A Grand Weekend at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point

By Leslie Westbrook   |   November 14, 2023
One of the comfy suites at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch (courtesy photo)

Why travel? To celebrate a special occasion? Birthday, anniversary, retirement, new job, you name it.For a change of scenery? To alleviate boredom? To explore new regions, to be pampered or just sneak off and indulge? Whatever your reason, I love flopping onto a freshly made bed in a hotel room – preferably with a view – walking to dinner onsite for a dynamite meal and luxuriating at a resort spa. But I also enjoy hole-in-the wall ethnic restaurants and colorful saloons. I’m equally happy exploring Mexican villages and ducking into local taco joints as I am swimming at a five-star resort. I love hitting the Big Apple to visit museums and theater, but lately I’ve felt more like short, drive vacation breaks than long-haul flights. Even though I have zillions of air miles that allow me to fly anywhere for peanuts vs. gas prices (over $6 a gallon, really?), I’ve been in a road trip state of mind lately.When a friend had a birthday this month, I asked if she wanted to celebrate by revisiting a Dana Point resort we’d been to and liked a lot – especially the Michael Mina restaurant Bourbon Steak Orange County – five years ago? She agreed immediately – which meant she liked it. Or at least liked the idea of a little getaway.

The beach resort is 175 acres atop a 150-foot seaside bluff (photo by Leslie A. Westbrook)

Now in the Waldorf Astoria family, Monarch Beach Resort & Spa is one of California’s many lovely oceanfront resorts spread across rolling swaths of coastline. Make that 175 oceanfront acres, which may make it one of the largest in SoCal. Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes covers 102 acres; Ritz Carlton, Bacara, Santa Barbara takes up 78 acres.

I suggested we stop en route at a historic Dana Point waterfront saloon for a light shared lunch – Turk’s in the harbor – before checking in to the Waldorf Astoria. Show me a place where you can get the Tuesday night special – spaghetti & meatball with glass of wine for… are you sitting down?… $8.95 (other weekly specials are equally astounding!) and my curiosity is peeked.

Turk’s Dana Warf (yes, that’s how they spell it) has been a family-owned bar and restaurant in Dana Point Harbor since 1984. Turk was a body builder, surfer, movie star, fisherman but his biggest love was the restaurant and bar business, now run by his daughter. The fish and chips were highly recommended online, so I thought what the heck? The joint was noisy, local, like a tiny version of The Nugget on steroids with posters of James Dean, John Wayne, racetrack winners’ circles, loud music and a long full bar filled with patrons at noon. We shared the delicious fish and chips, followed by a walk around picturesque Dana Point Harbor. 

It was a pretty drive along the harbor front and a turn up steep Cove Drive, a curving uphill road that ended with awesome clifftop views before we headed five minutes down Pacific Coast Highway to our posh resort. We were warmly welcomed by Jesus, the valet car parker who filled us in on changes since our last visit, a super-friendly and helpful front desk agent and delightful bellman Lyle, who not only shared his favorite dishes at the resort’s fine dining restaurant, where we’d be having dinner our first evening, but was astounded that we had discovered Turk’s for lunch.

Our two-queen bedded room, newly redecorated since our last visit, in calming, elegant beige décor featured charming small oil paintings of surfers and sea; the best being a coastal landscape hanging over the oval soaking tub. The ground-floor room opened to a patio with a firepit – and a s’mores kit to concoct late night treats during our two-night stay where the motto is “laid back luxury.”

After the freeway drive, we were happy to just unwind and ponder our 48-hour visit before heading to the terrace for a spectacular sunset view followed by dinner at Bourbon Steak OC, the resort’s upscale restaurant. California is casual and despite menu prices that call for “dressing up,” we were surprised to see how casually dressed many diners were. 

There’s a fantastic drinks list (“old school” vs. “new school” versions of classic cocktails), tableside preparations, and every showpiece dish on the seafood and meat centric menu was thoughtfully designed and served. Standouts included the “gift from the kitchen” (to all tables) a trio amuse-bouche as pretty as jewels: halibut ceviche with a yuzu avocado mousse on a blue corn tortilla chip; sourdough crostini with a chunk of gulf shrimp topped with a dollop of Dijonnaise wasabi; and a crispy rice cake with spicy tuna topped with whiskey soy pearls. The broiled New Zealand tai snapper in a ginger-scallion fermented black bean sauce (enough for four people to share) was sublime and included bok choy and pork fried rice sides. The trio of flavored French fries fried in duck fat – furikake with seaweed was the favorite – also stood out. Basque cheesecake for dessert, highly recommended by two staff members, was worth the calories and reminded me of the cheesecake my grandmother used to make – conjuring happy memories of days past. 

Bourbon Steak OC provides a delectable addition to the experience (photo by Leslie A. Westbrook)

After a filling dinner, graciously served by a bevy of lovely wait staff and a charming sommelier, we waddled back to our room to find our beds neatly turned down for the night while Ernesto Halffter’s soothing “Sérénade A Dulcinée” emitted from the large screen television – with occasional questions popping up like “Did you know that Halffter’s mother taught him to play the piano?” I do now – but did not expect to learn this here. Classical music lessons on screen – what a concept! 

A sound sleep and my anticipation of the CBD Massage I’d booked at the spa the next morning was well-founded. A great steam room, two saunas, and a waterfall spa preceded the relaxing treatment. The resort’s fantastic massage therapist, Yolanda, gave the first massage when the resort opened 22 years ago – she now works just two days a week. Her life story was as interesting as her hands were strong and healing: a former microbiologist-turned-chiropractor-turned-massage therapist.

A lovely cabana by the pool we’d booked for the afternoon included a large screen TV and outdoor dining table where we enjoyed a lobster roll and chicken taquitos for lunch from Sombra Cantina. Sadly, our pool time was cut short due to the cool temperature, followed by an afternoon rain forecast that had everyone scurrying for the great indoors. 

We’d met other guests during our stay including a couple from L.A. with their pup, two gals from Chicago, a couple from Florida here for a wedding, and even a local woman just “in need of a day off.” At the complimentary and informative Friday night Don Julio tequila tasting, we enjoyed meeting a young couple visiting to attend her nephew’s high school football game at Dana Point High (his team won!).

Our “last supper” was at the private Monarch Bay Beach Club – open only to hotel and guests and members. The casual restaurant – certified ocean-friendly by the Surfrider Foundation – is perched directly above the beautiful crescent shaped Monarch Beach Bay and offers stunning sunset views. Delicious seafood entrees and a shared peach cobbler with ice cream was a perfect last day of summer dinner. A fun tram shuttles hotel guests from the resort’s porte cochère to and from the club.

We ended our leisurely stay the next morning with an early swim and spa soak (the sun had come out!), breakfast on the terrace at AVEO Table and Bar, topped off by one of the complimentary fitness/wellness classes – a morning meditation and sound bath of singing bowls.

Whatever your reason to travel – collecting seashells… making memories… learning classical composer music trivia… enjoying a fabulous meal with a friend, family, or significant other, getting on track with your health and fitness program or seeking out fish and chips at a historic dive bar… go for it!

Getting There: The drive has been done in two and a half hours according to our bellman Lyle who left Santa Barbara at 10 pm one night, but count on four hours, to be safe. We crawled in L.A. traffic on our return drive.

Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club: AAA Five Diamond retreat perched on 175 acres atop a 150-foot seaside California bluff. Bluff-side golf, tennis, spa, private beach club, and fine dining. www.waldorfastoriamonarchbeach.com

Turk’s Dana Warf: https://turksdpharbor.com/specials


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