Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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I recently returned from a 10-day trip to California, during which I made my way from south to north. First, I spent 3 nights at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, and from there I moved up the coast, stopping for 2 nights in Orange County before heading to Los Angeles and finally the San Francisco Bay Area.
In both L.A. and San Francisco, I stayed with friends, but in Orange County, I had to find a place to lay my head for a couple of nights. Since I’d be couch surfing for the rest of my time in California, I wanted to find a comfortable resort where I could relax in style — and I knew just the place.
I’ve long had my eye on the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club. Several years ago, it had been a St. Regis property, then it became an independent hotel, and just recently it joined the Hilton family as a Waldorf Astoria. From what I could tell from looking at photos and TripAdvisor reviews, it seemed like a gorgeous property with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and a refined, almost old-school luxury vibe.
Predictably, none of that luxury comes cheap. Luckily, I had 2 Hilton free night certificates to use, which would make this luxurious getaway practically free.
Long story short, the hotel exceeded my expectations, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my choice to redeem my certificates at this property. Here’s how my stay went.
The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club is located in the town of Dana Point in Orange County, California.
It sits almost directly in between Los Angeles and San Diego — it’s about an hour drive south to San Diego and an hour north to L.A.
I didn’t have a car during my California stay (in retrospect, that was probably a mistake), but I was lucky that I had a family friend returning to their home in L.A. after a weekend in San Diego, so I hitched a ride and was dropped off on the way.
Coming off the freeway, you can drive through the small downtown area of Dana Point on your way to the resort, which is off a fairly busy road and surrounded by housing developments, golf courses, tennis clubs, and country clubs as far as the eye can see.
If you’re looking to leave the resort, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars, coffee shops, and more nearby. And, it’s not far (about a half-hour by car) from Newport Beach, which is known for being an O.C. hotspot for dining and entertainment.
With the Waldorf Astoria name and a very desirable location in Southern California, it’s no surprise this hotel is pricey.
Room rates range from around the low $400s per night up to over $1,000 per night for standard rooms. Sure enough, when I was browsing for my travel dates, the cash rates exceeded $800 per night. Alternatively, you could expect to pay a minimum of 95,000 points per night, with rates fluctuating by night, as the Hilton Honors program doesn’t have an award chart.
But I didn’t have to pay cash or points, as I had 2 free night certificates to use with Hilton, thanks to my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. One of the certificates had an extended expiration date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the other was issued in early 2021.
Hot Tip: Check out our ultimate guide on the best ways to get maximum value from your Hilton free night certificates.
Before COVID, the certificates were only valid for use on weekend nights, but with the pandemic upending just about every aspect of the travel industry, Hilton graciously expanded eligibility to any night of the week (this change was made permanent in late 2022).
The catch with using the certificates is that — even though Hilton Honors doesn’t maintain an award chart — there must be standard-level award availability to use the certificates for those nights. Luckily, that’s exactly what I found for my Monday to Wednesday stay.
Once I confirmed the availability online, I called Hilton to apply the certificates, which was done in just a few minutes by a very friendly phone agent.
To sweeten the deal, the Hilton Aspire card comes with an annual $400 resort credit ($200 semi-annually) that can be applied to any purchases made on the property at specific hotels Hilton considers resorts. I was in luck, again. The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club does indeed qualify for the resort credit, which meant I effectively had $200 to spend while I was there.
And, thanks to the automatic Diamond status that comes with my Hilton Aspire card, I’d get breakfast free each day — this was turning out to be a slam-dunk of a stay!
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The information regarding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
Paying hundreds of dollars for an annual fee on a co-branded hotel card might seem ridiculous, but you should know that the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is much more than your run-of-the-mill hotel credit card.
The Hilton Aspire card is not only a phenomenal card for Hilton Honors loyalists, but even those who visit Hilton hotels just a few times a year can still get excellent value out of all the benefits that are packed into this card.
So let’s have a look at what makes the card so valuable to travelers.
After my friend drove me up the short driveway from the street to the hotel, I was greeted immediately by a bellman who asked for my name and then whisked my bags away — I didn’t see them again until I got to my room.
I had checked in before arriving and was able to access a digital key via the Hilton Honors app.
However, I prefer to go to the check-in desk — especially at hotels of this caliber — to talk with the staff and see if I can score an upgrade.
The woman who checked me in was exceedingly friendly and was eager to explain the goings-on of the resort as well as give me a lay of the land. She explained that I’d be given complimentary breakfast in the form of a daily statement credit and ran through the rest of the (less exciting) benefits I’d receive as a Diamond member.
