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Ben Thiele, general manager at Alila Marea Beach Resort in Encinitas
Ben Thiele, general manager at Alila Marea Beach Resort in Encinitas. Courtesy photo
Faces of North County 2022

Face of Hospitality: Ben Thiele, Alila Marea Beach Resort

An intentional experience

For Ben Thiele, general manager of Alila Marea Beach Resort in Encinitas, the resort isn’t only a luxury establishment that boasts spacious suites with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean and Batiquitos Lagoon, a stand-alone architectural design that evokes the hotel’s beachfront surroundings, and a standout restaurant and bar created by James Beard semifinalist Claudette Zepeda.

It’s all of those things — but it’s also so much more as an asset to the community and culture of Encinitas.

“It’s a thoughtful and intentional experience, it pays homage to everything Encinitas has to offer highlighting the community and people for who they are and what they do…it embraces that highly unique culture…we’re not overly formal, we’re not pretentious, it’s anything but,” Thiele said.

Thiele was hired to become the resort’s general manager in 2020, after a nearly 20-year career in the hospitality industry. He says that he took the position out of a deep desire to serve and give back to the Encinitas community, which he said he fell in love with when he moved to the town 12 years ago.

“From my time growing up as a child, I felt as though my purpose was to be in service to others. I truly felt fulfilled and I enjoyed my interactions when I could change the trajectory of someone’s day in a positive way, and the hospitality industry has been my vehicle for that,” he said.

Thiele expressed that as Alila Marea’s general manager, he tries to imbue the resort with a sense of the relaxed beach culture that makes Encinitas unique.

“Encinitas has this laid back surf culture, and also a tremendous amount of entrepreneurs and legacy businesses coming out of this area…we wanted to make sure that these types of barefoot luxury sentiments in the community came through in our services as well.”

Thiele says he used to drive by the formerly empty plot of land where the resort now sits and imagine the possibilities for development at the scenic location.

“I used to drive by and think to myself, something beautiful, someday, is going to be there, and then 10 years later I got the opportunity to bring that place to life.”

The resort, which opened in March 2021, markets itself as an “adult-centric sanctuary that embodies the soul of California beach culture”— and the resort’s pristine locale lives up to the description.

Guests are just steps away from the soft sunlit sands of the South Ponto Beach below the bluffs and have access to the beautiful hiking trail that runs directly through the Batiquitos Lagoon, a large coastal wetland adjacent to the resort. And for those interested in taking on the waves, the hotel is situated just above one of Encinitas’ best surf spots.

The resort’s exterior was intended to reflect its beachy surroundings to its core, Thiele said.

“The design team really wanted to do their absolute best in creating a subdued exterior, so even though it’s a very expansive property that reaches out from Coast Highway all the way to the coastline along the bluff, they really wanted to blend the design with the natural colors of the region and surroundings,” Thiele said. “That’s why you get a lot of the sand colors, the neutral grays that you see with some of those cobbles and driftwoods, resulting in a design that naturally complements the space that it lives in but still has a beautiful sharp exterior to it.”

Similarly, the resort’s interior is intended to reflect features of the coastal property’s beachfront surroundings, such as the patterns of the tides, the beautiful rocks that collect along the beach, and the woods of the trees that grow naturally around Encinitas.

“Guests experience these beautiful polished concrete floors, as well as these canted walls that curve through the lobby that lends itself to the way the tide cuts in and out of the different rocks and these beautiful tidelines,” Thiele said. “The guestrooms have a subdued design and feature beautiful black tiles for the showers inspired from the deep tones of the cobblestones.  Even the front desk itself is crafted from 100-year-old reclaimed wood that was carved all by hand by David Allen Studios in Solana Beach, it’s a beautiful two-piece desk that’s just stunning and gorgeous.”

But beyond its external features, Thiele said that what he’s most proud of is how the resort has made itself both a contributing member of the Encinitas community.

The hotel’s staff is composed of almost entirely local residents, with over 90% of employees living in Encinitas, said Thiele, reflecting ownership’s desire to have Alila Marea run by people who understand the surrounding community.

Additionally, the establishment also proactively encourages guests to buy local, partnering with local establishments such as Lofty Coffee, an upscale cafe located off of Highway 101, Electra Bicycle Company which designed a fleet of Electra Go! Bikes for hotel guests to use complementary, popular activewear and athletic clothing company Vuori, as well as the Fulcrum Surf School, which offers surf lessons in Encinitas to beginners at all levels.

“What we try to achieve with these partnerships is being hyperlocal…a lot of these people who come here have never been to Encinitas before, and so we pick partnerships right in our own backyard and offer services and programs inside of our retail space so that they can get a taste of the location, even if they’re only visiting for a day or two, they have ways to interact and engage with local partners right here on our property,” Thiele said.

Read more profiles: Faces of North County 2022.