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I spent a weekend at the only Bay Area ocean-facing golf resort surrounded by the sounds of the waves, the green of the lawn, the smell of roasted marshmallows and the zesty flavours of a local rose wine. All this and more at the luxurious, palatial and grand The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay.
Arrival and check in
The journey is part of the destination at luxury The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. The drive from San Francisco is dramatic. Snaking along the Pacific Highway, the views from up the cliffs and the hills down to the beach were exquisite. Even on a rough winter day, I couldn’t help but stopping at every turn.
Once on the property, valet parking took care of my car as I checked in. On a Sunday morning, the hotel was rather busy. The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is a very popular luxury weekend getaway and day out destination for golfers and those looking for the vacation feel just outside the city.
The first few minutes at the property were an indication of the elegant and indulgent weekend I was to immerse myself into. Instead of being offered a standard glass of juice at check in, I was offered a glass of local cold rose wine that was a lovely way to ease into the day. I took it to my room from where I enjoyed every sip with beach and golf course views. I was awe-struck by the theatrical clifftop location, high atop the most formidable ocean views.
Mediterranean looking in gentle pastel blue, grey and white the rooms at The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay were lovely, beach-like and calming. I loved the small splashes of colour in the form of paintings and the pastel blue and violet of the in-room guides.
The hotel was split into two levels and most of the rooms had ocean or courtyard views. Ground floor rooms had access to a small terrace with a fire pit were to cuddle up with a blanket. S’mores and hot chocolate were available for order. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a romantic day with a book, the sound of the waves and the smell of wood slowly burning in the fire. Rooms on the second floor offset the lack of fire pit with dramatic ocean views and slanted ceiling for that countryside effect.
The rooms were comfortable, warm and bright. The bathroom had both a large bathtub and a shower and the amenities were from Asprey. Marbled floors and bright lights brought about the seaside feel into the bathroom.
The best part of a weekend escape to The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay was the Sunday brunch. Spread along the ocean-facing Navio Restaurant, the buffet was made of small plates of all types of Mediterranean and Japanese dishes. From the freshest oysters, caviar and seafood to sushi or a very encompassing cheese and cold cut selection. There was roasted beef, salmon or scallops and small plates with pretty salads and soups. The bread and pastry selection was also large as was the dessert section, which covered all time favourites like cookies and biscuits or flan as well as more elaborate chocolate cakes, a huge selection of chocolates, ice cream and crepes made to order. As all dishes were presented so prettily in individual portions, I couldn’t help but try them all.
Brunch came with a selection of homemade cocktails going from the humble Bloody Mary to a tropical adaptation with pineapple and other popular drinks like Pimms Cup. Service was friendly and kind. As I was alone, my waitress kept coming to check back on me and chitchat for a bit. The views over the high tide waves were impressive as they were soothing.
Apart from Sunday brunch, The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay had a lovely wine bar, Eno. Located just above the restaurant, the dark oak and glass décor contrasted with the bright and Mediterranean feel of the rest of the hotel. The bar was cozy, warm and perfect for a winter day cuddling up on the plush sofas. I sat by the fireplace with a book and a glass and spent the most glorious couple of hours. Although Eno has a huge selection of wines, the 70 local producers of Santa Cruz Mountains had a special mention by the staff, and they did not disappoint.
On a sunny day, even in winter, the outdoor fireplaces on the terrace were the perfect place to enjoy California’s warm temperatures with a stash of s’mores and a cup of hot chocolate from the Chocolate Bar. For rooms without a private fire pit, the communal ones on the outdoor patio were a great alternative. I spent my afternoon between the wine bar and the outdoor terrace making the most of a fantastic day in the sun.
The facilities and activities
The main draw to the hotel are the two championship 18-hole, par 72 courses. The Ocean Course was designed by Arthur Hills in a traditional Scottish style with prevailing ocean winds, tight fairways and knolls and Pacific views from every hole. The parkland-style Old Course was originally created by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane and redesigned by Arthur Hillsgolf course. Surrounding the hotel building and stretching along the sea, The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay Golf Courses are the only Bay Golf Courses with ocean views. Even if you don’t play, you can share the path with the golf carts and stroll along the seashore on the well-marked trails.
After a long evening strolling on the beach, the spa was the best way to unwind. Awarded and recognised as the place to get seriously pampered, the Spa is a destination in itself. I enjoyed a signature massage with indulging shea butter after some peaceful time at the sauna and whirlpools. There were separate men and women areas as well as a larger, Roman mineral bath with fireplace, sauna and steam room for both men and women. The shared areas are accessible to guests staying at the resort even without a spa booking.
The relaxation area had some extremely comfortable sofas as well as armchairs facing the fireplace. Blanket and magazine in hand, I sat down to enjoy fresh cucumber water and silence. The Spa had a cute shop selling pampering products used in the treatments, and the cutest bath ducks I have ever seen, dressed in different outfits and situations. Irresistible.
Despite the beach location, the ocean waters are not known for being warm. Fret not. The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay has an indoor heated swimming pool for lap morning exercise of family fun. The early hours of the morning are reserved for adults so you don’t have to worry about having to do an obstacle race.
Families, like in most Ritz Carlton properties, are the cornerstone of the resort. Kids are entertained through a long list of activities and parents can relax and enjoy me or us time thanks to the supervised evening activities.
The gym is located on the ground floor near the Spa but if you don’t want to exercise indoors, the coastal biking or jogging path is the way to go. There are also tennis courts, kayaking tours and surfing lessons for those more inclined to ride the waves. Outdoor lovers will find horse riding at the nearby ranch or the Signature Drive designed to discover the area through visits to pumpkin farms, heritage towns, wineries and wind-swept beaches great alternatives.
Animal lovers will rejoice in the whale watching tours where migratory grey whales can be observed from the safe distance of a boat or birding excursions.
As someone who lives in Asia, service in the US never ceases to amaze me. People are extremely friendly and open and it is almost impossible not to trike a conversation with anyone serving you. As I was on my own, this was even easier and I found myself constantly chatting to all the staff members. Everyone was friendly and extremely useful and had an efficient response to any of my queries. In particular, I found the waitresses to be noteworthy. No doubt The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay knows how to live up to the brand’s high service level standards. Service is also the most quoted differentiating factor by guests.
Summer or winter, The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is a great escape from San Francisco. Easily reached on a short but dramatic journey, it is both perfect for couples seeking romance as it is for families wanting to spend quality time together. Even in the coldest days, the smell of the sea, the sound of the brave waves and the light of the fireplace are enough reason to lift the spirits. And there is also wine to help out on that. An exquisitely luxurious and grow-up resort where those who know go to flee city life.
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Once in a lifetime Journey was a guest of The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. The opinions expressed here are always my own.