You could call my wife and me Midwestern folk, a vague description that calls to mind winter parkas, hot dishes and Minnesota accents heard in the movie Fargo, don’t ya’ know? All of which would seem to be the polar opposite of the image that surfaces when you think Laguna Beach. Yet this past February, during a historically cold Minnesota winter of polar vortexes, my wife and I fled the land of 10,000 frozen lakes to bask in the sunshine of San Diego and its neighbor to north: Laguna Beach.
While we may not have fit in, per se, with the Real Orange County crowd of MTV fame, we quickly fell in love with the seaside city. Some of that, of course, had to do with the weather––70 and sunny year-round with the ocean calling your name is pretty darn nice––but most of it was due to the people we met and the gem of a hotel we stayed at: Surf & Sand Resort.
The 167 room resort was recently renovated in 2012 to the tune of $30 million, and sports a fantastic pool, an award-winning spa and too-cool-for-school indoor and outdoor restaurants with fantastic fire pits and chic decorations.
But the best part, without a doubt, is the magnificent view.
“Many SoCal resorts have ocean views, but we are one of the very few that are literally right on the sand,” said Joanna Bear, Resort Manager. “Our joke is that ‘our biggest asset is our loudest asset.’ With a location right on the sand, guests expect to hear crashing waves, and we deliver that. But we also place earplugs in guestrooms for any sleeping issues guests may have.”
Indeed, my wife and I were blown away by the fact that our fifth-floor balcony room was literally right on the ocean. We couldn’t get over the fact that we had to raise our voices to hear each other over the roaring waves when we were sitting just feet apart from each other on our private balcony. I absolutely loved that! It is strangely relaxing and energizing at the same time.
The sheer magnitude of the ocean made me feel insignificant, reminding me I am a small part of a big universe, yet the impeccable service and exclusive views we enjoyed made this Midwestern couple with our Minnesota modesty suddenly feel very important in Laguna Beach. I can definitely see why guests flock to Surf & Sand Resort from all over the world, including countries such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Brazil.
“We have many guests returning year after year with generations of their families or to celebrate special moments––like their on-site weddings or their honeymoon location,” Bear said. “One couple in particular spent their honeymoon with us in 1969 and have stayed in a suite every year since then to celebrate. We always try to send them a special bottle of champagne or other sweet token of our appreciation. We most recently had a photograph of their first Surf & Sand trip framed––a surprise waiting for them in their suite upon their arrival.”
We actually saw a bridge and groom taking photos during our stay at Surf & Sand. Some 80 to 100 couples each year get married at the resort, which boasts 180 degree views of the Pacific for spectacular panoramic wedding photos. With 280 staff members in total, the resort has experienced personnel on-hand for weddings, and can handle receptions from 50 to 180 guests.
People ranging from your Average Joe to the rich and famous have gotten married at Surf & Sand, though the resort respectfully declines to name names. “Surf & Sand offers a classic experience—timeless and genuine,” Bear said. “The property is understatedly elegant and chic, yet approachable.”
Another perk to Surf & Sand Resort is that it’s less than 10 minutes away from Dana Point. My wife and I met a good friend of ours at Dana Point to go on a whale watching tour with Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari during one of our days at the hotel. Capt. Dave is one of North America’s most renowned whale experts, and has published books and documentaries; he’s also appeared on ABC, NBC and CBS television.
Our 3-hour tour was phenomenal; in fact, it was the best whale watching I’ve ever experienced. Not only did we see over half a dozen migrating gray whales at close range, we also saw hundreds of dolphins and got to both see and hear them “face-to-face” in Capt. Dave’s cutting edge boat, the Manute’a, with its exclusive Eye-to-Eye Underwater Viewing Pods.
During our long weekend at Surf & Sand Resort (before then heading down to San Diego for a fabulous week of sailing, fishing, sight-seeing, feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and, of course, more beaches), we saw kids, couples and grandparents. “Our clientele includes multiple families that have made this resort their second home for generations,” Bear said.
As a couple from the frozen tundra of Minnesota, we could certainly see why people would fall in love with the real Laguna Beach. And it doesn’t take long. We arrived to the hotel at dusk our first evening, went up to our room’s private balcony and before even unpacking one bag, enjoyed this spectacular sunset.
Surf & Sand Resort is one of the only hotels in Laguna Beach that is literally on the sand with direct beach access. All we had to do was take the elevator to the ground level, step outside, and we were on the beach. I loved swimming in the ocean there. My wife took these photos of me from our balcony.
Directly from Surf & Sand Resort’s beach, there is fantastic hiking along the shore in either direction. Each morning we woke early and hiked along the powerful Pacific Ocean. Below are a few photos and videos we took along the way.