From Disappointment To Dream: How Alila Marea Transformed My Walked Booking Into An Ocean Suite Stay

I stayed at Alila Marea in Encinitas, thirty miles north of the San Diego airport, on points with a confirmed suite upgrade back in 2021. I loved my stay so much that when I got home I booked it again for the following year. With only three standard suites on property, a confirmed suite upgrade can be tough to get, and I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

I was set to return but got walked from the hotel a couple of weeks in advance of my stay, in what turned out to reportedly be a LVMH buyout of the property. That turned out to be amazingly good fortune.

In 2022 Alila Marea went from category 6 to 7. In 2023 the hotel became category 8 but drops back to 7 for this year. It pulls some impressive room rates.

Free nights will run 25,000 – 35,000 points against room rates frequently in the $700s. Suites here can be around $2,000. There are (3) standard suites – a second floor ocean view suite, a first floor ocean view balcony suite with larger outdoor space and fire pit, and an ADA suite. There are also two premium suites. I had the second floor ocean view suite – the same room I’d been assigned to in 2021.

Arrival At Alila Marea

The hotel was busy when we arrived. The sole employee at valet was overwhelmed with people arriving to eat dinner at the property’s restaurant. He told us there would be no help with bags. He also said we couldn’t take a luggage cart. We could either handle our bags ourselves without a cart, or wait until someone was available at some point. We took our bags inside. Valet would have been $60 total per day if I hadn’t been Globalist on an award stay.

Check-in was efficient. We were proactively offered late checkout even though as a resort the benefit is technically on availability only. We were asked if we needed help with our bags? I said I was told there was nobody to help us. We were quickly on our way up to our room.

Alila Marea Ocean View Suite

The view from the room is right out over the ocean. To the left there’s the hotel’s beautiful pool. The room features a large bedroom and large bathroom, and a somewhat small living room.

Two things are most notable to me about the room. First, there’s very little privacy. Though there’s a tint to the windows that helps obscure the view into the room, you’re right above a public path. And the bed is extremely comfortable. I think I slept better in this bed than in any hotel bed in the past six months.

Here’s the bedroom:

My only complaint about the bedroom was that the USB outlets by my bedside didn’t work. Both of them were non-functioning. There also aren’t enough outlets to pick up the slack, in the bedroom or in the living room.

Now here’s the bathroom. It was large with two sinks and plenty of room. There was a separate toilet room, though a bit oddly shaped creating dead space. And there was a shower that was wide but not very deep. It had two shower heads – one on each side – along with a wand on each side. However the shower heads were too far away from each other for one person to use both, and you couldn’t use the shower head and wand at the same time. You had to choose one or the other. Water pressure was also weak, though fine for my purposes. It is more of an issue for women washing long hair.

I did appreciate the individual use toiletries. Plastic ones are illegal in California, but these aren’t plastic. It’s a much better approach than bulk wall-mounted stuff.

Now the living room:

There’s definitely been wear and tear on the furniture:

Overall I find the decor in the room neutral and… basic? The hallways are very plain, and in a way so is this living room. It was very comfortable, though.

On arrival in the room I noticed that the sofa bed hadn’t been made up, and there weren’t any sheets in the room (despite asking for this in advance) so I called down. It was late – past my daughter’s bedtime at home – and I had to call 3 times to follow up to get the bed set up. When housekeeping arrived with the sheets they explained “we’re very busy.”

Fortunately the room had a very nice view!

VAGA Restaurant Breakfast

When we visited this hotel three years ago, the restaurant was a highlight. It still is. The food is fantastic and the service is, too. Everyone was very friendly. The views are great.

Hyatt Globalist breakfast is free, and this has to be one of the better restaurant breakfasts for this benefit in the United States.

Even though temperatures weren’t yet 60 when we’d go for breakfast each morning, we still sat outside wearing sweaters and with the heat lamps that are above each table we were never cold. Why skip out on this view?

The restaurant has two separate menus at breakfast – one is a la carte with pricing, and the other is a special ‘package’ menu that lists entrees, a side, and a drink (coffee or tea or juice) as include with no prices.

