The thing I love about Los Angeles is that I’m constantly discovering new things to do even though I’m a native. One such discovery for me is Terranea, a five-star resort in Palos Verdes. It offers beautiful grounds, great restaurants at a variety of price points, and fun trails which lead down to the rocky shore. Best of all, you don’t need to be checked into the hotel to enjoy these amenities!
History – Marineland
Terranea (sort of rhymes with “terra firma”) was completed in 2009, and has some interesting history. It is located at the former site of Marineland (which I vaguely remember going to as a kid).
Opening in 1954 (one year before Disneyland), Marineland featured aquatic animal shows and had two killer whale stars, Orky and Corky. In the 80’s, the park was struggling financially when the owner of Sea World in San Diego, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, offered to buy the two whales, which he needed for his park, since capturing whales in the wild was not permitted. The owners of Marineland refused, but instead offered to sell the whole park. Harcourt’s company officials testified that they would renovate the park so the sale was approved, but instead they took the two whales down to San Diego and shuttered the park. One died two years later but the other was re-named “Shamu” and went on to be a huge attraction at Sea World.
The park was abandoned for years but served as a popular location for shooting films and TV shows. Finally, new developers stepped in and created the Terranea resort.
OK, on to the present. Terranea has a free parking lot labeled, “Trail Parking” on Google Maps, and there is a sign also. It’s to the left as you drive down Terranea Way. You can also park along Terranea Way itself for free. But, if you’re going on a weekend, these parking areas will almost certainly be full and finding a spot can be difficult. I waited a few minutes in the free lot and lucked out, grabbing a spot just as someone left.
There is also valet parking which is $20 on weekends ($10 with validation) or half that price during the week. I know that seems expensive but if you think of it as an admission fee, it’s not bad, especially if you get validated.
If you really want free parking, you can try the nearby Pelican Cove Park to the west, but that’s often full too.
The Hotel and Grounds
Needless to say, the hotel and grounds are really nice. As you enter the main lobby, there’s a bar on the right which has live music on certain nights of the week (Wednesday through Saturday when I was there).
In the same building are some boutiques which offer very expensive clothes. But for an informal dessert or coffee, check out Sea Beans, a charming coffeehouse at the end of the shops. It offers exquisite pastries, gourmet cupcakes, macaroons, and gelato.
Terranea has excellent food options at a variety of price points. I highly recommend grabbing a meal while you’re there to make it feel like you’re staying at this five-star resort at a fraction of the $500+ per night cost.
Nelson’s offers casual dining with great ocean views. There is often a wait to get a table during the weekends, but we were able to find open bar seating right away (and they do serve food at the bar). The menu has items like fish ‘n chips (which were good), burgers, and so forth.
On summer weekends, they have a live band playing in the outdoor dining area. When we were there, they had a classic rock cover band. This place definitely has a party vibe with lots of drinking going on.
If you want a bit higher-end experience, Bashi overlooks the main pool and offers contemporary Asian dishes. It’s definitely has higher-end cuisine than Nelson’s, but it’s still casual with outdoor seating options.
Mar’sel is Terranea’s most upscale dining option, offering an “inventive twist” on California Cuisine. They have both indoor and outdoor seating with ocean views. Needless to say, this place is expensive, and reservations are recommended.
For me, the Discovery Trails around the resort are the highlight of Terranea. They are very easy walking trails that run along the cliffs and down to the rocky shore.
To the West, you can hike on the cliffs to Pelican Cove Park. There, you can walk down to the rocky shore.
If you go further west (and you have lots of time), you can go to the historic Point Vicente Lighthouse, built in 1926. The lighthouse is usually closed except for certain limited times though.
If you have limited time though, just go to the trails that run East to the caves. You’ll walk through the resort, pass the swimming pools, then go through the private Terranea beach area to reach the caves. If you’re adventurous, you can climb on the rocks to get into the cave area, but you might get wet! But isn’t that part of the fun?
The Bottom Line
Terranea is a hidden gem that’s worth a bit of a drive. Sure, there are other beautiful places to hike along the shore in Palos Verdes. And, there are some great restaurants as well. But Terranea combines the best of both. It’s an ideal place to have a good meal and go for an easy walk with breathtaking views of the ocean. You’ll feel like you’re staying at a high-end resort for a fraction of the cost.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! – Brian