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More Backyard Getaways


Over the past decade, weekend travel for Americans has increased 70 percent, according to the Travel Industry Association. When there is no time for longer vacations, people are looking closer to home for their getaways.

The second of the series of weekend backyard escapes is Carlsbad, California, part of San Diego's rapidly growing North County, only 25 minutes north of our La Jolla home. The Four Seasons Aviara Resort is on a roll. It has recently been awarded a five-diamond rating from AAA and named to the Conde Nast Gold List. We logged on to check rates and packages (www.fourseasons.com), booked, and called to confirm spa times. We were ready to go.

Aviara can be reached directly at 760-603-6800 or through the Four Seasons reservations center at 800-332-3442 in the US or 800-268-6282 in Canada.

Aviara is a complete 200-acre resort, situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. It offers a full service spa, state of the art fitness center, tennis center with clay and hard courts, five restaurants, an award winning Arnold Palmer designed golf course and golf academy.

Courtesy of The Four Seasons Resort Aviara.The resort also features six boutiques and an exclusive salon. It is situated next to Batiquitos Lagoon, a wetlands preserve and bird sanctuary, a great place to walk or hike.

Even with an upscale resort, the "Practical Traveler" had three things going. First, it was "off season," a contradiction of terms, weather-wise, in San Diego, where the year-round climate is ideal. Next, packages offered a substantial savings over purchasing "a la carte" services such as spa, tennis and golf. Finally, backyard travel requires no expensive and time consuming air travel; no airports, taxis, parking or travel days lost. This leaves more money and time to spend at the resort.

For area information, I logged on to the Carlsbad Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site (www.carlsbadca.org). Online, I requested brochures and general area background. In a few days, a packet arrived that included a discount booklet for the Carlsbad Company Stores Outlet Mall, a dining guide, information on San Diego's latest major attraction, Legoland, and a very complete guide to Carlsbad that featured lodging, activities, maps, and a special events calendar. The bureau can also be reached at 800-227-5722. The Carlsbad Arts Council is very active, so don't forget to check its schedule of events.

Armed with this information, we were off. You get a sense of commitment to service as soon as you drive up to the resort. Valet and bellmen whisk you quickly to the front desk. As you step through the doors, your senses are stimulated by the dazzling array of flowers, cool marble floors, and dramatic view of the Pacific Ocean.

Aviara lobby. Photo courtesy of the Four Seasons Resort Aviara.The check-in process is guest friendly and efficient. Coffee, tea and lemonade are available in the lobby near the front desk...a very nice touch. Within minutes, we were in our room, unpacked and ready to explore the resort.

The room categories at Aviara Four Seasons Resort range on their rate card from moderate to the Presidential suite. All of the non-suite rooms are a very spacious 540 square feet. Each room has either a balcony or terrace with a teak table and chairs, and various views depending on location. In the room, there is cable, on command movies, in-room safe, honor bar, iron and ironing board, full length mirror, great beds (favorites of Oprah and Julia Roberts both of whom I am told stay there), a two line modem-ready phone on an executive writing desk, plus a bedside phone and another in the bathroom. The king bedded rooms have a pull out sofa couch. There is a huge marble bathroom with dual vanities, deep steeping tubs with separate shower and thick, thirsty towels and robes. The rooms are all non-smoking. All of this adds up to five diamonds.

Our first discovery was a delight. We found a traditional English afternoon tea being served in the lobby lounge. We listened to the harpist and admired the display of finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, petit fours, and traditional, fruit infused, and herbal teas. A stop at the concierge desk provided us with maps of the Four Seasons. There is a walking/jogging course (with several different options for short or long routes) and a wonderful reference guide of the gardens, indicating the location of all of the plants and flowers. We discovered the spa and reconfirmed our reservations (always a good idea). We noticed "Kids for all Seasons," which offers entertaining, educational indoor and outdoor activities for children aged 4 to12, on weekends, holidays, and school breaks.

After our familiarization tour, we sat poolside as the sun set. No travel fatigue with backyard travel – just plenty of time for unhurried relaxation. Then it was in for our first night's dinner at the Bistro. There is an outstanding buffet featuring appetizers, salads, cold seafood and hot dishes, plus a spectacular dessert table. The Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal features a fabulous, moderately priced buffet along with menu service. The place is friendly and efficient. Don't miss the Bistro for any or all of your meals. It's a favorite of mine, especially the spectacular Sunday champagne brunch. The next morning, we had our first spa session. There are dozens of choices. I chose a "Man for All Seasons" facial and my wife got a chamomile body scrub. If you can't wind down here, there is something seriously wrong with you. The spa is a serene oasis within an oasis. It features a sauna, steam room, large whirlpool, and well-equipped locker rooms, one for the ladies and another for men. The staff is sensitive, knowledgeable and very friendly. The waiting room offers the daily paper, television, fruit, and water, coffee, or tea. There is also an outdoor garden patio lounge. It is very civilized. Need I tell you that the spa services were unique and outstanding? Talk about feeling pampered!

