One of our city’s merits — of which there are many — is its location. Proximous to the sea, the mountains, wine regions and the desert, L.A. leaves local explorers wanting for almost nothing. And when airfare prices soar to the sky (as they’ve done lately), I find myself more and more happy to take the easy escape, one that eliminates the muss and fuss of longer travel days while still getting my family out of our routines, even if just for a weekend.
Most recently, I found that sense of escape in Dana Point, a seaside town one hour south of Los Angeles that I’d never stepped foot in, despite being its neighbor for two decades. Walkable and pretty (and relatively small with a population of about 30,000), Dana Point is lovely for a day trip, or a hassle-free overnight excursion. And if you’re able to stay a bit longer, I recommend booking a room at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa. With its hilltop location and iconic brick-red roof, the property has a storybook setting that’s ideal for traveling families.
Provisions on Property
In my experience, “low season” in Southern California usually only means that colder evening temperatures have rendered an outdoor pool too chilly to use. Chances are still good that, even in January, the sun will be out and nearly every other hotel amenity is ready and available to entertain.
Sure enough, our winter stay at Laguna Cliffs still meant time in the hot tub and antics in the splash pad. And there was plenty of dry fun to be had, too, as the resort has numerous lawns and games set up outdoors.
My tween enjoyed ping pong under the palm trees at sunset, while my toddler tried her hand at mini golf on a pool-adjacent putting green. And on the resort’s most expansive lawn, which is right outside The Restaurant at Laguna Cliffs (the resort’s primary on-site dining venue), my kids demonstrated how little they really need to have a good time. They cartwheeled in the grass and made friends with fellow guests while running with the wind. When another group of kids arrived with a football, they joined in on their game. And just past the resort entry, there’s a perfect public playground for littles, where we easily whiled away another hour, the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
The ease with which you can entertain young travelers here made the adults happy, too. Even after sundown, the kids ran amok on that same lawn while I sipped a signature cocktail at The Restaurant at Laguna Cliffs, cozy by one of many fire pits and under the patio’s twinkling bistro lights. Dinner here was delightful, from the warm Parker House rolls and fresh oysters we started with to the tuna crudo, broccolini and French fries that punctuated the meal. This was a restaurant I’d return for — a perfect al fresco evening by the sea, even in winter.
For a more casual interlude, poolside dining is available from the end of June to around Labor Day. And there’s also OverVue Restaurant, right off the lobby and home to a bar and great deck with ocean views. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s live music here.
The Spa at Laguna Cliffs
A trip to the spa is a true luxury, and my facial at Laguna Cliffs’ facility even came with a lesson. Veteran esthetician Nena Abramson incorporated gua sha — a traditional Chinese medicine practice — into my treatment, and then was even kind enough to give me pointers on how to use the technique from the comfort of my own couch. Did I buy a gua sha tool online before I’d even left the resort? I certainly did.
The spa has all the expected treatments on its menu, plus wet and dry saunas and a fully outfitted facility with lockers, showers and more. I even made it to the adjacent gym one morning, another healthy move I don’t always make room for on a trip.
Accommodations at Laguna Cliffs
The resort has 378 guest rooms and suites spread across two large structures, and after a $25 million renovation that wrapped up just before the pandemic, all accommodations are contemporary and comfortable. If you’re traveling with a large group, connecting rooms are available.
Our corner accommodation consisted of two bedrooms with pool views (one king room and the other with two double beds) connected by a spacious living and dining area. It felt far more like a home than a hotel room.
Walkable Dana Point
It’s entirely possible to go carless once you’ve arrived at Laguna Cliffs. Except for when my husband drove (a whole three miles) to play a round of golf at the beautiful Monarch Beach Golf Links, our family and some friends relied on the tread of our tennis shoes to get around. Directly in front of the resort is Lantern Bay Park; easy paths take hotel guests to its boundaries, and then, like Alice in Wonderland, you just have to choose which direction you’d like to go.
One late afternoon, we made our way down the park’s new mosaic staircase and toward Dana Point Harbor. Restaurants, shops and plenty of sailboats and yachts live here, and the scenic walkway along the harbor’s edge is full of locals and visitors alike, many of them out with their dogs and enjoying the fresh ocean air. When the weather is suitable, excursions at sea are available with Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching and other local outfitters.
Another day, we headed north out of Lantern Bay Park and made our way to Del Prado Avenue, an adorable and very walkable stretch of Dana Point. When the highly recommended Truly Pizza had a two-hour wait, we enjoyed burgers at The Schwack Beach Grill instead. The next morning, we came this way again for lattes at Bear Coast Coffee. And a short walk from here is the diminutive but very cool Dana Point Bluff Top Trail. Like Dana Point itself, perhaps, it feels like a secret the locals weren’t supposed to share.