Angela and I recently returned from a road trip to California with Fitz during which we visited Dana Point and Santa Monica. This was our second road trip with him since his spinal surgeries in December 2021 and a follow-up to our earlier trip to Park City, Utah.
The impetus for this trip was my personal desire to watch Fitz take a dip in the ocean. I didn’t have any specific expectations about whether he would enjoy it or not, but I wanted to give him the opportunity to experience it once in his life.
We felt pretty confident that we would have a good trip regardless of whether Fitz enjoyed the ocean or not based on our experience in Park City, although there was a little uncertainty given we would be visiting two separate locations on a single vacation. In the end, we had an awesome time and added a few great memories of Fitz to an already sizable collection.
Given we were driving to California, the booking process involved choosing hotels in places we wanted to be. There are quite a few luxury hotels in Southern California, so the choice boiled down to which ones were available to be booked with Hilton Free Night Certificates, of which we still had quite a few.
- One room for three nights at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach for one Hilton Free Night Certificate per night
- One room for three nights at the Oceana Santa Monica, LXR Hotels and Resorts for one Hilton Free Night Certificate per night
Both hotels were kind enough to upgrade us before our visit, with the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach placing us in a Fireside Resort View King Bed Room and the Oceana Santa Monica placing us in a Penthouse One Bedroom Lanai Suite. I never expect upgrades, especially domestically, but am always appreciative when we get one.
Given the shorter driving distance on this trip, we decided to pack up the day we were leaving to reduce Fitz’s stress levels. As such, after following our normal morning routine, we loaded up our suitcases and got on the road.
We stopped in Yermo and Eastvale, California to charge the car on the way to Dana Point. The Yermo Supercharger is located at a gas station and it was extremely hot and extremely dry, like always. The Eastvale Supercharger is located in a relatively upscale shopping center so Fitz was able to walk around a bit before Angela and I grabbed a bite at Luna Grill, a casual and tasty Mediterranean joint.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped the car off with the valet before waiting about twenty-five minutes to check in. The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach is a resort style property with a large number of rooms. There is no self-parking and, if you’re driving, you’ll have to use their valet service.
We were assigned a ground floor room with an interior resort view. I was slightly surprised because the room we were assigned was not the room I had chosen when I checked in using the mobile app. However, we were handed a flyer telling us we would receive the benefits of an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts booking and I figured this was to make up for the switch. It was somewhat confusing and I tried to inform the agent we were not eligible for said benefits, but he insisted.
I was very happy with the room we received. It was spacious enough to spread out and, given the hotel was fully booked, I was very pleased that my request to move to a ground floor room was honored.
When we checked in, the front desk agent gave Fitz a sizeable treat which he absolutely loved.
After settling in, we walked from our room to the public trail that leads to Salt Creek Beach Park. It was here that Fitz saw the ocean for the first time ever.
We woke up early and ordered room service for breakfast. While the breakfast items were uniformly good, they were horribly overpriced. Luckily, some of the charges were wiped away because of the Hilton Honors Complimentary Food & Beverage Credit that is offered to people with Gold or Diamond status. In addition, and as previously mentioned, we were granted the benefits as if we had booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, which included a daily breakfast credit per person.
After breakfast, we picked up our car and drove to Laguna Beach, the nearest location at which dogs were allowed. We had to get an early start because dogs are only allowed on the beach until 0900 during the summer months.
We found a public parking garage close to the beach and set off towards the water. Fitz was very suspicious as soon as his paws touched the sand. He is very skittish around anything he isn’t familiar with so he was jumping all over the place to avoid random pieces of seaweed and other detritus.
We arrived at the waterline and, after some light coaxing, Fitz dipped his paws in the water. To say he wasn’t a fan would be understating the situation, I believe.
After subjecting him to my whims, we took a stroll along the beach. After removing the danger of water touching him, he actually seemed to enjoy the walk.
We waited patiently for one of the beachfront showers to be available and then gently rinsed the sand from his underside before returning to the car for a more complete wash. As you can see, he was extremely thrilled by this.
After everyone got the sand off their feet, we walked to Laguna Coffee Company where we enjoyed some absolutely delicious espresso.
From there, we walked to Heisler Park, stopping halfway along the way to enjoy some views from the boardwalk and allow people to compliment Fitz and tell him how cute he is.
