The name Carlsbad has represented illustriousness since the 14th century, when Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV supposedly founded the town after discovering and acclaiming curative hot springs there while hunting in the Slavkov Forest in Western Bohemia. Now called Karlovy Vary, and part of the Czech Republic, the spa town grew around the springs, which soon became Europe’s most famous, racking up a guest list over the centuries that included Mozart, Goethe, Freud, Czar Peter the Great, and Atatürk. So it was only natural that when former sailor John Frazier discovered similar hot springs 30 miles north of San Diego in 1883, entrepreneurial minds immediately took advantage by naming the town after the famous Bohemian spa town.
Visiting today, glamor remains in the air along the handsome Aviara Parkway and concentrates further when turning on to the Aviara Resort Drive onto the property of the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, which represents the high end of Hyatt’s brands and indeed is one of only four hotels in the the San Diego area to earn a AAA five-diamond distinction.
It’s felt almost immediately when swooping under the colonial-style canopy, fronted by a flower-ringed fountain with bronze birds, in the main drive. As one would expect in this level of luxury, attendants immediately (but smoothly) swarm the car to carry in bags, take keys for the valet, and help guests out of the cars—all with somewhat less rigidity than the days when the property was the Four Seasons (until 2010) but still with ability of call-back if the guest calls for it (I, for one, do not).
The first step into the 200-acre property atop a ridge overlooking the Batiquitos Lagoon, a wildlife sanctuary, takes you into the almost shotgun style lobby, which aims past a grand piano to the large, curved window at the back, which fills the space with thick beams of sunlight, further reflecting off the high polish of the ceramic floor tiles. On either side, a lounge and library layout tables and armchairs for both business and pleasure, but a ten times better spot is just out the backdoor on the attached terrace, which overlooks the Palm Courtyard, your first sight of the Aviara’s bountiful botanical attributes.
To go deeper, simply take the elevator down to the first floor (lobby is on third floor) and follow the signs towards the pool area. Passing down paths sometimes overflowing with native wildflowers, it’s hard not to feel whisked off the mainland to some exotic Polynesian island, an effect aided further by the views of lagoon. However, splashing occurs solely in the 3,200 square-foot outdoor family swimming pool that forms the core of the area. Happily for those without children in town, a separate, out-of-eyesight adult pool provides a private space to make your own splash, primarily from ice cubes dropping into cocktail glasses. Adults also get the best view down the slope from the raised adjacent whirlpool.
The pools also overlooks perhaps the Aviara’s biggest source of pride, the 18-hole, Arnold Palmer-designed golf course named by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine as one of the best in United States. Its high esteem will be confirmed again in March 2015, when it hosts the LPGA Kia Classic for the third year in a row. However, not being a golfer, I’ll have to defer to others’ wisdom.
In Vivace, Aviara’s main restaurant, I’m more than happy to attest, testify, and witness to the skills of Chef Jason Seibert, who served a phenomenal Italy-meets-California four-course menu, taking me from local Albacore crudo and chicken liver mousse bruschetta, through the remarkable sweet corn risotto (my fave), to wood-grilled Wagyu flat iron steak, all matched perfectly with wines from all regions of Italy. If the manor-esque room itself, complete with fireplace, thick carpets, and heavy drapery, seems a bit stodgy (although clearly not to the kissing couple next to me), ask to give your compliments to Chef Seibert, whose delightful impish sparkle in his eye makes it seem like anything can happen.
Bursting at the belt seams, the comfort of my park suite (starting at $400 per night) beckoned me straight after. Although the room boasts plenty of space (almost too much space) to sprawl out in a distinctly unsexy post-culinary bliss on sofas, armchairs, or floor, I took to the massive king bed and flipped on 55″ smart LED TV, which admittedly offered the best visuals in the somewhat bare room, at least inside. Outside, from the two attached balconies, the view was much better, looking out to the lagoon over acres of palm trees and other SoCal greenery. Kudos also for the lovely marble bathrooms, with glass-enclosed shower, deep soaking tub, a separate “water closet,” all stocked with Le Labo shampoos, soaps, and creams.
For cleanliness to the core, however, make a date at the impressive 15,000-square-foot Aviara Spa, where 20 rooms are available for treatments like detox herbal mud wraps, coconut sugar body scrubs, golfers massage, hot stone massage, and reflexology. A bespoke philosophy allows a lot of flexibility and customization to each. Just be sure to budget time to chill in the spa’s locker room, which includes wet and dry saunas (powerful ones, at that) and a whirlpool.
In many ways, one night is actually too few for all of the amenities available. The Park Hyatt Aviara probably best serves guests who are ready to pony up for two or more days and prefer an all-inclusive style resort, where guests have little incentive to leave the grounds. Nonetheless, there’s no debating the quality of the service, professionalism of the staff, and comfort of the rooms. It’s as top-notch as it gets, just wish I had more time.