Edited by: Juan Ruiz
& Keri Stooksbury
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I recently traveled to Southern California for a wedding in the San Diego area over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Originally, I had planned to head home directly after the festivities, but I was enjoying the California weather and vibes so much that I decided to extend my stay by a couple of days.
Once I took care of my flight change, I got to work on deciding where I’d stay. My first thought was to try out the Hotel Del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton property, as I was already in the area and the property looks like a lot of fun. However, as I was trying to book a hotel the night before I was going to check in (which also happened to be the Fourth of July), there was no availability with Hilton Honors points.
I turned my attention slightly north to Orange County, as I had enjoyed a stay a couple of years earlier at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach. However, that property didn’t have availability, either.
Finally, I turned to Marriott to see what was available. Sure enough, I saw I could book a room at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel (practically down the street from the Waldorf Astoria) with Marriott Bonvoy points.
I had read some not-so-favorable reviews of the property, but it was available on points and exactly where I wanted to be, so I went ahead and booked it, just in time for my arrival the next morning.
Here’s what my stay was like and what you can expect if you’re planning a stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is located in Orange County, California, in a beachfront town called Dana Point. The town is charming and a quintessential California beach town (at least in this Michigander’s mind) with plenty of relaxed restaurants, bars, breweries, and multi-million dollar homes dotting the coast as well as the streets of the town center.
The hotel is perched on a dramatic cliff above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, providing incredible views from many vantage points throughout the property.
The closest airport is John Wayne Airport (SNA) in nearby Santa Ana, California. It’s approximately 25 miles from the hotel and would take about 30 minutes by car with light traffic.
However, many people who travel to the area will likely fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is located about 60 miles from the hotel. Without traffic, you could reach the hotel in a little over an hour from LAX, though you can almost always count on traffic in the LA area, so budget for more time.
I arrived at the hotel in an Uber from the San Diego area, which took about 1 hour and cost me $75. I journeyed home from SNA, so I took an Uber from the hotel, which took about 35 minutes and cost me just under $50.
As I mentioned above, the main motivation for booking this property was the fact that it was available to book with Marriott Bonvoy points.
Lo and behold, the first night of my stay was available to book for 85,000 points, exactly the value of my certificate. And the next night was available for 70,000 points, so I feel like I lucked out by using this combination of certificate and points.
Cash rates during my 2-night stay were $833 per night, excluding taxes and fees, which made this stay a pretty solid use of points as I got more than 1 cent in value per point and we value Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.7 cents apiece.
Does your Marriott balance need some help? Learn about all the best ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points in our complete guide.
I paid for incidentals with my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card to earn 6x Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent on purchases at the property.
Regardless of whether you book your stay with cash or points, you’ll be on the hook for a steep $60 daily resort fee. It includes the following:
As I was arriving on the Fourth of July, I was expecting a degree of chaos when I arrived, as I imagined that hordes of guests would be checking out to head home after the conclusion of the holiday.
That’s more or less what I encountered when I first arrived a little before noon. However, I quickly realized that the activity was mostly centered around the valet, with numerous guests trying to retrieve their vehicles while others were arriving — many from the local area — to enjoy the property and its stunning location on the beach for the holiday.
There was a line at the front desk, but it was only about 5 people deep when I arrived, and an employee was proactively offering glasses of sparkling wine and water to those who were waiting to be helped.
I chatted with the guest behind me for a few minutes and then I was waved to the desk to check in.
Check-in time was slated for 4 p.m., and I had no expectation of getting a room right away, considering how busy the hotel seemed and that I had arrived just before noon. The check-in process itself was quick and the agent ran through the (very limited) list of benefits I’d receive as a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite member, the “highlight” of which was a measly 1,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points.
It remains incredibly disappointing that elite members staying at Ritz-Carlton properties aren’t entitled to some of the benefits (most importantly, free breakfast) that are afforded to them at other Marriott brands.
Disappointing elite recognition aside (and this is not a knock on any employee, I was fully aware of this and expecting it), the check-in process exceeded my expectations, primarily because I was told there was no room ready for me quite yet, but no more than 5 minutes after walking away from the desk, I received a text that my room was ready — score!
I barely took a sip of my sparkling wine, but I turned around and went immediately back to the front desk and collected my keys.
Just a few minutes later, I was heading down the corridor, keys in hand, to room 2501.
The resort is fairly sprawling and offers plenty of amenities for guests to enjoy. Before getting into the nitty gritty, I want to mention perhaps the property’s greatest amenity — its setting and stunning grounds.
