If you are visiting Terranea and suddenly hear the deep, resonating vibration of a bell, be sure to look out toward the sea. For on the clifftop at Nelson’s there is a large brass ship’s bell with a unique purpose. Anytime someone spots a whale swimming by, they are encouraged to ring the bell.
The coastal area that Terranea calls home rests right along the path of the seasonal migration of grey whales. Beginning each December and running through May, these remarkable creatures make their journey south to the warm waters off Mexico to breed. Once their breeding is complete, they return north.
There is an exceptional period in late February and early March when the migration overlaps and whales are headed in both directions. If you are fortunate enough to be at Terranea during the winter and early spring, you may very well be treated to an unforgettable cetacean show.
Whale watching is a favorite pastime at Terranea and a classic example of how this wonderful seaside resort provides a quintessential experience for human interaction with the ocean. At any time of year a visit to Terranea will be touched in some way by the sea. With the mighty Pacific wrapped around most of the promontory on which Terranea sits, it is nearly impossible not to feel the ocean’s influence. Even if you never put a toe in the water, the ocean is an integral part of the Terranea experience.
And with the resort’s 270° panoramic ocean view, water is quite literally everywhere you look. For those individuals seeking to commune with the ocean, there is perhaps no better place to do so than Terranea.
The land on which Terranea now stands has a rich and storied history of people communing with the ocean that predates the resort by many decades. Long Point was originally home to Marineland of the Pacific, which opened in 1954 and was at the time the largest oceanarium in the world and one of the nation’s premier modern theme parks. It featured architectural gems designed by William Pereira, whose other notable works included the Transamerica Pyramid, the Pan-Pacific Theatre and LACMA.
Dedicated to creating an interactive, educational and fun way to experience marine life, Marineland became a beloved icon in the community. In 1987 following financial setbacks and several changes in ownership, the park was purchased by the owners of its rival Sea World. Within weeks the marine animals were relocated to San Diego, and the iconic venue was abruptly shuttered—leaving countless fans and the local community heartbroken.
During its heyday Marineland was much more than just an amusement park. It was an active leader in oceanographic issues. It was home to a rescue and rehabilitation care facility for marine mammals—a predecessor of the Marine Mammal Care Center. It was the original location of the annual Gray Whale Census, which is still taken every year by the American Cetacean Society. Marineland was also home to noted marine life muralist Robert Wyland’s third of 100 murals in his internationally celebrated Whaling Wall series.
And Marineland was the set for numerous film and television productions. Most notably, it was the location for the popular series Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges, and it’s where Lloyd’s famous sons, Beau and Jeff, made their first on-camera appearances as child actors.
Nelson’s, named after Lloyd’s character on Sea Hunt, is a tribute to the series that sparked renewed curiosity for the ocean and marine life in countless viewers, as well as the Bridges family. Working on Sea Hunt inspired Lloyd to become a lifelong ocean conservation activist—a passion his children and grandchildren continue to pursue to this day. Guests at Nelson’s can view a comprehensive collection of memorabilia from the series including many items from the Bridges family’s personal collection.
Following Marineland’s closure, Long Point lay dormant for 22 years. The property is part of the California Coastal National Monument and is protected land requiring the preservation of
open space and maintaining public access to the beaches and trails—making it a challenge for
Auspiciously the property landed in the capable hands of Lowe Destination Development (LDD), a leader in green and sustainable development. LDD was committed to redeveloping this precious piece of land in the most environmentally responsible way while protecting and enhancing the Peninsula’s terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem.
As part of this commitment, Terranea invested in smart water management. From the earliest stages of development through current Best Management Practices, a multilayered approach to protecting and enhancing water quality has been implemented.
The resort is landscaped with a drought-resistant, indigenous plant palette—minimizing excess water usage. Only 25% of the resort is covered in impermeable material, while 75% of the resort property is green space—allowing moisture to recharge the groundwater aquifer.
During development, giant underground storm drains were installed that collect and treat storm runoff. The resort has three bioswales—man-made wetlands that use vegetation and sediment to purify irrigation and dry-weather runoff. Bioswales also provide a natural habitat for local aquatic and avian species.
As a result of all these practices, the ocean water surrounding Terranea is now cleaner than it was before the resort was here. This has allowed the kelp beds, which are considered the rainforest of the sea, to thrive—enhancing the habitat for local aquatic life and in turn the aquatic experience of Terranea visitors.
The flourishing kelp forest has further residual benefits. The healthy kelp inspired Terranea’s vice president of culinary experiences and executive chef Bernard Ibarra to create a sea salt conservatory on property. The salt harvested from the cove is used in resort restaurants and sold to guests in sea beans. The resort offers an immersive experience for guests through monthly sea harvest workshops where they learn about salt and kelp harvesting while tasting and pairing the fruits of the ocean.
