The Coast News Group
Inn guests are invited to enjoy the Meditation Garden, which is one of the property amenities intended to promote wellness. Photo by Carey Blakely.
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Urban designer renovates Inn at Moonlight Beach

ENCINITAS — Shangwen Chiu Kennedy refers to herself as an “accidental innkeeper.” With degrees from Harvard and Cornell and work experience in large-scale urban design, the desire to renovate and run a five-room inn in Encinitas is not what immediately comes to mind.

But after speaking with Kennedy, who purchased the Inn at Moonlight Beach with her husband, Mike, in 2017, one begins to understand why it’s exactly what she wants to do right now.

“I have the drive and passion to create places that support people’s well-being and foster the joy of connection — whether that is with another person, with oneself or with nature,” Kennedy explained.

With certain long-term projects, Kennedy watched with dissatisfaction how particular concepts didn’t quite come to fruition, which she likened to “an illustration book that wouldn’t get realized in full.”

In other cases, she didn’t get the chance to see how people actually used the space after it was designed and built, nor could she modify it after the fact to adapt to occupants’ needs.

The Inn at Moonlight Beach has allowed Kennedy to redesign the hotel space — which was built in 1970 at 105 N. Vulcan Avenue — exactly as she sees fit and to interact with people as they inhabit it. Her goal is to “inspire and support” her guests and to make the inn as environmentally sustainable as possible.

In fact, the inn is currently undergoing review to become the first-ever hospitality business to achieve WELL Building certification, a rigorous rating system that seeks to enhance human health and well-being through design.

This suite at the Inn at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas uses reclaimed wood, Asian artwork and natural light to create a space that aims to both soothe and inspire guests. Photo by Carey Blakely

After extensive renovations, the inn had a soft launch in May 2018. It officially debuts its post-redesign look this week.

The inn’s style combines elements of minimalism, modernism and Asian fusion — with attention paid throughout to nature. Natural light imbues each suite, and gardens surround the inn with fruits, vegetables, teas and herbs that guests can pick and take home.

House Method, a home and lifestyle website, recently selected the Inn at Moonlight Beach as one of 12 “Best Micro Getaways for Design Lovers” in the nation. Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza, the site’s brand editor, told The Coast News via email that the inn “was unlike any other hotel or guest house we saw in our research and through our nominations.”

McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza continued, “The ultra airy, Zen-garden-like setting paired with the custom breakfast baskets and beach bikes was so quintessentially Southern California. We loved the attention to guests’ health and wellness — a nice surprise often overlooked in the hospitality industry.”

When the couple first purchased the Inn at Moonlight Beach, many of the property’s plants were dying and the soil was depleted. The first step, then, was to make what Kennedy referred to as a “huge energetic shift from dying to revitalizing.”

She looked at what was thriving, like succulents, and planted more of them and removed what was dying, like certain cedar trees. She reused the cedar stumps as tables at the inn and saved some of the living cedars on the north side of the property.

Much focus had to be paid to re-nourishing the soil to create the hotel’s biodynamic garden. To Kennedy it was important that the inn flourish from the ground up, she explained.

While she is both a landscape architect and building architect, Kennedy’s urban design background is what mainly drove her approach to renovating the inn. She’s more interested in systems, like powering the hotel with 90 percent solar energy and preventing soil runoff through strategic planting choices, than she is with design for design’s sake.

The couple and their two young children live in private quarters on the top floor of the two-story inn.

Nightly room rates start at $249. Property amenities include a meditation garden, yoga deck, an indoor common area with complimentary tea and healthy snacks, an outdoor fire pit and a makers’ space for blending teas, making potpourri sachets and creating other crafts.

Room amenities include soaking tubs, purified water and air systems, organic cotton towels and robes, aromatherapy diffusers and secluded outdoor decks — most with ocean views. More details can be found at