We walked back to the car and drove to Alta Laguna Park where we took a brief walk to enjoy the views from the summit.
We returned to the hotel to relax for a bit and let Fitz recharge from his traumatic experiences.
For dinner, we drove to Dana Point, parked in the Lantern District and, while Fitz enjoyed the benefits of dog mode, we ate at The Shwack Beach Grill.
We each ordered the Shwack Burger (I opted for an extra patty) and Angela enjoyed the spuds alongside a Scrimshaw Pilsner. The meal was good, but not great, and we would not recommend it as highly as many of the other reviewers who have visited it.
We picked Fitz up and walked to Paradis Ice Cream Dana Point where I ordered a chocolate shake and Angela opted for one scoop each of Rocher and Cold Brew Latte ice cream. The dessert was awesome and definitely worth the walk. My milkshake was delicious and Angela loved her ice cream.
After enjoying our sweet treat, we returned to the hotel to enjoy some well-earned rest.
Fitz decided to wake us up early, so our second day in California started at the crack of dawn. We again enjoyed breakfast in the room before driving to Dana Point to start exploring. Parking again in the Lantern District, we set off towards Pines Park walking past the Dana Point Harbor along the way.
This was a long walk with varying terrain and, while Fitz walked a lot of it, he was carried for a substantial portion of the unshaded trek along Pacific Coast Highway.
Fitz was surprisingly well-behaved in the park, allowing many other dogs to exist without barking at them. We were very impressed by his restraint.
After we left the park, we took the Dana Point Trolley back to Lantern Bay Park to walk around the area. This was Fitz’s first time on public transit and, other than barking at a very loud motorcycle that passed a few inches from his snout, he was a perfectly content passenger.
Lantern Bay Park is a beautiful green space and we enjoyed some time in the shade. It was a very pleasant place to sit in the mild heat of the mid-afternoon.
We returned Fitz to the car and walked to Coastal Kitchen for an early dinner. We ordered the Chef’s Tacos (two ahi tuna and two tri-tip) as an appetizer. Angela had the crab cake salad while I opted for Scottish salmon and we shared fried curried cauliflower. For dessert, Angela enjoyed the key lime pie and I devoured the butter cake (with special chocolate sauce addition). The meal was fantastic and we both highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
After a scrumptious meal, it was back to the hotel to rest up for our journey up the coast the following day. We spent a bit of time on our terrace until the noise from kids became unbearable (one of the only real downsides of the resort) and headed inside.
We woke up and took breakfast in the room again before heading out to the public trail we had walked our first night at the property in order to get Fitz a little tired before our long day of driving.
We called the front desk and asked them to pull our car around and send someone to retrieve our bags. During check out, I asked the agent to waive all of the dining charges and honor the benefits we were presented with and they happily did so. It was a positive experience and much better than I was expecting, to be frank.
We opted to drive along Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica to get a feel for the various beaches along the route. We briefly stopped in Torrance to enjoy the best doughnuts of our lives at Sidecar Doughnuts. We both ordered the Huckleberry and Angela chose the Passion Fruit Pavlova as her second doughnut while I opted for the Choc-a-Lot.
As we continued up the coast, we stopped at the Formosa Beach supercharger to top off in case we wanted to go anywhere in the coming days. There was a very nice walking trail across the street from the parking garage housing the supercharger.
We reached Santa Monica at 1530 and were able to check in immediately. The valet and bell team was extremely helpful throughout the course of our stay and we had a very positive experience dropping off the car and getting our bags delivered to our room.
As previously mentioned, we were upgraded and the room was a delight. It was spacious with tons of comfortable seating and perfect for our stay with Fitz.
After settling in, we picked up the car from valet and headed to Sugarfish for dinner. We parked in one of the public parking structures which are very reasonably priced with the first ninety minutes free.
Sugarfish was a delight. We both ordered the Don’t Think. Just Eat. Trust Me omakase and enjoyed every morsel put in front of us. We were served the following courses and, for 55.00USD, I believe this is a can’t miss dining experience if you’re in the area and like sushi.
- Tuna sashimi with house ponzu
- Sushi course
- Toro hand roll
- Sushi course
- Pink lobster
- Lobster hand roll
- Unagi sushi
We picked up the car and returned to the hotel to feed Fitz and settle in for the night.
