HANKER FOR AN ISLAND GETAWAY? Technically, Coronado isn’t an island. But an isthmus is close enough—and close at hand. Unlike a typical tropical-island getaway, Coronado is accessible by car or ferry. Still, the protective waters of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay keep the stresses of urban life far away. And just a few miles down the Silver Strand, Loews Coronado Bay Resort—with its lush surroundings, delectable dining and extensive spa offerings—banishes citified concerns.
Since opening on its 15-acre site in 1991, Loews has offered an oasis of relaxation, and recent innovations enhance the ambience. Take the dining. Loews keeps abreast of changing tastes and trends and has always offered superb menu selections. Its chefs not only are in step with the low-carb troops, they’re marching ahead of the pack. With consultation from San Diego Magazine food writer Jeanne Jones, chef de cuisine Martin Batis has created menus based on the color wheel. Dishes in Loews’ restaurants—particularly its acclaimed Azzura Point—feature foods in one of the basic colors. Easy, of course, with such shades as red, green and yellow; more challenging with purple and blue (think blueberries).
It’s not just a gimmick. Menu descriptions are accompanied by explanations of how the colored foods benefit the body. Not only do you get healthy, savory meals, you get an education in nutrition. Yellow foods, we learn, are rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, bioflavonoids and beta cryptothanxin—important to a healthy immune system. You don’t, however, have to know any of that to realize the ingredients please the tongue.
THOSE SPECIALTIES take good care of the body’s interior. For the exterior, there’s a tasty menu of treatments featured at Loews Sea Spa, with 15 private areas, including four outdoors and a couple’s suite. Opened in December 2003 under Michael Santonino, the Sea Spa also comprises a salon and large fitness center with a marina view. Spa offerings include various massages, facials, glycolic and Vichy treatments, waxing and specialties geared to teens and men.
The pinnacle, for male or female, is the watsu, a shiatsu massage that’s administered in bodytemperature water. Floats around your calves keep your lower body bobbing while practitioner Tania Popov twists, swirls and rubs your body into Nirvana. The experience makes it virtually impossible to retain tension or thoughts, and you’re likely to feel as if you’ve slipped into another dimension, with your body as liquid as its surroundings.
After wallowing in a watsu, you’ll probably bliss out for a while. Then, if you want to get active, you can rent a bicycle or Jet Ski, or go for a hike along the walkable and scenic Silver Strand. Or you can indulge your senses some more and take your partner for a romantic gondola ride, complete with champagne and a singing gondolier, amid the Coronado Cays.
Watsu, wine and song—the new perfect triple play.
IF YOU GO
Loews Coronado Bay Resort (619-424-4000) is at 4000 Coronado Bay Road. Daily room rates range from $219- $420; some include meals. Hourly massages range from $90 (reflexology) to $160 (watsu). Facials and treatments start at $100 an hour. For more information, go to loewshotels.com/ hotels/sandiego/.
SO YOU THINK OF RIVERSIDE as a place you pass on the way to Las Vegas or Palm Springs? Get ready to reconsider. The city’s downtown, like San Diego’s, has been revitalized. And the centerpiece, boasting its own update, is the Mission Inn.
The inn, more than a century old and designated a national and state historical landmark, is worth a sojourn even if you don’t do anything but tour the beautiful building and grounds. But after you’ve soaked in the ambience of the old, you may want to treat yourself to the new—Kelly’s Spa, opened last spring and named for the wife of inn owner Duane Roberts.
The spa offers a wide range of superb massages, treatments and facials amid elegant surroundings. The Tuscany-themed, 4,000-square-foot area encompasses five treatment rooms and two villas that, according to spa director Travis Anderson, cost more than $300,000 apiece to construct. The expenditure shows in the décor, shimmering with the richness of imported marble, tiles and sinks. Attention to detail shows throughout, with such touches as the eucalyptus vapor pumped into the hallway leading from the street to the spa, hinting of soothing aromas to come. No matter how posh the ambience, however, the true test of a spa is how it makes you feel. The massage I had was excellent, therapeutic as well as relaxing, and the facial—my first ever—convinced me that there might just be something to this metrosexual lifestyle.
AFTER HAVING SEVERAL SENSES STIMULATED, you can indulge others by dining in one of the inn’s three fine restaurants, headed by the fourdiamond Duane’s Prime Seafood & Steaks. Also on site are Las Campanas, which features creative versions of Mexican food (and a delicious variety of Margaritas), and the Mission Inn Coffee Company, a muchmore- than-coffee café.
The inn has a checkered history. It began in 1876 as an adobe ranch house, then in 1903 it was enlarged and turned into a hotel. Despite the name, it never was a mission but was constructed in the Mission Revival style by Frank Miller, a marketing genius who wanted his inn to emphasize California history. Miller was also a small-scale William Randolph Hearst, accumulating art and artifacts from his travels and putting most of them into his inn. Unfortunately, he was a horrible recordkeeper; thus the histories of many objects and why they’re placed where they are remain mysteries. Docents from the nearby Mission Inn Museum, who lead tours, offer their best explanations but often retreat to “We just don’t know.” It’s fun to explore the inn, with its circular staircases, intricate passageways and open courtyards. It even has catacombs, originally created so guests could walk to other downtown buildings without sweating in the Riverside heat. Currently the tunnels are closed to public tours but will be opened after a restoration. Above ground, Mission Inn is a popular place for weddings (more than 300 in 2003) with its two chapels. The largest, St. Francis, holds a magnificent altar constructed in Guanajuato, Mexico, then carefully brought across the border in pieces.