The Globalist menu is the ‘package menu’. It isn’t the full restaurant menu, but it’s still pretty good and includes most things on the main menu.

Now, coffee/tea or juice isn’t compliant with World of Hyatt terms which clearly state both coffee or tea and juice are included in the breakfast benefit. However they do not bring a bill for your breakfast. On the second day I ordered both a juice and a coffee and that turned out to be fine. On the third and fourth days we had extra sides as well as both juice and coffee, again no bill.

Globalist (“Package”) Breakfast Menu:

Now here’s the ‘standard’ a la carte menu. There’s no crab cakes for the benedict; no grilled steak as a side; juices are more limited; and they don’t offer the burger, chicken sandwich or tuna melt. There’s no option for the market fish, lobster salad, or yakisoba noodles either. But everything else is available:

I really enjoyed the smoked whitefish. And their side of fruit was really substantive, with a good variety. You’ll see the avocado side as well.

My wife tried the kimchi rice on our first morning and thought it was good. My daughter absolutely loved the pancakes!

I suppose if there was a dish I was disappointed in it was the carne asade omelet – the meat was overcooked, and as dry as it was really could have used a sauce.

Their pastries, though, were absolutely delicious!

VAGA Restaurant Dinner

By the evening things were warmer outside, but again there are heaters outside and they offer guests blankets as well. I never felt like the blankets were needed, though several guests accepted them.

Coming from our room we entered the restaurant from the back, so we walked through the whole restaurant to the front (where guests from outside the hotel would arrive).

The host stand was usually empty but a minute or so later someone would come up to help us. We’d made reservations for dinner, because the restaurant does fill up, though they prioritize hotel guests (presumably saving some spots).

The interior of the restaurant is quite attractive, and many diners will prefer to eat along the window line for the view during colder temperatures. The restaurant features an open kitchen as well.

Still, I’ll always take the ocean instead!

Here are a couple of the appetizers. The kombu cured yellowtail came with pomegranates and a fennel and cucumber slaw. It was pretty much as-expected, enjoyable, though not memorable. The duck carnitas with black beans, avocado salsa, and corn tortillas were absolutely terrific.

I was surprised by the spice in the peanut mole with the koji hanger steak. I liked the roasted shishito peppers, they made for a good look on the plate, but it was far too many!

Meanwhile the striped seabass tacos were done with a vodka tempura and were very good.

The sea scallops came with only three, though for an additional charge they’ll add more scallops. I thought it would have made a better appetizer than entree. But the scallops were perfectly cooked, and the parsnip puree was excellent.

Surely the best dish I tasted in the restaurant was the Iberico Secreto, which was perfectly cooked. I was surprised that they managed to take such a thin piece of meat and maintain the total melt in your mouth texture. It’s well-marbled. And that means it is rich, and a big piece of meat then. Don’t be surprised if you want someone else at the table to take a few bites – I genuinely enjoyed it but I did leave a little on the plate.

Alila Marea Amenities

We were given property information and a property map on arrival:

Probably the best place to start here is the beach. Access is down a set of stairs at the edge of the property. So while you’re right on the ocean, you aren’t walking straight out to the sand. It’s full of stones, and not white powder. You have a beach here, and maybe you want to surf, but unless you’re a local you’re probably not coming for beach time as such.

Given San Diego weather it’s also probably not a place you really lay out at the pool or on the beach much of the year (though the pool is heated).

Here’s the restaurant by the pool, though I never ate here:

The pool itself is lovely but the area is small. It was never busy while I was there, but we left around 1 p.m. on Saturday – not yet peak time, nor peak season. About half the space was reserved for those willing to pay an upcharge, which of course wasn’t necessary during our stay.

Here’s the gym. There was never anyone in it when I passed by.

The spa is off the lobby. We didn’t have any treatments, though I understand it’s popular with guests (at peak times appointments can be challenging, so reserve in advance).

