We had seen enough advertisements and articles on the recent renovation of the La Costa Resort and Spa that we decided to grab our clubs and travel bag and hit the road. The $50 million infusion included not just updating the hotel, but a $10 million renovation of their entire Champions Course (fka as the North Course) and four holes on the South Course (host to the Kia Classic LPGA Tournament, and host to the WGC Match Play Championship from 1999-2006).
Spanning 400 acres within a Carlsbad, California neighborhood, the resort is located 30 minutes north of San Diego and 90 minutes south of Los Angeles. The resort was founded in 1965 and was the first U.S. resort to offer a full-service spa (did someone say “Signature Massage”?). Featuring a central “plaza” that is surrounded by the hotel, guest rooms, market, stores, and play rooms for kids, the feel is more of a California outdoor mall than a resort. And maybe that is by design, as La Costa offers much more than just golf – the variety of activities for the entire family is one of the strongest draws – there are two restaurants, a tennis center (where they have hosted professional tennis tournaments), a fitness club, the aforementioned spa and, for all your ayurvedic needs, the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. If this all isn’t enough for you or your family, hey, Legoland is just a few minutes away.
While La Costa seemingly has all that one could want in terms of activities, we weren’t sold on the level of service. Issues with the upkeep of the room and common areas and generally low attentiveness by the staff were significant disappointments. Our diagnosis is that either the resort is lighter on staff levels than it should be, or the staff isn’t managed to provide the level of service expected from a top-notch resort. The all-in cost for a night, which starts in the mid-$300s, is lower than other resorts we have visited, but certainly nothing to sneeze at. A $50 million renovation can do a lot for a resort, but without some tweaks, it’s going to be tough for them to keep up. La Costa is certainly a good resort, just not a great one.
Expedia: View La Costa Resort and Spa offers
- Variety of activities
- Convenient location
- Family friendly (ostensibly this could equally be listed in the “cons” category)
- Rooms need more attention to upkeep
- Unkempt common areas and low service levels
The service and upkeep at the La Costa Spa and Resort is best described as “okay”, as it was far from the level at other high-end golf resorts we have visited.
- Checking In. We pulled into the roundabout/entrance at the plaza and were warmly greeted. The attendant pointed us in the direction of the hotel entrance and didn’t make any offer to help with luggage or golf clubs (presumably because he assumed that we would be driving to our rooms). Unbeknownst to us the pro shop was just below where we pulled up, and had we known, we probably would have proactively left our clubs there to be taken down to the pro shop.
At the front desk we waited just a minute before we were greeted. The front desk assistant was warm and efficient, providing us with a map and outlined locations for our room, and answering questions about the locations of the restaurants, hours for the pool and gym, and so forth.
- Housekeeping. The room itself was reasonably well kept, though we found notes left over from the previous guest, and candy wrappers that we left on the desk remained there between days (we won’t divulge whether that was a cleverly designed test or if we are just slobs). We had a few complaints about the room that, while they weren’t technically housekeeping’s responsibility to fix, could have been pointed out to management (see below under ‘Accommodations’). There is one housekeeping service per day.
- Concierge/Guest Services. We made arrangements for our room and golf tee times by phone, but took La Costa up on the offer in their welcome e-mail to assist with booking dinner reservations and spa treatments, along with a later modification to tee times. The concierge team sent an email detailing our planned activities, though curiously, our reservation at their BlueFire Grill wasn’t on the list. This may have been because the reservations are made via Opentable (we received a separate email with the Opentable reservation). A note to all: if you want some extra Opentable points, you might as well book BlueFire yourself. The BlueFire reservation did appear on a later updated activities summary, with the summary presented as a screenshot of an aging Windows application attached to the email.
We didn’t have any additional needs, but there were “experience planners” desks in the lobby area which were available to help.
- Checking out. We went to the front desk for check-out, and had the pleasure of waiting in the check-out line for 15 minutes. Count ’em. 15. There were three women working at the front counter, two assisting guests and a third working on a computer at the front desk who repeatedly turned down guests who approached her with questions, deferring them to the other desk clerks who would be “with you in a moment”. While she was warm, it was painful to see someone working on the computer (not on the phone) in front of a long line of guests and unwilling to step in to help with the overload. This is something driven by the culture of management, and while it may sound minor, highlights the difference between La Costa and top golf resorts.
