In Southern California, "reasonably priced" real estate is a relative term. In San Diego County's Rancho Santa Fe, perennially on lists of the nation's wealthiest communities, Whispering Palms is such an oasis.
What's it about
Rancho Santa Fe — "the Ranch" to locals — is a tree-shaded area of trophy estates, horse properties and bridle paths. No cookie-cutter mansions here. Tear-downs on the tree-lined, meandering country lanes run in the millions, while newly built, high-end custom homes routinely start at $5 million and go up — way up.
With single-family homes priced from the high $900,000s to $2 million and condos from $700,000 to $1.5 million, Whispering Palms is the "affordable" area of Rancho Santa Fe.
Developed in the 1960s as one of the area's first golf course communities, Whispering Palms is five minutes from the beach and five minutes from the heart of the Ranch.
It's only three miles to the motoring lifeline of Interstate 5 for visits to Los Angeles — the "old country" for many of its residents — or five miles to the Amtrak Coaster train for day trips to San Diego.
The country-club lifestyle draws downsizing empty-nesters and out-of-towners looking for second or third homes.
"Lots of folks from L.A., Montana, Wyoming and the East Coast" are buying condominiums as vacation homes, said resident Diana Dineen, a Re/Max agent.
Young families are drawn by top-notch schools (Torrey Pines High School earlier this month again made Newsweek's list of the top U.S. public high schools) and "safety — sidewalks, no through streets, little traffic," said Rosie Gross, an agent with Prudential of Rancho Santa Fe. And the homeowners' association fees are just $50 a year.
Designer strollers share wide sidewalks with retirees pulling golf bags. Dog walkers proliferate. Nobody has ever stopped to count whether there are more golden retrievers or Labs, but dogs sporting spiked collars clearly are in short supply.
At Halloween, the sidewalks lure families down from the Ranch, where narrow winding roads and multiple-acre properties make trick-or-treating difficult. Whispering Palms' roads become lined with parked SUVs, and doorbells ring nonstop.
The neighborhood is adjacent to the 27-hole Morgan Run Resort and Club golf course, which has an upgraded clubhouse and plans to build a spa and fitness center.
A path bordering the golf course is a magnet for dog walkers, runners and the occasional equestrian.
Wandering past polo fields and a thoroughbred horse farm, the path crosses the San Dieguito River. Even in the midst of San Diego's drought conditions, ducks breed and fish leap.
There are 223 single-family homes and 329 townhouses and condominiums. On the market is Realtor Dineen's one-story, 1,450-square-foot condo with two bedrooms, two newly renovated bathrooms, a renovated kitchen, two patios and a two-car garage. Listed at $792,000, it showed up this spring in a Fortune magazine article as the least-expensive property for sale in the pricey 92067 ZIP Code.
Backing up to the golf course on Via Calma is agent Gross' newly renovated 3,000-square-foot Cape Cod, with three bedrooms plus a loft, 2 1/2 bathrooms, new windows and a new kitchen with custom cabinets of distressed alderwood. Its $1,499,000 listing price is the median for golf-course properties, said Gross, who along with her husband has renovated and sold five houses and two condos in Whispering Palms.
A Spanish-style house with the same square footage but not on the golf course is listed at $1,375,000. On Via Reposa, the home has four bedrooms and a loft, plus four bathrooms, a pool and a spa, and it is situated on a 7,400-square-foot lot.
Good news, bad news
Hot-air balloons sometimes dip low over the neighborhood, including one that recently made an impromptu landing. And an accident on Via de la Valle (the only access road to Whispering Palms) or a big event at the nearby Del Mar Fairgrounds can tie up traffic. But, then, where doesn't that happen?
Whispering Palms, although not formally in the Ranch's covenant, shares the prestigious 92067 ZIP Code along with its fair share of glossy junk mail.
And even though it's about five miles from the Pacific, the San Dieguito River valley enjoys beach weather. Summers are cooler, and air conditioning is truly optional.
Whispering Palms is in the Solana Beach School District. Children though sixth grade attend Solana Santa Fe Elementary, which scored 934 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2005 Academic Performance Index Base Report. Earl Warren Middle School scored 885. High-school students can attend Torrey Pines, a California Distinguished School with 3,100-plus students and test scores of 821, or the smaller Canyon Crest Academy, a 3-year-old public school emphasizing visual and performing arts, with test scores of 842.