The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
As soon as my 11-year old son, Ronan, and I arrived at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, we knew we were in for a treat! The mission style resort sits a top a 150’ bluff overlooking renowned Salt Creek Beach. The staff was helpful and friendly, whisking away our luggage and parking the car. It was Friday afternoon on one of the last, probably busiest weekends of the summer, but there was hardly any wait to check in. The marble lobby was very elegant and bright, with a big bowl of colorful salt-water taffy on the desk. There were kids everywhere: from toddlers with goggles and beach toys to teens in board shorts. The dress varied from high heels to flip-flops – we were in the middle of the spectrum and felt right at home.
I received an email from the concierge a few days prior to our arrival with their extensive list of activities, so I booked surfing lessons and made reservations for dinner on Saturday night. My boy was itching to get down to the beautiful beach, which we could see through enormous windows. We were thrilled when our luggage arrived promptly at our room.
We booked a Garden/Pool View Guestroom. The 400-square-foot space was lovely. We were on the 3rd floor, which is the same level as the lobby, restaurants and bars. At first I thought this might be a bummer, but it turned out to be a blessing. Everything was easy to get to and nearby. There were two fluffy white double beds with lots of pillows, an un-stocked mini-fridge/food storage area hidden behind a mirror, with an ice bucket and cocktail glasses, but no coffee machine. (When they turned down our beds the first night, they filled that ice bucket – for mommy! – and left chocolates – for son!) A balcony with wicker chairs and a table overlooked the amoeba-shaped pool.
Families splashed around on noodles as a lounge singer crooned out the latest hits. A large, flat-screen TV was on the wall opposite the beds. There was a DVD player, which the bellman pointed out. (DVDs are on loan for free at the Front Desk!) A desk with a plush chair and a night table with drawers provided ample comfort and storage. The closet contained a small dresser and was stocked with two Ritz-Carlton robes. Recessed lighting was on easy-to-reach dimmer switches, so I didn’t have to hunt for them or get out of bed once I was tucked in!
The pristine marble bathroom had his-and-hers sinks, a shower/tub and a WC, which made it very easy to share with Ronan. Ritz-Carlton lotion, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel were double stocked, lined up like fancy little soldiers everywhere we looked. Rollaways and cribs can be brought in at no extra charge.
The size of this room was perfect for Ronan and me – if my husband and daughter had been along, we might have opted for adjoining rooms or a suite. Either way, when I return, I will definitely splurge on an ocean view! A balcony overlooking the water would make it the ultimate vacay. The only complaint I had was the noise from the AC unit, which is hidden behind a mirrored wall next to the balcony. I’m a light sleeper and it cycles on and off, which I found jarring in the night (Ronan didn’t even notice). The engineer suggested turning it down so it never turned off, which helped. Also, if you book a suite, it would be farther from the beds.
The onsite activities are numerous! Salt Creek Beach is breathtaking, with light aqua water and those famous So. Cal waves. An elevator takes you down to the beach path or you can catch the beach shuttle so you don’t have to walk. There was a staircase off the 180Blû Bar, which was near our room, so it was quick and easy for us to walk. It’s a wide paved road, perfect for those jogging strollers, and we thought faster than waiting for a ride. As Ronan said: “The best beaches are always harder to get to,” and this is a great beach. At the bottom of the path, there is a “Beach Butler” station where you can either pick up chairs/towels/umbrellas/boogie boards and fins or have them carried for you down to the sand (included in $25 resort fee). They also offer drinking water and sunscreen.
The surf was warmer than we’re used to at the LA beaches and it was crystal clear. It is a public beach with lifeguards, a super snack bar and bathrooms if you don’t want to hike back up to the hotel. This is a renowned Dana Point break, where the iconic surfing movie Endless Summer was shot. From early morning till nightfall, the waves are crawling with local groms catching tubes. We were impressed to see that some of the Ritz-Carlton guests were rad enough to hang! One dad passed us on the stairs, ready to go with his wetsuit and a short (advanced!) red board.
Ronan rode waves on his boogie board, dug holes, made friends and built sandcastles while I read in my Ritz-Carlton chair, under my Ritz-Carlton umbrella. I did venture into the water for a swim a few times, which was thrilling in the big surf, and took a few brisk walks down the gorgeous stretch of sand. There is a 4-mile running path above the beach, where locals as well as hotel guests were working up a considerable sweat! Truly, the only minor drawback to this gorgeous beach is the hike back to the hotel. The Beach Butlers mitigate it nicely with a station of complimentary fresh lemonade, and I frankly enjoyed the extra workout, but if I had little kids, I might have waited for the shuttle.
If you prefer poolside, The Ritz-Carlton Laguna has two to offer. The main pool is on the east side of the hotel. It’s very large with endless rows of wicker chaises, umbrellas and fire-pit tables surrounded by cushioned seats. There is an outdoor shower to wash off the sand, a drinking water and towel station, and a fabulous restaurant – The Dana Pool Café. We enjoyed cocktails (and soft drinks) during a quick refreshing dip after our first day at the beach.
