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Lynn Houghton returns to her childhood haunts in the golden state of California and visits the Terranea Resort, a new resort with an impressive spa.

California Dreaming – LA’s Oceanfront Spa

Lynn Houghton returns to her childhood haunts in the golden state of California, where the site of the former Marineland theme park has been transformed into the Terranea Resort, a new resort with an impressive spa. 


…… and then I spotted them! Dolphins – frolicking off the shore as the early morning grey mist floated just above the water, exactly as fellow guests had predicted. If I had been standing here 60 years earlier, I might even have seen sea otters, but they are now virtually extinct in this part of California after being hunted for a couple of centuries for their dense, soft fur. 

I am enjoying this vista from a cliff top where the Terranea Resort nestles, a new resort on the Palos Verde (‘green trees’ in Spanish) Peninsula, which opened in June 2009 and is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean with Catalina Island across the channel. The entire peninsula (only 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles) has its own unique microclimate due to its close proximity to the cool Pacific Ocean. The area’s temperatures contrast with the scorching summer heat of inland cities and deserts; an astonishing difference of 30°F is not unusual. 

The Gabrielino Indians inhabited the Palos Verdes Peninsula for thousands of years before Spanish domination began in the middle of the 16th century. One of the outcomes of the Mexican war of 1846 was that Alta California was annexed to the United States. Spanish land parcels eventually became privately owned and 16,000 acres of land on this Peninsula was purchased by a New York consortium of investors in 1913. 


The 102-acre Terranea Resort has been built on the grounds of what was formerly Marineland – a sea-life theme park that operated long before Sea World in San Diego appeared in the 1960s. Youngsters (like me) from Los Angeles or Orange County would go to Marineland hoping to see Flipper the dolphin, who featured in a popular children’s television series of the time. The theme park fell on hard times and closed in 1984, lying derelict for twenty years before the creators of this resort changed its fortunes. Though I personally deplore the endless development of the Southern California coastal areas into tame, slick, sanitised marinas or expensive resorts, this project has recycled land that was already developed and has tried to give something back to the local community by opening the property to golfers, walkers and those who might enjoy using its sensational spa. 

Terranea enjoys kudos for its environmentally and ecologically friendly landscaping, which celebrates the indigenous flora of the area. The enormous olive, oak and pine trees throughout the property have been saved, though are now in different locations, while the Spanish colonial style of the terracotta coloured buildings honours the history of the area and blends well with the landscape. 

By far the most impressive part of the resort is the spa. Covering 50,000 square feet, this outstanding facility is also built in the Spanish style with terracotta roofing and adobe walls. It has an expansive patio offering ocean views, a large private pool and cabanas scattered all about. 


Inside, spa guests pass through a trendy boutique before reaching identical but separate women and men’s sections, each offering three changing areas, four showers (one with hydro-jets), gorgeous patios with sun loungers, fire pits and, again, magnificent views of the ocean. Men and women also have their own sauna, steam room, whirlpool and cold plunge pool and wait for their therapists in separate relaxation/waiting rooms decorated in calming shades of beige and soft brown with silver and gold accessories. 

The spa has 25 treatment rooms as well as three couple’s suites. On the second floor is a co-ed relaxation room with massive fireplace and another unbelievable vista of the Pacific Ocean. Come here after your treatment and a therapist will wrap you in a blanket while you drift off into a state of blissful relaxation. 

Spa manager, Christina Franzen, explained that the Terranea spa experience is welcoming and embracing as well as safe and comfortable. ‘The design emphasis is on nature, with the calming, integrating elements of cool water, fire and natural stone all carefully planned by the creators of the spa.’ There are also whimsical offerings on the spa menu such as Mother and Daughter ice cream manicures and pedicures. Other amenities include a full service beauty salon, oceanfront yoga and Pilate’s studio, an expansive fitness centre and a Spa Café (which offers daily specials and wonderful smoothies). 

I decide to try one of the spa’s signature treatments – the 90-minute El Segundo Blue experience, which incorporates use of a Vichy shower to stimulate energy flow and encourage alignment of body and soul. Therapist Martina leads me into the special Vichy wet treatment room where the device with four showerheads is suspended over the treatment bed. She explains in detail the experience I am about to have. 


It starts with a gentle, aromatherapy massage with my choice of oils (lavender scented ‘Romance’ collection) after which I am covered neck to toe in Sea Blue mineral clay then wrapped ‘Egyptian mummy style’ in a special type of foil. I am kept at a toasty warm temperature for about 20 minutes as this slow baking process encourages the algae to penetrate into my skin. Afterwards, Martina showers off the blue clay with the Vichy water jets while I remain on the massage table. 

The aromatherapy massage is extremely relaxing, but the mineral clay ends up being quite messy and feeling rather unpleasant. I also found being showered by someone else rather a strange experience. But Martina, being an excellent and thoroughly professional therapist quickly puts me at my ease me so I enjoy it all almost in spite of myself. 


Some accommodation at the resort is in the form of luxury bungalows in close proximity to the spa facilities. Though slightly pricier, these are a relaxed and easy option for those focused on spa visits and therapeutic offerings. The resort also offers many dining options including mar’ sel, its gourmet restaurant, Catalina Kitchen, The Grill and Nelson’s Bar and Grill which features photos of the famous diver and actor, Lloyd Bridges, who was a supporter of Marineland, an environmental campaigner and whose television series Sea Hunt was popular in the 1950s. 


Terranea Resort and Spa
100 Terranea Way Drive
Rancho Palos Verdes
California CA 90275
Phone: (310) 265-2800
Fax: (310) 265-2700For the latest accommodation prices and offers and to view the spa menu visit www.terranea.com

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