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Technicolor at La Costa and Carlsbad

Author: Jill Weinlein
Date of Trip: March 2017

While receiving a kale and citrus facial from Grace inside the The Spa at the Omni La Costa Resort, she told me that she has been working at the property for 35 years. “There have been four owners in 52 years,” Grace told me.

In 1963, La Costa founder Merv Adelson found the land in Carlsbad and dreamed of building a resort two hours from Hollywood for stars to receive a “glimmer of luxury” from their hectic movie studio life. Architect Edward H. Pickett was selected to design a Spanish style clubhouse, and by 1965, 40 units were built for couples and families at $22 a night. The getaway included a 72-par golf, designed by renowned architect Dick Wilson. Professional golfers Sam Snead, Ray Floyd, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Nichols, and Jack Nicklaus gave their approval. Celebrities Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bob Hope played on the greens. There were tennis courts that attracted famed Pancho Segura as the resident pro, and a stable and pool privileges built for guests.

Then a Spa led by Dr. R. Phillip Smith, a professor of medicine was built. It became the first spa in the country to earn an endorsement from the American Medical Association.

In 2003, La Costa received a $140 million restoration with a newly designed 28,000 square foot spa with over 40 treatment rooms, fragrant gardens, pools and courtyards. Also a new partnerships was forged with Deepak Chopra and The Chopra Center, separate from the La Costa Spa. Omni Hotels purchased La Costa to continue attracting golfers, spa-goers, celebrities, and families from across the world.

My family and I recently stayed at the Omni La Costa while visiting Carlsbad. We used it as a home base while exploring the nearby rainbow colored Flower Fields. Staying in room 836, our elegant suites offered a spacious sitting area with a queen-size sofa bed, television, coffee center and connection to a separate bedroom with a luxury king bed and the marble bathroom featuring a separate shower and oversized soaking tub. Robes and slippers are provided in the closet with a safe. There is a balcony looking out to eucalyptus trees and rolling lawns.

First, we had to see the once a year rainbow colored sloping hill between LEGOLAND and the Pacific Ocean. It becomes ablaze with vibrant colorful ranunculus each Spring. Colors of merlot, purple, salmon, pink, picotee (a mixture of colors) orange, gold, yellow and white can be seen from the highway. Hundreds of visitors stop to take a tour of the fields above Armstrong Garden Center to appreciate the beautiful ranunculus flowers planted in the rich soil.

Another beautiful sight along the side of the field, near a overflow parking lot, is an large planted area of red, white and blue petunias shaped as the American flag, however ranunculus are the stars of the farm. Other plants including colorful and fragrant sweet peas planted in an interactive maze, a display of poinsettias, and a large greenhouse showcasing cymbidium orchids.

These ranunculus were originally planted by farmer Edward Frazee from seeds at another location in San Diego County. For over 25 years, on-site growers Mellano and Company of San Luis Rey plant millions of Frazee’s giant Tecolote ranunculus seeds in the current 50 acres of coastal farmland. The Tecolote ranunculus is the finest strain of ranunculus plants in the world. They are originally from Asia Minor, located at the top of Turkey. What makes these flowers unique, is that they grow from seeds and develop into a tuber producing a buttercup shaped flower that is 14″ to 24″ tall.

The flowers are planted in stages with the first to blossom on March 1 and the last in full glory until mid May, around Mother’s Day. Some flowers are cut, while others stay in the field for farmers to collect their seeds and replant in the same field for the next season. Flowers and bulbs are harvested and packaged to sell at the onsite Armstrongs Garden Store for the public to plant at take home.

Guests visiting the Flower Fields can ride in an antique tractor driven wagon to view and learn about the beauty of the fields. The 15-minute scenic ride includes an audio commentary of the history of this one-of-a-kind farm.

After our visit, we drove into Carlsbad Village for dinner at the newly opened Campfire. Over 90% of the fare is cooked on a live fire in the glass enclosed kitchen, even the cocktails. They roast beets and add a little gin, honey, lemon and crisp thyme. There is a charred cactus cocktail that arrives as black liquid with large ice cubes. A little tequila, charcoal, white peach, sorrel and lime juice is added.

Dishes include charred octopus, Kobe beef tartare, a Caesar asparagus, grilled halibut and pork chop char sui. We finished with a plank of do-it-yourself s’mores that included a little kettle of piping hot charcoals. Housemade marshmallow, chocolate squares and snickerdoodle cookies are heated to the right temperature, to create one of the best s’mores ever.

The next day we rented cruiser bikes at Pedego Electric Bike Rental along Carlsbad Village Drive. Staff members gave us a map of paved bicycle paths along the railroad tracks to the beach. We rode along the Pacific Coast to the Cape Rey Carlsbad’s onsite restaurant Chandler’s for lunch.

Executive Chef and Culinary Director Teri McIllwain creates the quintessential “petal to table” menu with a floral mimosa with sparkling wine and Elderflower to pair with a cheese plate filled with local cheese, honeycomb, nuts and variety of artisan bread. Heirloom tomatoes adorn the grilled turkey burger, and McIllwain makes a coconut tomato bisque with a grilled cheese sandwich. Be sure to order the hibiscus sorbet with fresh flowers, berries and meringue stars filled into a chocolate glazed waffle bowl.

Spring in Carlsbad is the optimal time to see the Flower Fields, however any time of year is an ideal time to visit this So Cal beach town filled with unique shops, activities and dining opportunities.

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