When Only the
Pros Will Do
With its climate and array of terrain, California attracts the world’s best athletes. What you may not know is that you can train with them.
With its climate and array of terrain, California attracts the world’s best athletes. What you may not know is that you can train with them.
From surfing and skiing to sports-car racing, programs across the state pair amateur athletes with pros. “You will have the best of the best experience but with a California attitude, which really for me is inviting and warm—it's unpretentious,” says California native and former pro volleyball player Gabby Reece. “There is sort of a casualness that makes you feel like, ‘I can get involved. I can do that.’ Yet, it’s the highest caliber of instruction. We are all about premium information, but we are doing it with a warmth and an inviting tone and a casualness that is truly California.”
Here are five ways to get your blood pumping and adrenaline surging with a California pro.
One of Gabby Reece’s favorite spots to dine is Santa Monica’s Belcampo, famous for its local flavor. But the farm behind that restaurant is an equally important part of the California culinary story.
At the foot of Mount Shasta, a four-hour drive north of Sacramento, there’s a farm doing things differently: Belcampo. Since 2012, Belcampo Farm has set the standard for sustainable, high-quality meat, which is sold in five butcher shops and served in six restaurants across the state. Fitness guru and author Gabby Reece is a regular at the farm’s namesake restaurant, in Santa Monica. “You understand clearly how the animal is being raised and how the food arrives for you to enjoy your meal,” she says. “It’s certainly more sensitive, healthy, and civilized.”
On the menu: steak frites, short ribs, and pork rib chops straight from the farm, as well as award-winning burgers and house-made charcuterie. Founder Anya Fernald, who launched a cooperative of cheese makers in rural Sicily and worked for the Italian Slow Food Foundation, has reimagined the steak house as something thoroughly modern. “Steak-house people expect massive amounts of meat, and one of our messages is, ‘Eat better meat, and eat less of it,’ ” she says.
Her farm embraces sustainability. Belcampo’s animals graze on plants adapted to northern California’s dry, hot climate. “That’s why our meat tastes so good,” Fernald says. “Our pigs are outside in nature. They’re thriving in the hot temperature, eating pumpkins, alfalfa.”
It’s an Eden for people, too: Belcampo offers “meat camps” throughout the year, inviting visitors to learn new cooking skills, eat bountiful meals, and sleep in luxury tents. On the itinerary: classes on searing and braising, as well as building a fire; yoga workshops; and wine tastings. Fernald and a team of instructors lead the charge. “My goal is that you come out of there and you can figure your way around any type of meat grilling,” she says. “People come out if it saying, ‘I’m not afraid anymore. I can buy that piece of meat I’ve been eyeing and know what to do with it.’ ”
The two-night retreats have been so popular that, in 2017, Fernald will roll out family camps, so kids can learn how to make butter and jam while adults partake in more advanced classes. There’s also plenty of time to relax and soak in the surroundings. “You’re in the middle of this livestock farm, but it smells incredible,” Fernald says. “You can see a million stars at night—there’s no light pollution, there’s no noise. Our guests want to stay forever.”
The exterior of Belcampo's joint butcher shop and restaurant at dusk, located in Santa Monica, CA.Lauren di Matteo
Butcher Alex Jermasek behind the counter at Belcampo's butcher shop in Santa Monica, CA.Lauren di Matteo
Participant Kaiza Losch grills spatchcocked quail during a Woodfire Grilling Lesson at Belcampo's Meat Camp.Courtesy of Belcampo
Even though Gabby Reece doesn’t consider herself much of a mountain person, Yosemite was a revelation. “You hear about it, but then you go there and see how beautiful Yosemite is, how majestic it is,” she says. Plan your own escape by following these tips on what to do and where to stay.
When you head out on a private hiking trip with Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, you'll get to experience the park through the eyes of guides with a vast knowledge of the area and its most magical destinations. The outfit offers moderate day outings in Yosemite Valley or multi-day trips—like the challenging 4-day trek up Half Dome—to suit all skill levels.
