by Larry Berle
This Ritz Carlton is located half way between Los Angeles and San Diego–just 25 miles south of the John Wayne Airport. It sits on a bluff 150 feet over the Pacific Ocean at Dana Point. There are 370 rooms and 25% of the guest stays here are families.
The Raya restaurant is the signature restaurant featuring 80% seafood and they are becoming more organic and using more locally grown items thanks to the influence of the ambassadors of the environment program that is the centerpiece of family activities here. It may be mostly seafood but the Spring Pea Soup with black beans and the NY strip steak with a jalapeno hollandaise sauce were delicious.
There is a more casual restaurant and Enology: a wine/cheese/ chocolate bar–what a combo… and several other places to eat here as well.
It is Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program that is unique and completely captivated my attention. It started as a program for kids, and it still is, but increasingly parents join in and love it enough to bring the family back.
The central gathering point is furnished with all products that are recycled or made from recycled material (carpet tables, chairs etc).
Tour the organic garden and compost area in the outdoor center and learn about sustainable gardening. Then put on your chef hat and apron and work with hotel chefs and learn cooking with organic ingredients.
The Forests Under the Sea program teaches about the underwater kelp forests and what function it serves in the sustainability of the ocean. Kelp is used in many of the products we use everyday, cosmetics, ice cream, Band-aids, yogurt, toothpaste and many more. Then take a snorkeling trip through a kelp forest and see the many creatures that live there. You may also be able to observe kelp as it grows, since it grows at a rate of almost an inch per hour. I took the snorkeling tour and swimming among these kelp is beautiful.
Take a tide-pool tour on the beach and see the many sea creatures that live between the tides, in the tide-pools.
Dana Point may be one of the greatest places in the world for whale watching. The gray whales migrate through here in winter–but summer season the Blue whales are here. These are the largest creatures (over 100 feet long) to ever inhabit the earth, even larger than dinosaurs. Scientists now believe that they find their way for their annual migration, thousands of miles by the magnetic field of the earth (their own form of GPS).
There are also nighttime programs. One teaches about creatures of the night down by the ocean after sunset and the night sky program teaches about constellations and the night sky.
You can even learn to surf and boogie board if you want.
This has led the hotel to some environmental innovations. Such as the water bottles are made 100% from plants and are completely compostable. They even sell paper made from Cow and elephant dung. These animals eat large amounts of fiber and don’t digest it well–so paper can be made from it. Its called poopoopaper.
This is a Ritz-Carlton and the place is fabulous, but I did observe one thing. All the bathrooms are smaller than I expected and all the showers are still tub showers. Did I mention the Fitness center? Well, you gotta have a chandelier in the entrance to any fitness center right? And every fitness center should have sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and a view of Santa Catalina Island, 26 miles away.
If you are going to bring your kids–You should also bring your Pet. Check out their posh pooch program.
There are many other things to do in the area–like visit the Mission San Juan Capistrano–a fascinating place built in 1776. Visit the numerous art galleries of Laguna Beach, just 3 miles up the coast. Relax by the pool and hang out down on the beach–just to name a few.
More information at:
www.oceanfutures.org to learn more about the Ambassadors of the Environment program
Larry Berle is a travel writer who writes on many travel topics but specializes in golf travel. He is author of A GOLFERS DREAM: HOW A REGULAR GUY CONQUERED THE GOLF DIGEST LIST OF AMERICAS TOP 100 GOLF COURSES. Learn more about his book at www.GolfersDreamBook.com and from there you can also access his travel blog.