Coasting Through California

Karen Rasmussen |
Travel

Have you ever dreamed about driving an exotic car up the California Coast from San Diego to Napa, with overnight stays in locales like Newport Beach and Santa Barbara? This summer, I did just that. The Meritage Resorts made it the perfect California Coast excursion, offering boutique luxury from four-diamond stays all along the coast—Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa in San Diego, Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, and Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa. And I was lucky enough to do it all in a Porsche Boxster from the Exotic Car Collection by Enterprise. Join us as we relive the journey along the California coastline.

My dad and uncle were car buffs, so the Porsche name was well-known in our household growing up. I have enjoyed my time driving some fairly nice cars over the years, but never had the luxury of owning a Porsche. There is something special about glancing down to see that Porsche emblem between your hands at 10 and 2. The car commands quality and performance, and it did not disappoint.

One might ask: how do you pack and travel for a week in a Porsche? My answer: you make it work! It is a Porsche, after all. And actually, the Boxster has plenty of trunk space.

We pulled into the timeless Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa in San Diego at the start of our trip, where we were greeted by a personable valet and front desk staff who offered us a glass of Champagne to start our experience—a nice touch.

The Estancia itself has a storied past. It was owned by the Scripps family for many years, and later sold to the Black family. The resort was once known as Blackhorse Farms, where the family used their equestrian ranch to train young thoroughbreds. The beach below the main resort, Black's Beach, is a favorite for local surfers. Now Estancia Resort, the space features rancho-style Spanish architecture with low-rise brick buildings gathered around common courtyards and patios. It's all set within peaceful landscaping that includes 275 types of well-maintained, artistically-placed foliage. I felt like I had been transported to Spain.

At Estancia, there are plenty of manicured walking paths to enjoy and serene places to sit in rocking chairs—relaxing the day away in rustic elegance. There is a large and carefully designed pool area with cabanas and an outdoor fireplace, as well as a spa and on-site dining. And don't forget to visit La Jolla, a jewel overlooking the cliffs in sun-drenched San Diego. I enjoyed walking the grounds and lantern-lined corridors. After two complimentary margaritas by a roaring fireplace on the Spanish brick outdoor patio, I dined at Mustangs & Burros Restaurant, home to Southwest-inspired dishes made with only the freshest local ingredients. I ordered the Sea Bass, which arrived alongside a melange of mushrooms, asparagus, and roasted peppers, dressed with lemongrass beurre blanc, julienne potatoes, and leeks. Then if was off to a restful night in my Spanish hacienda hideaway. The next morning, I jumped in the Porsche with the top down and continued on to Newport Beach.

Making my way to the Balboa Bay Resort's grand circular drive, I could see the tips of sailboats in the distance. It set the tone for a laid-back, casual, and elegant experience in a coastal haven. The Balboa Bay Resort is the only waterfront resort in Newport—built in 1948 as a members only club. The resort itself opened in 2003, now available for guests to enjoy as a quintessential Southern California experience. It's a great place to eat, stay, and play in Newport Beach.

My room overlooked Newport Harbor which was full of activity: canoes, sailboats, and party boats out for a sunset cruise. I made my way down to the Resort's dock for a calm evening cruise around the harbor, winding through canals and gazing at private islands over a glass of Pinot Grigio and a cheese plate. Afterward, I dined at The First Cabin, the Resort's signature nautical-themed restaurant for—what else?—surf and turf. The Duet of Petit Filet Mignon and Half Maine Lobster, partnered with a baked potato, summer vegetables, and drawn butter for dipping, is the definition of indulgence. And did you know: if you pull up your yacht and dock it at the Balboa Bay Resort, they provide “room service” right on your boat!

Next stop: Santa Barbara and the beautiful Bacara Resort & Spa. It's idyllically located off the beaten path, and the closest luxury resort to Santa Barbara wine country. This sprawling 78-acre resort is nestled above the Santa Barbara coastline’s most pristine beaches, offering specialty suites, a penthouse, and a two-story residence. If you want to get away from it all, this is the place to do it. The Mediterranean-style resort has expansive hallways and outdoor walkways unlike any I'd seen before, making for a unique and tranquil experience. The professional hotel staff was there to greet me and shuttle me to my oceanfront suite, where I lingered over wine and cheese, taking in the view before making my way to the spa.

In my robe and slippers, I arrived at the 42,000-square-foot spa for a Bacara specialty—a massage called the Arnica. The style of bodywork ties in principles of Swedish, Shiatsu, and Thai massage, and its anti-inflammatory effects target muscle pain and joint stiffness—especially beneficial for athletes. Afterward, relaxed and rejuvenated, it was time for dinner.

Although there are five restaurants to choose from, all open during different times of the year, I chose Miró (named after the Spanish artist Joan Miró). I started in the exclusive Miró wine cellar—which holds about 12,000 bottles of wines from 13 countries—for a sommelier-led tasting. Bacara also recently opened a public wine tasting room called the Foley Food & Wine Society Experience at Bacara, which features exclusive sips, wine flights, and reserve tastings.

Dinner was an exciting experience in the dynamic dining room designed in Miró's signature style. Chef Johan Denizot, trained in France, is a world-class talent, creating contemporary global cuisine. If I could only stay another week, I thought. Oh, the things I could do. And eat. But the next day, it was time to drive up the central coast to sunny Napa Valley.

The Meritage Resort in Napa is a unique, charming, and creatively-designed resort dappled with vineyards and drenched in rich purples, burgundies, and earth tones. I started that evening at the resort's stylish Crush Ultra Lounge, with six luxury bowling lanes, billiards, and dining options that go late into the evening—a unique sports and entertainment experience in the Napa Valley. I awoke the next morning and set out to experience Napa, starting at the Trinitas Cellars Tasting Room and Napa’s only underground full-service spa, Spa Terra, both located under the resort's hillside vineyards in the beautiful Estate Cave.

Driving through Napa Valley was a dream, and something I have always wanted to do in a convertible—putting down the top down and taking a slow cruise through the Napa Valley wine region in a car that hugs the road and purrs with every acceleration. There are so many vineyards, all with their own unique personalities. I enjoyed the crisp warm air and the beauty of the vineyards, leaving my cares behind and giving myself over to the Napa experience.

I finished off the evening at The Meritage Resort’s signature Siena Restaurant, known for its Italian-influenced California cuisine. After a complimentary glass of Prosecco, I savored the Black Chanterelle-Crusted Filet Mignon, served alongside truffled portobellos, braised spinach, crushed fingerling potatoes, and Chianti jus—a perfect way to wrap up my trip.

With a full stomach and lovely memories of each property within the Meritage Collection, I headed home and took a detour along a winding stretch of highway that dipped through green valleys and over rolling hill crests. It was pure, unspoiled California landscape, and it gave the Porsche a chance to do what it does best—at safe speeds of course.