Travel: Puttin' on the newfangled Ritz at Dana Point 

As a first-time visitor to the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, my only association with the resort is its predominance as a wedding destination in “Town & Country.” For good reason: who wouldn’t want to plan their nuptials atop a 150-foot ocean-facing bluff that overlooks Dana Point, one of the most ideal places to surf in Southern California.

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, the luxury resort perfectly embodies Southern California culture — surfing and sunshine — while maintaining the hotel’s standard level of luxury, elegance and above-the-board service. It’s also an easy road trip from the Bay Area — making it an affordable alternative to Hawaii.

As the oldest Ritz-Carlton resort, the property completed a major renovation of all its rooms and facilities about two years ago, and from the second you walk into the main hall, the dramatic interiors and ocean-front views will make you feel like you have entered a brand-new resort.

Awesome amenities

First, the rooms. All rooms have very high-end amenities, including plush bedding (goose-down comforters, pillows, feather beds and 400-count Egyptian cotton sheets), 42-inch flat-screen plasma televisions and full-marble bathrooms stocked with Bulgari bath essentials. The rooms are very elegantly designed — and use light blue and dark brown to create an ocean motif.

After you settle in, go explore. If you are only there for a weekend, there is no reason to leave the grounds.

  • For those who want a work out (very SoCal), the resort has an oceanfront fitness center with every new cardio machine you can think of.  Also, on most mornings, the gym offers complimentary Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates.
  • For those who want or need some pampering, the resort has a large spa with 11 treatment rooms and a salon. One treatment I had never seen before was the spa’s Coffee Scrub (60 minutes for $195), a wet-body treatment that uses a blend of ground Coffea arabica, sea salts and essential oils in a massage.
  • For the active types, borrow a racquet to play tennis at one of the four lighted tennis courts; visit the ocean-facing basketball court; or take a long walk along the path from the resort to the beach.
  • The resort features two pools: one is more of an adults-only, quiet oasis; the other is family-friendly and very lively. Both feature outdoor whirlpools.

Foodie destination

In addition to room service and offerings from the Poolside Cafe, the resort offers two dining choices.

  • Restaurant 162’ features California cuisine. Open all day, two times worth visiting are Friday nights for their seafood buffet (make reservations), and Sunday for their equally popular Champagne brunch.
  • ENO is a 36-seat wine, cheese and chocolate tasting room. In addition to the bar, it features floor-to-ceiling shelves that hold more than 500 wines — as well as 50 kinds of cheeses and chocolates. In addition to casually enjoying a flight of wine and cheese, you can also sign up for one of its wine-tasting classes, which are usually held twice a month (On Aug. 23, ENO will host MacPhail Family Vineyards; classes are held with winemakers from 4 to 5 p.m. at $60 per person).
  • The best views in the resort are from a seat at The Bar. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. An appetizer menu is available throughout the day, and the bar offers an extensive beer menu that has more than 11 beers brewed in California.

If you go

What: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

Where: One Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point

Contact: call (949) 240-2000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/LagunaNiguel

Cost: Room rates start at $495 per night. Visit the resort’s Web site for a full listing of specialty overnight and day packages, such as cooking school, wine tasting, and surfing lessons.

Bargain: Your resort fee, $25

The daily resort fee comes with many perks, such as unlimited in-room high-speed Internet access, wireless and hard-wired; complimentary morning coffee served in The Bar; daily newspaper delivery of USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times; 24-hour computer access in the Business Centers; full access to the Fitness Center; complimentary daily yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi classes; use of the four lighted tennis courts and tennis rackets; use of Ping Pong table complete with balls and paddles; preferred golf tee times at Monarch Beach Golf Links, including shuttle service and golf bag storage; pool and beach towel service; pool noodles and kickboards for children; complimentary beach shuttle service; beach chairs and beach umbrellas; and boogie boards for the beach.

Splurge: Pageant of the Masters, starting at $650 per night

Through Aug. 30, the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel — in conjunction with the Pageant of the Masters in nearby Laguna Beach — is offering an exclusive two-night Pageant of the Masters package that includes luxury room accommodations and two premiere tickets (fourth row, center section) to the 90-minute performance — held at an outdoor amphitheater in nearby Laguna Beach — where volunteer actors pose on stage to re-create works of art through stage lighting and costumes. Celebrating its 75th year, the theme for this year’s Pageant is “All the World’s a Stage.”

By the numbers

77 degrees: Average temperature at Laguna Niguel in August

1984: Year Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, opened: 1984

1989: Year Dana Point got its name from Richard Henry Dana

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