spa break: la costa

la costa spa

In what has become a cherished January tradition, I’m ducking into the spa at La Costa for a day of steam, massage, lunch, and sunning myself under the orange trees. Wake me when the cold snap in the northeast is done and dusted, please. Then again, don’t bother.

spa pool

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burning off the morning frost

everything’s better with fish tacos

A friend of mine suggested lunch at Georges at the Cove for some of the best views in La Jolla, an artsy enclave along the Pacific that’s only about ten minutes away from La Costa. What he neglected to mention is that they also do a mean fish taco, too.

playing with fire

BlueFire Grill is by far one of highlights at La Costa. Under the assured hand of Chef de Cuisine, Greg Frey, the casually upmarket restaurant serves a more modern take on locally inspired cuisine –  emphasizing seafood and seasonality. Baja Ceviche is a standout, mixing halibut, stone crab, and persian cucumber in a carrot and citrus reduction. So, too, is the Fritto Misto, enlivened with a togarashi-flecked crust and smoked garlic remoulade. Pacific Chinook Salmon is as you’d expect: crisp-skinned and perfectly cooked. The addition of cauliflower sauce and a winter squash gratin turn the dish into the SoCal equivalent of comfort food – as perfect for a chilly January night as a favorite cashmere sweater. (Special diets are surprisingly well-served, too: almost half the menu is either vegan or vegetarian while nearly everything can be prepared gluten-free.) Dessert doesn’t disappoint either. A chocolate caramel creme fraiche tart is decadent and rich, while two scoops of blackberry Cabernet sorbet make for a refreshing end to the meal – as well as a clean finish on the palate.

lounging at la costa

For all the time I’ve spent taking up space in spas around the world, I must admit I’ve never quite understood the practice of spending a full day at the spa. Until La Costa, that is. The Spanish mission-style resort just north of San Diego in Carlsbad, California was once the first of its kind: a lifestyle resort, where the concept of well-being was at the heart of the guest experience. Ok people, it was a fat farm. But what really distinguished the village-like ambience at La Costa – aside from the celebrities who trekked down the coast from Hollywood – was the innovative spa. A resort within a resort, the spa was more in keeping with the design of a European spa retreat, complete unto itself. When it opened in the mid-1960’s La Costa Spa was the largest in the world, housed on its own private 22-acre spread which accommodated an unbelievable 150 guests at a time. That heyday has since evaporated and now – following a $50 million dollar renovation – the resort caters more to families than fatties, yet there’s still more than a quantum of solace to be found in the thoroughly new spa. The 28,000 square feet of indoor treatment space is complemented by a 15,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard, where a heated lounge pool, Roman waterfall massage pool and reflexology path round out the offerings. Notoriously distracted and prone to boredom, I managed to while away an entire workday without even blinking. Stumbling in bleary-eyed and just a little bit hung over I first took the water cure – an invigorating circuit of steam, cold plunge, and jacuzzi – before grabbing my book and heading to pool for some sun. And a nap. By the time I woke up it was time for lunch. While waiting for mango quinoa cups with grilled chicken and a glass of organic Sauvignon Blanc in the adjoining Spa Cafe, I decided to investigate the curious stone path winding through the fragrant herb garden. A reflexology expert on property consulted on the choice and placement of coastal stones from the nearby Pacific beach interspersed with other local stones of different shapes and sizes. Walking the path – one of only a few in the US, by the way – provides a deep-working stimulation of pressure points in the feet, encouraging vital energy and blood flow throughout the body. Curiosity satisfied, hunger sated – yes, I had dessert, too – the moment had come for daydreams and digesting in the warmth of the California sun. A scant five hours after my arrival came the purported reason for my visit: the Tea-Tox Trio, a mix of organic rosemary, cypress, lime and geranium oils designed to energize the lymphatic system and encourage metabolism. To get your blood going it starts with a bracing sugar scrub, followed by a clay body wrap to promote circulation. Next you sit in a hydro-massage tub for a green tea soak that stimulates cellular drainage. Invigorated, the treatment ends with an application of lotion that will leave you refreshed and hydrated. Or in my case, wondering where the day went – and ready for dinner.

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