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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

Family Travel On The California Coast: The Portofino Hotel & Marina

Moonrise over boats in the Portofino Hotel & Marina
Photo credit: Holly Corbett

As atravel writer who has set foot on all seven continentsand co-authored the memoirThe Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World, I felt certain in my twenties that if I ever had children of my own one day, I’d step into the role of Chief Adventurer, corralling backpack-touting little ones to far-flung locales around the globe. 

Fast-forward to reality, and to my children who are now 10 and nine years old: The farthest plane ride we’d ever taken from our home in Upstate New York was to Florida to visit my mother.

I promised myself this winter break—which is typically cloudy and cold in the Northeast—that instead of nagging my kids to get off their devices for seven days, we would be breathing in fresh ocean air and moving our bodies outdoors. 

I’d been California dreaming, and the seaside sanctuary that is the Portofino Hotel & Marina in Redondo Beach—only about 20 minutes south of LAX—has the combination of nature activities and urban comforts that makes for an ideal family getaway. One cross-country plane ride later, and we had arrived.

The Portofino Hotel & Marina History

When I embarked on my travel writing career more than 15 years ago, the field was still largely dominated by men. ‘Adventurous’ and ‘risk taker’ were terms that weren’t traditionally used to describe women. That’s why I was so inspired by the story of the original founder of the Portofino Hotel & Marina, Mary Davis, one of the country’s first female race car drivers. Davis opened the hotel in 1962, and it later became the final destination for the New York-to-California car race known as the Cannonball Run (a race that inspired the 1981 film by the same name starring Burt Reynolds). ‘Risk’ and ‘adventure’ could have been Davis’ middle names, whose life story also included joining the Marine Corps during World War II, managing cigar bars and opening Hollywood restaurants, and sailing a yacht around the world.

The 161-room Portofino Hotel & Marina is now part of the Noble House Hotels & Resorts collection, and recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation—without losing its Southern California charm. Built on a peaceful peninsula in the South Bay, the property is both elegant and cozy. It’s adorned with gauzy white drapes, nautical design touches in shades of beach-glass green and ocean blue, and layers of textures, such as overstuffed pillows beckoning guests to sink into window seats overlooking the bay.

The hotel entry opens into the waterfront “Living Room” lobby that is at once intimate and spacious. Floor-to-ceiling windows let the light in and open to expansive views of the ocean. In the center of the ocean-facing wall is a stone-lined fireplace where guests can curl up in the arm chairs placed before it with a book or a drink. The walls are covered in that calming beach-glass green shade, with multiple crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and reflecting the shifting light throughout the day. Couches, overstuffed chairs, and coffee tables are artfully arranged in front of each of the windows and throughout the room to encourage gathering. At the far end is a bar where guests can order sunset cocktails.

The guest rooms also reflect the nautical theme with mirrored glass decor and rugs and pillows in various shades of ocean blue. We stayed in an oceanside room with two double beds and a private balcony. My kids loved standing on the balcony to watch the very-vocal colony of sea lions that called a floating dock in the bay their home. The kids even spotted pods of dolphins performing acrobatics as they leapt from the water.

Where to Eat And Relax At The Seaside Resort

Maybe it’s the aptly-named Living Room lobby or the friendly staff, but the Portofino Hotel & Marina did feel like a home away from home. The receptionist listened intently to my daughter sharing how she and her brother named the duck nestled on the same dinghy in the marina each morning, Federick III. When my son left his jacket on the couch in the Living Room lobby where we had been enjoying live music, the guitarist stepped out of the performance to return it before we reached the elevator. More than one dog-walking local stopped to ask us if we needed help as we wandered the path in front of the property, freely offering suggestions on places to visit. 

Though we didn’t have to leave the hotel to find things to do: The kids enjoyed swimming in the heated pool while I took a dip in the hot tub overlooking the bay. The onsite gym has cardio machines, such as Pelotons, as well as weights, and the hotel also has yoga classes on its schedule. 

Across from the lobby entrance is the free-standing, marine-facing BALEENkitchen, complete with outdoor fire pits. The restaurant also offers room service, which is a nice option to have when you want to get jet-lagged children in for an early night. The seasonal menu features local California produce, such as the porcini dusted scallops with farmer’s market vegetable succotash ragout for dinner, or the “mom’s garden omelet” for breakfast. Fear not, the kitchen also serves up truffle fries that will have your kids asking for seconds. For parents, the cocktail menu includes drinks with names such as “Life is Peachy” and “Forbidden Fruit,” as well as alcohol-free options infused with CBD oil aptly called “At Peace Collins.” 

Family-Friendly Activities On The California Coast

The location of the Portofino Hotel & Marina is ideal because there is also plenty to do in the surrounding area so renting a car isn’t necessary. Right next to the Redondo Beach marina is the Redondo Beach Pier. Just a five-minute walk, the pier features seafood markets such as Quality Seafood and restaurants with outdoor patios such as Kincaid’s Fish, Chop & Steakhouse, as well as a variety of souvenir shops and activities like whale-watching excursions.

With Hermosa and Manhattan beaches just a few miles to the north, the Portofino Hotel & Marina is situated next to an oceanfront bike path that runs more than 27 miles along the California Coastal Trail, all the way up to Malibu. Their onsite Dockside Activity Center has complimentary cruiser bicycles as well as e-bikes for rent. If you can’t find a bike small enough to fit your children, you can follow the sidewalk to the street where you’ll find the veteran-owned Marina Bike Rentals for kids’ bikes or bike trailers for those too young to ride. 

A favorite part of our trip was taking out kayaks from the onsite activity center to paddle out to see those sea lions up close. For more adventurous types, the activity center also offers paddleboards, scuba, deep-sea fishing and boat charters.

From experiencing wildlife encounters to listening to live music to biking along the beach to tasting fresh seafood, we made plenty of memories during our first-ever cross-country trip. If you’re looking for a family-friendly vacation that combines convenience with adventure and relaxation, the Portofino Hotel & Marina is a (California) dream.


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