DEC. 17, 2023
The re-imagined Inn at Rancho Santa Fe unveiled its new look last month after a year under wraps.
The historic Inn has been given an infusion of lavish greens, seen in the furnishings, the vintage-Hollywood style emerald latticework that is found the pool area and in the new restaurant Lilian’s, the green floral print wallpaper in the upgraded guest rooms and the rehabbed landscaping which features foliage-filled archways.
On an unseasonably warm December day, the Lilian’s restaurant patio was filled with diners, guests rolled suitcases to the check-in counter and dogs sniffed greetings as owners chatted outside the new cafe in the lobby. At the pool, people enjoyed the winter sun. Out on the front lawn, a Christmas tree was ready for a community lighting event and a fire pit was set for nightly s’mores, hopefully creating new holiday traditions.
Since reopening, The Inn has been busy with both corporate groups and leisure travelers and the hope is to grow more busy through the spring and summer with race track action and summer vacations.
“It’s been a great journey and the results turned out really well, “ new Managing Director Vikam Sood said of The Inn’s reopening with its whimsical and elegant touches. The goal was to make The Inn more approachable while showing a commitment to its 100-year history: “We think of ourselves as the keepers of The Inn…We treat our guests as we would treat them in our own home.”
The Inn has changed hands twice in the last two years. After owning the property for 54 years, the Royce family sold The Inn to JMI Realty in 2012. A Montecito-based hotelier Steve Hermann. who specializes in buying and upgrading hotel properties, purchased The Inn last year and embarked on a $50 million transformation—he then sold it for $100 million, double what he paid, to Chicago-based GEM Realty Capital this spring.
While the renovations were substantially completed by the time the sale closed, there were some additions and fine-tuning in the last few months, and Clique Hospitality partnered with The Inn on the new dining concepts.
Across the 11-acre property, the changes are dramatically evident but none more so when stepping into the main lobby. While the adobe and exposed wood-beam bones remained untouched, herringbone wood flooring replaced the tile and the space was brightened up by new windows and glass doors. There are super-soft plush couches and chairs in hues of green and gray, detailed new millwork and a brightly colored Andy Warhol flower painting hangs over the new marbled fireplace. Music sets the vibe.
With a nod to the past, a display off the lobby prepared by the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society tells the story of the original La Morada, with photos of architect Lilian Rice, a crate of oranges and lemons, and artifacts like a vintage Inn key.
Sood, a Carmel Valley resident whose children are Canyon Crest Academy grads, brings a local touch to his role as the managing director along with extensive experience in luxury resorts.
He got his start in Four Seasons resorts and was the opening general manager for the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, helped launch the Four Seasons Aviara, and has worked at La Valencia in La Jolla and L’Auberge Del Mar. His background includes time managing The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island in South Carolina as well as The Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Maui.
For the past several years he had not been in charge of a resort’s daily operations as he was working for a hospitality group. The opportunity to take over in Rancho Santa Fe was one he couldn’t pass up.
“For me this is like coming home,” Sood said. “I wanted to come back to something special.”
He has high hopes to bring The Inn back to life as a great luxury destination but also to connect with the Rancho Santa Fe community:
“I think this is really a large home in many ways,” he said. “The Inn always has been the center of the community.”
The Inn now has 85 total rooms, a little less than before as some rooms were combined to create larger suite accommodations.
There is space for gatherings in the library and vintage room as well as the enhanced meeting rooms, with new carpeting and chandeliers. The Inn spa has also been completely redone and is set to open next year—Sood said The Inn plans to do a lot more on wellness, with yoga and fitness classes scheduled throughout the week.
Off the lobby, guests will find three new dining and drink areas with the Lilian, Bing’s Bar and a brand new cafe.
The bright Inn cafe has replaced The Hunstman whiskey lounge: “We really wanted to provide a space where people could gather in an informal manner,” Sood said of the spot that will serve up craft coffee and pastries, with vegan and gluten-free options.
Lilian’s features the popular outdoor seating overlooking the village as well as the large indoor dining room coated in green latticework and matching tufted green booths.
At Lilian’s, Chef Moira Hill (with a resume that includes George’s at the Cove, Juniper & Ivy and Campfire) developed the coastal California menu that includes fresh-catch fish, grass-fed meats and local organic fare. It’s open for breakfast at 8 a.m. (wagyu steak and eggs and buttermilk pancakes), lunch and dinner until 9 p.m.
For dessert they serve up a treat called Lilian’s Wonderland—inspired by nature there is a chocolate crumb “soil”, cherry chocolate mousse “earth”, “mushroom” meringues, chocolate truffle “stones”, dark chocolate “twigs” and pistachio cake as “moss”.
Bing’s Bar is a nod to Bing Crosby, the Hollywood icon and Rancho Santa Fe resident who co-founded the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and helped build the Del Mar Racetrack. The bar has a speakeasy aesthetic with a fireplace and a custom wood-paneled bar and overhead liquor rack fully stocked with a large collection of spirits and liquors.
Bing’s serves up light bites such as sliders and mini lobster rolls and craft cocktails until 10 p.m. nightly. The cocktail list pays playful tribute to Crosby with drinks like the White Christmas (Hendrick’s gin, Aperol, seasonal berries and egg white) and the Dixie Lee, named for his wife and made with champagne, and sweet raspberry and peach.