Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel Review

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is an oceanfront 5-star luxury hotel perched on a seaside bluff located along Pacific Coast Highway between Dana Point and Laguna Beach, and 60 miles south of Los Angeles, California. In this resort review, we’ll share room photos, thoughts on our stay here, how the Ritz compares to nearby properties, and whether it’s worth staying here.

Sarah had a couple of free night certificates to redeem. Originally, we were going to use them at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. However, flying up there presented too much of a hassle, so we decided at the last minute to do Southern California. Unfortunately, this hotel didn’t have consecutive nights available, so we were going to split our time between the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles and Laguna Niguel.

At the last minute, availability for two consecutive nights at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel opened up, so we switched to that. Sarah also has Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status, so upon check-in we received a complimentary upgrade to an ocean view room, which would’ve cost over $1,000 per night for our dates. Things were off to a good start…

Our first impressions of the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel were quite positive. The arrival is pretty and well-maintained, and the entrance is sophisticated and appropriate for the beachfront accommodations.

Valets and front desk staff were personable but professional, a perfect mix of laid-back SoCal and attentive service. They interacted with us on a personal level, were helpful, and made sincere recommendations.

From the front desk, we headed through the airy and light main lobby and long grand hallway. This is tastefully decorated with an aquatic motif and oceanic art, befitting of the location. It’s also dotted with white flowers and large windows that bathe the room in natural light.

Upon arrival, there was a wedding party in this area. Much later at night, convention guests. We discovered that there was an ebb and flow to crowds based upon events. Sometimes, the public areas of the resort would be almost entirely deserted; other times, they’d be packed.

As we later discovered, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel has a ton of convention and event space, and I’d hazard a guess that this is a huge driver of business.

This can mean a full house in the bars late at night. On the plus side, the amenities are underutilized and it often feels like you have the hotel to yourself while meetings are in session during the daytime hours.

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is a series of four interconnected guest room buildings. The “Dana” wing consisting of two buildings and a pool on the south side of lobby and the “Monarch” wing with two buildings surrounding another pool to the north.

Due to the layout, it can be quite a hike from the lobby to the outer reaches of the resort. However, I’ll take this approach over a tower. Our room was in the first Dana building, and not too rough of a walk.

One detail along the way that I really appreciated is the open-air breezeways connecting the buildings. This offered glimpses of the ocean through lush vegetation, and is a nifty exemplar of Southern California indoor-outdoor living.

It’s a seemingly minor detail, but it captivated my attention to the point that Sarah had the joy of hearing me comment on it incessantly during our stay; now, I do the same to you!

Let’s move on to our ocean view guest room.

The number of rooms at the Ritz are pretty evenly split among ocean, garden or pool, and coastline view rooms. There are also a variety of suites and club level rooms, almost all of which offer ocean views. A small number of ground-level rooms have fireplaces, which look awesome.

Ours had a modestly sized balcony, which is where we spent most of our time while “in” the room.

It’s a minor nitpick, but it was difficult to open the balcony doors with all of the furniture out there.

Consequently, we mostly just left the balcony doors open pretty much whenever we were in the room.

The waves crashing against the coast provided soothing sounds, and chasing off birds eager to enter our room and steal our cheese became a thrilling game.

We found the room itself to be a nice blend of luxury and ocean-inspired touches. The texture of the carpeting, tray ceiling, recessed ambiance lighting, marble bathroom, and quality furniture & bedding all reinforced the feeling of quality.

Our favorite detail was unquestionably the coral-inspired, backlit glass panels flanking the balcony. This is the stylistic cornerstone, and what gives these guest rooms their own unique character.

We liked the bathrooms a great deal. They have twin sinks, a closed-off toilet, and bathtub/shower. There are also mirrors everywhere, if you’re into that sort of thing.

With that said, I don’t think the guest room necessarily screamed ‘5-star luxury’ or ‘over $1,000 per night.’ We’ve had rooms of this approximate quality at lower tier hotels.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with the guest rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel…there’s just nothing extraordinary about them, either.