We took it easy in the morning, allowing Fitz to rest a bit after he enjoyed breakfast, and then we headed out to walk around Santa Monica. Our first stop was Primo Passo Coffee Company for some delicious espresso and a tasty carrot cake muffin.
We then stopped at the local grocery store for some snacks and drinking water which we brought back to the hotel before continuing our journey. We stopped at Cafe Demitasse which was good, but not quite as tasty as Primo Passo.
Our next stop was the Santa Monica location of Sidecar Doughnuts where we picked up the Passion Fruit Pavlova and Huckleberry doughnuts, as we did in Torrance, alongside the Blueberry Corncake doughnut. We stopped at a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Palisades Park to enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation while we delighted in the deliciousness of the doughnuts.
We walked through the park to Santa Monica Pier where we moved Fitz into his bag for the walk through the throngs of other visitors. He was very well-behaved, only barking once when we stood under the roller coaster and he got startled.
After exiting the pier we walked past Muscle Beach and found a nice set of benches where we sat people watching for about an hour. Again, Fitz took these moments to relax and was very well-behaved.
At that point, we returned to the room taking the path that ran along the beach rather than through Palisades Park. Fitz seemed very excited to be able to see the water without the danger of being forced into it.
Fitz was pretty wiped out so we let him rest before dinner while I went to the restaurant to order some food for take out. We enjoyed the Caesar salad and fresh guacamole to use the Hilton Honors Complimentary Food & Beverage Credit we were entitled to. Interestingly, the Oceana Santa Monica does not allow you to use the credit for in-room dining but has no problem preparing meals to go from the main restaurant if you’re willing to wait.
For dinner, we walked to Benny’s Tacos which we knew we’d enjoy given our previous experience ordering it during an overnight stay at LAX. Angela ordered the al pastor taco plate and I chose the fajita burrito with a double portion of chicken. It was delicious, just like we remembered.
This was probably the biggest single day of activity for Fitz in years as, after the day ended, he had walked around seven miles. While certainly tired at the end of the day, he never showed any signs that he was in pain or struggling with the level of exertion.
We had an easy morning as Fitz decided to sleep in until 0730 given all the walking the day before. We noticed a few abrasions on his paws so we decided to forego some hiking that we had considered and chose to stay in Santa Monica and go for another long walk.
Our first stop was Espresso Cielo. The drinks were somewhat mediocre and likely the worst we had during our time in Santa Monica, but the banana bread I ordered was moist and tasty.
After our pick-me-up, we walked all the way to Venice Beach. Because Fitz had walked so much on his own during the previous day, we opted to carry him for all but two miles on this day to ensure he wouldn’t get too worn out or do any further damage to his paws. He was great in his bag, though, and behaved very well during the entire journey.
One of the cooler things we saw on our walk was a mural showing the luminaries of Pantheism. It was fun picking out the recognizable faces and learning about the others after we passed by.
We returned to the hotel after close to eight miles of almost non-stop walking in order to get some much needed rest. Again, I picked up a light lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, this time choosing the Caesar salad and tuna tartare. We ate on our room’s balcony and enjoyed a couple of hours relaxing outside in the delightful California temperatures.
Later that night, Angela and I went to Solidarity for dinner where we enjoyed some delicious Polish food. The pierogi, kielbasa, and chłodnik (essentially cold borscht) were all delicious.
We stopped at Rori’s Artisinal Creamery for dessert and had some absolutely delicious ice cream. We ate it so fast, I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture!
We woke up early and packed up, hoping that by checking out and departing in the morning we’d be able to miss most of the notorious Los Angeles traffic. Our wish was granted and we exited the city without incident.
Because of all the excitement of the trip, Fitz slept the whole way home and only woke up when we stopped to charge the car and have him go to the bathroom.
Once we hit the heat of Primm, Nevada, he was already asking to go back.
In all, we had an excellent trip and are extremely happy that we booked and traveled on this itinerary with Fitz. While he didn’t like the ocean as much as I’d hoped, I’m still glad he got to experience it and it made my heart swell to see him on the shore.
Other than being subjected to the waves, I think he really enjoyed his time in California, especially as an escape from the summer heat in Nevada. He was very active and, other than the light paw abrasions I mentioned earlier, showed no problems with the increased activity level given the relative coolness of the weather. We are looking forward to our future road trips with Fitz and love seeing him live his best dachshund life.