Beachside chic in California: A review of the new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas
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When Hyatt acquired Two Roads Hospitality for $480 million back in 2018, it added five lifestyle brands to its portfolio, including the Asia-based luxury chain Alila. For its part, Alila had already rebranded one of California’s most iconic coastal resorts, Ventana Big Sur. But more recently, it also planted its flag in wine country, turning the former Marriott Bonvoy property Las Alcobas into Alila Napa Valley in March 2021. Just around the same time, Alila opened its first newly built hotel in the U.S. down in Southern California, the Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas.
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I happened to be down in San Diego visiting my family recently, so I took the opportunity to spend two nights at the 130-key resort about a week after it opened. While certain amenities were closed or not fully functional, the experience still provided a relaxing staycation. What’s more, my World of Hyatt points also saved me quite a bundle on the room rates, which made it an even better bargain.
I had been keeping an eye on Alila Marea for a while, and when I realized it would be opening just before my boyfriend’s birthday, I began plotting a minivacation there.
The hotel debuted in World of Hyatt’s Category 6, with standard rooms costing 25,000 points per night, or 12,500 points plus half the cash rate as a copay. Given that nightly rates were starting at $629 right off the bat, I much preferred to redeem Hyatt points.
Even more so because I already had 44,000 Hyatt points in my account as a 25% refund from a summer stay at Alila Ventana Big Sur due to the World of Hyatt Bonus Journeys promotion. I simply transferred another 6,000 points from the Ultimate Rewards account linked to my Chase Sapphire Reserve and booked a standard King Bed Coastline View With Balcony room for two nights.
The total cash rate – including taxes and a resort fee that totaled $53.90 per day – would have been $1,493. So my 50,000 points were worth just under 3 cents apiece on this trip, well above the current TPG valuation of 1.7 cents per Hyatt point.
The resort fee included:
- Free in-room coffee and tea (though this wasn’t available during my stay).
- Shuttle service within 3 miles of the resort.
- Access to the health center.
- Daily wellness activities like sunrise yoga (this, too, had not commenced by the time I stayed).
- Free use of Electra Go! electric bikes.
- Use of surfboards (again, not available quite yet).
- Beach concierge service (coming in May or June).
- Storage for your own bicycle or surfboard.
What it didn’t include? A whopping $52 per night for parking. Had I known, I would have simply gotten a ride to the resort and saved my money since we didn’t take our car out nearly the whole time. The fact that the parking charges did not earn Hyatt points only added insult to injury.
I paid for our other incidentals with my World of Hyatt Credit Card to earn 9.5 points per dollar: 5x base points plus a 10% bonus due to automatic Discoverist status with the card, plus an extra 4x per dollar with the card itself. Thanks to Hyatt’s current bonus promotions, I earned another 1,000 bonus points for staying at a newly opened property, and a further 2,500 points for my two-night stay.
The Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas is actually not located in Encinitas, but 5 miles north, between the beach towns of Leucadia and Carlsbad. It’s almost 33 miles north of San Diego International Airport (SAN), or just under 100 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
From San Diego, just take the 5 Freeway north, exit at La Costa Avenue going west, and stop when you get to the hotel, which is the last thing before the ocean.
The physical location itself is stunning as the hotel is built at the end of a series of bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Pacific Coast Highway and Ponto Beach to the north, and the Batiquitos Lagoon to the northeast.
The rooms all face either the ocean or the lagoon, so you can’t really go wrong with the views.
As for things to do, you can walk or bike into Leucadia, where there are great little coffee shops, restaurants and the Saint Archer Brewing Company for artisanal beers and upscale pub grub. Encinitas and its wider range of restaurants are just a bit farther south, while Carlsbad (and Legoland!) are 7 miles to the north.
I received a notification via the Hyatt app that I could check in virtually the first morning of our stay. I did so and put in a request for early access to the room, aiming for around noon.
