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More Than Just a Pretty Place

Encinitas is home to the first WELL-Certified hotel in the world
Courtesy the Inn at Moonlight Beach
Inn at Moonlight Beach Encinitas SDM 02-23

Inn at Moonlight Beach Encinitas SDM 02-23

Courtesy the Inn at Moonlight Beach

Within seconds of arriving at the Inn at Moonlight Beach’s hillside property, the first thing that hits is the smell: the crisp, citrusy scent of the copal incense burning down the hallway—an area with exposed wooden beams and an open, circular window embodying the moon. Or the fresh oxygen emitted from the biodynamic urban farm that wraps around the inn.

Owner Shangwen Chiu Kennedy calls this special hotel “accidental.” Her five-suite hotel in Encinitas, meant to inspire “your divine calling,” wasn’t predicted. “It’s accidental, or maybe it’s destined,” she comments, confessing, “I never thought of opening a hotel.”

With ocean views of Moonlight Beach, the two-story hotel was there for 30 years before Chiu and her husband, Mike Kennedy, bought it in 2017. Chiu, whose parents owned hotels in Taiwan growing up, says she was more committed to starting a “wellness environment” project that ironically turned into a hospitality idea.

“People often ask me what the style is or, ‘How are you designing this?’” Chiu shares, explaining, “It’s not about style. The goal is to have you experience being nourished…[It] just happened to be pretty.”

Following a years-long renovation process ending in 2019, the inn became the first hotel in the world to be WELL-Certified at the Platinum level, the highest accreditation by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). The highest pinnacle of health achievement, according to IWBI, this makes the hotel the first to combine design and construction with health interventions to “improve the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep, comfort and performance of its occupants.”

Inn at Moonlight Beach SDM 02-23

Inn at Moonlight Beach SDM 02-23

Courtesy of the Inn at Moonlight Beach

As the IWBI’s pilot project for the hospitality sector, which is expected to be recertified this year, the B&B was acknowledged for meeting the WELL standards of air, water, lighting, nutrition, fitness, comfort, and mind (emotional and cognitive health). More than just a checklist, these categories fall exactly in line with Chiu’s original design purpose, which transcends merely visual aesthetics.

Chiu—who is both a Cornell and Harvard graduate in architecture, landscape, and urban design and a former employee of architectural firm NBBJ—knew she’d have to breathe life back into the “dying place.”

“It was pretty bad as a building, but the worst [part] was the smell,” Chiu says, describing the hotel’s original state, adding, “Most plants were dying on-site.” Chiu’s renovations started from the ground up, doubling as a reflection of how our well-being as humans goes beyond what’s on the surface level.

To meet the WELL standards, first came soil regeneration, a six-month-long endeavor crucial to the biophilia (the concept that nature serves us well, physically and emotionally) of the hotel. The result: flora lush with bamboo, medicinal herbs, succulents, and gardens with fruits and vegetables.

From the paint to the sealant, Chiu says the materials used were selected to have low VOC measures so they emit levels not toxic to humans. Each suite was remodeled to feature a private outdoor deck with ocean and garden views, suitable for exercise. To finish, wellness offerings like massages and meal packages with whole and unprocessed foods from the biodynamic farm on-site were also included.

Inside each room, an air filtration system, purified UV light water system, aromatherapy diffuser, HVAC unit, and sound therapy machine, among other amenities, were carefully considered to guarantee the ultimate wellness environment.

While lounging in the hotel’s communal area, Chiu shares the real mission of her venue as an earthy fragrance of the herbs and produce from the day’s harvest diffuses throughout the space. “I’m most committed to creating a place where people experience joy, love, and connection,” she says. “And I hope you feel it.”

By Roxana Becerril

Roxana Becerril is a Mexican-American writer living in San Diego. When she's not traveling or checking out the newest restaurant in the city, she covers art, culture, lifestyle and Latino topics.

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