Hotel Reviews: The phrases “luxury resort” and “kid-friendly” may seem oxymoronic, but at Terranea (pronounce Ter-ra-NAY-a), the two exist in perfect harmony.
The one-year-old, 102-acre resort set above the Pacific Ocean on the lovely and unspoiled Palos Verdes Peninsula across from Catalina Island manages to provide activities, food and fun for all ages of children (and even their pets, if they wish) while offering solitude, romance, fine cuisine, and relief for adults who would like to bask – alone – in the quiet luxury of one of the most naturally beautiful coastlines in Southern California.
Before it became Terranea, it was Marineland of the Pacific, a seaside animal theme park, the world’s largest oceanarium, which opened a year before Disneyland. Before that it was home to the Gabrielino-Tongua tribe who were seafarers, traders and fishermen. Terranea respected the natural beauty of the site, carefully kept the huge mature trees on the property and replanted them after the Mediterranean hotel, villas and casitas were constructed, and in fact planted 14 acres of natural coastal sage scrub habitat through which wind two miles of hiking trails and a welcoming environment for the El Segundo Blue Butterfly and other creatures native to the area. They placed three telescopes along the scenic bluffs, and the 25-cent telescope fee helps the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, the Marine Mammal Care Center and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. It is hard to believe that this unspoiled peninsula is just 20 miles from the Los Angeles airport.
The guest rooms are enormous and almost all of them have balconies looking out to the ocean, placed so that in some, both sunrise and sunset are visible. Throughout the property are paintings and sculptures by artists from the local Portuguese Bend Artist Colony, and lush gardens of local plants and flowers are everywhere. The resort was built with a guiding philosophy of ecological sustainability. They recycled the majority of the materials from structures that had been abandoned by previous tenants and used them in the preparation of the buildings. They developed a series of water quality systems, limited the use of pesticides and fertilizers to those which are either organic or which have no residual effect, and built bar counters out of recycled wine bottles, and made staff uniforms from recycled plastic water bottles. The way they deal with unwanted seagulls is to hire a falconer who several times a week, to the delight of guests, drives around the property with a golf cart in which ride his falcon, owl and hawk, who scare the gulls away. He gives regular falconry shows in the process.
The spectacular site has been used for filming many movies and television programs, including “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Aviator,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and “Con Air.” One of the restaurants, a casual bar and favorite dining spot, perched so close to the water’s edge that Terranea boasts if you were any closer you would need a wetsuit to have dinner there, is called Nelson’s as a tribute to Mike Nelson, the character played by Lloyd Bridges in the Sea Hunt television series. Much of the hit program was filmed on this site, which boasts a view also of the Point Vincente Lighthouse and, often, sightings of dolphins and whales.
The main pool area has a waterslide and a sandbox corner, where our favorite 2-year-old spent most of her time. Near that is a children’s splash pool with water jets coming up from the floor at intervals. We saw a group of children practicing a ballet routine here through the water, preparing for their grandfather’s birthday party here at the pool the next day.
There is an adult-only pool with its own restaurant further down the hillside, and at the bottom of the cliffside, reached by an easily accessible road, is the resort’s private beach, with tidepools and a cave. Guests can snorkel here, go kayaking, or take a standup paddleboard lesson, among other activity offerings.
The resort has its own 9-hole golf course, and here too, children are welcome; if under 12 years, with an adult accompanying them. But the kids may be torn, preferring instead to join Terranea’s Adventure Camp for ages 7 to 15, all-day games and crafts and adventures, or Putt and Plunge Camp for the same ages, for those who want golf in the morning and adventure in the afternoon. There are glow-in-the-dark lawn games for teens and “Rock Band” challenges too.
The spa has its own pool and restaurant and private cabanas for treatments or relaxation, and is connected to the fitness facility where classes are held at ocean’s edge, as is most everything else here.
The resort’s most elegant, signature restaurant, mar’sel, despite its exclusiveness, was as gracious and welcoming to our 2-year-old and nursing 3-month-old as it probably was to Tyra Banks, who was also at the resort on the night we were there. In addition to the finest wines and Chef Micheal Fiorelli’s elegant interpretations of his “100-mile menu,” which procures all ingredients from farmers and purveyors within 100 miles of the restaurant, mar’sel’s waiters quickly offered crayons and coloring papers to its very young diners, as did all of the other seven restaurants on this spectacular property throughout our stay.