Disappearing walls bring the outdoors inside on Carlsbad Boulevard
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"Luxury living” is a term that eludes simple definition. For some, it may be a beachfront home occupying a slice of Southern California’s most coveted coastline. Others might prefer a penthouse condo equipped with the latest in modern technology perched atop a downtown high-rise while the plebeian masses scuttle to their service jobs dozens of stories below. Lovers of English period movies might envision a classically-influenced mansion ensconced among dozens of acres of meticulously landscaped walled gardens.

Photograph by Matthew Suárez

Let’s take a trip across the region, looking at how different locales tend to define their own version of exclusivity. It goes without saying that no single property is going to be representative of an entire community, but collectively we’ll cover the different ways San Diegans are living large.

North County Coastal

In the coastal region spanning from Oceanside to Del Mar, a whopping 393 homes were listed in the last year with asking prices north of $2 million. To get that down to a more manageable selection, I doubled the minimum price to $4 million; that search still returns 91 results.

The standout property along the northern coast is at 5305 Carlsbad Boulevard, where a 10,000-square-foot, five-bedroom (not including a guest casita billed as “better than any five-star hotel”), nine-bath blufftop estate looks to fetch just a few dollars shy of $30 million.

The home boasts a gated, full-circle driveway, private staircase to the beach below, no less than six outdoor entertainment spaces, and a “fully landscaped, Hawaiian-esque paradise.”

Inside, the 2007-built “trophy property” features an expansive great room with rock-walled fireplace and disappearing walls for an indoor/outdoor dining experience, along with a chef’s kitchen featuring a massive center island/bar with seating for four. At 625 square feet, the master bedroom alone is larger than many one-bedroom apartments, not including the expansive walk-in closets and dressing area, bath with jacuzzi tub, or private patio.

There’s no need to leave home for work, when you can “rule the world from your 600-square-foot surf break office with sweeping views to La Jolla along the sandstone bluffs, and featuring electronics that cast you anywhere in the world with the rock of your chair.” If those views ever get old, however, you can turn to the 72-inch flat screen capable of broadcasting four channels at once.

Originally featured in the Reader’s biweekly Unreal Estate column back in 2013, the home failed to attract a buyer at $29 million during a four-year listing period dating back to 2010. It spent several years off-market before being re-listed with an increased asking price of $29,950,000 in early 2019.

Though built in 1980, the Camino Del Mar home’s style 
is reminiscent of design trends popular in the 1950s

Though built in 1980, the Camino Del Mar home’s style is reminiscent of design trends popular in the 1950s

An honorable mention for the region is a quick(ish, depending on time of day and whether horse racing is in season) eight-mile jaunt down Interstate 5 to 2932 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar where a midcentury-inspired 1980 home occupies a half-acre, one of the largest oceanfront lots in the city. Sitting on a private spit of sand just across San Dieguito Lagoon from the fairgrounds, the home offers more understated luxuries, such as exposed-wood cedar on the walls and ceilings and a red-brick patio surrounding the lap pool and spa that’s shielded from nosy neighbors by a miniature coastal forest. Its asking price is a comparatively affordable $18,750,000.

North County Inland

The area spanning from Rancho Santa Fe east to Julian and then north to the county line saw an even greater count of 532 listings asking $2 million or more, bumping the price up to $4 million only brings that count down to 170. It takes a $5 million floor to get the count down into the high double digits.

Eighty-nine of the 97 priciest listings over the last year were confined to Rancho Santa Fe — no surprise, given that the tony enclave just inland of Encinitas and Solana Beach has been included on roundups of the nation’s wealthiest neighborhoods for years, holding the top spot as the richest community in America as late as 2002.

Las Colinas’ pool, straight out of a Four Seasons resort

Las Colinas’ pool, straight out of a Four Seasons resort

Tops among those finding a buyer in 2018 was 6342 Las Colinas Rancho Santa Fe, a 13,000-square-foot mansion set on five acres and described in listing materials as “a true tug-of-war between practicality and total indulgence.”

Total indulgence won this round. The residence, with its seven bedroom suites and four additional guest baths, covers more than a quarter-acre on the inside alone. Amenities include a “5-star workout facility complete with dry sauna and adjacent outdoor shower, professional director’s movie theater, wine lounge and temperature controlled seamless glass wine room, new gourmet kitchen, his and her offices,” and a “lap-of-luxury Master suite with beautifully customized his and her couture dressing closets” in addition to the freshly renovated spa-inspired bathroom.

Outside, “drama unfolds the moment the private motor gates open” to grounds promising “a playground for the senses with honed European hardscape throughout,” a mature fruit garden, private tennis court, and “Four Seasons pool” that might be more at home outside an exclusive resort than in a private backyard.

The Las Colinas sale was relatively easy, considering it’s not uncommon for eight-figure properties to languish on the open market for years on end. Listed in September of 2018 for $15,995,000, the home sold less than a month later, fetching $13.3 million.

One of six private lakes and ponds on Angel Mountain’s 560 acres

One of six private lakes and ponds on Angel Mountain’s 560 acres

Honorable mention: at 28197 Angel Mountain Road in Santa Ysabel, a 560-acre estate with 7500-square-foot residence near the county’s easternmost border sold for $9,950,000 just as Las Colinas hit the market. The ranch is completely self-sufficient, generating its own power via solar panels and its water via a private well, with six private lakes and ponds and a helipad for discerning buyers who can’t be bothered with a 70-mile car trip into the city.

San Diego – Coastal

To get the listing count out of the triple digits along the coast of San Diego proper (La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Sunset Cliffs, and Point Loma), we’ve got to crank the minimum list price to $5.5 million. That still yields 95 results. Let’s be honest, though, we’re definitely cracking eight figures in this part of town.

The wine cellar in one of the nation’s “top 10 homes”

The wine cellar in one of the nation’s “top 10 homes”

“The pinnacle of Point Loma,” the residence at 4095 Lomaland Drive was “recently selected to Top 10 Homes in the USA magazine.” The current six-bedroom, five-bath, 7328-square-foot residence was built in 2001, though one of the included three parcels comprised by the estate has “a three-story World War II bunker from 1942.” There’s a wine cellar with storage for 1500 bottles, living room with rock wall fireplace and disappearing walls that open the space to an outdoor patio, an ocean view office loft, and the requisite chef’s kitchen with oversized center island and wraparound bar.

The estate “blends timeless, traditional design with modern finishes, comfortable spaces with seamless indoor/outdoor living, privacy and the most DRAMATIC WHITEWATER views in Southern California.” The one-acre lot sits above Sunset Cliffs Natural park and adjacent to Point Loma Nazarene University, affording it one of the most secluded locations within a 15-minute drive of downtown.

The Lomaland mansion was first listed for sale in May 2018 with an asking price of $24,995,000 that remains unchanged to date.

Ocean views from every room at Vista Del Mar

Ocean views from every room at Vista Del Mar

Honorable mention: 7400 Vista Del Mar Avenue offers 8300 square feet of beachfront living in the heart of La Jolla Village, with an ocean view deck and spa directly above the public beach. The Mediterranean-themed home was “masterfully designed by the world-renowned architect Don Edson,” and features stone flooring with radiant heat, “an invigorating combination of fascinating entertaining spaces and comfortable, relaxing retreats,” a private theater, and multiple levels of view decks designed to take advantage of the coastal location. It’s available for $15,995,000.

San Diego – North Inland

Let’s visit inland neighborhoods in the city north of Interstate 8 – Del Cerro, San Carlos, the Mesas (Clairemont, Kearny, Mira) and the like. Only 153 listings here topped $2 million in the last 12 months.

Forget a hoop above the garage with Run of the Knolls’ full-sized indoor court

Forget a hoop above the garage with Run of the Knolls’ full-sized indoor court

Nearly all of the priciest offerings in this part of town are concentrated in Santaluz, an 832-home gated community just east of Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe near the city’s northern border. The priciest of those to sell last year was 8060 Run of the Knolls, which sold to a cash buyer in November for $8.5 million.

With more than 14,000 square feet under roof, the newly-constructed home is a paradise for lovers of sports and entertaining. Included are a full-size indoor basketball court, private gym, and a one-lane bowling alley. There’s also a home theater, a full bar complete with multiple beer taps, and a covered outdoor kitchen. The resort-style pool features a sunken dry seating area and firepit in the middle, lazy river, covered cabana, and water slide.

