By J.P. Hoornstra and Paula Conway/Conway Confidential
Orange County is a lot of things to a lot of people. “Real Housewives,” Disneyland, beaches, freeways, suburbs and corporate headquarters. The “real” O.C. is all of the above.
The third-most populous California county has a lot going for it, and 3 million people spread over an area a bit smaller than Rhode Island. While the O.C. sits in the shadow of Los Angeles, just north, several days are required to get the complete experience.
Begin your journey on Orange County’s famous beaches. Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are two breathtaking oceanfront settings.
Get to know the waterways and scenery of Newport Beach by renting a boat with the Duffy Electric Boat Company (2001 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach). You’re the captain in this easy-to-navigate boat, or you can hire a tour guide like Carolyn Clark with Newportatyourfeet.com. She’ll transport you to the early Hollywood days of Newport Beach with expert commentary and visits to the former and current homes of Shirley Temple, Nicolas Cage and James Cagney. You can pack a lunch on the boat or tie up at one of the waterside restaurants for a bite. On our journey with Carolyn, we also visited Balboa Island, a small community off the coast.
Looking to upgrade your sailing experience? Book a dinner cruise on Wild Goose, a converted minesweeper once owned by John Wayne.
The Wild Goose is owned by Hornblower Cruises & Events (3101 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach; hornblower.com). You and up to 126 friends can rent the boat for events or special occasions. (Ask your captain to point out the filming location of the “Gilligan’s Island” intro near the dock.) The Wild Goose is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Meanwhile on land, Fashion Island (401 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach; shopfashionisland.com) bills itself as Orange County’s premier coastal shopping destination. While that might sound a bit hackneyed, this indoor/outdoor mall is anything but if you love to shop while breathing in the ocean air. There’s even a handful of West Coast retailers exclusive to Fashion Island.
While there, step into Skin Laundry for a signature laser and light treatment, which deep cleans the skin, evens out skin tone, and leaves you looking instantly refreshed. Grab lunch at Cucina Enoteca, starting with an appetizer of stuffed squash blossoms, followed by your pick of personal pizzas. If you’re planning a night out, Blushington will do your makeup in 20 minutes for $20.
Orange County has its hot night spots, but its pulse beats loudest by day. The beach towns in particular are havens for surfers, sunbathers and fitness junkies. Visit Pedego Electric Bikes (2515 East Coast Hwy., in the Corona Del Mar ‘hood of Newport Beach) to book a two-and-a-half hour guided ride up the coast. A self-guided, full-day rental might be better if you’d like to plan your own route and do it at your pace. Tandem bike rentals are available, too. Check out the stunning sightlines at Corona Del Mar State Beach and Crystal Cove State Park, as well as Newport Beach’s paved roads.
The ocean is within reach at The St. Regis Monarch Beach (stregismb.com) in Dana Point. The property’s iconic golf course is a draw for those who want to perfect their swing with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Don’t miss the nightly sabrage — a tradition that hails from the St. Regis in New York City, where the butler team has been celebrating the transition from day to evening by opening a champagne bottle with a saber since 1904. The butlers emerge at sunset to the lobby lounge terrace, where a poem is read and the champagne is sabered (the cork is taken off with the swift swish of a large saber). A guest will receive that complimentary bottle of champagne.
Treat yourself to a facial or massage at The Montage Laguna Beach’s Spa Montage (montagehotels.com). The highlight: the legendary Kim Vo salon for those seeking the ultimate California blonde ‘do. The deluxe caviar facial starts at $235 for 60 minutes. The spa also features an outdoor lap pool and mind/body movement studio.
To get your blood pumping with a more indigenous activity, visit the Pirate Coast Paddle Company (1131 Back Bay Dr., Newport Beach) for a 75-minute stand-up paddleboarding lesson.
Orange County is famous for the restaurants it doesn’t keep to itself. Carl’s Jr., BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, and Mimi’s Cafe are just three of the national chains that began here. Those are still everywhere, and finding an original dining experience can be a hunt. One of the best, ironically, sits in a strip mall.
Behind its unassuming storefront, Provenance (2531 Eastbluff Dr., Newport Beach) features an organic raised-bed garden from which chefs pluck ingredients before your eyes. The menu’s pairings — short ribs with cauliflower parsnip, pork chop with polenta — bring out the best the garden has to offer.
As the garden attests, it’s amazing what a little sunshine can do. Or a lot, in the case of Orange County’s beaches. By land or by sea, the area offers every adventure under the sun.
If you go…
Stay: Rates at the Fairmont Newport Beach begin at $169. fairmont.com/newport-beach
Eat: – Seafood shines at The Cannery Newport Beach. cannerynewport.com
– Fig and Olive. figandolive.com
– Don’t miss the wine at The Dock, a delightful hole in the wall on a dock. dineatthedock.com
Do : – Newport at Your Feet offers limousine tours of Orange County’s famous landmarks, boutiques and natural beauty. newportatyourfeet.com
– Defy Gravity Pilates and Cycling Studio offers high-intensity cardio cycling and sculpting in one class. defygravitystudio.com
Stay: Rooms at the Montage Laguna Beach begin at $595. montagehotels.com/lagunabeach
Do: Spa Montage offers the Deluxe Caviar Facial at $250 for 60 minutes or $340 for 90 minutes. 949-715-6010.
Stay: Rooms at the St. Regis Monarch Beach begin at $225. 1 Monarch Beach Resort North. stregismb.com
Eat: Stonehill Tavern serves dinner daily. stregismb.com/stonehill-tavern