She also explained that I could communicate with the staff via text message if I needed anything — from extra towels to restaurant reservations. That’s something I have really come to appreciate and Hilton does it especially well. Finally, I was handed a map and a physical key, thanked for my loyalty, and I was on my way.
I don’t stay with Hilton all too often, but I have had success in the past scoring some pretty great upgrades thanks to my Diamond status.
Sadly, there was no upgrade this time, as a group event was starting the following morning, but I didn’t mind as I was planning on spending most of my time outside, lounging by the resort’s gorgeous pool(s).
The resort’s lobby is beautiful, with plenty of cozy but sumptuous furniture all around, and a large sliding door at one end that opens to the resort grounds and the Pacific Ocean, creating a breezy, relaxed space.
A large part of the lobby is occupied by the 33 Degrees North lobby bar (more on that later), so guests were often scattered about, sipping a glass of wine or a cocktail and enjoying light bites.
I particularly enjoyed the room with the fireplace, as it added an undeniably cozy and California-beach vibe to the space.
The lobby was almost always flooded with light (you can tell by the lighting in my photos), which made it an exceedingly pleasant place to take a seat and admire the surroundings.
I also loved the outdoor seating options, another example of the indoor/outdoor flow that’s so prevalent at this property.
As you’d expect at any high-end resort, there are plenty of amenities on offer to keep you occupied during your stay. Here’s a look at some of the most popular:
For me, the pools are what I look forward to most when I book a stay at a luxury resort. I’m not much of a spa person, so the pool or beach is where I thrive and find ultimate relaxation. Luckily, the pools at this resort met — and surpassed — my expectations.
The resort has 2 main pools that welcome guests of all ages, as well as an adults-only lap pool located within the spa complex.
The Monarch pool is located in the center of the resort grounds and down the bluff a little bit from the main resort buildings. This pool is where I spent the majority of my downtime — I loved just about everything about it. It has a simple but elegant rectangular shape with cutouts on either side.
The spacious deck had plenty of generously padded loungers. I bring up the padding on the lounge chairs because it’s one of the things I pay attention to when I stay at luxury properties. If I’m staying at a high-end resort and the pool chairs don’t have comfy cushions, we’re going to have a problem! This Waldorf Astoria passed this test with flying colors.
Sharing the area with the Monarch pool are 2 infinity-edge hot tubs with views of the golf course and ocean in the distance. It got a little chilly each night, so these were the ideal place to relax after dinner.
There’s also the family pool, which is designed with children in mind, with a gradual entry and a free-form shape.
I didn’t notice any other guests at this pool — in fact, I hardly noticed any children at all during my stay, which may explain why the Monarch pool was more attended than this one.
Private cabanas can be found at both pools, though they come at an additional cost.
As I mentioned earlier, there is an adults-only lap pool at the spa, but I didn’t visit as I was more than content lounging at the Monarch pool with its stunning ocean views ahead and property views to the rear.
The Waldorf Astoria Spa got a recent revamp and is now accepting appointments for every day of the week. I didn’t treat myself this time (the least expensive massage is $250), but I was certainly tempted.
The spa itself offers numerous amenities like steam rooms, saunas, indoor and outdoor whirlpools, the aforementioned lap pool, relaxation lounges, and more.
An impressive range of treatments is available, including hair and nail services, facials, cryotherapy, “traditional” massages, and more. Visit the spa website to learn more about the available services.
This resort emphasizes fitness and wellness. In addition to a full-service gym, this Waldorf Astoria offers several other fitness/wellness experiences including guided hikes along the bluffs, fitness classes, beach yoga, cycling classes, meditation, and more.
The fitness center is open 24/7, though each time I passed through I was very politely asked not to take photos of the space. Quite a few people were utilizing the gym in both instances, so I presume the employee was looking out for the privacy of the guests. Or, who knows, there could have been a VIP guest working out!
Monarch Bay Beach Club is an exclusive beachfront club, only available to members and guests, located adjacent to the resort. It offers a range of activities, including surfing, paddle boarding, beach chair/umbrella/towel service at the beach, a full-service restaurant and bar, and more.
My stay was brief and I’m definitely more of a pool person than a beach person, so I didn’t have a chance to hit the beach. But on my next visit, I’ll make a point to spend an afternoon here.
The Monarch Beach Golf Links, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., has been named among Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play” and a GOLF Magazine “Gold Medal Resort.” Its oceanside location provides golfers tremendous views of the Pacific Ocean and the verdant bluffs up and down the coast.
The Wi-Fi at the resort was strong and maintained a connection around all the public spaces I visited, which meant I could get some work done during my afternoon at the pool.
This property is exclusively valet parking, and it costs $60 per day. It’s more or less essential to have a car while visiting Southern California (I should have taken my own advice!), so this is a cost to keep in mind when considering this hotel.
Similar to what I experienced elsewhere in California, COVID-19 regulations and restrictions were minimal for guests, though employees were required to wear masks while on the property.
There were the now-ubiquitous plastic dividers at the front desk and hand-sanitizing stations everywhere, but in many ways, this felt like a pre-pandemic stay to me.
While the lobby and many of the public areas espouse a relaxed, California-chic vibe, the guest rooms are more traditional, and in all honesty, would likely benefit from an update sooner rather than later. However, I ended up really enjoying my room, thanks to its supreme coziness.
My first impression of my room was that it was very large and spacious. Upon entering, there’s a closet to the right and the door to the bathroom is on the left.
Continuing into the bedroom, there were 2 queen beds up against a wall.
These beds were sumptuous — the mattresses were soft but not such that you’d sink into them. The pillows were great, too, and helped me get 2 very restful nights of sleep.
I didn’t find this right away, but there are USB ports as well as an AC power outlet built into either side of the nightstand that’s located between the beds. This is so convenient and a feature every single hotel should have, in my humble opinion.
Also on the nightstand were the telephone, TV remote, and an alarm clock.
Next to the beds is an armchair and a floor lamp with a small side table.
When I arrived, I found a little welcome gift in the form of saltwater taffy, as well as 2 water bottles waiting for me.
On the wall opposite the beds were another table and 2 chairs. The table itself was “desk-like,” but it’s also appropriate for sharing a meal with a travel companion.
On that same wall was the large marble-topped credenza that’s home to the room’s minibar and additional storage. The TV was mounted on the wall above the credenza.
The minibar was stocked with soft drinks as well as alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and liquor.
Barware was also provided.
My favorite part of my room was the balcony.
It had enough depth to feel spacious and was equipped with 2 chairs and a small table.
The balcony was my favorite spot to sit in the early evening or the morning to bask in the beautiful setting around me.
Even though the room décor was a bit outdated, I enjoyed the room. It’s hard to capture in words, but there was a calm — almost home-like — vibe to the room, thanks to its muted color scheme and luxurious-but-comfortable furnishings.
While I found the bedroom’s dated décor to be charming and cozy, the bathroom felt just outdated, without much of the charm I got from the rest of the room.
There’s a double vanity, a soaking tub (that looks like it’s from the very early 2000s), a standing shower that could be larger, and a separate water closet.
The bathroom is also home to the room’s Keurig machine, which felt like an odd place for it, though I can see a bit of the logic behind that decision.
Over the tub is a shuttered window that looks out into the rest of the room. However, there’s not much of a view from the tub through the window, since it’s far from the balcony door.
While I didn’t love the bathroom décor, I did appreciate its size and the amenities on offer.
First and foremost, the Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries are top-notch. When I first arrived, the housekeeping team forgot to place shampoo and conditioner in the room. So I called the front desk to ask for some, and within 3 minutes someone from housekeeping was knocking on the door with a bag of upwards of 10 bottles for me. Needless to say, I brought the rest home!
Finally, the robes and towels were very plush and comfortable. Whenever I stay at a resort like this, I make a point to have some solo “robe time,” and I thoroughly enjoyed it at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club.
As a full-service, 5-star resort, the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club predictably has several outlets for dining and drinking. Unfortunately, due to my short stay, I was only able to scratch the surface of what’s offered at this property.
Let’s take a look at what’s available and what I was able to try during my stay.
Helmed by celebrity chef Michael Mina, Bourbon Steak is, as you could guess from its name, a Southern California twist on an iconic American steakhouse. Bourbon Steak specializes in fine steaks, seafood, and wines served with incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. Sadly, the restaurant wasn’t operating every day and was closed during my stay.
Aveo Table + Bar is the resort’s all-day restaurant, serving Mediterranean-inspired breakfast, lunch, and dinner options from an indoor/outdoor space with fantastic views of the property and the ocean in the background.
This is where I took advantage of my complimentary breakfast.
I ordered the scrumptious “Baja Style Burrito,” which was served with scrambled eggs, potato hash, cheddar cheese, and avocado, and freshly squeezed orange juice.
I asked if I could add bacon to the burrito, and it was no problem. It came with a delightfully just-spicy-enough roasted poblano salsa on the side. When it arrived, I thought the plate looked a little bare and thought perhaps I should have ordered a side to go along with it. But rest assured I was pretty stuffed after eating just one-half of the burrito!
It cost $22 and was covered by my daily breakfast allotment.
The inside portion of the restaurant was practically deserted when I was eating, though it was a beautiful space with a variety of comfortable seating that felt appropriately high-end.
