Rancho Valencia is No. 2 resort in California, say Travel + Leisure readers

The Rancho Valencia’s Pony Room restaurant.
The Rancho Valencia’s Pony Room restaurant has an outdoor patio area and fire pits for al fresco dining.
(Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa)

Rancho Valencia, one of San Diego County’s most luxurious hotel properties, has been dubbed yet again the No. 2 resort hotel in California by the readers of Travel + Leisure.

The 45-acre resort in Rancho Santa Fe has the distinction of being the only San Diego County hotel to make it onto the list of the 15 top-ranked California resort hotels, and it is one of just three California properties that were included in the annual survey’s top 15 resort hotels in the continental U.S.

Each year, before compiling its World’s Best Awards rankings, Travel + Leisure invites its readers to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and many other categories. Hotel rankings take into consideration the properties’ facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. Properties were classified as city or resort based on their locations and amenities.

The latest accolade should come as welcome news to Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, which like all hotels, is grappling with a pandemic that has diminished travel and, hence, demand for overnight stays away from home.

“This was such good news in the middle of managing in our new environment,” said General Manager Coni Thornburg. “I said, we are having a celebration.”

Since reopening July 1 following a more than three-month-long shutdown due to COVID-19, the resort has done surprisingly well. For the month of July, normally the biggest tourism month for San Diego County, the resort had an occupancy rate of 70 percent — even with nightly rates that start at $750, plus a resort fee of $50, Thornburg said.

Weekends, she said, have been sold out, which has helped elevate the overall occupancy level of the hotel. By the end of the year, Thornburg expects that the resort will have averaged 60 percent occupancy, not including the months it was closed.

“When we opened the doors, the phones were ringing,” Thornburg said. “We’re getting a lot of people from the the drive market from Los Angeles and Orange County. Normally, we’d be close to 90 percent.”

The 45-acre resort is well positioned for the pandemic, given it sprawling grounds, allowing for outdoor activities and dining. Its signature restaurant, the Pony Room, has been reimagined to allow for socially distanced dining on the resort’s croquet lawn on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. By using that space, the restaurant can accommodate up to more than 100 diners just on the lawn, said Thornburg.

In keeping with county and state guidelines, the resort’s fitness classes have also been moved outside, to the property’s tennis courts.

To date, Rancho Valencia has hired back about 75 percent of its 360 employes. Because there is no group business, including catered events and weddings that are currently not allowed countywide, the resort has not been able to rehire workers in those areas.

The resort was able to get a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $3.1 million to help with payroll and other expenses but even before that, the hotel ownership decided to cover wages and 100 percent of benefits for the first six weeks after it shut down in March.

Rancho Valencia’s ownership team consists of brothers Jeff and Hal Jacobs, as well as entrepreneur and co-founder of Fiji Water, Doug Carlson; and San Diego real estate developer Jeffrey Essakow.

—Lori Weisberg is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune