There's a lot to like about Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, but my favorite is its accessibility. The resort's prime location may be remembered by L.A. natives as the site of the MarineLand amusement park, which operated from 1954 to 1987. Twenty years later, development of a fancy new oceanfront resort on this prized piece of land began in cooperation with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy. And while an overnight stay in one of Terranea's luxuriously appointed rooms will cost you upward of $300, the property's gorgeous oceanfront hiking trails are open for the enjoyment of hotel guests, locals and day trippers alike.
The peninsula is, admittedly, a bit of a trek for most Angelenos, particularly those with easy access to the Santa Monica Mountains, Griffith Park or Runyon Canyon. That's why I like to make a day of it when I visit Terranea, and I'd like to share a sample itinerary for anyone who, like me, is too cheap to splurge on an overnight stay, but would like to take advantage of everything else the resort has to offer.
If you go on a weekend, arrive early in the day if possible, as the $5 public parking lots can fill up quickly ($10 valet is another option for non-resort guests). I recommend making an early dinner reservation at Nelson's. It's the most laid-back of the resort's sit-down restaurants and boasts the absolute best location, perched on the bluffs with a killer view of Catalina Island and the Point Vicente Lighthouse. Get a table on the expansive outdoor patio (the inside has more of a sports bar vibe). I guarantee you'll feel just like one of the PV locals as you cozy up to a fire pit with your microbrew and fish tacos, enjoying the sound of crashing waves below. On a summer Saturday night, you might even catch a band playing outside of the restaurant, another draw for the well-heeled peninsula natives.
If there's enough light left in the sky after dinner, walk off the calories by exploring the miles of Discovery Trails around the property. Terranea bills itself as an "eco resort," and as such has preserved much of the surrounding natural environment for native plants and wildlife (although one can't help but notice the abundance of manicured green lawns as well). From Nelson's, you can follow the Terranea Trail along the top of the bluffs. The path heads east away from the restaurant and eventually curves around to meet up with the Beach Trail, which takes you across the resort's small sandy beach to a rocky outcropping and some cool sea caves to explore. If you'd prefer something mellower, you can pick up the Terranea Trail as it heads northwest away from the restaurant. This easy nature trail showcases native plants and offers convenient rest stops along the way, where you can enjoy the view of the lighthouse and maybe even spot some dolphins. For serious hikers, here's a complete map of the many hiking trails on the Palos Verdes Peninsula (Terranea resort is located at number 17 on the map).
Of course, you may be interested in a true getaway that doesn't involve two long car rides in one day, and the resort does offer decent overnight deals from time to time. The Spa at Terranea offers another opportunity to splurge; non-guests can book a 60-minute treatment (your most affordable option is a $90 manicure) and gain entry to the 50,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, which offers whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, an outdoor pool, and a beautiful indoor lounge, where you can nibble on fruit next to a roaring fire and listen to the surf through open balcony doors. The experience is beyond luxurious, and not a bad way to wrap a day of oceanfront eating, drinking and exploring.