Let the experts at Yosemite Sierra Fly Fishing lead you to alpine lakes and prime sections of the Tuolumne River to cast for rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Don’t worry about bringing your own gear: this local company, whose guides have more than 40 years of combined experience, have all the equipment you’ll need, including waders and flies.
While most visitors simply gaze up in wonder at Yosemite’s granite monoliths, you can challenge yourself by taking a rock-climbing class or booking a guided outing with Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service. More advanced climbers can even try guided multiday ascents of the famed Half Dome and El Capitan.
Reece loves the way that fine hotels in California blend the luxurious into their unspoiled surroundings. “It’s wonderful to have great food and luxury, but really it’s about doing that while you are also connected to this unbelievable environment,” she says.
That’s definitely true at the landmark Majestic Yosemite Hotel in the heart of the valley. Exquisitely crafted with stained glass, hand-stenciled wood beams, and intricate stonework, the hotel has rooms with balconies that look out on such park icons as Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls. Beneath 30-foot ceilings in the dining room, you can choose such dishes as slow-cooked rib-eye roast and osso buco made with braised Berkshire pork.
For a more rustic experience, the Victorian-style Big Trees Lodge is located just four miles from the southern entrance to the park. Most rooms have a large veranda with Adirondack chairs—the perfect place for taking in the views. Barbecues every Saturday night in the summer and nightly entertainment in the main lodge offer a chance to mingle with other guests.
Just 20 minutes outside the park, Château du Sureau lets you retreat into old-world elegance. Resembling a grand French manor house, the antiques-filled inn offers full board: meals are served at the celebrated Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant (you can take half-day gourmet cooking classes or attend a three-day cooking school there, too). And after a day on Yosemite’s trails, just try to resist a Hikers Repose massage, complete with soothing arnica and ginger, at the full-service spa.
At California’s family-friendly adventure parks, you can make your day unforgettable with a bit of advance planning.
Finding fun family adventures in California is simple according to fitness expert and mom of two Gabby Reese. “We have a lot of action here,” explains Gabby. “We've got roller-coasters and theme parks and movie parks.” But with a little planning, you can ensure your family experiences the state’s thrilling rides and amazing attractions in the ultimate style—with exclusive VIP park packages. Here’s a look at four that you can tailor to perfection.
If your family is passionate about animals, then plan to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is one of Gabby’s favorites. “You ride in a trolley and watch the animals that are freely wandering around,” she says. “It's actually more natural than seeing the animal in the cage. You are getting to watch and observe some really unique, rare, and even endangered animals like rhinos. The kids remember it forever.” Whether you are an animal lover or just like the idea of a behind-the-scenes tour, the Ultimate Safari experience lets you see the wildlife up close. With at least 72 hours’ notice, a dedicated guide can usher you through the park’s most exclusive areas, arrange animal interactions, and answer any questions.LEARN More
Upgrade your ticket with the VIP Experience, which includes a continental breakfast, a guided tour of the studio and back lot via trolley, unlimited front-of-line access to all rides and shows, and a gourmet lunch in an exclusive dining room. Disembark to explore areas not open to the general public, visit the Archive and Collections Department where historic props are preserved, and enjoy valet parking. If you’d prefer a private tour, request a personal guide to escort you through the park and studio.LEARN More
Meet a Looney Tunes character for a private autograph session, reserve seats at shows and restaurants, and avoid waiting in lines for rides with the Vallejo park’s VIP Tour, available to groups of four or more. The package includes food all day, a special sports bottle with unlimited refills, parking, and, most enticing, one or two animal meet-and-greets: you can feed a giraffe a snack or see the tigers up close.LEARN More
Make your visit to the Happiest Place on Earth even happier with the VIP Tour, complete with a personal concierge to accompany your group. Your designated Disney expert will share behind-the-scenes stories, secure dining reservations, grant you priority access to more than 30 Disneyland Resort attractions, character greetings, and shows. He or she will also arrange reserved seating for select parades, stage shows, and nighttime spectaculars.LEARN More
At California’s A-list spas you don’t just bliss out. You also get out and do something, which, according to Gabby Reece, can be the key to a true reset.
