Some of my fondest travel memories are from my days as a single, working gal vacationing in California. It’s true that most moms recall any travel before their children as glamorous and restorative. When I reflect on my drive down the Pacific Coast Highway with my best friend from college in our red convertible, lounging in poolside cabanas, sleeping in, talking for hours without interruption, those trips seem completely decadent, almost other-worldly now.
I wondered how to make a California trip these fifteen years later with my husband and two kids as carefree and relaxing, even in thirty minute blocks of time here and there. We set off for Carlsbad just north of San Diego. Less than two hours from LAX and one hour from San Diego, the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara is ideally situated for families looking to experience Southern California. SeaWorld, Legoland, and Balboa Park, the site of the famous San Diego Zoo, are easily within reach. It seemed like the most promising base for our family adventures.
Not your traditional Four Seasons, this property consists of residences that allow for a range of options — from ownership to rentals of any length. The property has two sections, the Meadows and the Summit. The Summit caters to families and has a well-stocked kids’ activity room filled with art supplies, Legos, Wii systems, and toys. The location of this room two steps from the front desk and concierge is pure genius as I was able to have the most uninterrupted conversations with adults that I’ve had in years. The concierge team I spoke with were helpful with planning each day’s outing for us, presented in sealed, gold envelopes. No simple printouts from the Four Seasons.
All the residences feature golden and beige decor, full kitchens, and gas fireplaces that roar to life at the flip of a switch. Our lower unit faced a beautiful garden with views of the surrounding hillside. While my husband and I up enjoyed the scenery and fragrant flowers, our kids played tag and picked wildflowers. According to my two kids, the most spectacular feature was our bathroom’s shower head. After a soothing soak in the deep tub with L’Occitane bath products, the shower turns into a mini-disco with a multi-color LED flashing shower head. Turn the lights off, turn on some Katy Perry, and bath time is now one less battle you will have to fight.
The pool staff were ready to pamper us and make us feel like we were at our second home; we didn’t even need to ask sometimes. After a late afternoon swim, Manny set our kids up with trays of chicken nuggets, broccoli, and mango smoothies in their pool loungers. Tash decided that it was a little cool, and presented my children with an après-swimming drink of hot chocolate.
The Sunday S’mores night put my Scout group campfires to shame. A display with every type of Hershey’s chocolate was available: milk, dark, cookies & cream, and almond. Members of the staff were dangerously efficient in helping our children assemble and devour the S’mores faster than I could count them. I might have preferred trained bartenders doling out the chocolate with the skilled insight of knowing when to cut off their customers.
Carlsbad offers all the shopping, dining, and outdoor activities needed for an easy vacation. Walks along the beach were just what this family needed after our Boston snow this winter. There are numerous shopping plazas with kid-friendly restaurants and a Trader Joe’s to stock up your unit with favorite items from home. The Carlsbad Premium Outlets can assist with a forgotten bathing suit or provide some retail therapy with Kate Spade and Elie Tahari stores. The Beach Break Café delighted our kids with their very berry, whole-wheat Mickey Mouse pancakes.
If a true Californian experience is what you are looking for, a surf concierge who will coordinate transportation and surf lessons for families at a nearby beach. The property is not oceanfront, but an easy drive to the water. Those first moments I stood on the beach and inhaled deep breathes of fresh air, I felt better than I had in months. Cabin fever, with Boston’s record-breaking winter was taking its toll on us. Seeing my son run for the ocean waves with his arms up in the air like Rocky brought me to tears of happiness. I didn’t even care that we had an unplanned stop at the Gymboree outlet for dry shorts so we could continue on with our day.
Within the Four Seasons’ property is the entrance to the Batiquitos Lagoon, one of the few remaining tidal wetlands in Southern California. The concierge gave our children bug catchers and compasses, and we set off for a delightful afternoon hike. The trail is about two miles long, yet very stroller-friendly.We brought home some roly polies and beetles to admire for the evening until I gave them their freedom after putting our kids to bed.
To celebrate our tenth anniversary, we hired a babysitter and set off for the Pacific Coast Grill, suggested by the concierge. We dined on the beach in Cardiff watching the sun set over the ocean. The hotel left us champagne and chocolate covered strawberries as well. It was a great day.
The Four Seasons Aviara is currently undergoing a substantial clubhouse renovation to provide more resort-like features this spring. On-site dining is currently limited to poolside fare at lunch and all-day room service. I asked for a tour and grabbed a white hard hat to see the new plans. A spa, exercise classes, and restaurant will make it more like a full-service resort. The Seasons Restaurant will have two sections: the more traditional dining room and the kitchen, will provide a family-style chef’s table and counter seating within a large working kitchen. The chef will interact directly with the guests, cooking on cue.
The Four Seasons Aviara really has nailed the concept of understated, California luxury. With the attentive service one would expect from the Four Seasons, the residence club feels mellow and easy-going for families with small children or larger multi-generational groups. Granted, we had no rented red convertible for the Pacific Coast Highway like those trips in my days of girl getaways and singledom, but my friend was just a phone call away, and I texted her pictures of my kids building sand castles. This stay proved to be about as relaxing for a family vacation as I could have wanted, and you can’t beat that.