We ate lunch poolside at the Ocean Grill. It is a delightful casual hideaway, featuring sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices.

Aviara Ocean Grill. Photo Courtesy of the Four Seasons Resort Aviara.In the afternoon we were off to explore the area. Carlsbad is a quaint village with many antique stores, boutiques, cafes and restaurants and, of course, the Pacific with four miles of coastline. There is a seawall walkway along the bluff near the village that is great for strolling or serious walking. In town, don't miss the Children's Museum. Great interactive fun for the kids. Stop in at the newest attraction, the Museum of Making Music, celebrating music making from the 1800's to today. It is a hands-on place where you can express your musical abilities (or lack thereof) by playing the drums, electric guitar and digital keyboard. Go to their Web site and check it out (www.museumofmakingmusic.org). Next, we went to the Carlsbad Company Stores, a short drive from the resort. It is a mix of 60 upscale designer and manufacturer outlets. North Face is my personal favorite.

On our second evening we ate at Vivache, the resort's signature restaurant. Vivache is Italian for "alive," a fitting appellation. The restaurant has won many local awards and, nationally, from Travel & Leisure magazine. The menu is a blend of traditional and contemporary Italian dishes served in a dramatic setting, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Aviara's gardens and Batiquitos Lagoon. The evening began with an assortment of warm homemade Italian flatbreads served on a slab of marble. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and an artichoke tapenade are also delivered to the table. Vivache features an extensive menu befitting such a beautiful restaurant: appetizers, fresh seafood, veal, steaks, pasta, and a terrific wine list all make for very difficult decisions. Luckily, well-trained, attentive personnel are ready to assist you. Don't forget to leave room for the fabulous desserts. The restaurant's fireplace adds to the elegant and romantic atmosphere. We left feeling satisfied, satiated, and very much alive.

On Day Three we were back at the spa bright and early. My wife chose the European deep cleaning facial and I signed on for a neck and shoulder massage. It is very hard to recommend which spa treatment is the best; all were on the plus side of sensational. By the time we finished, it was time to check out for our short drive home down the coast highway. It was a wonderful weekend and we left reluctantly.

An open cockpit biplane ride over the flower fields. Courtesy of the Carlsbad Convention & Visitors Bureau A couple of calendar hints. If you visit during March and April, don't miss the Flower Fields, a beautiful sight and great photo op. One mile of hillside in Carlsbad is planted in alternating bands of red, yellow, orange, and pink. Most of the flowers are ranunculus, but gladiolus, watzonia, Star of Bethlehem, oxilas, and spaxis are also blooming. Call 760-431-0352 for more information or go to www.theflowerfields.com.

California’s largest street fair is the place to be in Carlsbad the first Sunday in May and November. Over 850 arts and crafts booths, International Food Center, Certified Farmers' Market, and a variety of entertainment are part of the event.

Money Saving Tips:

Driving trips have great benefits, but let me give you the Practical Traveler's advice on cars. When you buy your new car, insist on three things before you drive off the lot. First, make certain that the dealer aligns it. Yes, you read that correctly. If your car is out of alignment, you won't know until your tires wear out at 15,000 miles. Insist on the service. Our last two cars (Camry and Infiniti) were both out of alignment, just being moved from their place of manufacture to the showroom. Next, tell the dealer you expect a full tank of gas. That's the least they can do, considering the amount of money you are spending. Finally, request a bottle of touch up paint. Eventually, you will get dings and a little cosmetic paint job goes a long way.

Recently while traveling, all of the nearby ATMs were "offline." I went into a local bank and received my money through my debit card. Guess what? No service charge. Unlike the service charges at ATMs, there is none with a debit card. Consider this option the next time you need cash.

Best of the West: Telluride has four seasons; Ski, Spring, Summer and Fall. To save money and avoid crowds, consider visiting during the last three. Log on to the New Sheridan's Web site and take a look at the outdoor activities and packages (www.newsheridan.com). This delightful, historic hotel in the middle of the town is a real charmer. Rates include a full breakfast, an open pantry all day, and great chocolate chip cookies.

Next month, the fabulous Hotel Parisi in La Jolla, California and the Practical Traveler learns to levitate.

