff is and the roomy grounds…the concierge even arranged for a dog sitter {additional cost} to take care of my dogs one day while I was away from the resort. It was very convenient and quite comforting knowing that my dogs were being cared for.

WiFi is provided throughout the resort and in-room at no cost to Fairmont President’s Club members {Fairmont’s Luxury Loyalty Program}. It’s a free program so be sure to sign up before your stay to take advantage of all the benefits it offers.

All rooms offer a coffee maker with an assortment of complimentary coffee and teas, and a mini-bar {at cost}. Complimentary coffee is also offered each morning in the lobby.

Dining

There are several dining options on property.

Breakfast/Lunch: The Big 3 Cafe offers hearty style meals for breakfast and lunch. Located on the corner of the Inn’s ground, this is a local favorite as well. Apparently their lemon pancakes are a must! Casual attire.

Late Lunch/Evening: The 38º North Lounge located off the lobby offers small plate dishes for a lite fare, mid-afternoon through the evening. I ordered a few small plates and made a dinner meal out of them. The full service bar also serves over 50 varieties of wine by glass. Casual attire.

Dinner: Santé Restaurant, a Michelin rated restaurant, is the Inn’s premier dining room serving local produce, meats, poultry and seafood. Wine Country Casual attire. Reservations recommended.

Other Options include the seasonal poolside dining at The Water Tower, Sonoma Golf Club Grill and In-Room dining that can be delivered to your room or anywhere on property. I had lunch one day delivered to a seating area in the lobby ~ a great way to relax and people watch.

Spa/Fitness/Activities

The heart and soul of this property is the 40,000 sq. ft. Willow Stream Spa which has been rated among Travel & Leisure’s top 25 spas. You know you are at a true destination spa when you see more guests walking around in their snuggly, white cotton robes and rubber slippers than in street clothes.

Today, the spa has developed into a first class destination which includes approximately 25 treatment rooms, mind and body health sessions, the bathhouse, salon and fitness center. This location is now one of the only luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water.

The majority of the spa’s public spaces, treatment waiting area and bathhouse is co-ed. There is a comfortable seating area in the waiting room with a fireplace, and a healthy snack bar. The co-ed bathhouse is just off the main seating area and offers mineral water sitting pools, steam and sauna rooms, and exfoliating showers. There are separate locker rooms for the men and women.

Along with the indoor bathhouse, there is a large resort pool, and two outdoor mineral pools. One of the mineral pools is known as the Watsu Pool where you can book a wonderful floating massage. Even if you don’t get the massage, I highly recommend just floating in it for awhile. The water temperature is kept in the mid 90’s and music is piped in under the water. Float sticks are available and this was one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had. I honestly would have slept there if I could have.

@2016 Susan Edel

There is a complimentary fitness center for all guests offering weights, exercise bicycles and treadmills along with the option of booking personal training sessions, yoga classes and more.

Complimentary guided hikes are offered daily throughout the picturesque Sonoma Valley foothills. The resort also loans bikes on a complimentary first come/first serve basis to guests which is a perfect way to head downtown to the Sonoma Square for lunch and some shopping. For the more serious bike enthusiast, scenic Sonoma Valley bike tours through the Wine Country can be booked for an additional fee.

You forgot your workout gear you say…well no worries, with the Fairmont Fit program and as a member of Fairmont President’s Club, guests have complimentary access to Reebok workout gear and footwear, which is delivered directly to the guest room for use in-room, in the gym or to enjoy in the great outdoors. 

Disclosure: The resort does not charge a resort feehowever, there is a $39 charge to use the spa mineral pools and bathhouse unless you book a spa treatment. In my opinion, it’s worth it because you can use the steam room, sauna, minerals pools, and other spa amenities. The outdoor resort pool is available to all guests.

Tennis/Golf

For tennis and golf, SMI guests have access to one of the oldest, private membership clubs in California, the Sonoma Golf Club.  The use of this club is exclusive to its members and Fairmont guests only.

Unique to Property

Aside from all of the above, this resort also offers:

Wine tasting every night hosted by a different winery in the Lobby from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm.

A car service is available to drive guests to the downtown Sonoma Square for a meal or shopping.

Summary

You have many choices when visiting the Napa/Sonoma wine country, so what is the draw of this property over some of the others ones in the area?

Well, this is a true destination spa resort with its own thermal mineral waters, the resort is steeped in history and has been operating under the Fairmont brand since the 1990’s offering personalized service that has been consistent for decades, not to mention that any hotel that has been operating for a century or more speaks for itself.

If you are looking to treat yourself to a nice escape and to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation, as well as being in the midst of the charming Sonoma Valley, this property is a great choice. New and trendy can be nice, but a resort rich in history offers a warmth and comfort that can only be earned over time.

Property Fact Sheet

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The Quaint Charm of San Juan Bautista

Located just an hour south of bustling Silicon Valley, CA is the quaint city of San Juan Bautista. This charming little town has managed to maintain its humble origins and has respectfully preserved its history and authenticity.

You won’t find trendy stores and Michelin Star restaurants but you will find a town steeped in history, filled with heart and reflective of the people who live here. Small antique stores, art galleries, gift shops along with a few restaurants line the half~mile long main strip of town.

One of the main reasons why this town holds a special place in my heart is because of the historic Mission San Juan Bautista.

@2016 Susan Edel

I adore the California Missions and this is one of my favorite missions because much of the original structure remains and it is the largest California mission church and the only one with three aisles.

@2016 Susan Edel

Musical arts were taught here and the mission owned many instruments. As you tour the mission, heavenly monk style music is piped throughout the corridor creating a serene ambiance. {Click on first image to see slideshow}

A little fun fact: In the fall of 1957, scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1957 production of the movie Vertigo starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes was filmed around the mission.

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Story board rendering for Vertigo.

When in town, be sure to have lunch or dinner at Jardines de San Juan Mexican restaurant. If you’re a fan of beef burritos, their “People’s Choice” burrito is a must!

@2016 Susan Edel

I come to this town sometimes when I want to feel grounded, grateful, and connected. This is the type of place that feeds your soul, not your ego…and I wouldn’t want it any other way.