Beside the entrance to the hotel (you have to walk outside of the hotel front doors to get there) is the coffee and sundries shop called Coffee Box. While breakfast opens at 7 a.m., the Coffee Box opens at 6. Coming from Central Time we were up before opening, so while there’s coffee pods in the room I came down here a couple of mornings. Somehow I’d never had a lavender latte before and thought it was excellent.

Alila Marea Encinitas: Overall:

I really enjoy Alila Marea. Everyone is friendly. Service is good. The restaurant is fantastic. And the views are spectacular.

Weather much of the year isn’t really conducive to water activities. In a way I think of it like more Northern beach areas. It’s a great local getaway, more than a beach destination trip. It’s more upscale than Seabird and Mission Pacific in Oceanside.

My daughter has a friend from school who moved to La Jolla in the fall. It was great for them to reconnect. The friend’s parents hadn’t taken a weekend to themselves in a long time, and were finally doing so… over the weekend we were there, at the Alila. It seems perfect for that, with good food in a beautiful setting.

My conclusion remains the same as on my last visit in 2021: the value on points is outstanding for a Globalist confirming a suite upgrade, food at VAGA restaurant left me wanting to try everything on the menu, and every staff member I interacted with at the hotel was friendly though service in some cases could have been more prompt.

There are still some things to be aware of,

  • Lack of privacy. Many of the rooms face the pool and don’t offer privacy. There’s also a walkway between the ocean view rooms and the beach, so people can look into your room – this would even be directly in for first floor rooms. While the Pool View rooms were pricier than coastline view when I looked, coastline will have more privacy.

  • Not the best beach. This isn’t postcard-perfect powdery white sand, it’s clumpier and browner, with rocks as well.

  • Small pool area. The pool was mostly deserted while I was there, but on a busy weekend, with the weather cooperating, I’d expect that it would be overrun.

My dream trip is still driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in a 1966 Cobra. It would start with Alila Marea Encinitas and make the 400 mile coastline trip up to Big Sur, staying at Alila Ventana. And then drive three hours inland to stay at the Alila in Napa. Three Alilas in California and a truly epic road trip.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I think Alila Marea is overrated; the location is the only reason I would even consider it. The arrival experience, even when this resort isn’t busy, is subpar. A complete miss when this asset was built.

    Service throughout the property is a 7-7.5 and the room quality is mixed. VAGA is a good restaurant, but you can find many comparable or better culinary experiences within 10-15 minutes in any direction from the resort.

    There has been a huge amount of turnover with senior leadership at the resort, which makes me wonder if this is an owner or management company issue, but makes the resort fall short of expectation.

  2. Plugs that don’t work. That’s one of my biggest gripes. No matter where we stay it’s a constant problem. I solved it by buying a small voltage converter that was originally purchased for using in Japan (100 volts on the eastern side of the island heats up electronics). It has two usb outlets and four standard outlets. It’s small and fits in the bottom of my backpack. It has kept our electronics charged up more than once. Some of the small business hotels in Japan only have a couple of plugs and that’s all that usually work in US hotels.

  3. I went there as a globalist on points, I remember thinking if I had payed the cash rate I would have been disappointed

  4. Not pictured is the fantastic multi stage water filter in the gym. Few hotels bother to pay for expensive remineralizing RO water filters.

    If you see Route 1 fully reopen plan to take your road trip soon after. If the winters continue as they have been it may permanently close the road south of Big Sur.

  5. One of your more relevant reviews for me. Did you use your AA miles on the Alaska AUS-SAN non stops?

  6. I love how you can’t have plastic bottle amenities, but glass bottles of still water that are shipped all the way from Italy are perfectly acceptable, and not wasteful in any way.

  7. This resort is mediocre at best. It feels shoehorned into an area it doesn’t belong, it is not warm or welcoming, and the only gathering space worth mentioning is Vaga or the bar area adjacent.

    As a local, it seems insane that anyone would spend any money to stay here. And in fact most of the people I hear saying here are influencers who are just the worst.

    There are better deals on the coast or more luxurious experiences slightly inland (e.g., Park Hyatt, Grand Del Mar, Rancho Valencia). Glad you enjoyed it Gary, but to me it falls short.

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