The next morning, we had our first spa session. There are dozens of choices. I chose a "Man for All Seasons" facial and my wife got a chamomile body scrub. If you can't wind down here, there is something seriously wrong with you. The spa is a serene oasis within an oasis. It features a sauna, steam room, large whirlpool, and well-equipped locker rooms, one for the ladies and another for men. The staff is sensitive, knowledgeable and very friendly. The waiting room offers the daily paper, television, fruit, and water, coffee, or tea. There is also an outdoor garden patio lounge. It is very civilized. Need I tell you that the spa services were unique and outstanding? Talk about feeling pampered!

We ate lunch poolside at the Ocean Grill. It is a delightful casual hideaway, featuring sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices.

Aviara Ocean Grill. Photo Courtesy of the Four Seasons Resort Aviara.In the afternoon we were off to explore the area. Carlsbad is a quaint village with many antique stores, boutiques, cafes and restaurants and, of course, the Pacific with four miles of coastline. There is a seawall walkway along the bluff near the village that is great for strolling or serious walking. In town, don't miss the Children's Museum. Great interactive fun for the kids. Stop in at the newest attraction, the Museum of Making Music, celebrating music making from the 1800's to today. It is a hands-on place where you can express your musical abilities (or lack thereof) by playing the drums, electric guitar and digital keyboard. Go to their Web site and check it out (www.museumofmakingmusic.org). Next, we went to the Carlsbad Company Stores, a short drive from the resort. It is a mix of 60 upscale designer and manufacturer outlets. North Face is my personal favorite.

On our second evening we ate at Vivache, the resort's signature restaurant. Vivache is Italian for "alive," a fitting appellation. The restaurant has won many local awards and, nationally, from Travel & Leisure magazine. The menu is a blend of traditional and contemporary Italian dishes served in a dramatic setting, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Aviara's gardens and Batiquitos Lagoon. The evening began with an assortment of warm homemade Italian flatbreads served on a slab of marble. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and an artichoke tapenade are also delivered to the table. Vivache features an extensive menu befitting such a beautiful restaurant: appetizers, fresh seafood, veal, steaks, pasta, and a terrific wine list all make for very difficult decisions. Luckily, well-trained, attentive personnel are ready to assist you. Don't forget to leave room for the fabulous desserts. The restaurant's fireplace adds to the elegant and romantic atmosphere. We left feeling satisfied, satiated, and very much alive.

On Day Three we were back at the spa bright and early. My wife chose the European deep cleaning facial and I signed on for a neck and shoulder massage. It is very hard to recommend which spa treatment is the best; all were on the plus side of sensational. By the time we finished, it was time to check out for our short drive home down the coast highway. It was a wonderful weekend and we left reluctantly.

An open cockpit biplane ride over the flower fields. Courtesy of the Carlsbad Convention & Visitors Bureau A couple of calendar hints. If you visit during March and April, don't miss the Flower Fields, a beautiful sight and great photo op. One mile of hillside in Carlsbad is planted in alternating bands of red, yellow, orange, and pink. Most of the flowers are ranunculus, but gladiolus, watzonia, Star of Bethlehem, oxilas, and spaxis are also blooming. Call 760-431-0352 for more information or go to www.theflowerfields.com.

Californiaís largest street fair is the place to be in Carlsbad the first Sunday in May and November. Over 850 arts and crafts booths, International Food Center, Certified Farmers' Market, and a variety of entertainment are part of the event.

Money Saving Tips:

Driving trips have great benefits, but let me give you the Practical Traveler's advice on cars. When you buy your new car, insist on three things before you drive off the lot. First, make certain that the dealer aligns it. Yes, you read that correctly. If your car is out of alignment, you won't know until your tires wear out at 15,000 miles. Insist on the service. Our last two cars (Camry and Infiniti) were both out of alignment, just being moved from their place of manufacture to the showroom. Next, tell the dealer you expect a full tank of gas. That's the least they can do, considering the amount of money you are spending. Finally, request a bottle of touch up paint. Eventually, you will get dings and a little cosmetic paint job goes a long way.

Recently while traveling, all of the nearby ATMs were "offline." I went into a local bank and received my money through my debit card. Guess what? No service charge. Unlike the service charges at ATMs, there is none with a debit card. Consider this option the next time you need cash.

Best of the West: Telluride has four seasons; Ski, Spring, Summer and Fall. To save money and avoid crowds, consider visiting during the last three. Log on to the New Sheridan's Web site and take a look at the outdoor activities and packages (www.newsheridan.com). This delightful, historic hotel in the middle of the town is a real charmer. Rates include a full breakfast, an open pantry all day, and great chocolate chip cookies.

Next month, the fabulous Hotel Parisi in La Jolla, California and the Practical Traveler learns to levitate.