My family lives in Southern California, spread out between the cities of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. We try to visit at least twice a year for a family vacation, and no matter how long we go for, it never feels like enough time. There are so many kid-friendly things to do in Southern California like outdoor parks, hiking, farms with petting zoos, fresh fruits and vegetables, horseback riding, museums and of course, the beaches. One area that had always evaded us was Laguna Beach, which was left for us to discover over our summer vacation.
As most of the country was just reopening and still dealing with restrictions, we planned a long weekend trip to Laguna Beach to discover three new luxury hotels in this Southern California area, known for its beautiful cliffs, great restaurants and shopping, and tons of outdoor activities like surfing and hiking. In this blog, I’m going to highlight where to stay, what hotel will be right for your family vacation, and break down the differences between Montage Laguna Beach, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, and the Monarch Beach Resort.
Perfect For: Romantic Getaways | Honeymoons & Anniversaries | Families | Surfing | Golfers | Shopping
Laguna Beach is 7 miles of coastline located between San Diego and Los Angeles, with more oceanfront hotel properties than any other area of California. The topography of Laguna Beach includes coves, tide pools, unique beaches, sea caves and oceanside bluffs, making it one of the coolest regions to explore with kids. Laguna Beach is home to some of the world’s most famous surf breaks, making it a favorite of surfers and stand up paddle boarders. It’s also home to a fun arts and culture scene that includes year-round festivals, galleries, public art exhibits, and fun educational programs for kids.
Whether you are planning a honeymoon, a family vacation, or just a beach weekend getaway, Laguna Beach is a great option as a sole destination, or a stopover while visiting the entire California coast. Laguna Beach is easily accessible by flying into John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is the closest but smallest of the airport options. Alternatively, you could fly into either San Diego International (SAN) or Los Angeles International (LAX) and make the approximately 1.5 hour drive from either direction, depending on traffic. If you have never visited California, I would recommend either starting in San Diego or San Francisco and driving the entire coast, if you want to make a fun family road trip and experience the best of California. However you choose to explore California, we always recommend a rental car so that you can see and do as much as possible.
The Best Hotels in Laguna Beach
While Laguna Beach has a ton of great hotels and resorts for honeymooners, couples getaways, or family vacations, I selected the top three luxury resorts in Laguna Beach that I wanted to compare for my clients. I am going to break down the differences and pros and cons of my top three resorts in Laguna Beach and let you know which one is right for you. Without further ado, here are the best hotels in Laguna Beach.
This 400-room Monarch Beach Resort is a massive 175 acre property set further back from the beach, but offering gorgeous views of both green hills and ocean. The 18-hole golf course runs perpendicular and slightly downhill to the beach, which makes it an ideal beach and golf resort. In 2019, they completed Laguna Beach’s only beach club, which offers a beachside restaurant and private beach access with chair setup and service. This beach club is only open to hotel guests and club members, which is a nice bonus of staying at Monarch Beach Resort.
For me, the downside was the commute to the beach. You have to arrive by golf or shuttle cart, which takes about 10-15 minutes, plus the wait time when you’re ready to go. It’s not a huge deal if you plan to go to the beach and stay put, but if you have little ones and need to go back and forth to the room, it would be a challenge.
Other important features of this resort is that it is very kid-friendly and dog-friendly. Dogs have designated run zones and and trails around the property. Monarch Beach Resort does have a kids club, though it was not open during our visit. They created outdoor kids activities and even relocated the gym equipment to an outdoor tented area to allow guests the continued use of the ‘gym.’
The resort has 3 pools – the 2 main ones are nearly side-by-side, separated by a restaurant and gates with one being the family pool and the other being the adults-only pool. I did feel the pools were on the smaller side for being such a large resort. The third pool is located in the Miraval spa, which is also adults-only.
While they have many different types of accommodations, a resort favorite is the fireside junior suites for their ground floor easy access to the outdoor spaces and fire pits that are nice and cozy in the colder months of the year.
Book Monarch Beach Resort with Diego Travel to Receive the Following:
We Recommend Monarch Beach Resort For:
Last, but not least, was our stay at The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, the southernmost hotel of the three. Just in front of Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point, this spot is a favorite to surfers from around the world. The team at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel made us feel like rock stars, with a VIP welcome and amazing amenity for our kids that made it feel like Christmas morning. As an independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel, our clients get the privilege of receiving STARS perks at any Ritz Carlton property worldwide. What does this mean? It means VIP treatment, priority upgrades, extras throughout, and white glove “Guardian Angel” service throughout your stay. Why would you ever book direct, when you can book with us and receive all of the above?
