Montage Laguna Beach
Experience the best of Southern California without ever leaving your resort — except for Disneyland, of course.

Please believe me when I tell you I had the best intentions of showing what Southern California has to offer when I brought my wife and daughters out recently. The area is, after all, my old stomping grounds, and my wife hadn’t been there in years. My daughters never have. So my trip was planned around us spending a couple of nights in some renowned resorts, assuming, as I did, that we’d only be there to sleep. But what happened was that the resorts became the vacation.

We checked in to the posh, 248-room Montage Laguna Beach, which sits atop 30 acres of bluffs with untrammeled views of the Pacific Ocean. As soon as we entered the Montage and looked out over their three pools, we almost changed into swimwear right there in the lobby. The staple, a gigantic mosaic-tiled pool, might as well have been our room because we spent all daylight hours on lounge chairs with the sounds of the surf serenading us from the West. My daughters spent a half-day in Paintbox, the resort’s children’s program, where they walked along the beach and received a nature lesson. That gave my wife and me just the right amount of childless pool time.

For dinner, we dined on the resort grounds at The Loft, which is housed on the fourth floor of the resort and offers some of the best American cuisine, as well as panoramic views.

After two nights at the Montage — now one of my favorite hotels — I took my brood to one of my other favorite hotels, the 517-room Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa. I stayed there three years ago for a conference, and I was looking forward to bringing my family there as our staging grounds for the rest of our Southern California adventure. But just like at the Montage, we didn’t want to leave.

The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach is right off Pacific Coast Highway, and the local surfing community is literally right outside your stately and well-finished room. We could actually hear some of the surfers listening to Dick Dale from their cars before catching some waves. There was no wave-catching, however, for the Pitluk family. In fact, we never even made it to the beach. That’s because we were more than content with a cabana at Slyders Water Playground, a mini waterpark right there on the hotel grounds. The Orange County sun and the salty scent of the Pacific Ocean provided the perfect backdrop for our lazy poolside days, and we had no reason to leave. Except to grab dinner at Pete’s Sunset Grille, which is so decidedly SoCal that there’s even a framed picture of The Endless Summer hanging on the walls, along with surfboards.

In fact, there’s only one California attraction that could get us to leave the Hyatt and the Montage, and it’s Mickey Mouse. Disneyland, the original Disney theme park, is a timeless allegory of family fun. But the lines can be a real downer. We took advantage of Disneyland’s VIP Tour Service, which is about the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Your own personal Disneyland tour guide takes you around the park, giving you a history lesson as you go, and, best of all, you jump the lines so that you can ride Space Mountain ad nauseam.

The trip was a resounding family success, even though we only went to all of three places in a week. But you know what? If I had another week, I’d plan the exact same trip again. -BY ADAM PITLUK

TAKE AWAY: Plan your vacation, but be open to change along the way. Some of the best family moments come from spontaneous shifts in plans. Organize your trip around the most important thing: your family. The fun will follow.   

Montage Laguna Beach
(866) 271-6953,

Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa
(714) 698-1234

Disneyland VIP Tour Services
Call (714) 300-7710 to book your tour up to one month in advance.
Guests under age 18 must have parent or guardian permission to call.