San Diego – Downtown and Coronado

Thanks to a strict height ordinance adopted by voters in the 1970s, nearly all of the high-rise buildings in the city are concentrated within a few square miles, limiting the range of options for urban penthouse living. Meanwhile, just across San Diego Bay lies Coronado, the self-anointed Crown City, offering a wider variety of luxury residences.

Three hundred fifteen listings were entered for more than $2 million last year. Just 65 topped the $4 million mark.

Looking down on the city from Meridian’s 25th floor

Looking down on the city from Meridian’s 25th floor

For living the suite life, it’s hard to beat Unit 2502 at Meridian, a 27-story luxury high-rise just west of Horton Plaza at 700 Front Street. The 25th-floor unit includes three bedrooms (one converted to a home office) and three baths in its 3050 square feet of indoor living area. Recently remodeled, the home was “conceived, designed and created to reflect an urban lifestyle in a warm, contemporary style with sophisticated materials and state of the art technology.”

Luxury finishes include “Level 5 Drywall, the highest quality smooth wall finish available,” a “one-of-a-kind” 218-bottle climate-controlled wine vault lining a dining room wall, and an elaborate wood-lined walk-in closet and dressing area in the master suite. The condo’s two private balconies are fitted with La Cantina stacking doors, allowing entire walls to pull away and combine indoor and outdoor living spaces while inviting in sweeping south and west views of the city and San Diego Bay.

Homeowners’ association dues of nearly $2000 a month include access to the building’s resort pool, spa, and fitness center, but also cover valet parking for homeowners and their guests, 24-hour private security, door attendants, and a concierge. Other building features that drive even the most modest units in the building above $1 million include a three-foot spacing between floors for privacy and sound deadening, an “elegant lobby and guest waiting area,” and five private suites available for use by overnight guests at the tower.

The Meridian property was first listed for sale in January 2018 with an asking price of $6.2 million. It’s still available, and the price has since been reduced to $5,750,000.

Downtown’s skyline from a private Coronado patio

Downtown’s skyline from a private Coronado patio

A short trip across the Coronado Bridge will land you at 701 1st Street, a 9130-square-foot waterfront estate along Coronado’s northern shore. Built in 2011, the home’s nearly half-acre lot is advertised as one of the largest available on the water. It enjoys 65 feet of bay frontage.

“The extraordinary Santa Barbara/Spanish style estate boasts the most breathtaking harbor and city skyline views,” gush the property’s marketing materials. Luxury appointments include “solid knotty alder raised panel doors, beautifully patterned Spanish tile flooring, French white oak wood floors, a chilled wine vault, radiant floor heating and full separate prep or catering kitchen.” The garage has parking for six cars and features a vehicle-sized turntable, so there’s no need to turn around once inside.

A master suite occupies the entire top floor and includes a private deck, exercise room, and sitting room with fireplace. The walk-in closet alone occupies 200 square feet and includes a second laundry room.

Outside, bay access for kayaking or paddleboarding is “just steps away.” The pool, spa, and patio with gas firepit abut the water’s edge, offering an exquisite view of the downtown skyline across the water.

The 1st Street estate was listed for sale in February 2018 for $14,495,000, a significant jump from the last reported sale for $10 million in mid-2016. That price remains unchanged to date.

San Diego – Central

Spanning from just east of downtown to San Diego State, the city’s central region offers perhaps the richest array of luxury offerings, from penthouse condominiums abutting Balboa Park to regal historic mansions overlooking downtown to mid-century modern estates perched atop hills or tucked into the city’s canyons. Eighty-eight properties were offered for sale last year with a list price north of $2 million.

“Enjoy sweeping northwest views of Balboa Park and downtown San Diego from every room” of the 4700-square-foot, two-story penthouse atop Park Laurel, a 14-story Bankers Hill tower just west of the city’s hallmark open space.

