Back when visitors drove just south of Los Angeles to what was then called Marineland of the Pacific, the general feeling was this spectacular piece of the California coastline was ideal for a major theme park focused on marine life. The broad vistas and panoramic view of the ocean just seemed to be the perfect backdrop.
Funny thing, though. This same piece of property also seems to be ideal for a major luxury resort – and it's a good thing because Marineland has now been completely wiped off this unique promontory and replaced by Terranea, a bold, ambitious resort that is unquestionably one of California's finest and certainly worthy of the prime real estate it now occupies.
The 102-acre property was in development since 1998, opening as Terranea in 2009 with a 350-room hotel with every amenity you can imagine. But perhaps the greatest amenity is its location atop the cliffs of Palos Verdes Peninsula, a ritzy neighborhood about 30 miles southwest of Los Angeles where tycoons, movie stars and just plain-old wealthy people own property with incredible views of the Pacific and, just 20 miles away, Catalina Island. Built on a point that gives the resort 270 degrees of ocean views, the popularity of Terranea is testament to that old real estate adage: location-location-location.
Driving up from San Diego, the route to Terranea did take us a little off the beaten path, traveling first to Long Beach and then along the coastline roads that hug the peninsula. From Los Angeles, visitors most likely will head south on I-405 and then hop due west through the Palos Verde neighborhoods and down to the resort's oceanfront perch.
Checking our vehicle at the entrance to the lobby, there were the requisite Bentleys, Maseratis and Mercedes parked all shiny near the entrance, but alas there were also plenty of soccer-mom SUV's and even the occasional pick-up truck to make zillionaires-for-a-day like us feel not quite so out of our league. In fact, once you start strolling the grounds, Terranea is not a stuffy, pretentious resort at all – its Mediterranean architecture is tastefully done, warm and comfortable rather than opulent.
Our third-floor room looked over the courtyard and the sparkling Pacific Ocean in the background. The room was oversized, affording a little bit of extra space to get around, even with a king bed, love seat, flat-screen TV and desk. The lanai was an ideal place to sit and read, looking up occasionally to people-watch or to enjoy the ocean views. A slight breeze was reminiscent of Hawaii.
But as nice as the rooms are at Terranea, they are a small part of the overall experience and you probably won't be spending a lot of your time there with so much else to see and do. The first order of business for us was to walk the property – and, with 102 acres, there is a lot of property to walk. We enjoyed the grand lobby area with its stylish wood ceiling and Spanish accents and adjacent open patio area with its magnificent views of the ocean. For newcomers to the resort, this is an inviting place to sit and relax for a few minutes and just drink in the elegant surroundings and panoramic views.
Nearby are a small number of luxury stores and a deli with some of the best looking sandwiches and baked good you'll ever see. A little bit off the lobby area is one of the Terranea swimming pools along with some dining areas both casual and more formal. It looked to us like an ideal way to enjoy the pool would be to reserve one of the cabana tents where there is comfortable seating and a modicum of privacy, with the pool just footsteps away.
Down closer to the water, there are trails along the bluffs and even one area where you can walk down to a small cove that offers kayaking and other water activities. Nearby is the Spa at Terranea with its own pool and special amenities for those seeking complete relaxation and rejuvenation. There is a restaurant here as well and, walking north along the bluffs, you find Nelson's, another indoor-/outdoor café that is perfectly positioned to look out over the sea while you enjoy a drink or light lunch. The impressive golf course takes up a lot of the Terranea acreage and there are bungalows, casitas and villas in various configurations both along the coast and lining the golf course.
We extended our walk by taking the trail along Palos Verdes Drive that took us north to the Point Vincente Lighthouse and Interpretive Center which offers not only great trails and exhibits about the natural features of the peninsula, but also an excellent vantage point for whale-watching. While the typical time to view the migration of the Gray whales is winter, we were fortunate enough during our fall visit to spot blue whales that were making an unusual appearance in the strait between the coast and Catalina Island. There was also great whale-watching from several vantage points at the resort itself.
We didn't get a chance to try the resort's destination restaurant, Mar'sel although we heard it was excellent, featuring produce grown right in the resort's own vegetable garden. But we did have dinner at the Catalina Kitchen. With its location just above the resort's main pool, be sure and opt for the outdoor dining here with an atmosphere and view that makes you feel like you are truly on vacation in a tropical paradise. We enjoyed the Seafood Linguini with just the right combination of clams, shrimp, mussels, chorizo, fennel and a chicken saffron broth. The New York strip steak was equivalent to what you are served in the finest steakhouses – perfectly broiled and spiced, tender and juicy. The Catalina Kitchen could be a destination all its own, and prices are reasonable given the quality.
Like its predecessor Marineland, Terranea is all about the sea and takes full advantage of one of the most scenic parts of the Southern California coastline. A portion of the development is residential and we can only imagine how enjoyable it would be to come home every day to what really is the epitome of California living, with its broad vistas of the sea and Catalina Island so close you feel like you can just reach out and touch it. Throw in some whales and dolphins, the occasional yacht or fishing boat chugging its way up the coastline and you have a certain serenity that, fortunately, even every-day working people can afford to come and enjoy for a few days.
WHERE: Terranea is on the coastline but it is tucked away a bit from Los Angeles – it's just 30 miles but you'll drive a combination of freeways and coastal roads to get there. Coming up from the south, the best route is through Long Beach which means you can stop on the way and enjoy sights in that colorful city such as the Queen Mary. Between Long Beach and Terranea, there is a bustling port area where you will be amazed to see the volume of goods brought in by container ship.
WHAT: Terranea is a one-of-a-kind resort, well thought out and designed to embody the California spirit. Its incredible views cannot be topped by any other resort in California, and its Mediterranean architecture helps create the illusion that you are in a European seaside resort, far from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
WHEN: This resort is good to visit any time of year because of the area's consistent sunshine and moderate climate. Even in the hottest part of summer, the coastal breezes will keep you comfortable.
WHY: For many, Terranea is just a continuation of their normal luxurious lifestyle and they choose a resort like this because they want only the best. For others, this will be a special treat, a cut or two above most resorts they visit – a chance to splurge and pretend they have more money than they actually do.
HOW: For more information on Terranea, please call 310-265-2800 or visit www.terranea.com.
Photos: Main pool; Terranea's spectacular location; trail takes visitors down to the water; couple whale-watcing just north of resort
Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other California vacation ideas, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Yosemite National Park, Idyllwild, Julian and Sequoia National Park.