Chef Bernard recently obtained a license to harvest kelp and makes chocolate infused with the local kelp and sea salt. This reflects just how well the resort has succeeded in improving and restoring kelp beds, which are a vital part of the aquatic ecosystem.
“We made a decision from a very early stage to invest in protecting the natural habitat,” shares Gaye Vancans, Terranea’s director of community relations and activities. “The marine protected area off the cove, which is home to the kelp forest, has not only been looked after but improved by us since opening. We not only take care of the water in the ocean, but also filter the runoff from the hill before it hits the ocean.”
The aquatic ecosystem off Terranea’s shores was further enhanced when, in 2012, California designated two Marine Protected Areas (MPA) straddling both sides of the Long Point promontory. These areas run from the east side of the Terranea property to Abalone Cove and from the northwest side to Point Vicente, and both MPAs extend three miles off shore. Essentially these areas are shut off from all commercial traffic, and fishing and trapping. The enhanced protection of these areas translates into even better water quality.
Terranea further builds on its investment in protecting and enhancing the environment through its philanthropic partnerships. As Gaye explains, “When the resort opened, we chose three organizations to partner with that reflected the resort’s commitment to the land and the sea. These were the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, the Marine Mammal Care Center and Algalita Marine Research Foundation—covering the land, the sea and the animals. To this day we still support them through strong partnerships.”
The resort works closely with the Marine Mammal Care Center (MMCC), and many of the releases of seals back into the ocean happen on the beach at Terranea. Because of the protected marine conservation areas, it is an ideal location for releasing rescued animals. As part of the close relationship between Terranea and MMCC, the resort can sometimes offer select corporate clients a one-of-a-kind team-building experience by observing a marine mammal release back into the sea.
Terranea also works closely with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Algalita’s primary mission is to clean the ocean—specifically removing plastic debris. Terranea, with its use of bioswales and storm drains, clearly shares this goal. The resort has made small changes to further these efforts; it discontinued plastic straws before the statewide ban and prohibits balloons on property.
A more intense effort to clean the water began a few years ago after a major storm hit the area following several dry winters. An untenable amount of debris drained into the ocean. James Felgar, the lead guide for Terranea aquatic adventures, was out on the water and couldn’t believe the sheer amount of waste.
As he describes it, “That first big storm purged what seemed like a decade of trash into the ocean all over the coastline. I was out there all day for a week [cleaning up debris], and I felt like I made a difference … but I’d look out and still see it from the shore. So I asked some employees, and a bunch wanted to help. We formed this little army of trash picker-uppers. We call it Kelp Forest Clean-Up. Together we got it under control, and now it’s become this monthly thing we do to maintain it.”
He continues, “For the most part there is very little [debris] now to clean up. We’re just out there kayaking around. It’s a fun way for me to get associates out on the water—especially for new employees—so they can see what the tour is like, and we pick up any trash we see. But the last time we were out for an hour and 45 minutes and only found one straw.”
On most days James and his team act as guides for Terranea’s aquatic adventures. They take guests on open-water guided tours, either on stand-up paddleboards or kayaks. James, a South Bay native who studied fisheries and wildlife sciences at Oregon State, shares his extensive knowledge of the marine ecosystem with guests—providing an immersive and unforgettable ocean experience.
“THE MARINE PROTECTED AREA OFF THE COVE, WHICH IS HOME TO THE KELP FOREST, HAS NOT ONLY BEEN LOOKED AFTER BUT IMPROVED BY US SINCE OPENING. WE NOT ONLY TAKE CARE OF THE WATER IN THE OCEAN BUT ALSO FILTER THE RUNOFF FROM THE HILL BEFORE IT HITS THE OCEAN. SO IN MANY WAYS THE WATER IS CLEANER NOW THAN IT WAS BEFORE.”
Beyond the aquatic adventures, there are many other ways for Terranea guests to connect with the ocean. Even young guests can go tide-pooling, making it a popular activity for families. The resort has a marine biologist on staff who offers educational programs at the kids club to teach them about the ocean.
Both the movement studio and The Spa at Terranea are by the sea, so guests seeking wellness can embrace the ocean’s meditative qualities. In most spas, ocean sounds are piped in to provide relaxation. At Terranea this tranquility can be achieved by simply opening a window.
Visitors to Terranea can also use the telescopes spread throughout the property to view wildlife, both in and out of the water. Every quarter deposited in the scopes is donated to one of Terranea’s three primary philanthropic partners.
Terranea’s commitment to the ocean extends beyond supporting its primary partners. Terranea also supports other local nonprofits dedicated to protecting the ocean including The Bay Foundation, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Heal the Bay and LA Waterkeeper.
President John F. Kennedy, an avid waterman, once said, “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch—we are going back from whence we came.” As Terranea celebrates 10 years on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, we too can reconnect with the sea and appreciate a place intrinsically tied to preserving its health, integrity and beauty forever.