They’re perfectly nice and satisfactory, but for this price point, you might be inclined to expect something that goes above and beyond and exceeds expectations.

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel has an impressive host of amenities.

One of the most impressive is its large fitness center with floor to ceiling windows offering a prime ocean view. This fitness center was always bustling, so I don’t have any photos of the interior (sorry, I’m not quite that creepy). You’ll just have to take my word that it’s one of the nicest fitness centers I’ve ever seen. It actually made me want to work out.

Knowing that my beach bod quest is preordained to fail, I conceded defeat and drowned my sorrows in the Laguna Burger.

There are a total of six restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Most notably, a rooftop outdoor lounge overlooking the ocean, a steakhouse with pasture-raised beef, and a Pan-Latin restaurant showcasing local produce and sustainable seafood.

We opted to dine first at 180blu, which is the outdoor rooftop lounge named after its 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean. (Pictured above at dusk.) During our stay, this was the most popular venue at the Ritz.

The views here did not disappoint, and we’d recommend going for drinks at sunset for this reason alone. However, our food was bland and uninspired–to the point that we nixed subsequent plans to dine at the resort.

In fairness to the Ritz, this is a pretty common issue with high-end dining in South Orange County, California.

We’ve eaten at a lot of “highly-regarded” restaurants in Laguna Beach, Dana Point, Newport Beach, etc., and have found the vast majority to be a disappointment. This is not Los Angeles–the coastal culinary scene is lacking, and that’s doubly true when a restaurant can rest on the laurels of offering an ocean view. (Inland and mid-tier OC restaurants are typically your best bet.)

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel also has two pools and a spa, none of which we used.

We did lounge around one of the pools briefly, and found it to be fine. Nothing to write home about, but it had more than ample seating and plenty of shade. Most guests clearly favored the beach, as did we.

Speaking of the beach, this Ritz-Carlton is technically located in Dana Point and not Laguna Niguel, as the latter does not have any coastline. (The next couple of paragraphs are a nerdy local history lesson about which you probably don’t care, so feel free to scroll past…)

In the late 1980s, both cities submitted incorporation requests; residents of Monarch Beach, which had been developed by the Laguna Niguel Co., voted in favor of joining Dana Point. After a lot of controversy and litigation, this vote stood, and Laguna Niguel was later incorporated without the coastal strip. Having opened in 1984, the Ritz Carlton’s name simply predates all of this. (Its original name was to be the Ritz-Carlton Monarch Beach–they should’ve gone with that!)

In reality, the Ritz-Carlton is more or less at the intersection of Laguna Beach, Niguel, and Dana Point. Although longtime residents of each will fiercely concoct reasons/excuses to proclaim their own superiority, they’re all lovely communities. We used to live 5 minutes from the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, and find this entire area to be very nice.

Each town in the area has its own upsides and downsides. Dana Point and Laguna Niguel are like two halves of a single whole, each developed around the same time, and seemingly masterplanned to perfection. Consequently, they look pristine…but also like a sumptuous seaside suburbia.

By contrast, Laguna Beach is older, more eclectic and charming. Its architecture is not uniform or nondescript, and the city has a lot more personality. Laguna Beach also has a walkable downtown.

The main drawback of Laguna Beach is that it’s significantly more touristy (thanks MTV!), which is particularly pronounced during the summer. I personally prefer Laguna Beach, but reasonable minds may differ on that.

While close to the city limits of Laguna Beach, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is removed both in terms of location and style.

It is definitely a standalone resort with a relatively secluded vibe–even from the adjacent Salt Creek Beach. You’re looking at about a 10-15 minute drive from the Ritz to downtown Laguna Beach.

Circling back to the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel itself, this sprawling seaside setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean is unquestionably the resort’s highlight.

The sweeping views overlooking the coastline are dramatic and gorgeous to both the north and south. Once you make the steep walk down to the public beach (or take the shuttle), you have a great stretch of coast for watching surfers, sunbathing, or whatever you care to do.

The hotel’s grounds are also quite lush and beautiful, and the space is nicely broken up by the the resort buildings, various courtyards, fire pits, and other landscaping.

