Beyond LEGOLAND and sandy beaches, a great resort is transformed into something extraordinary.
Ranging from laid-back to luxurious, Carlsbad has many looks: venture beyond Legoland and you’ll find some of SoCal’s most beautiful beaches, three waterfowl-packed lagoons to explore, dozens of easy-walking trails, 50 acres of color in the Flower Field, golf courses where the pros play, and world-class resorts.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt Aviara, recently transformed with a $50 million renovation that turned an already great hotel into something extraordinary. If you are looking to add grand luxury to your Holiday LEGOLAND trip, this is the place. A sprawling and majestic resort, covering 200 acres, situated on a ridge high above the Batiquitos Lagoon, the property is breathtaking at every turn—the views, the rooms, the pools, and the idyllic Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.
Let’s start with the sweeping view over the lagoon and the golf course. While it’s not oceanfront, the vistas from the property include large swaths of the blue Pacific. All the common areas take full advantage of the visual feast. As part of the extensive remodel, the back lobby wall was opened to allow the inside to spill outside onto a large “living-room” balcony terrace, where guests gather to enjoy live music, craft cocktails and the colorful sunsets. It’s a popular hangout for the canine guests as well (yes, it’s dog-friendly).
Families with little ones love “the slides,” another recent addition from the renovation. The pool area has a quieter adult pool, a large hot-tub pool and an entertaining family pool with two giant corkscrew slides and a sandy shore that includes firepits for evening s’mores. If LEGOLAND doesn’t get the wiggles out of the kiddos, then 20 trips up and down these winding two-story slides will surely do it.
The rooms are family sized. Even a standard room is 540 square feet. The attention to detail in the motion-activated lighting is like having an elf butler who makes your trip between the bed and the bathroom a little nicer, illuminating the carpet when your feet touch the floor and again when you enter the large bathroom. Our 4th floor balcony also took advantage of the view, with a nice slice of ocean where the sun set. We were treated to a show of thunder and lightning on one of our nights.
The grand but inviting lobby entrance sets the “ahhhh” tone, with architecture and art-piece light fixtures on display as you look from the front door, through the lobby, out to the grand terrace. The spectacular lighting sculpture over the lobby is a nod to the waterfowl neighbors, the great blue herons that live in the Batiquitos lagoon next door. You’ll remember to look up as you walk through Park Hyatt Aviara common spaces, to see the many artful lighting designs.
Playing at the Aviara golf course is like playing in a botanical garden. Water features, explosive flower displays, undulating fairways and greens and whimsical bunker layouts make each hole a scene worthy of being painted and framed. While golf can be painful, it feels good playing here, even if you get stuck in the unforgiving rough, as I was over and over again. The course, which has earned praise from Conde Nast Traveler and Golf Digest, is considered one of the best Arnold Palmer-designed courses, and it plays host to the televised LPGA Kia Classic each year. Practice before playing in one of the resort’s two Topgolf Swing Suites, where virtual golf and other games are played on a floor-to-ceiling screen
As part of the relaunch, the dining at Park Hyatt Aviara was reimagined as well. There are 6 food and dining outlets in total, with Baja-inspired Ponto Lago on the lobby level and Ember & Rye, the steak and seafood restaurant, at the golf-course, as the most epicurean. Culinary highlights from our trip include dinner at Ponto Lago—where I had a roasted branzino, served whole, with capers and cherry tomatoes—and the sushi at the lobby bar, Pacific Pointe. Rooms start at $795. https://parkhyattaviara.com
THE MAESTRO OF SEASONS
Also in Aviara, down the hill from Park Hyatt is the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara, where the buzz is coming from the kitchen of newly appointed Chef Tom Prescott. Having joined Seasons restaurant in August of this year, Prescott brings with him not just his experience as a chef at numerous notable restaurants and a culinary educator at one of the finest cooking schools in the United States—August Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder—Prescott was also an actor, a director and a classically trained musician.
For the Virginia native, skilled in piano, flute, clarinet and trumpet, music is his food language. As he shared with us his ideas and inspirations for the Seasons menu during a dinner from his kitchen in September, the affable chef let symphonic metaphors pepper his speech. “I think of each dish as its own movement within the symphony of a meal. Each can be distinct with highs, lows and different sounds,” said Prescott, “but everything needs to be in harmony.”
Prescott calls his approach “New California Cuisine.” He takes the tired concepts of “Californian,” “New American” and “Farm to Table” and combines them, he says, “to reinvent them.” For the holiday season, the chef has created a seared sea bass “Cioppino, with a little SoCal flair” he says, “with chimichurri butter and other flavor twists. It’s a nice stew dish for the colder months.”
We dined on the veranda, adjacent to the Four Seasons pool, under sparkling bistro lights, next to the butterfly garden. Using Prescott’s idiom, I would say the flavors of the Halibut Veracruz, with plantain, hearts of palm and spiced pecan was music to my taste buds.
You can own a piece of Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara and become a resident, or you can rent a room for any number of nights. The resort is in the process of revamping its spa for reopening in February 2022. Rooms start at $425. www.fourseasons.com.
A VERY MERRY LEGOLAND
For most families, a trip to Carlsbad starts with a day (or two) at LEGOLAND. Opened in Carlsbad in 1999, LEGOLAND California has continued to expand, now with over 60 rides and attractions, an aquarium, a water park and two hotels. For the holidays, the ultimate theme park for tots brings out its Santa, the Gingerbread Man and the Toy Soldier for hugs and selfies. A 30-foot, brick-built Christmas tree holds over 400 LEGO ornaments, and in the evenings, twinkling lights and falling “snow” add to the merry magic. You can hop on a reindeer-powered sleigh to catch a ride with the life-size LEGO Santa. A family-friendly New Year’s Eve rounds out the holiday plans, with an early “midnight” that includes live music, fireworks and a new-year countdown.
Each LEGO hotel extends the park experience into the lobbies and rooms, all the way to bedtime. The Legoland Resort Hotel has 5 different themed rooms including the LEGO NINJAGO and the LEGO FRIENDS, among others. Themes in the 250 rooms at the Castle Hotel include Knights, Dragons and Princesses. Both have dining, evening entertainment, and pools with family cabanas.
Legoland is offering a holiday package that includes a themed room, two-day Hopper ticket (to the theme park, the SEA LIFE aquarium, and the water park), and free breakfasts. www.legoland.com.
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By Randall Tierney