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Ultimate Family Beach Vacation: Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

The oceanfront Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel has always been the epitome of an elegant couple's escape, but did you know it is also ideal for a family vacation?

It's refreshingly worlds apart from upscale resorts where children are subliminally suggested to be seen, but not heard. From the moment kids enter through the grand lobby doors, they are welcomed with sand buckets and toys, gourmet mac-n-cheese lollipops at Raya restaurant, oversized candy jars at the private Club Level, and they're even invited to gallivant through the resort kitchen with the chefs making pizzas and kelp ice cream. All of which is quite charming at a premiere AAA Five Diamond resort drenched in magnificent crystal chandeliers, stylish decor and frequented by many of the most famous.

The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, stunningly set atop a 150-foot bluff, is an ultimate family resort for it has something spectacular for everyone. There is the tranquil Ritz-Carlton Spa and gazebo yoga for mothers who might like to unwind, some of the best Southern California surfing for dads, pool time for all, Ritz Beach Butlers who assist with your seaside setup, the Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ambassadors of the Environment program (led by naturalists) that offers 15 different eco-adventure excursions for children and a private 4th floor/Club Level stay that truly makes the Ritz Carlton an ultimate family vacation.

If you don't know about the Club Level at the Ritz Carlton, you're not alone. It's a somewhat secret insider's club on the 4th floor of the resort that requires a special elevator key to access it. As the elevator hits '4', the doors open, and you know you've arrived. 'Club' is slightly surreal the first time you experience it, as it's much like a hotel within a hotel. A private Club Concierge is there to greet you, and children will instantly eye-spy the 30 colorful jars of candy, which the kids are welcome to enjoy as they wish. The Club has an exclusive lounge and complimentary food, drinks and cocktails all day. What's so perfect about this for families is that kids get to snack whenever they want; get out of their rooms to roam around a bit. During the summer, the resort even has a special area on the 4th Floor for kids to hang out, watch movies, do crafts and play games. The elegant Club guest rooms reflect the sand and sea in design style with a palette of cream, beige, aubergine, plum and muted blue.

Dining at the resort is fabulous. The views at Raya are spectacular, 162 feet above sea level. Raya, named "Restaurant of the Year" by Riviera Orange County, is a restaurant concept by acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval. It serves Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine. The restaurant is upscale, of course, but with a casual elegance. Children are embraced—even offered oversized pillows to prop them up in the formal chairs. And should the kids spill a few Shirley Temples or two, it's all fine. The cuisine is delicious—from the Maggie Farms Arugula Salad with cranberries, almonds, goat cheese and a spicy balsamic vinaigrette to the Coconut Pumpkin Bisque to the Dessert Sampler of milk chocolate coconut cake, kahlua pudding, praline ice cream and more. Sunday Brunch is also wonderfully delicious.

All in all, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is really a dream vacation for beach-bound families looking to escape, and it's great for all ages of children, from the very youngest to tweens and teens.

Debbie Lavdas is a Southern California writer (and the mother of he who spilled two Raya Shirley Temples). Debbie also writes features, cover stories and columns at Bask Magazine, Laguna Beach Magazine, OC Family Magazine and more. Keep up with her on Twitter @deblavdas and at

Some photos courtesy of Ritz-Carlton.

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