Penthouse living above Balboa Park

Penthouse living above Balboa Park

The unit hosts three bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths, including a “grand master suite” with custom built-ins and a marble-tiled soaking tub complete with its own fireplace. There’s also a “signature chef’s kitchen” with oversized center island and bar seating, an “open family room” with oval tray ceiling cutout and chandelier, and a “expansive terrace” for al fresco entertaining high above the city. “The grand foyer and private study,” meanwhile, “heighten the penthouse’s elegant aesthetic.”

Building perks included with the $1745 monthly homeowners’ association dues include round-the-clock security and a full-time concierge, an on-site gym, community lounge, “executive library,” and a second-story sun deck with pool, spa, and barbecue area.

Penthouse #4 at Park Laurel, located at 2500 6th Avenue, was originally listed for sale in June 2018 with an asking price of $3,950,000. It’s still available, with the owners now entertaining offers between $2,999,000 and $3,299,000.

Old world craftsmanship on display in 3rd Avenue’s arches and entry

Old world craftsmanship on display in 3rd Avenue’s arches and entry

If owning a piece of history holds more appeal than a luxury tower, head north into Mission Hills, where the 1925 Tudor-styled estate at 3557 3rd Avenue was once the home of Alfred LaMotte. In the first half of the twentieth century, LaMotte operated Thearle Music Company, one of the county’s oldest and the nation’s largest music stores.

His home, with nearly 6000 square feet of living area, was constructed by city-designated Master Designer Ralph Hurlbert and Master Builder Charles Tifal. The estate “features gated grounds with picturesque pool, English gardens and enchanting outdoor dining areas.

This “stately three-story residence” includes period-specific detail including half-timbered shingle siding, cut stone chimney and entrance, and multi-paned leaded glass windows along with wrought iron light fixtures. Unique crowned archways and custom-cut doors attest to the craftsmanship involved in the home’s construction.

The LaMotte estate, first offered for sale in June 2018 with an asking price of $3,350,000, was marked sold in early January for a reported $2,650,000.

South Bay

If you guessed oceanfront estates in Imperial Beach would be among the priciest offerings south of the city, you’re wrong. Only a handful of high-end condos have seen the market lately in IB, while the most luxurious listings south of San Diego are found in the rolling hills and inland valleys of Bonita and eastern Chula Vista. Pricing is much more reasonable than in areas we’ve covered so far. Only 172 listings topping the $1 million mark, and only 30 over $1.5 million.

Carmona’s double grand staircase entryway

Carmona’s double grand staircase entryway

The property at 895 Carmona Court is a 6969-square-foot estate with seven bedrooms and eight baths, situated in Chula Vista’s Rancho Del Rey neighborhood just south of Bonita. Despite a 2009 construction date that makes it barely a decade old, the home has already undergone a reported $1 million in upgrades.

The front doors swing open to a “dramatic entry with gorgeous double grand staircase,” while other features include marble flooring with contrasted inlays and a 500-bottle wine cellar. The master suite alone, with its “unbelievable walk-in closet” and “huge private balcony,” comprises 1800 square feet of living space — until the 1990s birthed the “McMansion” tract home, this was larger than the county’s average new single-family home.

Outside is a fireside courtyard, pool, spa, and outdoor kitchen with barbecue. The grounds also include a guest house and four-car garage, along with mature tropical landscaping. The Carmona property spent more than two years on the market, carrying an asking price that was once as high as $2.5 million. It sold in October 2018 for a reported $2,030,000.

Oceanfront condo living at San Diego’s southernmost tip

Oceanfront condo living at San Diego’s southernmost tip

If the beach is more your thing, head to 1456 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach, where unit 3A is available for just shy of $1.6 million. The three-bedroom, three-bath condo has nearly 2000 square feet of indoor living space, plus a private oceanfront patio separated from the sand by nothing aside from a pile of surf-breaking boulders. Privacy is virtually assured — while the ocean sits to the west, the building is bounded to the east by the Tijuana Estuary and accessed via a road that dead-ends a dozen properties later with the southernmost residence on the West Coast.

East County - Suburban

The cities following the Interstate 8 corridor east past San Diego State University — La Mesa, Santee, El Cajon, and Alpinee — are generally thought of as solidly middle and working class. Still, the region saw 187 listings last year with price tags north of $2 million.

