(page 1 of 3)The three getaway spots profiled this month were all built within the past year. The new resort scenery includes Laguna Beach’s Über-posh Montage, Ritz-Carlton’s upscale addition to Lake Las Vegas and a well-groomed Barona Valley Ranch in San Diego’s East County. Each is distinct, yet all share one unifying theme: a great place to spend a weekend (or longer).
Laguna BeachMontage Resort & Spa is a proximal collection of all that is chic in the high-end travel category
By Thomas K. ArnoldThe man sitting by the Jacuzzi can’t say enough good things about Montage Resort & Spa, this lavish spot that opened in February on 30 acres of prime oceanfront real estate in Laguna Beach. Staring out over the crystal-blue Pacific that seems just inches from the spa’s edge, he compares it to elegant resorts in Pebble Beach and Hawaii.
“Actually, I live only a mile away, just down the coast,” he confides. “But I’ve walked right by it several times, and it just looked so inviting I had to bring the family for the weekend.”
Those words sum up the essence of Montage, a much-ballyhooed resort that joins a Ritz-Carlton and the St. Regis as a high-end troika of Laguna Beach luxury hotels on what locals call California’s Gold Coast. Built at a cost of nearly $200 million, Montage lacks none of the amenities now taken for granted in a new generation of opulent hotel palaces. All 262 rooms command sweeping ocean views. Each is outfitted with a feather-top bed, flat-screen TVs with DVD players, candles surrounding the bathtub, and imported French lotions, soaps and bath salts.
The 20,000-square-foot oceanfront spa offers everything from herbal and hydrotherapy body sessions to yoga, aerobics and tai chi classes. And the resort is home to a trio of fine restaurants, including Studio, whose executive chef, James Boyce—formerly of Loews Coronado Bay Resort—studied under culinary legend Daniel Boulud.
But Montage also has an inherent sense of place that has endeared it to locals as well as jet-setters—hence a steady stream of weekend visitors from San Diego, Los Angeles and even Orange counties. The tiered resort is built in the distinctive Arts and Crafts style, with lots of wood and stone. It doesn’t pop out from the bluffs but rather seems to nestle into the jagged Laguna Beach shoreline as though it belongs there.
All along the shore, there’s a half-mile winding bluff-top trail surrounded by gorgeous gardens of sea lavenders, succulents, day lilies and California poppies. Most of the mature landscape elements—like the stately palms—were removed during construction but later put back into place, says Montage general manager James Bermingham.
A series of staircases and ramps leads down to a spectacular trio of cove beaches, separated by tidepools and rocky outcroppings from Aliso Creek Beach, to the south. The resort’s Olympic-size pool and its sunken Jacuzzi annex seem to flow right into the ocean.
And throughout the resort, there’s art—lots of art, good art, in keeping with Laguna Beach’s origins as an artists’ colony. The collection includes rare works by such famed artists as William Wendt and Edgar Payne.
After checking in on a Friday evening, I head to The Loft, the resort’s midrange restaurant, for an excellent dinner of rib-eye steak and yellowfin ahi tartare. Though the resort was barely open two months at that point, the food and service were impeccable. I kept expecting kinks but couldn’t find any. At Studio, I had one of the finest meals I’ve ever eaten, opting for the chef’s tasting menu to sample superbly prepared roasted loin of lamb, foie gras and pan-seared John Dory‚ each served with an appropriate wine.
When I left Sunday afternoon—after spending considerable time going back and forth from pool to beach—it was almost painful to leave. The ride home took just half an hour, but it truly felt as though I’d been somewhere really far away.
If You Go: Montage Resort & Spa is at 30801 South Coast Highway, at the south end of Laguna Beach in Orange County. Call 949-715-6000 or go to www.montagelagunabeach.com. Guestrooms start at $450 ($540, May 22–October 31) a night for a standard 500-square-foot “ocean horizon” room. Suites start at $950 ($1,100 during the summer season).