The Surf and Sand in Laguna Beach, California has achieved legendary appeal for those fortunate enough to have stayed there during its 55 years of operation. Located at 1555 South Coast Highway, it was built in 1948 as a beach side motor lodge with 26 rooms. Artists discovered Laguna Beach and over the years made it a premier vacation destination. Art galleries, the famous Sawdust Festival, the Laguna Playhouse, and the Master of the Arts Festival attract visitors from all over the world to this small, charming community nestled between Newport Beach and San Diego.
My daughter Lucy and I found our room to be a small slice of heaven. The room itself was beautifully appointed with a bedroom, sitting area, and behind the white plantation shutters and the sliding glass doors, a private balcony overlooking the vast blue Pacific Ocean. Down below, on the sand, Surf and Sand beach attendants catered to guests needs; setting up umbrellas; delivering chairs, and food and beverages while lifeguards watched over swimmers of all ages. Being August, the cool salt water was the perfect compliment to the hot sun. The waves are excellent for body surfing or using a boogie board while still being gentle enough for small children.
The Surf and Sand is situated on 500 feet of beachfront. Flanked by multimillion-dollar private homes, and bordered by rock formations that form natural barriers, the property provides a sense of privacy and security. If walking the coastline is your fancy, scaling the rock abutments at low tide is still easy to do.
It is also very tempting to sit outside on your balcony and relax. There is a fully stocked Honor Bar, and room service. Ben and Jerry's old-fashioned sundaes and ice cream can be scooped at your doorstep between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Two thick white cotton Frette robes and Surf and Sand slippers were in our closet. In the bathroom, a half clamshell was filled with Aveda products, soaps and bath salts that revitalize, and lotions that soothe. Attached to the travertine marble wall was a hairdryer. The only thing that I did not find was a coffee pot. The Honor Bar has everything from a split of French champagne for $37.50 to a miniature bottle of Ketel One vodka for $6.50. There are more than a dozen tiny bottles of liquor from which to choose. The refrigerator has beer, wine, and goodies.
The Surf and Sand is privately owned by James and Kathryn Colachis, a couple dedicated to solidifying the resort's reputation as a first class, casually elegant destination. It is the perfect setting for couples seeking a romantic interlude, families looking for a place that will satisfy young and old; business conferences, and social functions. This year the Surf and Sand partnered with Stepping Stones Child Development Center to offer professionally organized half-day camps for children ages 4 to 12. Drop-in care during selected times is $10 per hour, with evening sessions Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at $35 per session.
John Gates, assistant General Manager, took my daughter and me on a tour of the modernized, expanded hotel. "Each of the 165 rooms and suites," Gates explained, "has a view of the water. There are no bad rooms." He led the way to one of the thirteen suites with a starting rate of $1,100 per day. The suite was a larger version of the regular rooms. There was a balcony with a comfortable living room, a private bedroom, with the addition of a second bathroom. Blushing beige travertine marble makes the bathrooms throughout the property elegant yet comfortable. Custom woven sisal rugs, linen ecru fabrics with pale blue and green stripes, and custom fabricated matchstick lamps with a patina finish are standard features in rooms as well as suites.
Climbing a few stairs we arrived at the brick courtyard, a popular setting for weddings, charity events, and private parties. "We do very little advertising," John Gates tells us, explaining that the Surf and Sand has become a yearly visit for many guests. "Some book a year in advance. They make their reservations for next year when they're leaving." He emphasized that it's best to book two to three weeks in advance during the summer months. Special rates are offered occasionally.
Citrus trees line the entryway to the new Aquaterra spa, built, according to our tour guide at the site of the original motorlodge. All four of the Surf and Sand buildings share the same Mediterranean-style architecture, and one would never know that they had been built and rebuilt over the years. Flower-lined walkways lead to the new spa reception area where a signature scent wafts through the pungent sea air. The Aquaterra Spa has specially formulated its own crèmes, oils, and candles using many locally grown ingredients. Their brochure describes, The healing, therapeutic essences of the ocean and land are blended with indigenous aromatic botanicals to be artistically expressed in the Aquaterra experience. The practitioners of the body and healing arts are longtime employees. They are referred to as artists, and after my deep tissue massage with Anjelica, I would have to agree. Prices are in line with other top-rated spas, but the caliber of service and the quality of products send it to the top of my need to repeat list. Spa hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and are offered to hotel guests as well as the public.
From the spa we walked to the 10,000 square foot freestanding conference and meeting center. John Gates pointed out the spacious ballroom areas, noting high ceilings, with some ocean views. The three ballrooms are perfect for functions that require everything from state-of-the-art audiovisual displays to elegantly decorated weddings.
Upon leaving the center we passed the gift shop, a separate entity run by another charming, longtime employee. Knowing that many staff members have been there for a decade or more is a great indicator. Their feelings for the hotel are sincere, and when they describe the owners as wonderful people, I find my experience even more refreshing. The gift shop sells signature clothing, artwork by the Rodrigo Kane, the wonderful artist credited with many of the charming watercolors throughout the hotel; and sundries, including reasonably priced sunglasses.
For breakfast there is fresh pressed organic carrot, orange, or grapefruit juice, Irish oatmeal with organic sun dried fruits and brown sugar, or the Three Oyster Mushroom and Brie Omelet. There is a full menu with everything from a toasted bagel to Eggs Benedict. Lunch includes unique offerings such as a Rosemary Marinated Roasted Rare Lamb Salad with sweet onions, roasted peppers, Kalamata olives, goat cheese and aged sherry vinaigrette, or a tree-ripened Peach and Watercress Salad with spiced pistachios and orange blossom honey vinaigrette. Dinner features everything from a daily prix fix dinner to a delicious a la carte menu. In fact, there are so many mouthwatering choices that it is genuinely challenging to make a decision. There is an extensive drink and wine list.
The following morning, with the sun shining brightly, I opened my eyes towards the Pacific. Sitting on the balcony rail was the largest, most beautiful seagull I have ever seen. I pulled the wooden doors back and noted the warning imprinted on the sliding glass door: Please do not feed the birds. Obviously this beautiful, brazen seagull was used to guests sharing breakfast with him on the balcony. A light breeze gently swayed palm fronds and an American flag flew from a private home down the beach. It was now 8:30 a.m. and there were two men raking the sand below. Back and forth, up and down, erasing footprints and dog prints, smoothing the way for another perfect beach day.
The Surf and Sand is a rare gem that has been enjoyed by celebrated personalities such as Paul Newman, Robert DeNiro, Matthew Perry, and Bono. The property is a member of Preferred Resorts Worldwide, an affiliation that signifies quality and first class service.
By Linda Lane, Las Vegas Correspondent