There’s luxury and then there’s opulence. On a spit of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean in tony Rancho Palos Verdes, California—only 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles yet an entire world away—Terranea offers splendorous grandeur for the discerning traveler seeking that most fabulous of getaways. With 102 acres of beachfront property, top-quality restaurants, and activities for the casual and active alike, Terranea isn’t a destination, it’s a state of mind. Once there, you won’t ever want to leave.
The roads that take you toward Terranea from the hustle and bustle of Southern California don’t let on to the awesome experience that awaits. From just beyond the Port of Long Beach, Victoria and I crossed the historic Vincent Thomas Bridge into the shoreside hamlet of San Pedro—the former habitue of explorers and anglers alike. It was a slow ride through the town thanks to several stoplights, but then we turned right onto Palos Verdes Drive, which allowed for stunning vistas to the west of the welcoming Pacific. Just a few miles up Palos Verdes Drive, we came upon the signage for Terranea, and immediately we couldn’t help but smile knowing that shortly it would be time to relax in style.
We turned left off Palos Verdes Drive onto Terranea Way and pulled up to a European-style plaza where incredibly friendly valets greeted us and promised to care for our vehicle. Check-in was equally pleasant, with staff displaying that most uniquely California hospitality that, for those of us who live on the East Coast, can sometimes be lacking back home.
No sooner had our bags been taken off on their magical mystery tour than Agnelo Fernandes, chief strategy officer and executive vice president at Terranea, greeted us pleasantly. He asked after our trip and travels and thanked us for coming to the property. Motioning us on, Agnelo bade us follow him through the lobby’s main floor and back into a hallway of rooms.
We were looking forward to a room—any room—but not the room! Agnelo ushered us into the Vanderlip Suite, a 2,200-square-feet accommodation fit for royalty, let alone us mere mortals. The main doorway led into the spacious living area, which boasted several coaches, armchairs, 65-inch flatscreen TV, and various tables for glassware soon to be filled with epic beverages. To the right of the living area was a dining room that could easily and comfortably seat eight people, with a butler’s pantry from which to stage all manner of delicious treats. To the left of the living area was a rather generously apportioned office lounge, with a sizable desk on which, somehow, I aimed to get some writing done. The office also featured a lounge table and seating for four—as well as a telescope pointed out the south window, perhaps the better to spy on marine life migrating just offshore, if we were lucky.
Connecting to the office was the master bedroom, which featured a king bed and a 55-inch flatscreen TV in case Victoria wished to watch something different from my USC Trojans, who were busily tearing it up on the gridiron on the 65-inch living room television. Our master bedroom featured a palatial bathroom area, complete with a shower and bath, his-and-hers sinks, and plenty of room for a husband and wife to avoid knocking into one another while prepping for the day.
Perhaps best of all, both the bedroom and living area featured individual private balconies. With the weather cooperating, we could look due south to Santa Catalina Island, 25 miles off the mainland. The view from the bedroom balcony was nothing to sneeze at, with an eastward-facing vista not only of the resort property but the California coastline wending south toward Orange County.
Shortly after our luggage, Terranea staff arrived with welcoming beverages as well as flowers from nearby Magical Blooms, delivered in honor of Victoria’s birthday (special thanks to Julia Thomas at that particular business for conspiring with me for weeks to have them show up during check-in!).
Having been bade farewell by Agnelo and the staff, the birthday girl and I mixed ourselves up a cocktail or two (the front desk paid attention to my request to get Victoria a Botanist Dry Gin from Islay in Scotland) and toasted her special day on the southward-facing balcony.
For dinner we headed down to the Bashi restaurant, whose veranda puts you into an Old World feel somewhat reminiscent of the Mediterranean. Our attentive server Jonathan started us off with cocktails: Victoria enjoyed a rather tasty pink gin & tonic comprising Awayuki strawberry gin from Japan. I opted for the rose margarita, which boasted strawberries and lime juice in its DNA profile. We sipped and watched the hills to the east darken as the sun bade the West Coast good evening.