It’s a thoughtful design that lends itself to exploring, all within a footprint that utilizes the resort’s acreage admirably. These manicured grounds and the natural setting are the unequivocal highlights at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

These sprawling grounds come with a downside: there are roughly 400 rooms at the Ritz. This means you’re not exactly getting the level of personalized service you might expect from a brand like the Ritz Carlton. (To that point, we received several point incentive fliers to decline housekeeping, check-out early, etc–I assume the hotel is short-staffed.)

Moreover, much like the look of Laguna Niguel itself, the exterior is on the boring side. It has that Spanish Colonial Revival style that typifies the area. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s certainly a grandiose and opulent look befitting such a property, but it looks a bit cookie-cutter.

The interior is aided by many more artistic flourishes and human touches, so it definitely scores some points there. The Ritz does a good job of threading the needle on the lavish-meets-beach look thanks to an expansive oceanic art collection.

I appreciate all of this, but feel it could’ve gone further. For a resort of its caliber, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel still is a tad too bland. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh because similar styles are ubiquitous throughout South Orange County, and it all just blurs together.

Now let’s compare the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel to what I view as its most direct competitor: Montage Laguna Beach (pictured below). This is an apt comparison as both are comparably priced luxury resorts that are perched above seaside bluffs, located only a few miles apart. On paper, they stack up together nicely.

While offering this comparison, I should note that despite spending dozens (if not hundreds) of sunsets and sunrises at the Montage, we’ve never actually stayed there. Nevertheless, we absolutely adore the Montage Laguna Beach.

The hotel itself has personality and charm, and the craftsman design is engaging and distinctly Californian. Moreover, we prefer the location and grounds at the Montage. It still has an isolated resort atmosphere, but it’s closer to downtown Laguna Beach.

We also prefer the layout, gardens, bluffs, and beaches at the Montage, but this is all largely personal preference. There’s more coastline to stroll at the Montage, and it’s bursting with flowers, cactus, and rabbits. The biggest advantage the Ritz has in these regards is that Salt Creek Beach is a better surf spot, and that’s fun to watch.

Overall, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is still a superlative resort with a lot going for it in terms of both the resort’s amenities and its prime real estate. It’s not our favorite property in the area, nor is it a perfect resort–but nothing is. If you have the Marriott Bonvoy points to burn, money is no issue, or this is your first experience with a Southern California oceanfront resort, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. If you’re paying out of pocket or are on a tighter budget, the Ritz-Carlton wouldn’t be our first recommendation.

For more tips, info, and advice, please consult our Laguna Beach, California Planning Guide. If you’re visiting other spots during your California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading! 

Your Thoughts

Have you stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel? What did you think of the resort? Any other accommodations at which you’ve stayed in this area? If you’re yet to visit, does this hotel interest you? Any questions? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

8 replies
  1. Nancy E Schneider
    Nancy E Schneider says:

    We lived in Newport Beach but stayed at both the Montage and the Ritz. The Montage is exceptional. The Ritz is nice but not as nice as many other Ritz properties. You didn’t mention the St. Regis that is close by and not outstanding. The Ritz views and service is excellent. They used to have the best brunch in the area. You mentioned no good restaurants but there are a few that should be mentioned and one is at the Montage.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      “You didn’t mention the St. Regis that is close by and not outstanding.”

      Your last two words sum up why it’s not mentioned. We haven’t stayed at the St. Regis, but I’ve been totally unimpressed during our visits.

  2. Dave C
    Dave C says:

    I’ve stayed at both and prefer the Montage. The Ritz is great luxury spot but Montage has great vibe; it feels smaller than it is. We had our first trip there this past August and will return soon

  3. Brian
    Brian says:

    My wife used to work at this Ritz and she agrees with your review! She also said that everyone who worked with her at this Ritz liked Montage better as well!!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      “She also said that everyone who worked with her at this Ritz liked Montage better as well!”

      Ha, that’s pretty funny!

      If I were paying out of pocket, that’s definitely where I’d want to stay, but you can’t beat the Ritz’s value when staying on points or certificates.

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