Eventually we were assisted by a woman who was polite but a bit frazzled, and seemed puzzled when we asked where we could take a shower before heading home. Huh? Are we the only people who go to golf resorts and have the audacity to play a round on the day we are checking out? Apparently there is no shower within the fitness center, so in the end we were directed down to the tennis center locker room. We were left on our own to track down a towel (you need to ask whomever is working in the adjacent tennis pro shop), and after stuffing our belongings in a locker (with no lock provided), we showered in a locker room that was more appropriate for a typical weight room than a high-end resort. It wasn’t the best final impression to make on a guest, but that’s what we’ll take with us.
There are 611 guestrooms at La Costa, 30% of which are privately owned villas that can be rented at the owner’s option. At only 60% of capacity, the resort seemed relatively quiet on our off-season visit, which makes us wonder what the service is like when the resort is actually full.
Guest rooms range from 425-600 square feet, and our Signature Room provided us with 500 square feet. Our room was technically a “Premium” Signature Room, which is a ground floor room with French doors that open to a patio. We should say French doors that kind of open to a patio (see images), as the doors were only able to be opened about 45 degrees before hitting the bed. Once we squeezed between the bed and wall and opened the doors enough to slip out, we were treated to a rather sad looking shared patio with chipped stucco and cracking concrete that featured a small table and just one chair (seriously?). Signature Rooms have fairway, courtyard or garden views, and other views vary by room type.
Other features include:
- Flat screen TV
- Refrigerated minibar with drinks and snacks available for purchase
- Desk with two chairs
- Timex (that’s old school!) alarm clock
- Wireless internet is included within the daily “Resort Charge”, with a faster speed available for an additional charge (the “free” wireless was just fine for us)
- The marble bathroom featured Spa at La Costa branded bath amenities, a single sink with a stool, a deep soaking tub, a separate shower, a separate room with a toilet, and a hanging closet (never really advisable in a bathroom…damp clothes are a bad idea) with a safe.
Most of the room was in very good condition and comfortable, simple but well done, but with some little issues such as burnt-out ceiling lights in the bathroom and a peeling shower door seal. The wear to the patio and building outside the room seemed somewhat unusual given the recent renovations, so we are guessing that while interiors were updated, the exterior was left as is.
You can fairly easily hear people in neighboring rooms when you are in the bathroom. This is less of a problem in the main area of the room, but you definitely are not staying in the cone of silence.
FITNESS CENTER AND POOLS
Curiously, guests enter the fitness center off of the main hotel lounge, taking an elevator to the fitness center. When the elevator opens you enter into a long hallway, which somewhat gives the impression that you are in the basement of the hotel. Surprisingly, there is no locker room in the fitness center, just a set of small lockers off of the elevator entrance that are used by men and women. Both the entrance and lack of locker rooms struck as bizarre for such a large fitness center, all the more so since we assume that guests who aren’t able to get a late checkout (that would be us) would need a place for a post-round shower before heading off to the airport.
The fitness center staff warmly greeted us in the hallway, and we found the facilities well kept and stocked with just about everything you would want in a gym – free weights, elliptical machines, recumbent bicycles, stair machines, and so forth. The fitness center is an impressive 8,825 square feet, with 270-degree views overlooking the Edge pool and golf courses. In addition to a variety of weight equipment there is a large exercise room (which we found absolutely packed with women in a aerobic class during our visit), spinning room, and pilates room. There are a large number of fitness classes available each week, both indoors as well as out, available for additional fees ranging from $10-$15, and a selection of fitness camps are offered as well.
The associated swimming pools aren’t simple lap-pools, but instead cater toward R&R and family use. There are two pools in the family area, one of which has an attached sand mini-beach for the kids, and another for lounging. There is also a water slide and water sculptures. Two words: family friendly. If you’re looking for something quieter, the Edge Adult Pool is located just outside the body of the hotel that overlooks the South Course. Edge includes multiple hot tubs (a fantastic way to end the day and soothe the aching back), private cabanas that can be rented for the day, heat lamps and fire pits, and a poolside bar. Food is provided through the Diversions Lounge (see below for details).
Our first tour of the pools was just before 5 PM, and though it wasn’t surprising to find the pools areas largely empty, given the time of year of our visit, we were taken aback by the number of dirty dishes, trays, and used towels scattered about on lounge chairs, tables and the ground. Even the signage to rent a luxury pool-side cabana (for a mere $150, plus a food and beverage minimum of $250) was in bad shape. We later returned to the pool area after dinner for a late soak in the hot tub and found the pool area in the same condition. Equally disappointing was that we couldn’t find any towels in the pool area to dry off after hot tubbing. We weren’t alone, as another guest approached to ask us if we knew where to get towels. He was more resourceful than we were, disappearing for a bit before returning with a stack of towels that he had located on his own in the basement underneath the poolside bar.