The jacuzzi was too crowded at 6:30pm when we gave it a try. The other pool is a “quiet” pool. It is smaller and also has a jacuzzi. On the property there are two tennis courts – one of which is also a basketball court – a ping-pong table, and a play structure. There is a gorgeous, fully equipped fitness room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. Daily complimentary yoga and pilates classes are offered.
But that isn’t the half of it! The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and Jean-Michel Cousteau partner in an Eco Adventure Program that offers 15 different excursions for ages 5-105, all led by naturalists who are marine biologists. The programs range from snorkeling in a sea forest to whale watching to “Creatures of The Night.” Get educated on vacation! Or drop your kids off for three hours of exceptional entertainment while you dine or spa. (The one-hour Garden Tour and Living Green Tour are both complimentary; the rest of the adventures – all three hours – run from $80-$100.) Healthy snacks are served and for an additional charge you or your child can order a meal from their menu. Locals are also welcome to participate. If we had had one more day, we would have done this for sure. But our first order of business in Dana Point was to learn to surf!
We booked a two-hour lesson ($150 per person) through the concierge. Ryan, a world-traveled surfer, whisked off to a beginner break a few miles south in San Clemente and outfitted us with wetsuits and beginner boards. After a brief dry land run, we were paddling, then falling, then surfing! Ryan made it as easy as possible, helping us set up for wave after wave. “I want to do that again,” Ronan said, as I dragged myself up onto the beach. It was exhausting but exhilarating, especially watching my son persevere then surpass me by a mile. The hotel offers all kinds of surfing packages on their web site!
Looking for deep relaxation? Enjoy the one of the fabulous treatments at the elegant and tranquil Spa. Indulge in the popular Ritz-Carlton massage, California Citrus Body Polish, or Ultimate Ashiatsu: a deep-tissue muscle massage performed by two therapists using their feet while suspended over guests! In-room massages are also available.
Additional seasonal activities for kids include: summer poolside movies, Tree Lighting, Holiday Gingerbread Display, Teddy Bear Tea and Holiday Story Telling. If golf is your passion, the concierge can get you a tee-time at one of six renowned golf courses. Or you could check out the famous local art and shopping scene. Except for our surfing adventure, we had no interest in leaving the resort!
We ate at three of the on-site restaurants and also ordered room service twice, which arrived on a portable table for two and was delicious. We ate at Raya, the main restaurant, on Saturday night. All the tables, except for maybe two, have incredible ocean views.
We watched the sunset over the Pacific while enjoying an exquisite meal. All the restaurants offer a kids menu with a game placemat and crayons. Ronan went for braised short ribs off the regular menu, but ordered an insane cookie and ice-cream dessert from the kids menu – next time I will order that myself! I had a tuna ceviche and seafood risotto, both delicious. Afterwards, we walked down to the beach and my Ronan pointed out all the constellations.
After surfing, we had lunch at the Dana Pool Café. The menu is surprisingly complex, with everything from sushi to nachos to wraps and salads, burgers and flatbread. Ronan enjoyed a tremendous root beer float! They don’t take reservations, but you can sit at a lounge chair or a fire-pit or a proper table by the bar. It was crowded, but the staff went out of their way to please us. The supervisor, Victoria, even found the last umbrella on the other side of the pool and rolled it all the way to our table. On Sunday morning, I grabbed us breakfast to go at The Marketplace Coffee Shop where they serve Peet’s coffee and tea, along with an array of take-away treats. My bagel and lox came with everything including capers and Ronan had a fresh pain au chocolat.
We did not eat at 180Blû, the al fresco restaurant/bar that’s perched over the edge of the cliff, but I will eat there on our next visit for sure. There were plenty of kids with their families warming themselves at one of the many fire-pit tables. The food is a selection of small plates from Raya served with “hand crafted” cocktails. It was lively and fun and the view was out of this world.
There is another option for feeding your brood during the summer months: The Kids Meal Plan. For $45 per day, your children can choose their meals from a wide and fun selection: The Home Run egg plate, Jump Ropes spaghetti, Little Dippers pound cake and lollipops…Ask about this!
Since I was with an 11-year-old, we skipped ENO, the wine, cheese and chocolate tasting room that features more than 300 wines, fine international cheeses and gourmet chocolates from around the world, and Bar Raya – the sleek silver bar alongside the restaurant.
Posh Pooches are welcome at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and we saw many of them walking the grounds and frolicking on the sprawling lawns. There is a one-time non-refundable room cleaning charge of $150 and each pooch – no more than two per room – will run you $50 a night. That includes a hand-painted dog bowl, plush doggy bed, chew toy, doggy menu, trail map, waste bags and a Club Yappy card which entitles you to 15% savings in The Spa, retail shop, Eco Adventures and on all food and beverage programs.
This vacation was a real treat for us. The resort is super lux, but has that sweet California laid-back flavor; the food was exciting and delicious, the staff was helpful and pleasant, and the beach was spectacular. Poshbrood recommends you and your brood visit this classic Southern California gem.
Rates begin at $450 a night. The Ritz-Laguna Niguel is a Virtuoso hotel. If book through Poshbrood/SmartFlyer you will get the best rates, a room upgrade upon arrival, full breakfast and a $100 resort credit.