Since our first stay at the Sand & Surf in 2000, my husband and I have been back at least twice.
Yes, it is expensive but we have always been able to find discounted rates online. MUCH cheaper rates. I love luxury hotels like the Ritz Carlton but would not pay the published rate of $460 or so for the S&S. Around $250 represents the value more closely.
The location is FABULOUS. If you like small hotels, with few people and relatively little action - this is the place. Although, the reality show Laguna Beach did this place no favor. We heard a teenager talk on her cell phone by the pool announcing that "yes", she is at "that" hotel. Increased traffic is good for management, not for guests :-).
What I love most about this hotel is that EVERY room seems to have ocean view. When you come into the room and open the plantation shutters: you see, hear, smell the ocean. The rooms are simple and not big; bathrooms were nicer than I remembered (marble). We also saw the "sneak preview" of their room remodel for 2006 which looked good; not radically different. You also have a little balcony. In theory, there is no need to ever go anywhere else from the balcony :-).
The pool service is ok (much better than it used to be). The valet guys seem to have overly high expectations of tips, which they should not display.
Laguna itself is a beautiful little town with a number of great restaurants. There's a Belgian one that we went back to. Partners was good too. It's a wealthy town and it's all there. Lot's of galleries. Beautiful town to take long walks.
Overall though, it seemed over-priced to me this time, compared to other luxury hotels. We checked out the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel which is gorgeous. It is on a cliff and not right on the beach. It also seemed very busy (multiple weddings going on etc.)with a lot of traffic.
The location, fabulous beach and ocean front of the rooms is what makes the Sandand Surf. The rooms themselves are just ok, not like the RC at all. There's also a lack of space, e.g. to get to the pool from one side of the hotel, you have to go through the restaurant. The pool restrooms are shared with the restaurant - again, one has to walk past people trying to eat in peace.
The weather: this February was the coldest Laguna had seen in years, but there is still always sunshine and blue sky at some point during the day.
We also checked out the new Montage hotel up the road, which is stunning but huge. It's beatiful but lacks the intimacy of the Surf and Sand. To get an ocean view room probably costs a fortune. I think we will come back to the S&S. It just has something that keeps us coming back (not in February though). It's a beautiful place for people who love the ocean.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC