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In the early year of the film industry, Orange County was almost an annex of Hollywood, with about 500 films shot there from 1910 to 1930. Later, Newport Beach was a playground for such Hollywood stars as Humphrey Bogart, who wooed Lauren Bacall on the yacht he kept berthed in Newport Bay.
But from the ’70s until a decade or so ago, there was a bit of a disconnect between L.A. and the O.C., located about 60 miles to the south. That’s all changed. Just as the world became fascinated with the “reality” of Orange County’s teens and housewives, the getaway spot has gone luxury — thanks to the opening of stunning resorts such as Montage and Pelican Hill in recent years — while retaining its laid-back, surfer-culture charm. Now a wave of restaurants have debuted to complement those hotels, including hotspot outposts of Katsuya and Mozza.
Afternoon: Leave L.A. early (like Thursday, maybe?) to avoid traffic on the 405. Exclusive Media senior vp physical production Jillian Longnecker, whose family has a house on Balboa Island, can feel her mood change as she takes the exit onto Highway 73. “Orange County seems to provide that perfect change of pace and vibe needed after a long workweek,” she says. Or avoid driving entirely. The Resort at Pelican Hill (22701 S. Pelican Hill Road; rooms from $395, villas from $695) will send a car to pick you up and deliver you to one of its private villas. Guests — who have included Ty Burrell and Felicity Huffman — can be driven into their villa’s garage, never having seen a soul. Pelican Hill offers hillside views of the ocean and Newport Harbor, which is stunning at night, and two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses.
If you prefer to roost a few miles south in Laguna Beach, check in to the oceanfront Surf & Sand Resort (1555 South Coast Highway; rooms from $425), where Oliver Stone, Blake Lively and other Savages castmembers stayed during three days of local filming. However, the town’s big draw is Montage Resort and Spa (30801 South Coast Highway; rooms from $695). The Craftsman-style hotel, a favorite of Jennifer Lopez and local Heather Locklear, has a casual, comfortable air and “the best beds in the world,” says producer-director Greg MacGillivray of Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray Freeman Films.
Just down PCH, The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (1 Ritz-Carlton Drive; rooms from $395), the area’s pioneer luxury resort, has undergone a remodel. Freed from its stodgy city style, it now has an inviting light-filled, airy ambience.
Evening: Pelican Hill’s top restaurant is the opulent Andrea, with an Italian menu that screenwriter and Newport Coast resident David McKenna (Blow) calls “the best in Orange County.” Another of his favorites for dinner is “McG‘s place,” as he calls A Restaurant (3334 West Coast Highway). Once a historic spot called The Arches, it was saved from demolition by Newport Beach-raised director McG and partners. McG suggests guests try “the summer salads to keep it lean, then fly off the rails with the decadent short ribs.” The director also praises The Crab Cooker (2200 Newport Blvd.) for its “incredibly fresh fish and the same waitresses since the ’70s.”
Last fall, Pizzeria Mozza (800 West Coast Highway) made a big splash with its first O.C. outpost. “We love the pizza bar. You have to be ready to meet your neighbor and compare dishes,” says The Young and the Restless star Peter Bergman, who owns a house on Balboa Island. Just down PCH is Tamarind (7862 E. Pacific Coast Highway), a haute Indian restaurant just in from London. And for margaritas that are “bar none,” Longnecker recommends Javier’s Cantina (7832 E. Pacific Coast Highway), a Mexican restaurant designed in over-the-top fashion by Dodd Mitchell.
Morning: Pelican Hill’s limo service will drop you at Crystal Cove State Park, where restored vacation cottages (think Bette Midler in Beaches) sit on the sand next to The Beachcomber (15 Crystal Cove), a fine breakfast place. The cottages rent out months in advance, though in the off-season, one or two are often available for walk-up rental.
Afternoon: It wouldn’t be a real O.C. trip without some serious shopping. At the 250-store style mecca South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa (which has one of only two Chloe boutiques in California), the royal family of Brunei went on a recent spree, returning three days straight, while upscale competitor Fashion Island just debuted the first West Coast C. Wonder shop from Chris Burch, ex of Tory.
Seven miles south in North Laguna, clothing boutique Fetneh Blake (1476 South Coast Highway) is where hairstylist Chris McMillan buys gifts for client Jennifer Aniston from the well-curated lines, including Japanese brand If Six Was Nine. To refuel, stop at the Umami Burger (610 North Coast Highway), opened just last month, then hit Ocean Avenue, an emerging shopping street a block from Main Beach that’s home to the contemporary Peter Blake Gallery and artisan furniture store Trove.
For a discreet day at the beach, the secluded stretch on the north side of town, which MacGillivray prizes for its uncommon rock coves, can’t be beat.
Evening: For dinner, book a patio table at Studio (30801 S. Coast Highway), where Craig Strong has been the chef since being lured from his star-making stint at The Langham in Pasadena. When Lively and Stone were in town, they visited the O.C. location of the year-old Katsuya (858 S. Coast Highway). Or head downtown to Three Seventy Common (370 Glenneyre St.), where chef/owner Ryan Adams serves his juicy 10 Napkin Burger with cheddar, egg, bacon and charred onion.
Morning: A few miles south of the Montage is the grand St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort (1 Monarch Beach Resort; rooms from $775), which features a gorgeous Sunday brunch. Billy Crystal and family dined and spent the day there on Father’s Day.
Afternoon: Locals out for cocktails with a view get a seat early to enjoy the sunset at The Rooftop Lounge (1289 South Coast Highway) above the historic La Casa del Camino hotel. The adventurous (or overserved) can adjourn to the area’s last classic dive bar, The Sandpiper (1183 South Coast Highway), referred to by locals as The Dirty Bird. The guy in the board shorts and flip-flops next to you could be a billionaire — or a beach bum. That’s part of the charm of the O.C., though here’s a tip: The locals cringe at that moniker. So “don’t call it that,” as Jason Bateman‘s Arrested Development character Michael Bluth was so fond of saying on the Newport Beach-set show.
O.C.’s LONE LAUTNER: The only area example of the famed architect’s work is on the market for $4.7 million.
Orange County is not known as a hotbed of modern architecture. There are exceptions, though, including an enclave of Eichlers in Orange and Rudolph Schindler‘s Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach. So leave it to midcentury house collector and producer Michael LaFetra (Kevorkian) to find a fine example, fix it and flip it. Or at least try: John Lautner‘s compact 1979 Rawlins House is tucked away on cozy Balboa Island. The two-story, 2,100-square-foot harborfront house has two bedrooms, 2½ baths and a copper roof. Cory Weiss of Partners Trust has the listing: $4.7 million, down from $5.5 million. And here’s a tip for real estate lovers: While it may sound incredibly touristy, a pleasant way to get to know Newport Beach is with a private harbor cruise (a good one is Blue Star Yacht Charter). While a majority of the area’s most expensive houses are hidden in gated communities, those located harborside are relatively open to viewing. — K.F.
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