During our visit, California restrictions required any indoor restaurants to remain completely closed. Due to this, dining options on property were extremely limited, with only 180 Blue, a small outdoor patio with, you guessed it, 180 degree views of the ocean and sunset. So, this small venue was always to capacity and only allowed for high table seating, which proved challenging with a small 3-year-old. However, during “normal” times, you would have plenty of indoor dining options.
Here’s a cool fact about this luxury hotel: Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is the only Ritz Carlton in the world that overlooks a natural surf break. So, if you have a surfer in the family (like we do!), then the Ritz Carlton would be a great choice for you. It is a hike down to the beach, and once there, the hotel does not provide any chairs or beach service like towels or beverage service. So, keep that in mind when planning your trip.
The hotel has 396 rooms and suites, with suites recently renovated with beds that have a direct line of vision to the ocean. Not a bad way to wake up in the morning! The lobby was renovated in 2018, and standard guest rooms have a planned renovation underway over the next couple of years.
For kids and adult activities, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel provides an eco adventure tour, night crawler hike, and whale watching tours to name a few. They also provide a complimentary 45 minute photography session if you want to get your holiday card photos taken during your stay. Personally, the downside to the hotel was the pool. Located in a courtyard, with zero views to the ocean, I felt it was enclosed and for being on a beach vacation, it would be nice to spend time at the pool feeling the ocean breeze. I also didn’t like that there is no beachside service or chairs. However, if those aren’t your priorities and you just want the best spot for easiest access to surf, or the closest hotel to Dana Point, or the hotel with the best views from your room, then Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is the best choice. Just be sure to ask us which room category would ensure you have the ocean view you’re craving.
Book Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel with Diego Travel to Receive the Ritz Carlton STARS Exclusive Amenities:
We Recommend Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel For:
Montage Laguna Beach resort is the Montage brand’s premiere property, the first in its portfolio and the pinnacle in Pacific coastal luxury. From the moment you arrive to the lobby, the floor to ceiling views of the Pacific Ocean are jaw-dropping. Throughout the pandemic, Montage Laguna Beach never closed, remaining open for locals and clients who were in-the-know to the property’s standards and exclusive access to the beach.
This hotel offers 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom suites with three different views. While all rooms have views of the ocean, the entry level rooms are on the ground floor, or “horizon views.” One of the advantages of booking your stay with Diego Travel, is you’ll receive an automatic view upgrade at time of booking. In total, the resort has 258 rooms and suites that underwent a complete renovation in 2019. The hotel room decor is a soft, neutral, coastal blue palette that feels straight out of the pages of Elle Decor magazine.
The biggest highlight of the property is the easy access directly down to the beach, albeit down some pretty steep stairs. Montage Laguna Beach offers beachside service with chairs and towels, so if the beach is your thing and is high on your priority list, then Montage Laguna Beach should be your first choice.
Other highlights, especially if you’re traveling with kids, is the amazing kids club and activities menu they offer. While it’s not included in your hotel stay, they offer half and full-day programs for kids ages 5-12 years old. While the kids are enjoying their fun outdoor activities like swimming in the pool with mermaid tails on, you can go enjoy one of the 20 spa treatment rooms or the adults-only spa pool.
With the option of multiple bedroom units, I love Montage Laguna Beach for family or multi-generational family trips who are looking for the best in service, highest quality accommodations, and al fresco dining with oceanfront views. It’s also a great options for honeymooners or adults looking to get away for a weekend because you can use the spa pool which also sits in front of the ocean.
Book Montage Laguna Beach with Diego Travel to Receive the Following:
*for suite stays of 2 nights or more, spa credit is $200.00
We Recommend Montage Laguna Beach For:
To summarize, whether you’re planning a 2-night stay as a stopover or a week-long summer vacation, Laguna Beach is a great option for a honeymoon, family vacation, or couples trip. We spent three nights, but felt like we could have spent a lot more, and didn’t even leave the hotels to explore around town. When you book your vacation with Diego Travel, we provide all the above listed amenities at no extra charge to our clients. Direct hotel bookings are always complimentary, and when planning or concierge service is involved, there is a minimal custom trip planning fee. Next time you’re planning to travel worldwide, feel free to reach out to see how we can enhance your travel experience.