Just one of the kitchens in Alpine’s priciest palace

Just one of the kitchens in Alpine’s priciest palace

The most remarkable of these properties might be 3012 Via Viejas Oeste, a 10,956-square-foot home set on a four-acre hilltop parcel in the Rancho Palos Verdes Estates neighborhood of southeastern Alpine that listing materials describe as “one of the most beautifully finished homes in San Diego.”

The home features finishes “of the highest quality, including travertine and solid Rosewood flooring, auto shades, Rosewood cabinetry, 30’ ceiling in formal living room, granite counter tops, Viking appliances, and steel I beam construction.” It includes an ocean-view gym, home theater, private rooftop observatory, wine cellar, and “jacuzzi room with retractable roof.” The master suite features a 440-square-foot bedroom area, spa-like private bath, and a folding glass wall that retracts to open the space to the backyard.

Outside, the patio is fully finished with travertine tile flooring and surrounded by a putting green, pool with swim-up bar, 450-square-foot cabana with a full bath, and a full outdoor kitchen outfitted with Viking appliances and beer tap. The property also features a two-stall barn “with direct access to miles of horse trails,” 50-foot deep garage with workshop, and a detached guest house. It’s fully self-sufficient in case of emergency, with multiple functioning wells, a solar power array, and 80-kilowatt backup generator. The $365 monthly homeowners’ association dues include access to a private 65-acre lake offering boating, swimming, fishing, sailing, and kayaking.

Despite costing a reported $7 million to construct in 2006, the property has been listed for sale several times in recent years, with an asking price never topping $5.5 million. The most recent listing expired a year ago, netting no buyers in the $4.5-4.8 million range.

San Diego County – Rural

From towns offering a distinctly rural feel such as Ramona or Fallbrook, to agricultural communities such as Valley Center, and on to mountain or desert resorts including Julian and Borrego Springs, quite a bit of land within San Diego County lies outside the region’s city centers. Because there’s often quite a bit of acreage included with a home, Southern California land values do their part to drive up prices — 54 homes were listed for north of $2 million in 2018.

The over-sized tub at Via Rancheros gets its own chandelier

The over-sized tub at Via Rancheros gets its own chandelier

Many of the most luxurious homes in rural San Diego are found in Fallbrook, a town of 30,000 that bills itself as the “avocado capital of the world,” with thousands of acres of trees under cultivation. That’s where we find 2704 Via Rancheros, a 2.4-acre estate with more than 6400 square feet of living space constructed in 2004 within the gated community of Champagne Crest.

“Not only will you be captivated by the panoramic views, but by the dual staircase which welcomes you into the home as well,” the listing pitch begins. “Attention to detail goes above and beyond with the elegantly hand-crafted custom woodworking & wrought iron work throughout the home.”

The home features the requisite gourmet kitchen, along with a private pub with wet bar. The master suite has two separate bathrooms, each with “expansive walk-in closets.” Each of the additional three bedrooms is an en-suite, and there’s a guest casita featuring a private bath with steam shower.

Outside, the “entertainer’s dream backyard boasts a sparkling pool with swim-up bar, barbecue/outdoor kitchen, waterslide, sport court, and that incredible view!”

The Via Rancheros home was first listed for sale last September, with an asking price of $2,195,000 that remains unchanged to date.

Head east about 20 miles along State Route 76 and you’ll reach Pauma Valley, where a handful of estate-caliber homes are interspersed with the tribal lands of several Native nations and the Pauma Valley Country Club, whose golf course hosted legends such as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in the early 1960s.

A view from the top at Pauma View

A view from the top at Pauma View

The valley is home to 32263 Pauma View, a 4600-square-foot residence with additional two-bedroom guest house that was “designed with all the bells and whistles you could want inside and out.” Those include a kitchen with three ovens and two dishwashers, a sunroom off the dining area that serves as “the perfect place to enjoy California weather indoors,” a master suite with “spa bathroom” and private exercise room, plus multiple fireplaces both indoors and out.

Outside, the hilltop patio offers views of the valley, a pool and separate spa area, as well as a gas grill and outdoor-accessible bath. The “matured and lush landscaping is neat but not formal.”

The Pauma Valley estate, just a few blocks west of the country club, was first offered for sale this January with an asking price of $3.2 million

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