We get a taste of the coveted Cali lifestyle at the new Fairmont Grand Del Mar.
By Renée Morrison
Photo by Xavier Girard-Lachaîne
What is it about the California lifestyle that makes the rest of the world envious? I can think of a handful of answers as I pull open the balcony doors of my room at Fairmont Grand Del Mar to find a sun-lit scene of landscaped lawns and palm trees, a crystal-clear pool and a backdrop of mountains topped with modern, glass-facade homes. But there’s a plethora of opinions as to what the pillars are of California culture. Is it about the simple life or the stardom, the green juice or the gourmet meals, the low-maintenance or the lavish?
On a morning hike in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, led by San Diego native and naturalist Dylan Jones, I’m introduced to the Golden State in its purest form. Jones is a human encyclopedia in the very best way, pointing out native species and the local history surrounding them. “Rub this leaf and take a whiff,” he says, handing me a piece of white sage. I do as he says, deeply breathing in its potent scent. “It was used by the indigenous Kumeyaay in cleansing rituals performed in the area thousands of years ago. This is still a very spiritual zone, and lots of people come here to reflect and meditate.” As we pass over sturdy boulders jutting out above a small waterfall, the sound of trickling water below us, I can’t imagine a better spot to get grounded.
Later that afternoon, I take in a different herbal scent as I’m covered in aromatherapy oils – Peru balsam, basil, lime and sunflower – and nutrient-dense mud (the same type that makes up the canyons I’d explored, the therapist informs me) during my Renaissance treatment at the hotel spa. The luxurious modern-day ritual involves lying in a high-tech waterbed that envelops me in weightless bliss. I’m very aware that I’ve headed to the opposite end of the spectrum from my canyon trek – the kind more likely to appeal to a Hollywood celebrity than a nature buff.
“It’s all about balance,” says spa director Jim Croghan when I ask about what guests are seeking when they book a spa treatment, or a stay, at Fairmont Grand Del Mar. “When in balance, we feel vital and vibrantly alive.” I inquire about clean eating – does being a good Californian mean living off kale? – and he points out that “the hotel has plenty of healthy offerings, but it also serves a great burger.”
I test out the theory the next day, only instead of a burger, I order a hearty breakfast burrito filled with eggs, bacon, cheddar and potatoes and pair it with a bright green, freshly blended fruit and vegetable smoothie. The energy comes in handy when, by noon, I’m alternating between paddling out to catch waves and wiping out on them during a surf lesson at the beach in nearby Del Mar.
Instructor Paul Brandlin of Rusty Del Mar is exactly what you’d imagine a California surfer to look like, and when I ask about his pedigree, I’m admittedly expecting the “born to surf” story and so I’m caught off guard when he tells me otherwise. “I had an office job, but I didn’t love it, so I quit and went back to giving surf lessons at Rusty’s” he says, pulling me further out to sea on my board. “I’m happy to do it until I find a 9-to-5 that I’m passionate about. Surfing is a hobby of mine, so this feels like a vacation.” With his deep tan and sun-bleached blond hair, it’s tough to picture him in a boardroom and not the board shop, and suddenly I’m trying to imagine the other surfers around me swapping their wet suits for power suits after the lunch hour. I wonder: Could it be that most real Californians are somewhere in between the carefree-bohemian and hard-pressed-executive clichés that we construct, living in a happy medium we can all aspire to?
No time to contemplate. Brandlin spots a perfect wave behind me and I hop up on my board, firmly planting my feet and evenly distributing my weight. Finally riding all the way back to shore, it occurs to me in an instant that Croghan might’ve been right: Life in California is all about finding your balance.