I had the opportunity to do a site visit at this resort on 11/9 for an upcoming company retreat. Just for your background, we have hosted this retreat for the last four years (La Quinta, Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, The Grand Del Mar, and The Lodge at Torrey Pines) and will be comparing this resort to the Four Seasons (4S). We are looking for a place that is on the high end (4 to 5 Stars) that would still be family friendly and have great Spa and Golf available. Both of these resorts do not have their own golf course. Here is my detailed review of Bacara.
Location/Hotel: This resort is isolated off the beautiful coast about 15 mins past SB. Its next to the Sandpiper golf course which looked amazing. It is not a terribly large resort but is spread out. The resort was built in 2000 and still looks new. The landscaping was immaculate. The resort was very clean. There is ocean views from a number of the rooms. The walking trail next to the resort offers amazing lookout points. The beach was very easy access. The rooms are grouped by buildings (2-4 stories) and were scattered all south of the Lobby. They do offer golf carts to get around, but you really don't need it. The ambience is typical of SB and is very relaxed. Not really noisy (unless you were near the bar) and reminded me of Ojai (but not as expansive). I give the hotel layout and ambience a 5 star rating.
Service: I thought this was really good. From the moment we pulled up to the moment we checked out, you feel welcomed and pretty well taken care of. However with that said, it was still a notch below the Four Seasons. Checkin was pretty straight forward except we did not get the rooms that were confirmed to us. I had called the morning off to make sure that we had either connecting rooms or adjacent rooms (with our friends). I was reassured that they were adjacent. However, 6 hours later, we found out that they were in the same building but different floors. Nothing could be done about it (a tad disappointing) due to the high occupancy. Our luggage was taken from the car and loaded up onto a golf cart. They couldn't take all of our luggage at once, so the bellman had to return and get it. We called for housekeeping and room service a number of times and there response time was decent. I had requested a crib in both rooms, but only 1 room had it upon arrival. Initially the keys didn't work, but the bellman took care of that. The service at the restaurant and lounge was very good. We ran into some issues at the spa, but the manager was very understanding and discounted the treatment accordingly. Alice was the sales manager that took care of me and she was phenomenal. I just hope that the great service was not merely because they knew that I was on a site visit. The resort is very family friendly. There was no check in amenities for the kids. The crib came with minimal amenities. However, every one treated the kids well (especially at the Bistro). All in all, I give their service 4.5 stars.
Rooms/Amenities: We were placed in an executive suite in Building 8. This was facing the ocean and a short walk to the pool and beach access. The room was nicely decorated (with tile floors) and reminded me a little of La Costa in the decor. Nothing terribly fancy or knew. The Flat screen TVs were not terribly big. The sofa couch was fair in appearance and comfort. There was a half bath outside and a really nice size bathroom (with separate tub and shower). The bed was really comfy (I preferred their bed over the 4S). Bathroom amenities were decent. They offer 2 comp bottles of water and had a keurig avail (4S doesn't have inroom coffee machine). The room had a patio that had a partial view of the ocean. There was also an ipod/iphone dock next to the bed. I thought there were decent amount of plugs available. A microwave was brought to us by request. Biggest downside of the rooms was that we could here footsteps from above. Especially on the tile floors, it could be quite a bit noisy.
Pool/beach: We did not use it but I was really impressed with its layout. Both pools are right next to each other but I was more impressed with the cabanas. There are 2 stories of cabanas that surround one corner of the pool area. The upper ones were pretty basic, but the ones on ground level had TVs, fans, and fridges. Reminded me a lot of the pool party set ups in Las Vegas. I know you have to pay a pretty penny for them, but a nice option to have (especially for groups). The pools are heated. There were 2 jacuzzis that I saw. They even had a sandbox play area for kids. I did not visit the spa pool. The beach access was nice. The beach was a decent size but had a lot of seaweed and kelp (compared to the 4S). Still, made for great morning hike.
Spa: See my review regarding it. Basically my wife was not terribly impressed. A lot of it had to do with its service (or lack of). No towels (at 5pm) to be found. No toilet papers in most of the stalls. No personalized attention at checkin. All in all, not what is or should be expected from a 4-5 star spa. 3.5 star rating
Restaurant/Lounges: Had dinner at Miro and that was fantastic. They have an amazing patio and I would recommend having an early dinner out there. There is also a fantastic wine cellar to host a reception or big group dinner. The food was decent and they have an extensive wine list. We had a brunch at the Bistro and that was fantastic. They set us up right on the patio and we had a great view of the ocean. The weather was perfect and that definitely helped. The lobby bar was happening. We missed the nightly music. What I really liked was their fire pits out on the terrace. Made for a great spot for late night socializing. Their kitchen closes around 11pm (i think) but you can order room service and they will bring it out to you. Compared to 4S, you only had the bar area to hang out. Room service was ok, but they tack on $6 service charge. So order a lot to make it worth it. I was also a bit disappointed that they did not offer a Sunday Brunch buffet. They have a typical breakfast buffet, but did not offer anything special for Sundays (like the 4S). I would think that this big of a resort would put on quite a spread on Sunday.
Conclusion: I believe that this is a great place for a group retreat (w/families). From a service standpoint, It is not in the same class as the Four Seasons or the Montage (Laguna Hills), but the overall experience is great. The lack of golf course can be made up by playing at the Sandpiper. I would have no reservations in bringing my group there.