SAN DIEGO -- For as beautiful as it is during the day time, The Grand Del Mar casts an even bolder spell at night.
The third hole of The Grand Golf Club is lit up, just in case you forgot how scenic the surrounding Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve is during daylight. The landscaping and water fountain off the lobby terrace glow with spotlights directed upon them.
Shadows dance in the luxurious Lobby Lounge, where bookend fireplaces illuminate the scene. The resort's night spots, the Amaya restaurant and its nearby bar, are subtly lit for ambiance.
An outdoor fire pit outside my guest room served as my final resting spot, where I hunkered down with a drink in hand. It was dark, secluded, peaceful and, true to southern California, I was still very comfy wearing shorts.
"Once you stay here, it's hard to go anywhere else," said my neighbor, who was rounding up her children for the night.
It's a grand life when visiting Grand Del Mar, a five-star retreat that opened in October 2007. I spent less than 18 hours on property during my brief visit this summer, and I'm already itching to return.
The Grand Del Mar: The resort
The architecture of the resort gives off the vibe of an immaculate Mediterranean escape, all just 12 miles north of San Diego and five miles from the shimmering beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
The resort pays tribute to the indelible architecture of Addison Mizner, a turn-of-the-century visionary who defined the south Florida resort communities of Palm Beach and Boca Raton in the 1920s. Mizner viewed architecture as a seamless integration of buildings, decor and landscaping.
This emphasis on melding the indoors and outdoors takes center stage at Grand Del Mar, where endless marble floors and columns and statues, meandering walkways, sweeping staircases and arches, inspiring artwork and outdoor gathering spaces truly inspire. The 249 rooms and suites are palaces of comfort, home to flat screens, European soaking tubs and fine-threaded linens.
No detail is left to chance. When families check in, children get their pick of toys from a treasure chest. The five-star service continues throughout the stay. Parents can drop their children at the Explorer's Club, a fun zone where children can thrive while they explore the resort's many offerings.
The Renaissance-themed, 21,000-square-foot Spa at The Grand Del Mar gleans resources of the flora and fauna from the canyon preserve for certain treatments. The lockers feature relaxation rooms with a stone fireplace, steam and sauna areas, European-style wet rooms, an indoor Jacuzzi with a shared outdoor Jacuzzi and an expansive spa pool.
The Grand Del Mar: The restaurant
The Addison, inside the sprawling 50,000-square-foot Mediterranean golf clubhouse, is southern California's only Five-Star/Five-Diamond restaurant. Chef William Bradley whips up contemporary French cuisine that has few equals.
The elegant Amaya, situated in a more-casual setting below the lobby just off an outdoor courtyard, delivers a menu every bit as wonderful. An outdoor fireplace warms those who dine on the patio. The duo of beef, a petit filet and slow-braised short rib with sweet cipollini onions and red-wine jus, is dynamite.
Back at the clubhouse, Club M is part restaurant, part sports bar and part nightclub with live music at night. Breakfast and lunch are offered daily. Start the day with a hearty breakfast of steak and eggs or huevos rancheros.
For another taste of the good life, the library serves up afternoon tea Sunday through Friday.
The Grand Del Mar: The golf
Tom Fazio's Grand Golf Club opened in 1999 as a part of the Meadows Del Mar, a private residential community of 134 home sites. The course was sold in 2003. Three years later, in 2006, it re-opened after a renovation and was branded The Grand.
The redesign added shorter forward red tees for women and transformed the par-4 16th into a par 5 by adding 115 yards. The biggest change came at No. 18, where a cascading waterfall feeds a stream below an elevated green. The dramatic water features not only add beauty but tougher shot values to finish the round.
Overall, Fazio's 7,160-yard layout plays forgiving with wide fairways, yet his approaches tighten the screws, demanding more accuracy to pure-rolling greens.
The luxury carts are stockpiled with complimentary water and yardage books and Laser Link range finders. Forecaddies are available and well worth the investment. (Mine was a pro who moonlights on the LPGA Tour and helped me shoot one of my better rounds of the year.)
The area's PGA Tour pros tend to pop in when other exclusive country clubs are closed. Some local hacker named Phil Mickelson lit up the course record with a smooth 63.
The high green fees, which top out at $250, ensure a private round, although more affordable rates are available. Teenagers pay half the daily rate, and children under age 12 play free with a paying adult. Twilight rates include complimentary Titleist rental clubs.
The Grand Golf Performance Academy boasts seven acres of practice area and cutting-edge techniques, such as SAM PuttLab, K-Vest 3-D technology and online digital video analysis, at its disposal. Most recently, a 2,000-square-foot Titleist Junior Performance Center was added, as well as a new expansive golf pavilion designed to accommodate group clinics, meetings and presentations. Special clinics are held regularly.
Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, ranked first and second in Golf Digest’s Top 50 Women Teachers, run VISION54, an exclusive three-day seminar. The Dave Pelz Scoring Game School, designed to improve scoring skills such as chipping and putting, is available from time to time as well.
The Grand Del Mar: Recreation
With 37 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, Los Penasquitos (Spanish for "little cliffs") Canyon Preserve has long been known for its rugged beauty and varied natural resources.
Midway down the canyon is a boulder-studded waterfall -- the only one of its kind within San Diego City limits -- which cascades through volcanic rock. Guests can go hiking, jogging or walking on the three trails surrounding the resort. Horseback rides and lessons are available at the new equestrian center, which opened in March 2011.
Families that want to stick together can relax at the resort's outdoor pool overlooking the golf course, or parents can sneak away to their own adult-only pool. The beach shuttle to Del Mar's 18th Street Beach runs complimentary and includes chairs, towels and bottled water. A complimentary town car is available to transport guests anywhere within 14 miles of the resort.
Free resort programs offer more than just a family movie night. Yoga for children and wild-wonders animal visits were available during my stay in August.
More exotic adventures -- kayaking the seven caves of La Jolla, snorkeling, a daily sunset sail, surf lessons and even a Segway tour of La Jolla -- can be set up through the resort and provided by an outside vendor.