Next up at Bashi’s was a sushi course of salmon nigiri, which was out of sight. Also appearing before us was the Red Dragon Roll, entailing shrimp tempura, avocado, spicy tuna, volcano, eel sauce and serrano, and the Hamachi carpaccio, comprising hamachi, yuzu de gallo, shredded pepper and hiyashi wakame. The small plates following entailed crispy walnut shrimp served with melon, which went down as easily as candy and was beautifully presented. To complement it all we selected a delectable Hakushika sake.
For main course I simply had to go for the crispy sea bass filet, which was prepped with Thai basil, cilantro and mirin soy glaze for a taste sensation. Victoria enjoyed the Bashi fried rice with shrimp, and we paired both dishes with a bottle of Catalina View Chardonnay, an oaky local wine made right here in Palos Verdes. It was appropriate given that there was a harvest moon, and perhaps—just perhaps—with the helpful stellar light, the island itself might have been visible on the horizon.
It had been several hours since our last exquisite meal, so it was off for brunch at mar’sel (a clever combination of French and Spanish words for “salt” and “sea”). Although we opted to sit outside on the veranda, the inside of the restaurant has a bar of magnificent teak wood, which is somehow both out and place and right at home in Southern California—as well as a grand venue for an evening cocktail. But it was lunchtime, so our server Christopher was quick with a mimosa and bellini for this happy couple. He recommends a three-course “caviar and bubbly brunch” that starts out for me with avocado on toast and shrimp cocktail for Victoria. Following for me was the Sea of Cortez halibut while Victoria availed herself of the pastrami benedict served with fingerling potatoes with green goddess dressing. We split a side of local bacon for the table.
Ah, but let’s talk dessert, shall we? In addition to a sea salt pot de creme and the vegan Meyer lemon cheesecake, Christopher set before us a gift from the chef: a trio of pastries inclusive of a chocolate muffin, raspberry danish and blueberry donut. They were light and not super filling, which is perfect as a meal-topper. And as it was the anniversary of Victoria’s birth, the pastry chef sent it all out on a rectangular plate upon which “Happy Birthday” had been written in chocolate.
After some time at the main pool and hot tub area and popping by Terranea’s rather well-stocked gift shop, Victoria and I ambled down to the Beach Cove, where young Carter Merchant stood ready to instruct us in the fine art of archery. As he ranked 15th Junior Male Recurve on the junior US Archery Team in 2021, Carter clearly knew his way around a bow-and-arrow. He was incredibly in guiding us in the proper and safe handling of these implements. Maybe it’s all the video games and day camps I’ve been to over the years, but for whatever reason, I took to it almost immediately. Victoria experienced more of a learning curve, but Carter was patient and helpful. He’s also got a sense of humor and encouraged us to take some funny photos with the range dummies now stuck through with arrows like porcupines.
For dinner we went to Catalina Kitchen, which married casual and elegant in a single setting. Victoria ordered up the Royal Blossom, containing gin, St. Germain, lemon, blueberry and basil, while I asked for the Midnight Orchid, a cocktail of Icelandic vodka, blue curacao, grenadine, lemon and Fever Tree ginger beer. Neither disappointed, and we soon kicked off the edible proceedings with the Ahi tuna tartar, whose wasabi aioli gave the dish a delectably gentle heat. The deviled eggs were positively amazing, and it took all we had not to order a second helping lest we spoil our dinner.
For mains Victoria was enthralled with the New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp served with rice pilaf, and I couldn’t help but go in for the “Cork & Catch,” entailing seafood cioppino with clams, mussels, lobster and rockfish served in a tomato-based clam sauce and served with grilled crostini. All of this we enjoyed with another bottle of that amazing Catalina View Palos Verdes Peninsula chardonnay. For dessert we indulged in the creme brulee cheesecake and Bombolinis, which is essentially an Italian take on the classic French beignet—this one served with strawberry jam and nutella for a true sweet tooth sensation.