The property meanders along the top of a cliff, which provides breathtaking views of Salt Creek Beach below as well as the dramatic Orange County coastline.
The Ritz took advantage of its location by creating expansive outdoor spaces situated ideally for savoring all the views. The property has extensive walking trails that showcase its beautiful setting.
The trail lead directly down to Salt Creek Beach and a greater network of paved pathways throughout the bay.
Additionally, I loved the spacious and grassy lawns scattered across the oceanfront portion of the property. I saw numerous people relaxing with books or simply just gazing at the majestic California landscape. Predictably, these areas were packed with people watching the fireworks shows on the Fourth of July.
Finally, I loved the oversized in-ground fire pit — it got downright chilly each night and it was so enjoyable to sit in one of the comfy chairs and feel the heat of the fire while gazing at the dusky sky over the Pacific.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has 2 pools available to guests, both of which are located in the interior of the resort rather than facing the ocean. I do wish there was a way the property could have added an oceanside pool — maybe in the future!
The larger of the 2 pools, the Dana Pool, was free-form in shape and offered plenty of loungers around the deck to choose from.
It was a livelier scene, especially on the Fourth of July when I arrived. There was a DJ playing mostly classic American rock. Even though it was just me, I wasn’t able to find a seat that afternoon and was directed to the Monarch Pool where there were a few seats left.
On my second day, however, the resort cleared out in a noticeable way and I was able to find a chair at the Dana Pool with no problem.
There were plenty of sunny spots to choose from, which I appreciated after having uncharacteristically foggy and hazy weather in San Diego before I checked into The Ritz.
But, if you wanted shade, pool attendants were happy to set up an umbrella for you or find a seat in the shade from the get-go.
Guests were required to check in at each pool’s welcome desk before sitting down. This may be overkill during less-busy periods of time, but I really appreciated the system during the popular Fourth of July holiday, as it cut down on seat-saving that’s become notorious at properties such as these.
One thing I didn’t love at the pools here was the lack of padded loungers on the decks. It may sound like a severe nitpick, but it seems out of place — even just for aesthetic’s sake — to have pool decks full of non-padded loungers at a property of this caliber.
Regardless, I did love the extra-large towel covers that didn’t move around or come out of place when I got up for any reason. The pool itself was kept at a nice temperature and was refreshing when I got a little too warm on the deck.
There was a pool bar and grill with some seating at a counter and at adjacent tables, though it seemed like most guests preferred to order food or drink at their seats.
The Dana Pool was open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Monarch Pool was the smaller, quieter pool, also located in an interior courtyard, but on the opposite side of the property.
It had a similar free-form shape, the same loungers, and more or less the same views of hotel guest rooms as those from the Dana Pool.
It seems logical that 1 pool would be designed for families and the other reserved for adults, but that didn’t seem to be the case here — maybe due to the fact that there we just so many families there for the holiday. I wasn’t bothered at all by kids, though I understand how some guests could have been disappointed to not have a dedicated adults-only pool.
Each pool also had a whirlpool, which I was glad to see. They’d be especially perfect on chilly evenings like I experienced!
Like the Dana Pool, the Monarch Pool was open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The resort is located on a cliff above Salt Creek Beach, a stunning strip of the Pacific Coast that’s about 10 miles south of the famous Laguna Beach. It’s popular with surfers (I can personally confirm this) thanks to the big swells that are found just off the beach.
The property operates a “beach butler” service that’s available from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. It involves transportation via golf cart from the hotel down to the beach and back, as well as a setup on the beach itself, among other things.
I didn’t utilize the beach butler service as I only visited early in the morning, but I did catch golf carts passing by on the pathways that lead to and from the sand.
It was a little too cold for my liking to sit on the beach, but I took a walk on the sand one morning and couldn’t get enough of the views that I caught from practically all angles of the resort.
I’m not typically wowed by hotel gyms, but I was positively gobsmacked by the gym at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. It’s open 24/7 and provided some of the most remarkable views from a hotel gym I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s not a gigantic space, but it packed an enormous punch. You’ll find all the typical gym equipment like cardio machines, weight racks, and stationary bikes, but there may very well be no better place to get a hotel workout in. There were also a couple of Peloton bikes available.
Here’s another look at the view around sunset, because … wow.
As you’d expect at a 5-star resort, there’s a full-service spa available. It’s open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offered 12 treatment rooms, a selection of saunas, and numerous delectable treatments to choose from.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel offers 2 hard-surface tennis courts available for guests to use. If you’d like to play, contact the front desk to reserve a time and for equipment rental if you didn’t bring your own.
