Resort Rejuvenation

La Costa Resort and Spa, 15 miles north of San Diego, feels like a small city. People are walking from building to building, the entry way is undergoing construction, and posh villas are being built. It's not only beautiful, it's bustling.

Meet officials from the landmark resort and you'll be convinced that La Costa, which opened in 1965 as one of the original trophy spa resorts, is a very healthy work in progress. Of course, the weather helps; when I visited in early February, it was in the 60s during the day, the high 40s at night. The skies, of course, were cloudless, by order of the California gods.

La Costa Resort and Spa, which spans 400 acres in the coastal foothills of Carlsbad, recently completed a multi-million-dollar redevelopment. It is a mixed community now, with “villas,” which are condo-hotel units, selling for $875,000 to $1.2 million, a clubhouse with a fitness center, two championship golf courses, and the Chopra Center. KSL Resorts, La Costa's owner, plans to extend its reach further (actually, off-site) starting this fall, when it starts developing a 130-room, “very high-end” hotel on land overlooking Carlsbad State Beach, two miles from La Costa, according to Sales Director George Allen. That hotel will cater to the same kind of guest as the Montage Resort & Spa, an Arts & Crafts-styled getaway in Laguna Beach, Allen suggested. It should open in 2008 and will cater to the small meetings and wedding business.

I don't golf, but I wanted to when I saw the courses at La Costa. This Southern California getaway offers the only U.S. destination golf resort with nine acclaimed courses, designed by some of the sport's most prominent names: Nicklaus, Palmer, Weiskopf, Dye and Norman.

In late February, the resort hosted its last PGA tournament, for years an opportunity for trophy golfers like Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson to play while their significant others pampered themselves with manicures, pedicures and massages.


Although La Costa still hosts numerous golf and tennis events, it seems to be shifting its focus to meetings business. KSL, which bought La Costa for $120 million in November 2001 from Sports Shinko, the Japanese company that paid $250 million to acquire the resort in 1987, has invested $100 million in upgrades and expansions. Once its redevelopment plans are realized, the investment will be $140 million.

Besides the spa, the golf courses, the five restaurants and 173 villas a-building, La Costa boasts 511 units, full golf and tennis memberships, 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a two-level conference center offering 15 rooms of varying sizes and the 8,140-square-foot Poinsettia Ballroom.

Oh, yes. There's also the 18,000-square-foot Costa Del Sol ballroom, North San Diego's largest. At La Costa, where high-speed Internet access is free and smooth, the tech is high, the views panoramic, the upkeep impeccable.

And group business has grown exponentially, says Allen. In 2004, La Costa sold 22,000 group room nights; last year, it sold 70,000, and Allen expects it will sell 80,000 this year. He points out that the setting lends itself to both indoor and outdoor meetings; even the periphery of the five heated pools offer an opportunity for get-togethers, and a sixth is planned.

Despite my golf inadequacy, I found things to do at La Costa during my trip there, along with several journalists from the meetings trade: We toured the place and indulged ourselves at the 43,000-square-foot spa; some enjoyed the skies of coastal San Diego courtesy of a biplane adventure, and we ate quite well, thank you.

And if you imbibe too much, there's always the ginger elixir. Served in a martini glass, this proprietary concoction gets you going effectively. Made of pureed ginger root, lemon juice, honey and black pepper, it's a memorable drink with a unique, upstart personality.

For those who like their age very new, there's the Chopra Center, the Deepak Chopra outpost that established its headquarters at La Costa in 2002. According to Allen, La Costa and the Chopra Center enjoy a “nice partnership,” capitalizing on the popularity of wellness for stressed-out executives and their families.

La Costa Resort and Spa guests who visit the Chopra Center can enroll in three- and five-day programs along with therapeutic body treatments including massage and spa visits. Also available: health workshops, meditation instruction, hospital program development and corporate training courses.

According to the San Diego Reader, La Costa was assembled by men with links to Las Vegas, the Teamsters Union and the Mafia: Moe Dalitz, a Cleveland-Vegas mobster; his colleague, Allard Roen, and Vegas real estate developers Irwin Molasky and Merv Adelson. Each put up $1 million to build the golf course, then stables for horses, tennis courts, a hotel, and the spa. In 1964, the Teamsters, led by the notorious (and still-missing) Jimmy Hoffa, loaned $4 million to La Costa. Eventually, the Central States Pension Fund, a Teamsters offshoot Hoffa formed to benefit his friends in the Mafia, pumped more than $97 million into La Costa and the original partnership.

Dalitz was a friend of Frank Sinatra, who, with other members of the Rat Pack, performed at La Costa; others straddling the worlds of show business and organized crime also bought home sites on the resort and entertained there. Politics, too, played its part: in 1972, after Hoffa went to prison for jury tampering and pension fund fraud, Frank Fitzsimmons, his designated successor, staged a news conference at La Costa to announce that the Teamsters had endorsed Richard Nixon, who lived north of Carlsbad in San Clemente, for president.

These days, La Costa looks bright and fresh, its new buildings and new-age vibe papering over its checkered past. It's a delightful place, as ideal for romantic getaways as for corporate retreats.

Standard rates are $395-$425 per unit, $450-$495 for a larger, two-room La Costa Suite. The private-label cosmetics are first-rate, the shower is glassed-in, the bed is plush, the linen thread count high; La Costa doesn't shortchange the customer. Did I mention the view? The golf courses are lush, and the weather…

The spa itself is only two years old. Packed with the latest cardio equipment (equipped with flat-screen TVs, of course), it offers Pilates, swimming, aerobics instruction and all the most contemporary weight machines. Steam rooms and saunas are a given, as are expertly administered massages.

Upon check-in, guests are asked their reasons for the visit. These reasons include indulgence, invigoration or inspiration (the cosmetics are named Indulge, Invigorate and Inspire). The 42 treatment rooms and VIP spa suites are designed to take the guest to a higher plane, what La Costa calls the “sixth sense” of intuition.

Call it what you want. Take it on faith. Do your workout, sweat it out in the sauna, take a dip in the cold pool, take a shower, get dressed, and go to the Yamaguchi Salon, a branch of the spa where beautiful young people can help you look young and beautiful. A feng shui haircut is the perfect way to end a La Costa day.

I know. I was treated to one. My haircut has just the right amount of metal in it to balance my wood and water elements. It's all about balance, after all. I think that means it's time to fly back to La Costa for a trim.

Given the busy nature of your visit to San Diego, relaxing and rejuvenating at the best San Diego day spas makes a lot of sense.

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