Each of the inn’s 239 rooms—28 are suites; several are two-story— is unique. They blend modern conveniences with such old-time features as high ceilings and heavy wooden doors. You might even imagine yourself quartered in a monastery. Except, of course, that monks can’t scoot down to a four-diamond restaurant or a luxurious spa.
IF YOU GO
The Mission Inn (888-326- 4448) is at 3649 Mission Inn Avenue in Riverside. Daily room rates range from $185 (deluxe) to $1,800 (the presidential suite). At Kelly’s Spa, a massage is $100 (55 minutes); a couple’s 80 minute massage is $280. Facials and treatments start at $25 for 15 minutes. For more information, go to missioninn.com.
I THOUGHT I’D SLIP OUT OF THE OFFICE midweek and cruise under the I-15 gridlock. No such luck. Leaving downtown at 4 p.m., I make it to the Pala Casino Resort & Spa after 5:30. That’s 50 miles in 90-plus minutes. I’m told when the interstate is clear, the drive time is cut in half. Be forewarned.
The resort has been open since April 2001. A recent expansion pumped $115 million into the 507-room property. The casino boasts 2,000 slot machines and 77 table games. There are eight restaurants—including the new Mama’s Cucina Italiana. And there’s a 10,000-square-foot spa. That’s the focus of this visit —but first, a few details that lead up to my two-hour Aromatic Body Envelopment treatment.
On this solo excursion to Pala, I-15 bums me out. At the turnoff for Highway 76, the drive becomes winding—but it’s pastoral and calming. Three buffalo—domesticated, it seems— are grazing inside a fence. And out of the very clear blue sky looms the hotel, which is just inside the reservation. The property aims to provide a Las Vegas gaming experience with California flair. If you’re going to make the trip, it does make sense to stay a day or two.
I can’t complain about the casino. A blackjack table with bent rules in favor of players allows me to leave the floor $100 richer. I give it back playing “Pala craps,” which uses playing cards that are triggered by a roll of dice—hence, this is a card game, and legal under state law. A similar colored-card strategy reigns at the roulette table—which is kind to me.
A highlight of my evening is dinner at Mama’s Cucina Italiana. Chef Luciano Cibelli runs the eatery—and has a hand in all facets. A very cool feature is a glass-encased showcase kitchen where fresh pasta is made daily. I gorge on lobster ravioli, tagliatelle Bolognese and some richly prepared lamb. Chef Luciano says Tony Bennett, after performing at the resort’s Pala Events Center, ate at Mama’s—and raved.
SIMILAR KUDOS GO to my Pala Spa attendant. Donna is kind and knowledgeable and mildly resembles Martha Stewart—only with a better smile and (fair to imagine) way better hands.
First, I am directed to take a quick bath in a hydrotherapy tub. Afterward, Donna begins my hours of joy with a full-body exfoliation using a mosaic body powder. Then I get a full-body wrap, while Donna massages my face and scalp. After an hour, I’m pointed to a shower, then it’s back to the table for another hour of massage.
The Aromatic Body Envelopment treatment comes in themes. You get to pick from relax (de-stress), flow (stimulate and energize), detox (detoxify and eliminate) and tonic (tone and regenerate). I’m pretty sure I picked the last one—but halfway into the massage I was so chilled out that Martha Stewart could have baked a cheesecake on my buns and it wouldn’t have registered. You know what’s the worst thing about a great massage?
The very second it ends.
The spa itself is pristine and unpretentious. There’s a retail boutique, salon, 14 treatment rooms and clean locker rooms. Vegas spas have much more to offer, but I’ve not seen an Indian casino that could match the likes of this.
The fitness center is relatively small but has a good variety of machines. An outdoor, egg-shaped pool is complemented by large, side-by-side Jacuzzis. There are also a dozen poolside cabañas. For $100, you can rent a cabaña, which comes with a 27- inch television, sofas and a stocked fridge.
As a destination resort, Pala is well-run, judging by attention to minor detail. I was particularly impressed that elevator rugs are changed throughout the day. Before noon, the rugs read “Good Morning and Good Luck.” Rugs with time-appropriate well-wishes are swapped out in the afternoon and evening.
Pala’s only curse may be that it’s location-challenged. Looking out from the 10th floor, I saw a very pretty view. Of nothing.
But if you’re a fan of Donna Summer (November 15) or the Brian Setzer Orchestra (December 16), consider catching the shows at the resort— and hanging around for a couple of days. Check traffic reports before proceeding.
IF YOU GO
Pala Casino Resort & Spa (877-946-7252) is at 11154 Highway 76, 15 miles north of Escondido. With a “Donna Summer Entertainment” package, rooms start at $184 and includes one concert ticket per person. At the Pala Spa (760-510-2189), a twohour Aromatic Body Envelopment is $210. For more info, go to palacasino.com.