Orange County, San Diego pools with summer 2021 day passes

Every luxury hotel worth its salt has a marquee pool that makes a splash with guests. Alas, you must stay overnight to use it. And you’ll pay at least $200 a night for the pleasure. Right?

Wrong. At hundreds of U.S. hotels, including some Southern California resorts, you can stake out a lounge chair by the water, unleash your kids on the pool slide or luxuriate in a posh cabana with your friends. And it may cost as little as $15 for several hours of pool play.

All you need is a day pass — your ticket to fun times on a budget. It’s the next best thing to actually going somewhere on vacation. With summer ahead, what could be better?

We checked out day-pass deals recently, focusing on cool pools in Orange County and taking a peek at others in San Diego County.

The pools are as varied as the hotels that surround them. Whether your style is to cannonball into the deep end or meditate in the hot tub, you’ll find the ideal pool on our list.

Although COVID-19 regulations are changing, all the hotels follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and implement all safety measures, including physical distancing, sanitation protocols, and face coverings in the lobby and other public areas.

Daybeds and cabanas are popular at JW Marriott Anaheim Resort, which recently opened near Disneyland.

(JW Marriott)

With Disneyland now open, a shoutout to two day-pass hotels nearby that were brave enough to open during the pandemic: the JW Marriott Anaheim Resort, a beautiful, blingy hotel within a couple blocks of the park, and Radisson Blu Anaheim, another luxury hotel four blocks away.

The Marriott’s rooftop pool isn’t offering individual day passes, but adults 21 and older can rent a day bed or a cabana (maximum four people) for $250. Check out the margherita pizza and the truffle fries at the cool indoor-outdoor Citriculture bar on the pool level.

At the Radisson Blu, a day pass ($30 for adults, $10 for kids) gives you access to a ground-level pool, hot tub and splash pool. Or get a cabana for $95 to $125 or a day room for $110.

Need some quiet time to sit in the sun and read a book? Sign up for Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, where you’ll pay $25 for a lounge chair at the sophisticated Harbor Pointe pool looking out to the Pacific. The hotel is across from Fashion Island, where you can begin your day with a little retail therapy.

Looking for a place to take the kids? Skip the ocean and try a hotel pool: Everyone can cool off without getting sandy or knocked flat by a wave. And Mom and Dad can take advantage of the pool bar and lunch service, Wi-Fi and hotel towels. Try the slides and water play fountains at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach; you’ll pay $25 per person for a day or $175 for a cabana — a real deal for a family that includes shade and a TV.

A round pool surrounded by palm trees and striped umbrellas

The pool at the new Radisson Blu Anaheim offers a hot tub and a splash pad for kids.

(Rosemary McClure)

If you’re planning a girlfriend getaway, you might want to rent a cool cabana at Huntington Beach’s Paséa Hotel & Spa, known for its coastal chic, happening pool and lively rooftop bar. A day pass is $50, a day bed (for two) $150. A cabana here will set you back $500, but bring six friends and split the cost.

At the Paséa, I ran into day-pass guests Henry Stubin and Alexis Long, 15-year-old Huntington Beach residents ensconced in lounge chairs at the edge of the pool deck, overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and the beach.

Stubin’s crutches rested nearby. He broke his leg playing football, he said, but the injury isn’t cramping his style. “We come all the time,” Long said. Added Stubin. “It’s great now, but in the summer it’s even better.”

Three oceanfront Huntington Beach hotels, including the Paséa, offer day passes. All have great views of Surf City’s famous beach. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, a large, lively family-favorite property, has slides, fire pits and other kid-friendly amenities.

If you want to get away from ruckus, the hotel also has a large main pool where you can take a nap or read a book. Prices start at $60 for a day pass ($30 for kids) and for a cabana.

The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, is the third day-pass hotel along this section of Coast Highway. Besides pool day passes ($60), you can arrange a “beach bonfire experience” ($150) or rent a cabana by the pool or on the beach for $125 to $650. A day pass includes use of waterslides and hot tubs.

If you’re thinking about taking a trip to San Diego County, ResortPass fan Kelley Wise suggests the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine if you’re looking for something secluded and quiet. “For more of an adults-only social scene with great drinks, we go to Omni La Costa [in Carlsbad]. Town and Country [in San Diego] will make you feel like you’re on a retro tropical island and is a must-see.”

The Omni La Costa also is on the don’t-miss list for ResortPass founder Amanda Szabo, who loves its luxurious vibe and fun activities. The five-star resort has multiple pools and a variety of programs, including day rooms ($500), s’mores around a fire pit (from $140) and day passes ($50).

How does a day pass work?

Check pool availability on the hotel website or an app such as ResortPass.com. You’ll find dozens of Southern California hotels listed; make a choice based on where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do.

Prices fluctuate daily, as does availability based on how many people have booked that day. Weekdays offer the best rates. Book as far in advance as possible during the summer when everyone wants pool time. Check out small neighborhood hotels for the lowest prices. Some charge only $15 or $20 for a day pass.

Guests in a spa with a pool surrounded by palm trees

The Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa offers day passes that allow access to its pools.

(Jim Edwards)

When you arrive for your day in the sun, visit the hotel desk first for instructions, a map and a key. Amenities vary; some hotels will give you access to multiple pools, recreational areas and fitness rooms. Parking usually isn’t included, but you may get a discount.

ResortPass, a Santa Monica-based online booking company, is the heavyweight in the day-pass industry Others include Dayaxe.com and Daycationapp.com.

Amanda Szabo founded ResortPass in San Diego in 2016. It has grown to include 650 U.S. hotels; more than 100 are in Southern California.

“Being a local in San Diego and having so many amazing hotels around me, it didn’t make sense to pack my bags when I wanted to experience a nearby hotel or go to its pool,” said Szabo. “Tourists shouldn’t be the only ones who get to use the great hotels in a community.”

She pitched her day-pass idea to hoteliers, and a new business was born. “It makes people feel like they’re going on a trip, but it is in your own town,” she adds.