While there’s no on-site golf course at The Ritz-Carlton, Monarch Beach Golf Links, a course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is practically adjacent to the hotel. And there are several other courses to play within close proximity of The Ritz-Carlton.
Valet parking is the only option at this property, and it’ll set you back an eye-watering $70 per night.
I’m happy to report that the internet was speedy from anywhere I was on the property and it maintained its connection. It also didn’t require logging in or any sort of password.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel allows up to 2 pets for an additional $150 fee per stay.
The room is the area in which I was slightly let down at this property. Simply put, it was outdated and not up to the standard of a hotel that routinely charges $1,000 per night.
However, I’d done my research on the property and noted this as a complaint from several reviewers, so my expectations were appropriately set.
But it wasn’t all bad — there was plenty of space, I slept great for 2 nights, and it had all the things I needed — I just wasn’t wowed in any way. However, at the end of the day, I chose the property to unwind after a hectic weekend and I was blown away by the beauty of the resort itself, so I didn’t have time to be disappointed that the room was a little outdated.
Let’s take a look at what it was like.
After opening the door to room 2105, I was met with a long foyer. On the left were doors to the bathroom, and on the right was just a simple wall.
At first, I thought the closet would be small, judging the by door it was behind. But when I opened it, I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of space for 2 people’s things, including a rack for hanging clothes and several drawers. I also found a robe and a pair of slippers (the matching set was in the bathroom), an ironing board, an iron, and extra linens and pillows.
After the foyer, the room opened up. It was remarkably spacious, with a king-sized bed in the center of it.
In the corner opposite the bed, there was a very comfortable chair sitting under an interesting piece of art.
Next to that was the room’s media area, which was minimalist with a simple countertop under a wall-mounted smart TV that had built-in streaming capabilities for a few services like Netflix.
The bed itself was very comfortable and I appreciated the cool, crisp white linens, though it was notable that there wasn’t even a decorative throw pillow to be found.
To the left of the bed was a sizable nightstand that had storage built in. On top of it was a lamp, a water bottle with a glass, a telephone, a notepad and pen, and an alarm clock with power outlets.
To the right of the bed was a proper desk with a very comfortable chair. It also had a water bottle, a drinking glass, a telephone, and a notepad and pen. I had to get a few things done as soon as I got into my room, and I thought to myself that it would be a fine place to do several hours of work if need be.
One of the frosted glass columns framing the doors to the balcony opened to reveal the room’s espresso machine. Pods were provided under that, as were more water bottles, glasses, coffee cups, and an ice bucket.
Beneath that was the room’s empty minifridge, which I actually appreciated as I didn’t even have a chance to be tempted by a minibar selection and I could house my leftovers with ease.
The aforementioned set of French doors led to the room’s terrace.
It contained a small table and a pair of chairs.
I had a lovely view of the Dana Pool deck from my room. I wish I’d had an ocean view, of course, but I didn’t have much to complain about with this view.
The bathroom definitely felt outdated, though, in the end, it was still a nice space. It was covered from top to bottom in marble tiles with a heavy black veining, which was a little disorienting, initially. There was a double vanity, with each individual area separated by a column trimmed in the same marble.
The shower was completely outfitted in marble. I found it to be a perfect size, and I loved that it had both an overhead fixture as well as a handheld one, giving me more options to customize my pampering experience. Toiletries were from Diptyque, the same ones as I’ve found at The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, and The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.
The toilet was found in a separate water closet. There was no tub in this bathroom, which was totally fine with me, but I imagine some guests would be missing it.
Despite the fact that my room was outdated, I really warmed to it by the end of my stay. It felt cozy and still luxurious, perhaps due in no small part to how hushed it was at all hours of the day and night.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has plenty of options for dining and drinking on the property. Let’s take a look at what was available during my stay.
Raya is an all-day restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It featured “Pan-Latin” dishes by Chef Richard Sandoval constructed with “sustainable seafood, local produce, [and] natural and organic meat.”
I didn’t get the chance to eat at Raya during my stay, but I passed by numerous times and took note of the incredible views of the coastline each time I did.
Raya was open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, it’s open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Bar Raya functions as this property’s lobby bar and lounge. Its decor is relatively dark with rich wood paneling and some jewel-tone furniture pieces, but it made for a cozy atmosphere with a fireplace on 1 end.
It boasted phenomenal views as well.
I grabbed dinner at Bar Raya on my first night and enjoyed a grilled chicken sandwich and French fries ($26).
I had a couple of spicy margaritas ($18 apiece) to go along with it as well. The chicken sandwich was truly delicious, and the margaritas weren’t too sweet and had the perfect amount of jalapeño.
I caught the sunset here, and it was magnificent. I had the perfect spot in front of the bar’s large window to behold the splendor of the sun descending into the Pacific Ocean.
Bar Raya was open daily from 11:30 a.m. to midnight.
As you might guess from its name, enoSteak is a steakhouse that serves delicious cuts of prime, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. I didn’t dine here during my stay, but I passed by and caught a peek of the dining room, which caught my eye immediately thanks to its massive wine room in the center of the sophisticated-looking space.
EnoSteak was open Tuesday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It’s closed Sunday and Monday.
180blu is an outdoor oceanfront terrace from which you can order refreshing cocktails and light bites, all while taking in the interminable vistas of the coastline and the ocean. On the busy holiday weekend, it was absolutely packed with people starting from about midday.
I saw a line forming within the corridor each night of my stay, so I didn’t even bother waiting in line. Instead, I perched myself on the terrace each morning, before it officially opened, to take in the views.
There were numerous seating options, and just about all of them offered incredible views.
Though I would say I’d feel very lucky if I got seated in the front corner of the deck. It speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
180blu was open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The Market Place is the resort’s go-to spot if you want a quick coffee, sandwich, pastry, bottled beverage, or other to-go items.
On the morning of my departure, I stopped in to grab some breakfast, as I didn’t have enough time to order a full sit-down breakfast at Raya. I went for the breakfast burrito ($16), which came with scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheddar cheese, avocado, and bacon.
It was absolutely delicious and I thought a great value for the money considering how large it was. I would have been more than content with just half of the burrito!
The Market Place is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Dana Pool Cafe is the poolside bar and restaurant that serves each pool on the property.
I ate lunch by the pool each day of my stay. On the first day, I ordered the quesadilla ($18) and added chicken ($10). It felt insane to pay $28 for a chicken quesadilla, but convenience is king, and I didn’t want to move from my wonderfully sunny spot. Luckily, the quesadilla was delicious.
The next day, I ordered the mezze bowl ($18) and added steak to it for an additional $14. The bowl came with falafel, couscous tabbouleh, chickpeas, hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, yogurt feta sauce, and za’atar pita slices. Despite the steak add-on being almost the price of the bowl itself, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. It was a phenomenal meal that kept me full for hours.
I washed that down with the Dana Mai Tai ($18), which was also quite delicious!
I loved that the pool staff walked around with samples regularly. My favorite was a concoction made with tequila, blue Curaçao, and pineapple — perfectly refreshing.
Dana Pool Cafe was open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel offered in-room dining from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily. I didn’t order during my stay, but I took a look at the menu, and it featured room service staples like a Caesar salad, french fries, a club sandwich, and more, along with some dishes found across the range of restaurants on the property.
Despite the property being positively packed during my stay, the service I received was fantastic. The staff members I interacted with — from the front desk to the pool attendants — never seemed flustered. They handled requests from multiple guests at once with grace and a smile. I never had to wait very long for anything I asked for.
The housekeeping team was great. My room was made up beautifully each morning, and I received turndown service each evening.
They even left a couple of delicious chocolates (they were Fourth of July-themed on my first night) on my bed.
Allie, the manager at Bar Raya, was particularly great. She was handling a rush of guests (and locals) streaming into the bar ahead of the fireworks show. People were crowded around the bar, but she knocked out their orders quickly and efficiently, all while remembering each person’s name with no problem. We chatted for a while and I could tell she’d had a very long day, but she was friendly as could be and didn’t miss a beat with my order(s) throughout the time I spent at the bar.
Yes, the rooms are outdated at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. And even some of the public spaces are showing their age.
However, this property is so stunning that it’s easy to forget all of that. I won’t soon forget staring at the sunset from the resort’s grounds, or the vistas of the rugged coastline from just about every point of the resort’s grounds.
I don’t regret for a second redeeming my Marriott free night certificate as well as some additional points for a stay at this property — and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Just imagine how great it’d be with guest rooms that can match the property’s inimitable location.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® card, click here.
This Dana Point, California resort originally opened in 1984 and was expanded in 2009-2010.
Valet parking will cost you $70 per night at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has a total of 396 rooms and suites, some of which boast unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is located in Dana Point, California, in Orange County. It’s situated south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego.
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