California is known as a mecca of health and wellness. Former pro volleyball player Gabby Reece, who created XPT, an experiential fitness program, with her husband, Laird Hamilton has seen that first hand. “I say high fashion goes from Europe to New York, across to us. When it comes to cutting- edge health and wellness, whether it's yoga or any kind of new exercise, I think it comes from California—exercise goes west to east.” So in the state, many top spas offer just as many activities as they do facials.
Reece loved going to Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, a 32-room luxury resort and spa in San Diego. While it looks like it has been air-dropped in from the French countryside, a California attitude toward health and wellness pervades. Guests can start their morning with a hike through the local foothills, then choose between dozens of fitness and yoga classes, including deep-water exercise and barre workouts. “There are some luxuries, massages and things like that, but it was a different type of experience,” Reece says. “It was still active, which is important to me, because laying around the poolside and drinking Mai Tais is not my way of resetting.”
The idea is to leave feeling better than you came. Here are three more experiences that combine revving up and relaxation.
The Spa at Terranea, in Rancho Palos Verdes, has all the trappings of a world-class spa: saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools, cold plunge pools, and fire pits—on top of 25 treatment rooms and three sprawling VIP suites. When guests are not indulging in treatments, they can take part in a full slate of activities that burn calories. Guests can scale hills in Seaside Cycle on the oceanfront terrace, take outdoor yoga classes on the full moon of every month and join in the resort’s signature Nature’s Gym, a fun but challenging combination of drills and resistance training that takes place all around the resort’s 102-acre property.Courtesy of Terranea Resort
If you’re looking to lose inches during your downtime, check in to the Ranch Malibu. Daily group fitness routines are not optional and involve a four- to five-hour morning hike, in addition to weight training, yoga, and other workouts. It’s not all hard work: there are afternoon massages and daily naps. The ranch’s food is renowned…and totally vegetarian. You can also say goodbye to caffeine, alcohol, sugar, gluten, and artificial sweeteners while you’re in their care. It’s all in the interest of cleansing and detoxing. Your new body will thank you.Courtesy of The Ranch Malibu
If you need a total mind and body retreat, the Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, is the answer. The retreat’s ethos was developed during the counterculture of the 1960s and accommodations vary to allow for all types of travelers—from bunk bed rooms to gorgeous suites with redwood decks looking out over the Pacific. Daily activities, including yoga and dance, are led by on-site experts, and meditation and thoughtful reflection are guided by visiting experts. When you’re ready for a moment to reflect alone, head to the institute’s two hot springs, which sit right on the cliffs. They offer some of Big Sur’s best views.Courtesy of Esalen Institute/Daniel Bianchetta
“There is so much beauty right around us in California—and it does call you,” says fitness expert Gabby Reese. “In our family the beach calls us most.” Here are three spots with postcard-worthy views of the Pacific.
Perched on a coastal bluff about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, the Montage Laguna Beach melds California craftsman architecture with its stunning natural surroundings. All 250 rooms boast sprawling views of the Pacific and throughout the resort are selections of local artwork, a nod to Laguna’s history of inspiring artists. The dining options, including the wood-burning rotisserie at The Loft and the French-inspired cuisine at Studio, offer art of a different kind.
The Bacara Resort and Spa, in Santa Barbara, combines Spanish-colonial style and California cool. Its uninterrupted views of the Pacific have been the backdrop for a slew of celebrity nuptials. The property includes a 42,000-square-foot spa and wellness center, cushioned clay tennis courts, three restaurants, and three bars. But the Bacara’s rooms are so sumptuously furnished—deep soaking tubs, marble showers, Frette linens—that it may be hard to leave them. The property’s 45 premium suites have spacious balconies and patios, the better to breathe in the sea air.
A former Army fort, Cavallo Point is a group of Colonial Revival–style wood structures built around a 10-acre parade ground. The best feature? The property sits right in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. The buildings, which were refurbished to the highest standards of green architecture, have panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows, bamboo furnishings, and gas fireplaces for cozy nights. The resort’s Farley Bar is a favorite for locals who like to eat truffle fries while sipping top picks from the hotel’s award-winning wine list.