It’s never easy forcing yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn while on vacation, but for ocean kayaking, I somehow found the motivation. Returning to Beach Cove, I met up with Grant Thackray and Bob Merchant, my guides for a kayaking tour to some Pacific tidepools. Bob reminded me that it was his son, Carter, who provided the archery lesson the afternoon prior, which goes to show that Terranea knows a good family to hire when they see one.
It was early, so the often-turbulent Pacific was flat and easy. We pushed off from the cove and headed south. Bob and Grant entreated me to keep eyes and ears open for sea life, most especially sea lions and dolphins out pursuing an aquatic snack. The paddling was pleasant and the air temperature just this side of brisk in the early hours.
After some 2 miles of paddling, Grant and Bob helped me come ashore at Sacred Cove, composed of limestone featuring hydrothermal deposits that make it perfect for tide pools that are home to a great mix of water-based creatures. It was key to have decent footwear as stepping upon slippery rocks can be tricky. At a particularly prominent spot at the end of a spit of rocky outcrop, Bob and Grant pointed hither and thither at tide pools where starfish, crustaceans and various other habitues of the Pacific had temporarily taken up residence. It was a terrific reminder that in addition to the human-made luxury of this precious piece of land, it’s also home to a rather rich natural ecosystem.
As we kayaked back toward the resort, we paused occasionally to enjoy marine mammals poking through the water’s surface—but always too fast for my camera to capture. The sun was stronger and the waves a tad harsher. This made dismounting back at Beach Cove a tad difficult, but thanks to Grant and Bob’s expert tutelage, my kayak and I made it back to the sand with only minor scrapes—which is all part of the fun, mind you.
After showering and napping, Victoria and I went to the Spa Pool for several hours (yes, hours plural!) of chilling at a poolside cabana. Talk about relaxation! Drinks of the regular or “adult” varieties were on offer from Bridget, our helpful staffer, who ensured we had as many towels as we needed, whether to dry off after a dip in the pool or, in my case, as pillows for a quick cabana snooze. Bridget brought over the Raw Chia Seeds Morning Pool, which featured resort-made yogurt, roasted cacao nibs, granola and organic honey. As it was still the pre-noon hours, we also enjoyed a lox bagel, coffee and iced tea.
Steps away from the pool was the actual spa itself, where my wife and I had scheduled a one-hour massage. I suffer from chronic back issues, so whenever I can have a professional work out the pains, I’m all for it. As often happens, I managed to dose off a time or two as my therapist worked her magic on my aging joints and lower back. Afterwards it was time to temporarily separate and go to the gender-specific rooms, where I greatly enjoyed the hot tub, sauna, steam room and the cold plunge in the men-only area.
How could it already have been our last night at Terranea? Since we’d loved our previous meal there so much, we headed back to Catalina. Louisa, another masterful server, brought over a dirty vodka martini for me while Victoria enjoyed a Chandon Library Dosage Brut from Northern California’s famed Napa Valley. Not wanting to fix what wasn’t in any way broken, we again chose the ahi tuna tartar and deviled eggs we’d enjoyed the evening prior.
Back at the room, Victoria and I sat out on our east-facing balcony. A full moon cast its lengthy shadow over both Terranea and its adjacent seascape. We both slept soundly.
Not especially wanting to leave the Vanderlip Suite too briskly, we ordered a morning meal served in-room. It entailed the “American breakfast” of eggs, chicken-and-apple sausage, potatoes and scrambled eggs. On the “side” we had chocolate chip pancakes, iced tea, coffee, a side of bacon and orange juice. While enjoying our morning beverages on the south-facing balcony, a pod of dolphins swam past, as if in farewell.
Checking out was as easeful as our arrival, and a rather friendly concierge had our rental car brought right up front. Driving away was difficult, and so, just a few miles up the road, we stopped at the hillside Wayfarers Chapel, recommended to me by Bob and Grant on the previous morning’s kayak trip. From this unique architectural spot, we could look back at Sacred Cove and the uneven line the Pacific coast carves upon Southern California. There, in the distance, was Terranea, bidding us a pleasant adieu.
To book your own luxe getaway to Terranea, visit Terranea.com.