I — and all the other guests that were eating while I was — chose to eat outside. The terrace provided even better views of the resort and the Pacific Ocean and made for a perfect start to a relaxing day.
For beachfront dining, head to Monarch Bay Beach Club, which serves relaxed California-coastal cuisine but with a distinctly high-end polish. There’s an indoor bar that opens up to the ocean breezes outside or a lawn on the beach for the ultimate in open-air dining.
The restaurant is available to members of the club and overnight hotel guests only and serves brunch and dinner daily.
Located in the lobby, 33 Degrees North provides a cozy ambiance at which to enjoy a cocktail and light bites. The bar itself is beautiful, with gray and blue marble countertops and a gorgeous backsplash that’s certainly meant to evoke the ocean.
If you don’t want to sit directly at the bar, you can order your food and/or drinks in the surrounding “living room,” complete with luxurious yet approachable furniture and a roaring fireplace — perfect for those cool evenings on the California coast.
This is the hotel’s all-day one-stop-shop for any number of items you may need throughout the day. You can pick from a wide range of items here, including coffee, pastries, made-to-order juices, curated picnic baskets for a trip to the beach, Italian gelato, prepackaged meals, beer, wine, sunscreen, and so much more.
I stopped in once to pick up a can of Pringles (don’t judge) but didn’t purchase anything else, as prices were pretty egregious, which I fully expected at a resort of this caliber.
Sombra Cantina is the relaxed, poolside bar and restaurant serving the 2 resort pools. Its focus is on poolside favorites, like fish tacos, salads, ceviche, quesadillas, and the like.
On the only full day I had to enjoy the resort, I ate breakfast on the later side, so I wasn’t hungry for a meal while I relaxed by the pool. However, I didn’t miss the opportunity to try a cocktail — or 3.
I went for the cucumber jalapeño margarita made from blanco tequila, agave, lime, cucumber, and jalapeño. They were delicious, without a doubt, but had I not had the resort credit to use up I probably would have thought twice about spending $20 on a single cocktail.
Club 19 is located on the first tee of the Monarch Beach Golf Links, making it a perfect place to enjoy lunch — or a cocktail — after a round of golf, while taking in those stunning Pacific Ocean vistas, of course.
This restaurant was closed during my stay but reopened in late December 2021.
There’s nothing quite like ordering room service at a luxury resort, in my opinion. And that’s exactly what I decided to do while at this Waldorf Astoria. Since I essentially skipped lunch, I had worked up an appetite after a hard day of sitting by the pool (I did some work, too, I swear), so I certainly over-ordered.
I called up an assortment of my “room service greatest hits,” a club sandwich with French fries ($29), a caesar salad ($21), and a Margherita pizza ($27). I was quoted a 30-minute delivery time, but it came in just 20!
Everything was delicious and served hot. But, as you could imagine, my eyes were a lot bigger than my stomach and I struggled to finish it all. It was well worth it though, for the experience. And, the entire bill was included within my resort credit, so my guilt was lessened.
In-room dining is available 24/7, though the menus do change according to the time of day.
One of the reasons travelers choose brands like the Waldorf Astoria is for their excellent service standards — and the Monarch Beach property is no exception. From the moment I arrived, I was treated very well.
The bellmen were eager to deliver my bags to my room and insisted I call them before I departed so I wouldn’t have to schlep my bags all the way back to the lobby.
The front desk agents were exceedingly friendly and were happy to answer any questions or meet any requests I had. I especially loved the ability to communicate with them through text message, which is much more efficient — at least in my mind — than doing so over the in-room phone or *gasp* actually visiting the front desk.
I had a phenomenal stay at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club. The only downside was that my stay was way too short.
Had I been paying out of pocket for this kind of stay, well, I wouldn’t be, as it’s a bit too rich for my blood. However, thanks to the power of a single credit card, I was able to pay $0 for the stay itself, and very close to $0 for my incidentals while on the property.
A single 2-night stay helped me get a return far greater than the $550 annual fee that comes with the Hilton Aspire card. For that reason alone, the card will stay in my wallet, and my tradition of having 1 opulent Hilton stay annually continues for yet another year.
The information regarding the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
It was announced in September 2020 that Hilton would absorb the former Monarch Beach Resort into its portfolio under the Waldorf Astoria brand. Shortly after that, it became known as the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club.
No, Waldorf Astoria is a luxury brand under the Hilton portfolio, and it participates in the Hilton Honors loyalty program.
Monarch Beach itself is open to the public, but there is a private club called Monarch Bay Beach Club that’s available to members and their guests only.
Before it was part of the Hilton family, the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club was known as the Monarch Beach Resort and was an independent property.
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