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Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes has 582 rooms including casitas, villas, bungalows, and suites. (photo by Photo Courtesy Matthew Millman)

Attention staycationers! I just might have found the ultimate staycation destination. To say it met my basic staycation requirements (must be driving distance from home yet takes me away to another world) would be selling it short. Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula utterly surpassed my expectations.

It is located about one hour from Santa Monica, yet is a slice of paradise that could be in Hawaii, Bali, or any exotic locale. It consists of 102 acres of breathtaking beauty situated on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. These dramatic bluffs and ocean views are what bring the magic to this location, where almost all of the activities include or highlight this unique segment of California’s coastline.

The spa and fitness center at Terranea is wonderful; it has over 50,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. The spa is, of course, oceanfront and windowed so you can see and breathe in the salt air while exercising. The staff even brought some spinning bikes outside so we could exercise in the open air. What a delight to the senses! Most of their eight restaurants have indoor and outdoor seating that face the bluffs. The acres of hiking trails are spectacular. We saw dolphins frolicking in the water on our first hike.

Terranea has an interesting history. It was Marineland of the Pacific until it closed in 1986. Many movie makers have taken advantage of its remarkable beauty and have shot scenes from there, including “Pearl Harbor,” “The Aviator,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” 1, 2, and 3, and “Con Air,” just to name a few. Actually Nelson’s, a fun sports bar with great margaritas is named after Lloyd Bridges’ character, Mike Nelson from “Sea Hunt,” as they filmed much of the series there.

The resort’s size can be daunting. At first I thought it might be too big and busy for me to feel relaxed and comfortable. I had concerns that I might get lost in the crowd or have to spend too much time figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Terranea has 582 rooms including casitas, villas, bungalows, and suites. There are three swimming pools and an impressive nine-hole, par-three golf course, miles of hiking trails, the spa, and numerous restaurants for everything from fine dining (Mar’sel) to casual dining (Nelson’s) to everything in between. It did take some navigating (with a detailed map), but that was quickly mastered. Once we settled in and planned our own activities, it was quite simple. In addition, the staff went out of its way to be welcoming and helpful.

Despite being a popular wedding and special event destination, Terranea also caters to staycationers and weekenders just wanting some time to relax and regroup. Many local people come there for lunch or dinner and/or a day at the spa. We met a local couple who eats there five days a week (including Sunday brunch at the Catalina Kitchen). The casitas and villas are more private and something you might consider if you are there for R&R. They are very kid and dog friendly, but if you are there to get away from the kids and dogs, have no fear. There is an adults-only swimming pool, restaurants with adult menus, and acres and acres of property to enjoy kid-less and dog-less, for a romantic getaway! Since Terranea is large and such a popular destination, I would discuss with the reservation personnel the best times to go there to fit your personal needs.

I cannot end this piece without delivering a warning: Be prepared … not for the unforgettable scenery, great food, lovely accommodations and activities, but for the necessity of returning to reality. It took me a few days to resurface, and that is saying a lot, because my lovely Santa Monica is a dream destination itself.

CAROLE can be reached at Carolesorlin@yahoo.com