Bacara Resort and Spa (877-968-0100) sits ten
miles north of downtown Santa Barbara, cradled
in its own private world, on a beach protected
from tourist crowds by rocky cliffs. The new resort,
having just opened in September 2000, has had
plenty of print ads urging guests to visit and
enjoy its dream setting - a whitewashed, intimate
Mediterranean village set atop bluffs with breathtaking
views of the Pacific and the Channel Islands beyond.
Enticed, I was prepared to fall in love with the
Bacara and with a few exceptions, I did.
Worldwide there are plenty of glamorous, first
class beachside resort destinations. But they
are rare in California, having been rationed by
a rigorous coastal commission and local governments
bent on protecting, or perhaps over-protecting,
our coastline. It took 20 years of legal wrangling,
three more years of building, and $200,000,000
for developer Alvin Dworman to realize his dream.
Bacara, a contraction of the names Santa Barbara
and Anacapa, was designed for those seeking luxury
at every turn and priced that way.
Rates range from $395 to $695 per night depending
on the view. Each spacious room has its own private
patio or balcony and wonderful amenities. My room
had a bathtub where you could soak with a view
of the ocean. There were frette linens, a fireplace
that came on with the flip of a switch, a Sony
flat screen tv and dvd player, and high speed
Its 360 guests rooms are spread over 78 acres
in several buildings, most which border two grand
"zero" edge swimming pools that overlook
the sea. The pool area is embraced by great palms
and two levels of private cabanas. From poolside
you can trek a short distance down to the resort's
two mile stretch of white sand beach. There you
can rent kayaks or surf boards. Or, you can soak
up the sun and watch local artists painting, fishing
boats dropping nets offshore, an oil rig tug docking
at a nearby pier, or pink and purple clouds journeying
Adjacent to Bacara is the 18-hole Sandpiper Golf
Course set right on the beach with ocean views
from its greens. You can tee-off there, play tennis
on one of four clay courts, horseback ride along
the beach, or hike or mountain bike along trails
in Bacara's 1000 acre avocado and lemon farm just
across the road.
For dining, you can choose the Bistro, the resort's
casual dining site with vistas of the beach; the
Spa Café, a health food afficiando's choice set
beside the spa's pool; or the Miro, their formal
dining venue. The Miro, named for the artist,
has several of his sculptures set about the restaurant.
Its chef, Remi Lauvand, who came from New York's
renown Montrachet, conjures a french/california
menu with delightfully tasty combinations - venison
with braised chestnuts; foie gras with pickled
pumpkin; crab napoleon with orange mint. The Miro,
like most of Bacara, is an expensive treat. Dinner
for two is about $140 - soup to nuts, without
wine. And as for wine, their cellar is another
marvel - 10,000 bottles, recently awarded "best
cellar collection" by Wine Spectator magazine.
The centerpiece of Bacara is its spa. If you want
to tone up, relax, or be pampered, this is the
place to go. Described to me as being the largest
spa on the west coast, everything here is "state-of-the-art."
There are indoor-outdoor massage areas, cardio
and weight training studios, steam rooms, saunas,
and whirlpools, a beauty salon, and a hundred
relaxation and body treatments, many that seem
like a prescription for human seasoning - a citrus
avocado body scrub, an oatmeal sage body polish,
or oxygen mist hydration.
Bacara also has a ballroom large enough to seat
1000 for dinner and a 211 seat theatre with plush
seating to accommodate movie premieres, plays,
or conferences. These settings are destined to
be the site for many future celebrity events.
Some have already discovered its glamour. Jenny
Garth was married here and Debra Messing too.
Renee Zellweger came for the private premiere
of her movie, Bridgett Jones Diary.
In the Olympic competition among world class resorts,
Bacara is certainly a contender. As a judge, I'd
give it high marks for its architecture, ambience,
its spa, cuisine, and amenities. But when it came
to service, it fell short. Room service was tardy
at each call. The front desk had only a single
receptionist at 4 o'clock check-in. Valet parking
was in hiding at a late return from an evening
out. In this year's competition, Bacara fell short
of medalling. It is a new resort - perhaps still
working the kinks out of its act. Nevertheless,
if you're searching for a first class beachfront
resort with every amenity imaginable, well - between
Half Moon Bay and La Jolla - Bacara is your only
choice. And worldwide, with a little more polish,
this is a resort that I would expect to challenge
for the gold before the next Olympic contest.