I was issued a virtual key, and at noon on the dot, I was notified that our room was ready. We drove over to the hotel and left the car with the valet staff, all of whom were wearing masks. They offered to help us with our overnight bags, which we declined.
Although we had a virtual key, since no one else was checking in and we wanted to know which amenities and facilities were available, we decided to stop by reception.
The lobby was an intimate space with a wall of curved windows looking out onto the driveway, a potted cypress and a dramatic staircase leading to the main restaurant on the second floor.
There were two agents on duty at the reception desk, plus a concierge. I relayed our check-in details and was told that we’d been “upgraded” to a room on the second floor instead of the first. I was slightly annoyed at the implication that I’d been upgraded since the room I was given was in the category I’d booked anyway, and there was no price difference. I wasn’t about to argue, though, since I preferred the balcony, as the first-floor rooms had patios that opened right onto a public path.
To access the rooms, we had to take the key card-activated elevator. The key cards were made from wood, which seemed really cool … until you tried to use them in the elevator or on the room doors. We actually ran into other guests on the elevator several times whose keys had not worked to take them to their floor and had to help them unlock the buttons by passing our keys over the reader. A little inconvenience was worth saving some plastic, though.
Each of the three floors was laid out along a single extended hallway, and our room was about halfway down, so it was a slight hike. However, there were eye-catching small prints by local surf photographer Aaron Chang, the hotel’s artist in residence, to keep us distracted.
The first thing that impressed me upon entering was the view — you simply could not help but look through the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors out to the balcony and beyond. We left ours open practically the entire time to enjoy the cool breezes. Alila has embraced sustainability as its hallmark, so the air conditioning system went off when the doors were opened, which was a nice, energy-saving touch.
At 457 square feet, the room felt very airy and spacious. Mark Zeff Associates oversaw the interior design, with elements meant to evoke a coastal feeling. The timber floors and wood-paneled wall accents were the color of bleached driftwood, and a beach-chic wooden breakfast table had matching chairs wrapped with twine.
The bed had a light gray, upholstered headboard, and was dressed in white Bellino sheets manufactured from sustainable beechwood fibers. I’d previously experienced them at the San Francisco Proper Hotel, and enjoyed them just as much on this occasion.
There were two nightstands — one in the middle and another to one side — with plenty of plugs and USB ports as well as individual reading lamps. On the side nearest the window was a small love seat with pillows.
The wall opposite the bed held a 65-inch television and a set of drawers for clothes as well as a minifridge with two complimentary bottles of Proud Source water, and two canned cocktails from San Diego-based Ashland Hard Seltzer.
Our balcony held two metal armchairs with soft cushions and an ottoman. It looked straight down onto the fire pit patio of another room, and beyond that to the Pacific Coast Highway. During our stay, we had morning coffee out there, spent some time relaxing with the view, and even dragged the indoor table out to have a COVID-era delivery dinner by ourselves. In short, it was our favorite space of the room.
The bathroom wasn’t bad, either, though. Sealed off from the main room by a sliding door, it contained just a single sink, but plenty of counter space.
There was a separate WC with a sliding door and toilet.
Given San Diego’s drought-stricken past, it’s no wonder there’s no bathtub in the room. But the spacious, glassed-in shower more than made up for that. And the wall-mounted showerhead was festooned with a eucalyptus sprig to provide a whiff of aromatherapy.
The rosemary-chia bath products provided were from Votary Skincare.
Compared to higher-category rooms, our view overlooked a parking lot. But it also took in the Pacific Coast Highway, the beach and the ocean. It was pretty spectacular at any time of day, but especially at sunset.
I might have preferred one of the few direct ocean view rooms, but I definitely would not have traded it for a pool view room, given the noise on the deck during the day. Nor would I have preferred a room with a patio and fire pit since those were on the ground floor and adjacent to a public pathway with a steady flow of foot traffic – and they cost $150 more per night than the room that I was assigned.
