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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

Bacara Resort and Spa, Santa Barbara

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 internet access.
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 overhead.
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.