If tennis is an area of interest, La Costa offers an amazing 17 tennis courts (13 hardcourt and 4 clay), seven of which are lighted, along with a,small tennis pro shop and locker room. The courts rent for $25-$35/hour, and lessons, daily drills and programs are available. And if your game packs in the fans, there is stadium seating for 1,000 people.
In addition to hosting professional sporting events, La Costa is known to many for its Spanish-colonial style spa, set just off the main plaza a short stroll from the main hotel. The spa features a whopping 43 rooms for individual treatments plus two more for couples, adding up to over 28,000 square feet of indoors space. The 15,000 square-foot outdoor courtyard includes a pool, hot tub, dual waterfall showers, and a café open for lunch into the afternoon. You can even unblock your qi on the Reflexology Path, described by skeptical non-reflexologists as “rocks cemented in the ground that you walk on barefoot.” The outdoor area was in slightly better maintained condition than the larger pools, but there were still towels and cups scattered about, further reinforcing the impression that staffing at the resort is too thin.
The men’s spa was well-kept and among the amenities were a good-sized locker room, hot tub, cold plunge, steam room, sauna, and small outdoor and indoor waiting areas. Curiously, one waiting area featured Glamour and RedBook for your leisure reading. And yes, this area is exclusively for men. That is some awesome attention to detail. Here’s wondering if the women’s locker room had Car & Driver and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. There is also a welcoming coed waiting area with couches, chairs and fireplaces.
We signed up for a Deep Tissue Massage (which, at $165, is only $5 more than their Signature Massage), but didn’t receive the level of pressure we would have expected – maybe we accidentally signed up for the Surface Tissue Massage). The serenity of the 50 minute massage was unfortunately broken several times as HVAC vents kicked on and off, and we could hear snippets of conversation in the next room and the rolling of carts passing by outside. On the plus side, our therapist, who had been at La Costa for well over a decade, had a pleasant and calming presence, and overall it was a fine massage. The cucumbers placed over our eyes (when in Rome…) made it clear we were on vacation.
The use of spa facilities is available to guests who are having a treatment that day or can be purchased for a rather excessive $60/day if you aren’t having a spa treatment.
Adjacent to the spa is La Costa’s salon. If we were still rockin’ our 80s mullet we would have reviewed their services, but with hair now just a wistful memory, we’ll have to leave that for others.
The Pro Shop is located on the ground floor of the hotel, and is one of the largest we have seen at a resort. The shop has separate men’s and women’s clothing sections, with areas that feature a number of name brands, including Adidas, Ashworth, Callaway, Greg Norman (with a larger area than he needs), Travis Mathews, Puma (yes, in orange), Zero Restriction and even Ralph Lauren. For the ladies there is a selection of workout clothes in addition to golf attire.
There is a small putting green in the center of the store to test out the reasonable selection of putters. Clubs from Nike, Callaway TaylorMade, Cobra and Odyssey are represented. There are also sections of the store dedicated to wind and rain gear, gloves, hats, belts, bags, towels, shoes and golf balls. And if you are beat or simply need to wait while you wife tries on her fourth golf shirt in an attempt to find the cutest one, you can take a break in the small sitting area and enjoy some TV. Unfortunately, the bar is upstairs. Overall, this is one of the most diverse and well-stocked Pro Shops we have seen. If you’ve forgotten something or simply want some goods, they have a great selection.
There are two main restaurants at La Costa Resort & Spa, along with a lounge bar and restaurant, a poolside bar, two cafes and a “to go” market. The food, service and ambiance varies significantly between restaurants,
- Legends Bistro. Legends Bistro is located just downstairs from the main lobby of the hotel, and is the only restaurant outdoors with a view to the golf course. Breakfast (technically a $30 credit) was part of our package, though that still wasn’t enough to cover the all-in cost for an omelet and orange juice.
The service was better in the morning than in the evening, but the meal itself was better at dinner. We were foiled in our attempt to try the beet and goat cheese salad as they had run out of arugula (no, seriously…), but the organic baby greens salad, roast chicken and glass of wine (totaling $66) was better than expected.