That said, we did move accommodations after checking in since a family of five – two adults and three children – were sharing the room beneath us and were … rambunctious, to say the least.
Unfortunately, after we had settled in and gone to sleep in our second room, at about 2 a.m., a troop of young women burst into the room next to us after a night out at the bars (I’m not conjecturing, we heard their entire conversation). They had a small party for the next hour or so. Even though we phoned down to reception asking them to send someone up to check on what was happening, no one knocked on their door. Luckily, they seemed to disperse after an hour.
If I’d actually been paying $700 a night, I would have been furious. They checked out the next day, though, and since I’d used points, I decided just to write it off.
Many of the hotel’s main amenities were not fully operational, but there was still plenty to enjoy. The fitness center was on the first floor en route to the pool, and included a lot of cardio and weight equipment from BodyFly Fitness.
The pool area was located at the end of the building closest to the ocean, and contained both a small main pool and a hot tub just in front of the pathway to the beach. There were plenty of lounge chairs available on a first-come, first-served basis. They were grouped in pairs and spaced 6 feet apart. The pool staff disinfected them between guests and adjusted the umbrellas up or down depending on your shade preference.
A handful of cabanas were available for daily rentals, and featured privacy curtains, sofas and their own sets of lounge chairs.
In contrast to Ventana Big Sur and Alila Napa Valley, Alila Marea is very family-friendly, which should be no surprise given that it’s ostensibly a beach resort. But because the beach services — which will include setting out chairs and umbrellas for guests eventually — were not yet available, the pool area was positively overrun with children. So many, in fact, that lounge chairs were in short supply and a few different groups of adult guests decided to leave because of the high-pitched noise levels. We stuck it out, but it was far from the relaxing scene we had envisioned, unfortunately.
Speaking of relaxing … Spa Alila just off the lobby was actually open to the general public, not just hotel guests, for treatments. Though I did not get a look beyond the reception area and boutique, the spa had five treatment rooms and separate men’s and women’s saunas. Facials were performed with Maya Chia and Dr. Dennis Gross products, while the body treatments used Body Bliss, a locally produced aromatherapy line.
Among the experiences on offer were the 60-minute anti-aging “Splendor” facial ($195), which incorporated sea lavender and wakame seaweed; and the 60-minute “Succulent” body renewal, with an exfoliation using a walnut husk and sugar scrub followed by a vanilla-lavender moisturizing rub.
The hotel will eventually have surfboards to lend to guests, though I borrowed one of the Electra Go! electric bikes for a ride up the PCH to Carlsbad, and then down the other way to Encinitas. It was a really fun way to explore the area and get around without having to take out the car.
Among the other fitness activities that will be offered are sunrise yoga, guided beach runs, and hikes around the Batiquitos Lagoon’s 2-mile loop trail. Guests can also book a few specialty excursions like taking a coastal flight in a vintage biplane.
Wi-Fi was free throughout the hotel, though my phone and computer kept getting kicked off the network if I was not actively using it. The speeds were acceptable if not lightning-fast.
Food and beverage
The hotel’s food and beverage outlets are overseen by chef Claudette Zepeda, a San Diego native and James Beard Award semifinalist.
Coffee Box, located just off the driveway from the lobby, will serve locally brewed Lofty Coffee Co. espresso drinks, baked goods and casual bites. It wasn’t open during my stay, though.
There will also be a poolside restaurant and bar called The Pocket. It, too, had not yet opened officially, though there was a (very) limited selection of dishes for hotel guests who were lounging by the pool.
For breakfast, there was granola with coconut yogurt, mixed berries and passionfruit jam ($16).
Among the lunch dishes we tried were hand rolls of seaweed wrapped around sushi rice with chipotle mayo, avocado, fried leeks and a choice of seared rib-eye or bluefin tuna ($23). We chose the tuna and it was nice and light.
