Southern California is a region of contrasts. And when it comes to juxtaposed neighborhood and landscapes, few places illustrate this point as well as the Port of Los Angeles/San Pedro area, and its virtual neighbor just around the bend, Palos Verdes. On one side of a hulking hill lies a core (and quite polluted) industrial hub of the regional economy. On the ocean side is the Palos Verdes peninsula. Other than visiting Marineland of the Pacific back in the day, this area is still mostly a mystery to me. That’s partially why it totally blew my eight-year-old mind to think that the Crenshaw we saw down that way was the very SAME Crenshaw in our neighborhood.
Now Terranea, a luxury resort and residential development, occupies the land where Marineland’s mid-century kitsch and pre-animal-rights-era operations once flourished. The upscale hotel and grounds opened in summer of 2009.
I’ve heard that once you have kids, even people who have no interest in family resorts come to understand why it makes for a much more relaxing vacation. So when I was invited for a weekend at Terranea last month, we were psyched to check out the hotel that I’d investigated as a staycation option. Along with our longtime fave, the amazing and much smaller Parker Palm Springs, Terranea is my gateway drug. (Not like we’re booking tickets to the closest all-inclusive Club Med anytime soon.)
As far as going to a hotel that’s close but feels so far away, and STAYING on the premises all weekend, Terranea has it figured out. We skipped mar’sel, the resort’s fancier, more ambitious restaurant run by Chef Michael Fiorelli, because it didn’t seem fair to impose the kids on a scene where people are enjoying romantic dinners. But both breakfast and dinner at Catalina Kitchen worked for us, since that space has both the hotel’s typical kid-friendly service and an outdoor patio. For our first night dinner, the boys dug into guac & chips, penne, and sliders, while my roasted chicken with what tasted like under-a-brick-crisped skin, Blue Lake green beans, cipollini, and baby artichokes along with a cucumber margarita didn’t make me feel like I was compromising at all.
Most of the resort’s restaurants offer the kids’ menu; all items cost under $7 and include sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and fresh veggie snacks. Plus games and doodling space, and crayons show up wherever families are seated. Despite the healthy options, it was hard to avoid heavy French fry consumption all weekend. Weekend breakfasts at Catalina Kitchen also mean full-on buffets.
During the day after a hearty, satisfying room service spread, we took walks along the oceanfront paths, checked out the cave, and hung out at the kids’ pool with the awesome water feature (no waterslide for our guys just yet). The only drawback of Terranea’s setting is the lack of a proper beach-y beach with sand that physically meets the water; but if you can handle walking on a few rocks, it’s not a huge issue. I ducked away to the spa so I could read a fun YA novel and stare at the ocean for a couple of hours. Terranea has two kid-free pools, BTW, and even though it’s full of screaming small people, the complex is designed so that adults can have their separate fun and relaxation, too. Truth be told, I’m not inclined to go to a big family resort when the opportunity to get AWAY from our children finally presents itself.
That night, following a laid back magic hour dinner of fish tacos, pulled pork sandwich, and fish & chips at Nelson’s — where it’s definitely about the bluff-top POV over the Pacific and contemporary surf shack vibe rather than the food itself (although the outdoor summer communal BBQ is a great option) — we watched the glowing lights of the ships lining up to dock at the port. No schools of dolphins were spotted over the course of the weekend, though.
All menus claim to be “guided my principles of sustainability,” so perhaps it’s a good opportunity for a family discussion about environmentalism. Or if you’re a cynic, to talk about greenwashing. (It doesn’t take much urban planning expertise to know that developers don’t take on environmental restoration and conservation projects out of the goodness of their hearts.) The craggly coastline and dusty-toned California native plants around the western perimeter are much preferable to the rolling green, perfectly manicured lawns that blanket swaths of Terranea. The buildings’ neo-Mediterranean Revival style strike my old school L.A. architecture sensibilities as leaning towards the O.C. spectrum, but the rooms are tasteful, comfy and not overly fussy.
Given that we got home in 40 minutes and traffic this direction is generally more tolerable than facing PCH on a summer weekend (Carmageddon excepted!), we look forward to another quick and easy Terranea visit. Especially since Palm Springs is off-limits during the punishing summer months.
Disclosure: meals and accommodation were hosted.
100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes