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WEEKEND ESCAPE: NORTH SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Bed and Bargains

In Carlsbad, determined shoppers find a heady mix: deluxe digs, refined dining, industrial-strength discounts

November 01, 1998|JEAN PENN | Penn is a Santa Monica-based freelance writer

CARLSBAD, Calif. — As dedicated bargain hunters, Helena and I had a mission as we joined the southbound traffic on the 405 Freeway one Friday afternoon. The main event would be an all-day shopping safari at the year-old discount center called Carlsbad Company Stores. The rest of the weekend, we'd luxuriate in the quiet-money atmosphere of the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, about 15 miles away.

"If you want bargains, why are you staying in Rancho Santa Fe?"

My husband enjoys commenting on my eagerness to go miles out of the way to swap meets to save a few bucks, yet throw money away on aesthetic surroundings.

"This isn't just shopping. It's a vacation too," was my retort. In fact, our lodging didn't seem like a bad deal: $160 on a weekend night for a fair-size room with kitchen and veranda in the middle of one of the most beautiful, exclusive neighborhoods in Southern California. The nearby Carlsbad Inn had been $169 for a room with two beds, and was totally booked. I tried a B&B near the beach, Pelican Cove, but the only room available that night for two people who wanted separate beds was one with a pull-out couch, and it was $150.

Driving onto Interstate 5, I further justified my choice to Helena: "The other resorts in that area--Rancho Valencia, L'Auberge Del Mar, La Costa Resort and the new Four Seasons in Carlsbad--would be even more expensive."

"Maybe I can find the DKNY jacket to go with the DKNY navy knit dress I got at Loehmann's for $29.99," mused Helena, her mind already on the shopping adventure ahead. Helena is a blond Greek fashion plate with a demanding social calendar.

Most of the rooms at the inn are in cottages spread over 22 acres, surrounded by eucalyptus, citrus groves and rolling hills. Our accommodation was in the divided Jasmine Cottage. It stood at the top of a lane, overlooking a canyon of eucalyptus trees. We had the living room with two daybeds, a dining room table, armchairs to pull in front of an already laid fire, a small kitchen, large dressing area and bath. Our long wall of sliding glass windows looked out on a veranda.

The inn feels very secluded. The same family has owned it for three generations--the current innkeeper, Duncan Royce Hadden, is the grandson of Stephen Royce, who bought the inn in 1958--and the Eisenhower Era seems alive and well here. The front lawn includes a croquet court. You could almost imagine the Ozzie Nelsons in the next cottage.

Cilantro, a lively Santa Fe/Mexican restaurant in nearby Del Mar, was recommended by a friend. We splurged on expensive entrees: spit-roasted duck and roast pork loin. In retrospect, it would have been wiser and cheaper to sample some of the tapas, such as handmade tamales and pecan-wood-barbecued baby back ribs.

The next day we approached the Mediterranean-village-style discount shops on Paseo Del Norte soon after the 10 a.m. opening bell. The sun shone bright, the skies were Tiffany blue and there was a pleasant breeze. It was perfect shopping weather.

As agreed, we worked the center systematically, not wasting any energy on backtracking. Our first stop was at WestPoint Stevens, the one place where we both bought. I bagged a set of white 280-thread-count sheets for about $53 and another set, of lesser 250-count quality, for $24.74. My total came to $92.97. Helena won the bargain bonanza: She snagged four zip pillowcases that had been mismarked $2.99, even though they were supposed to be $8.99.

At Factory Brand Shoes, I wrongly decided against the solid white $39 Skechers running shoes. At Couture New York, a store that specializes in jewelry and handbag designer knockoffs, Helena was very tempted by a Tiffany-inspired diamonds-by-the-yard necklace for $45 but decided against it.

After trying on shoes at 14 footwear outlets, Helena settled on high-heeled sandals for $29 (40% off) at Nine West. At DKNY I snagged a black unlined polished cotton jacket from the 50%-off sales rack at the back of the store. Originally, said the tag, it had been $205. Most of the merchandise here is 40% to 60% below retail before it is marked down, a saleswoman assured me. It's hard to believe anyone would pay close to $300 for such a jacket. I suspect much of the clothing is manufactured especially for the outlets.

So little time, so many stores. We didn't pause for refreshment at any of the many eateries, such as Panda Panda, Ruby's Diner, Bellefleur Winery & Restaurant or Starbucks.

"I think there was a limited amount of fashion that you could wear to the office," said Helena as I dragged my weary body into Nobu, a large, pleasant Japanese restaurant and sushi bar in a strip mall in Solana Beach. We had tried to get into the town's hot new restaurant, Pamplemousse Grille, but it was booked until 9:30.

The next morning, we strolled around Rancho Santa Fe's tiny village. The restaurant Mille Fleurs, across from the Inn, is well-known and expensive. But its attached breakfast cafe offered ham and spinach croissants, quiche and lox and bagels at reasonable prices, and the lattes were good.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Budget for Two

The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, 2 nights: $348.00

Lunch, Fish Market: 35.21

Dinner, Cilantro: 67.44

Breakfast, Mille Fleurs: 13.25

Dinner, Nobu: 6.25

Breakfast, Inn: 27.53

Gasoline: 25.00

FINAL TAB: $572.68

Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, P.O. Box 869, Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067; tel. (800) 654-2928.

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