SAN DIEGO -- Usually when a hotel changes hands, the new company wants to impose its brand on its new toy.
Fairmont has taken the opposite approach -- wisely, I might add -- to the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Ever since opening in 2007, the hotel has been one of California's poshest places to stay. There wasn't much to improve upon for Fairmont, which took over operations in March 2015. Manchester Financial Group and Fairmont's parent company FRHI Hotels & Resorts both hold a minority interest in the AAA Five-Diamond hotel.
The Fairmont Grand Del Mar, home to Tom Fazio's the Grand Golf Club, has been awarded five stars by Forbes and AAA and been named the "No. 1 Luxury Hotel in California" by TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice. Even with the fierce competition among the state's most luxurious golf resorts -- Pebble Beach Resorts, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, Monarch Beach Resort, etc. -- the Fairmont Grand Del Mar still manages to stand out.
I took the Fairmont for a test drive for two nights earlier this month, giving my family time to explore La Jolla for the first time and enjoy the spoils of the aptly named Grand. It's as good as any family golf destination in America.
Normally when the room isn't ready at check-in, the disappointment takes the early mojo out of a vacation. Not here. The clerk handed us a pool pass, which might as well have been a ticket to paradise. We chose the most kid-friendly pool of the four, where we lounged and ordered a tasty lunch. Our children loved the music being piped in under water.
Walking around the Fairmont doubles as a class in international architecture. Parquet floors, marble archways, crown moldings, elegant carpeting, decorative columns, outdoor fountains -- all inspired by the works of Addison Mizner, whose exotic style in the 1920s were borrowed from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Morocco.
The 249 rooms and suites are equally refined as the public spaces. Ours had an outdoor patio, a flat-screen TV in the bathroom next to the large soaking tub and a walk-in closet bigger than my home office.
Each morning we ate breakfast at the buffet in Amaya, sitting outdoor near a fire pit. I've yet to experience dinner at the Addison, a five-star meal of the highest order. Maybe next time when the children stay home.
Since the Grand Golf Club is only available to 150 centennial members and Villa owners, the whole club feels like a personal playground for hotel guests who love golf.
The range and practice area are impressive. The Grill inside the 50,000-square-foot clubhouse offers a popular menu before or after a round. Celebrities have been known to hang out in such solitude and splendor.
The 7,160-yard course, which debuted in 1999, winds through the 380 acres of the rugged Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. Fazio, true to character, keeps things fun. There aren't many forced carries. The fairways run wide. The greens are tricky to read but not over the top. It's a scenic treat in secluded surroundings from start to finish.
The highlight comes at the finale. From an elevated tee, players can see the challenge ahead on No. 18. An 18-foot manmade waterfall feeds a stream crossing in front of an elevated green. The water collects in a pond on the left. Put it this way: I didn't make bogey.
The best part of the Grand Del Mar is its location near so many local SoCal attractions. The last time my family visited the Grand Del Mar in 2011, we crashed into bed after a whirlwind day at SeaWorld San Diego.
This time, we booked a more natural ocean adventure through the resort concierge -- kayaking the seven sea caves of La Jolla. The tour started out great. Dolphins frolicked feet from our two double kayaks as we rode some wild waves. Unfortunately, the high winds making those waves kept us from getting anywhere near the caves. We learned a hard lesson: You should always ask about conditions before you book.
That bad break was offset by a wonderful meal in downtown La Jolla, a trendy spot stocked with places to dine and drink.
There was so much to see that we simply ran out of time. A complimentary morning beach walk arraigned by the concierge also sounded amazing. Alas, it wasn't available the morning we wanted it.
I foresee an argument brewing should we come back. I'd love to sign up for a guided hike along the oceanfront, cliff-top trails in Torrey Pines State Park. My daughter wants to see the San Diego Zoo again. Any guesses who wins that debate?