- BlueFire Grill. The BlueFire Grill is located just off the main plaza just past the main entrance to the hotel. It features a patio within the main plaza for dining in addition to indoors. Service was stronger here than in Legends Bistro, and we enjoyed our meal of a mixed field greens salad and of Skuna Bay Salmon (raised in Vancouver, FYI), which had a nice crisp skin and was paired with a fennel gratin and vegetables ($49).
- Diversions Sport Lounge . For something a bit more casual, the Diversions Sport Lounge is a great place to hang out following a round of golf. Seating is available at tables, lounge chairs or couches, and televisions cover the walls both within the main lounge and above the bar. The bar extends into the outdoor terrace above the Edge pool. There are a handful of options of appetizers, soups and salads, and sandwiches. We sampled the Turkey Cheeseburger flatbread ($14) on the recommendation of our waitress, and weren’t disappointed. We liked the atmosphere here and the selection of items was above average for a hotel lounge. The only downside was the lounge was so crowded that our waitress had clearly reached her limits in terms of being able to keep up with requests. Unfortunately, staffing issues seem to extend even to the bar.
We did not try the Cafes, which are located within the Spa and next to the family-friendly Splash pools, and feature soups, salads, and sandwiches. If you’re looking for something to grab and go, there is also the Marketplace, which offers coffee, chocolates, ice cream and other treats, as well as La Costa logo gear and other items.
INTEGRATION WITH GOLF COURSE
- Golf Club Storage: As mentioned before, we missed out on our initial chance to store our clubs with the pro shop upon our arrival at the hotel. We did leave our clubs overnight to be stored after our first round. They weren’t waiting for us after we had checked-in for our scheduled round the next day, so we had to ask for them to be pulled from storage area and brought out to our cart.
- Getting to the Course: Some golf resorts have courses a short shuttle away, but at La Costa the course was close enough that we could not only see the Championship course from our room, but also walked alongside it on the way to breakfast each morning. The Championship and South Course are next to each other, so no matter which one you are playing, you’ll start virtually next to the hotel or just a short walk away.
- Practice Facilities: A practice green is located right outside the back of the hotel (practically adjacent to the pool) and overlooking the starting holes of both courses. The driving range is a short walk away, and on the weekend of our stay allowed hitting off of the grass – bonus!. There is also a short-game area, with a green and surrounding bunkers.
As a side note, there are golf memberships at La Costa, so you may feel a bit like a second-class citizen as you check-in and wait behind the members checking in with their buddies (and the quoting of rates well under $100). Ahh, so it goes. Courses can be closed for members only, so if you have a strong desire to play a particular course, plan accordingly.
La Costa also features the only west coast location for the PGA TOUR Academy offering golf schools, private lessons, and specialty clinics.
We booked a golf package for $499 per night that included a Signature Room (which featured fairway views), a $30 breakfast credit, unlimited golf, unlimited use of the practice facility, club storage, and a 15% discount on items purchased at the pro shop. If you go the route of such an unlimited golf package, the ultimate cost of the room itself will depend on how many rounds of golf you play. Greens fees on the weekend we were there ran more than $200 for the Champions course and $185 on the South course. But assuming only one round a day, the ballpark rate we were paying for the room itself was about $285/night.
If you’re booking a la carte, rates for the majority of guest rooms start at under $300 for plaza-view rooms and run up to a bit under $400/night for the more spacious La Costa rooms, depending on the day of the week and season. The “Daily Resort Charge” adds approximately $30 to your tab, and doesn’t include parking, which will run $25/day if you valet, or $12/day if you want to self-park. The lot for self-parking lot is semi-paved, unsecured, and located at the edge of the resort a short walk away from most rooms. If you forget to mention you drove to the resort when you check in and park the car yourself, you may not find a parking charge on your bill. So we’ve heard. So all-in for a night will run approximately $300-$450 per night. Suites and villas start all-in around $450 for plaza views, and break $1,000 for the largest villas.
Though less expensive than other high-end resorts we have visited, the La Costa Resort and Spa is by no means cheap. It is both a family-friendly resort and one you can go for a weekend golf or spa getaway with friends, and one of the strongest benefits is the wide range of activities both at the resort and nearby (hey, there are golf performance and fitting centers in the immediate area to visit between rounds too). But at this level we expected more, and found the value only fair.
Selected images (the professional-looking ones) courtesy La Costa Resort and Spa.