We also had chermoula grilled chicken skewers with cucumber and tomato, tangy labneh and pickles ($21) which were delicious. There was an abbreviated menu available from 3 to 5 p.m. of bites like a spinach and endive salad ($18), fried cauliflower with cheese and labneh ($13) and salt-and-pepper chicken wings ($17).
The menu comprised five cocktails, about a half-dozen wines and seven beers, though the listings varied slightly from actual selections on our visit. The Rum Daisy with aged rum, Cointreau, lime and angostura ($12) and the French 75 with gin, fresh lemon and prosecco ($12) were both very refreshing.
I’ll say this for the pool service – they aimed to please. Everyone we interacted with was very friendly and attempted to be diligent, but they seemed to be understaffed. At one point, the people sitting next to us waited a full half-hour for their bill so they could sign it and leave, and they eventually just decamped.
The hotel’s signature restaurant was called Vaga, which was a play on Chef Zepeda’s childhood nickname. There was a large indoor dining room with a view onto the open kitchen.
Private outdoor tables were arranged along a wide balcony overlooking the ocean. The outdoor bar and lounge had great views of the coast, plus fire elements to keep visitors warm when things cool off in the evening. We asked for an outdoor table to help us socially distance from other guests, and were quite comfortable under the heating lamps.
Among the standout dishes we tried were savory scallion pancakes with green papaya slaw and smoky eggplant dip ($13), seared scallops over a rich plantain puree with crunchy choclo corn and chili oil ($25) and crispy grilled octopus drizzled with mouthwatering mixed-seed green mole and garnished with crispy garbanzo beans, and earthy mushrooms ($30). The signature cocktails we tried, including the Beacon with Redwood Empire rye and bourbon, Argonaut “Fat Thumb” brandy, date syrup and Szechuan bitters ($18), were all pretty phenomenal … if strong!
Since he knew we were there celebrating a birthday, our waiter brought out a complimentary toffee pudding cake, which was more like a single-layer carrot cake with salted date sauce, banana jam and banana-macadamia nut crunch ($15).
With a few small dishes, two larger dishes and two drinks each, the dinner tab came to $219 – pretty expensive for just two people.
Other than that, we tried ordering breakfast via room service one morning, but after three calls with no answer, we gave up and ordered DoorDash from a nearby eatery (thank you, Chase Sapphire Reserve, for complimentary DashPass). The other morning, I drove into Leucadia for coffee and pastries from a local cafe.
For those interested, the room service dishes included eggs over house sourdough with crispy potatoes and bacon nuggets ($16), a stack of lemon, poppy and ricotta pancakes with a poppy-seed glaze and persimmon ($16) and bigger plates later in the day, like poblano curry-braised pork shoulder with cilantro, braised greens and pheni paratha ($30).
Our second night, we felt like going casual while keeping away from other people, so we ordered Mexican food via DoorDash and had a private dinner party out on our patio, which was delightful.
Everyone we interacted with — from the bell staff to the reception agents, the spa attendants, pool servers and restaurant staff — were very warm, friendly and eager to please. There were a few service delays, which made me think they were perhaps a bit short-staffed soon after opening. But these are likely to be ironed out as the hotel moves beyond its first month or two of operations. Given the limits on food and beverage service, I did want to call out the bell staff for being very efficient at dropping delivery and takeout orders to the guest rooms, and doing so with a smile every time.
According to Hyatt, Alila’s hallmark as a brand is a “combination of innovative design and luxury in unique locations,” and the new Alila Marea Beach Resort Encinitas certainly lived up to those standards. The location along the sandstone cliffs right above the Pacific felt very special indeed. The rooms took full advantage of it with their beach-chic aesthetic and panoramic views, too.
Our stay was not quite as relaxing as planned due to the number of families and partying guests, whom you could hear from room to room. We were also disappointed that not all the amenities — notably the beach services — were available. However, I would definitely return here for another quick getaway. Like this past time, though, I would try to use points since the room rates, as well as those add-on resort and parking fees, were downright exorbitant for the laid-back level of the experience.
Featured photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy.
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