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From the Archives: When North County Was "San Diego's Resort Country"

In March 1990, North County San Diego was teeming with resorts, French cuisine, and tennis courts


This month we’re publishing “Best of North County,” our annual ode to cool new businesses and innovative restaurants north of the 56. But even as recent as March 1990, North County was considered simply “San Diego’s resort country” by this very magazine. Bill Owens visited six properties, from Pala Mesa Resort to Rancho Bernardo Inn, for his article “The North Side of Paradise.” In those days, it was all about serving French cuisine and opening fitness centers—plus tennis, tennis, and more tennis. But as the word “staycation” had yet to enter our lexicon, area residents were still discovering these hotels.

“There’s been an increasing amount of local people who are just now finding out about us,” says La Costa Hotel and Spa’s resident medical director, Dr. A. Gordon Reynolds. “La Costa’s been some sort of a mystique sitting here, this highly exclusive place they didn’t even think about going to.” At the spa, Reynolds was interested in helping “fight that 20th-century scourge” known as stress. He named his weeklong “educational vacation” the “Life Fitness Program” and offered instruction on everything from interpersonal communication to food-label reading (labels on all packaged foods were first required by law that same year). Larry King was a graduate of the program, as was one of the producers of Alf.

Now known as the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, in 1990 the Carlsbad property was a symbol of “wealth, privacy and sybaritic splendor.” Tennis pro Pancho Segura was enamored of the ritzy clientele. Pointing to a heliport behind the spa, he chuckled, “This is not a poor-man’s resort. I mean, people who are only in the $50,000 bracket, I don’t think can afford it. You have to be in the $75,000 or $100,000 bracket, at least.” (That’s $97,800, $146,700, and $195,600 in today’s dollars. The heliport is no longer there.)

“John Gardiner’s, anyone?” Owens says. “A tennis player’s paradise opened last year in Rancho Santa Fe. It’s John Gardiner’s Rancho Valencia Resort, a magnificent encampment in the coastal hills, where one can prepare for Wimbledon or just lay back and loosen the old strings a little.” The tennis tradition continues today at Rancho Valencia, where two-time US Open champion Robin White leads the program and where they just added two new red ClayTech tennis courts. John Gardiner is long gone, and developer Harry Collins passed away last year.

At the time of the article, Four Seasons Resort Aviara had been under construction since 1988, but Owens reports that the plan was to open in 1992 and feature a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer—it’s now the Park Hyatt Aviara, site of our April 14 Best of North County party. Should be a volley good time!

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