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If you're looking for a real California beach resort, you might have a harder time finding one than you'd think. To start, a true resort should be more than just a fancy beachfront hotel. It should have a spa, pool, recreational activities, dining on the premises—and more.
Places to stay with overly enthusiastic marketing departments may sometimes call themselves resorts even though they have none of the amenities you would expect from one. Locations with the merest glimpse of the ocean will call themselves beach resorts and if you believe them without checking, you could end up dismayed.
Don't worry, though, we've got you covered. This guide will spare you the time, research, and potential disappointment. It distills all the options down to the few real beach resorts in the state of California. They are not across the street from the beach or just somewhere with an ocean view, but rather right on the shore. And finally, all of the recommended resorts are well-rated by their guests. Read on for our guide to the best beach resorts in the Golden State below.
Catamaran Resort Hotel (San Diego)
On the shore of Mission Bay north of downtown San Diego, the Catamaran is located on a beach, but it faces a protected bay. That means calm water and few ocean waves, which can be good or bad depending on your preference.
The Catamaran has more than 300 rooms, and every one of them has a patio or private balcony. Some of them have kitchenettes where you can prepare meals—unless you'd rather eat at one of their restaurants or enjoy their summertime Sunset Luau complete with roasted pig and fiery torch dancers.
The resort also has an outdoor swimming pool, a spa, and a long list of other things to do without leaving their grounds. You can even take a bay cruise on their paddle wheeler boat the Bahia Belle.
While there isn't a resort fee, they do charge for parking. They are pet-friendly with a nonrefundable service fee and a limit of one housebroken dog per room (max 50 pounds).
Paradise Point Resort & Spa (San Diego)
Also in Mission Bay (which means its beaches face a tranquil bay and not the ocean), Paradise Point occupies a 44-acre island. Some of their 462 rooms are bungalow style, and they also have 73 suites.
The resort has five swimming pools, a spa, beach bonfire pits, and plenty of other recreation opportunities.
If all that activity makes you hungry, their five dining venues are ready to help before you get to the "hangry" stage.
It should be noted, however, that they charge a hefty amenity fee that is not included in their room rate, and they do charge for parking. The hotel is pet-friendly but you will have to prepay a cleaning fee when you check in that could be one-fourth to half of one night's lodging cost, depending on your choice of room type.
La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club (La Jolla)
It's hard to go wrong at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. To start, you get access to one of the only private stretches of beach in Southern California. Then there are a dozen championship tennis courts to play on, a nine-hole golf course, a spa, and an outdoor swimming pool. In fact, it's hard to think of anything you might want at a beach resort that this place doesn't have.
Surprisingly for a place with so much to offer, they don't charge a resort fee, and parking is free.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel (Dana Point)
The name of the Ritz-Carlton is a bit of a head scratcher. It says Laguna Niguel, but the address is in Dana Point. In fact, Laguna Niguel is a landlocked town, but it's less than a mile from its city limits to this resort on the beach.
It sits in a beautiful spot and overlooks a beach with easy access. The property has almost 400 rooms, and suites, six places to eat, two swimming pools, a spa, and its guests get preferred access to the nearby Monarch Beach Golf Links.
You can engage a Beach Butler to take you to the beach, set up for you and cater to your every whim. For the kids, they provide a menu of activities for every age group. The hotel is pet-friendly and sometimes host "Yappy" hours especially for their canine visitors.
They charge a resort fee that covers a lot of services, including beach shuttles, tours, and more. There's a valet parking fee (self-parking is not allowed) and also a per-night pet boarding fee.
Montage Resort and Spa (Laguna Beach)
The Montage Resort is a large property with more than 200 rooms, situated on 30 acres of land just above Treasure Island Beach and the so-called Pirate Tower, a few miles south of the town of Laguna Beach. Every room has a view.
The Montage earns its reputation as one of the most elegant (and expensive) California beach resorts. It has two swimming pools, a spa, yoga classes, family activities, and other great guest experiences. You can find out about their amenities, rooms and more at the Montage website, or call if you want to know about their pet policies, resort fees, or parking.
Surf and Sand Resort (Laguna Beach)
The Surf & Sand sits right on the beach in charming Laguna. People who stay at the Surf & Sand give it high praise for the view. It has also gone high tech, using a smartphone app to replace a traditional room key. If you don't have a smartphone or dislike having to install an app to get into your room for a couple of days, you may want to stay somewhere else.
The property does charge a resort fee, which does not include parking. They're also extremely pet-friendly and have an official Pet Program.
Shutters on the Beach (Santa Monica)
Shutters on the Beach has one of the most gorgeous oceanside locations in California.
The hotel has a spa and pool, but offers fewer activities than other resorts on this list. Although that might be the case, it won't matter when you have a mesmerizing ocean view to enjoy or can go for a blissful walk on the beach. (If you need to know about pet policies, parking, and resort fees, try giving them a call).
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is halfway between San Francisco and Monterey on a point of land that gives expansive views. It sits on a clifftop but has walking paths that will take you to the beach.
The hotel has a spa and not just one, but two championship golf courses. Sunday brunches in their dining room are very popular, and people love to sit around the outdoor fire pits in the evening.
The Ritz is pet-friendly but charges a nonrefundable dog cleaning fee and a dog boarding fee that together could add up enough to pay for a moderate-priced hotel room elsewhere. They also charge a resort fee and for parking (which is more expensive on weekends).