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WEEKEND ESCAPE

Exercising options in Walnut Creek

It's all workouts, all the time at the Renaissance ClubSport, which has an impressive array of exercise equipment and classes -- and a staff that delivers first-class service.

November 16, 2003|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

Walnut Creek, Calif. — Through courtship and marriage, my wife and I have spoken many words but never these: "Honey, there are weights in the bathroom."

Then Debora and I checked into the Renaissance ClubSport hotel in Walnut Creek, and they came tumbling out. I entered the spacious, sleek bathroom, and there -- atop the chrome storage bin and above the neatly folded towels, the hair dryer and the coffeemaker -- rested a pair of 2-pound weights. Multi-tasking run amok.

"Decorating accents," Debora said.

Given the year-old hotel's hyper workout ethos, the dumbbells were appropriate. The resort, as it fancies itself, is a sweaty monument to the spa and fitness culture, dumbed down a bit for the masses. With its massage tables, Pilates classes and enormous health club, the Northern California hotel challenges those who enter to check in and never leave. It's pump, jump, cycle, swim, hoop and run till you drop, and we did. For novelty and value, you're unlikely to find anything like it in Southern California.

For us the most arduous part of the experience two months ago was getting here. We drove. We had two children to pawn off on a set of hug-happy Bay Area grandparents, and when all was said and done, four wheels barely beat two wings in terms of cost and convenience.

From L.A. it's more than 300 miles, a six-hour drive north up Interstate 5. Our favorite stop, near the halfway point, is Harris Ranch. The San Joaquin Valley restaurant and inn is known for its tender steaks, which we enjoyed, but we appreciated its air conditioning and clean bathrooms probably as much.

Three more hours of driving and we finally hit Walnut Creek, about 25 miles east of San Francisco. A generation ago, it was a modest bedroom community. Today the city has transformed itself into a high-priced bedroom community, a suburban center for shopping and dining akin to Pasadena.

The six-story, 175-room Renaissance ClubSport is a fine example of the corporate, Postmodern architecture for which the suburbs are famous -- or infamous. Big windows, big colors, big curves. In many ways, it brought to mind a new Best Buy store.

Our room ($119 a night) looked as though it had been appointed by a design team from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Trendy wall art promoted youth and fitness, a planter held stalks of wheat grass snipped into a crew cut and track lighting spotlighted a tasteful blue bowl. If house music had been blaring, we would have initiated a spontaneous step class right there.

For all of its hip pretensions, which by the end of our stay had become quite charming, the hotel delivered first-class service. The staff members must have graduated magna cum laude from hotel management school. They were prompt, helpful and unfailingly polite.

I had forgotten to pack white-soled tennis shoes. (My dark-soled running shoes would have scuffed up the squash, racquetball and basketball courts.) Within two minutes of my asking, a staff member provided a printout with directions to a good, affordable athletic-shoe store.

A quick tour of the rest of the hotel revealed a weekend warrior's indoor paradise. An 85,000-square-foot fitness facility is open to hotel guests at no additional charge. (The public can buy memberships.) A good chunk of that space was a department store-size fitness floor packed with free weights, machine weights and row after row of cardio machines: dozens of Ellipticals, treadmills, cycles and stair climbers, no waiting.

Debora and I swam in one of the three pools and finished off our first evening with a brief spell in the Jacuzzi.

I vowed to spend as much time as possible Saturday perspiring. Debora bypassed dozens of classes that included yoga and cycling and spent a leisurely morning by the pools. As the mother of two young boys, she doesn't need classes and workout facilities to test her physical limits.

For me there were challenge courts for racquetball and squash, both of which I enjoy. I had brought my racquetball racket, though it turns out all equipment -- even goggles and balls -- are provided at no charge to hotel guests.

Pacing myself for the day ahead, I played one short game of racquetball and headed to the indoor basketball courts. The floors were top-notch. I shot baskets for a while to relax and later joined a three-on-three half-court game.

Debora and I met for lunch at the hotel's deli, which knows its market. You don't have to say, "Hold the mayo." It's held for you. We looked past the display of low-carb energy bars and ordered sandwiches with turkey amply stacked on wheat bread.

In the spirit of the weekend, we embarked on personal triathlons in the afternoon. I worked three cardio machines for 10 minutes each and did some light weightlifting. My wife swam in three pools, then relaxed with a manicure at the on-site R Spa.

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