Detours - Escape to the Coast

Orange County’s timelessly chic seaside towns are close and first-class


When another day by the pool suddenly feels small-minded, daydreams turn toward afternoons at the ocean’s edge. The crash of rolling surf, the salted air of a wide, sea-swept view and sunset walks that become moonlit strolls feel as dire a need as air conditioning in July. It’s time to revisit the Orange County coast.

What’s classic remains so, and what’s new is plenty hot — from stand-up paddle boarding and green-certified restaurants to an array of shopping venues, wine tasting rooms, and arts events. As a “tourist,” you can cut to the good stuff. More than 40 miles of Pacific Ocean real estate line this stretch of coast, dotted with beaches, palatial resorts, boutique hotels, golf courses, water-view restaurants, and shopping promenades a go-go.

In the north, casual Huntington Beach boasts some of the most consistent surf breaks in the country. Lively events erupt on the beach, and a surf museum shows off Dick Dale’s 1954 California electric guitar.

Down south, San Juan Capistrano offers a 200-year-old mission and The Old Barn Antiques Mall set right on the main street.

In between, Newport Beach calls to landlocked souls with an ocean, a bay, and a glorious harbor. Few enclaves offer more ways to get on the water in style than the home of the world’s largest small-yacht harbor. For an opulent adventure, charter a private vessel — complete with wide sundeck, polished wood details, and a friendly captain at the helm. Electra Cruises presents a fleet of show-stopping private yachts. Board a Hornblower Cruise for sunset cocktails, dinner and dancing, or a champagne brunch. Or navigate the harbor waters on your own in a canopied electric ride from Duffy Boat Rentals. Tie up at a harbor-side restaurant for a “Dock & Dine” seafood lunch.

For even more, ferry to car-free Catalina Island, set out on a whale-watching excursion, or skip the boats and find a comfortable place to spread out on the beach. Get wet with a stand-up paddle boarding or surfing lesson from a seasoned pro.

Shopping, spas, dining, and good wine are hallmarks of a proper O.C. weekend. The shopping goddesses of Southern California style, Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza, are the obvious stops. But also visit the designer-label resale shops along Pacific Coast Highway in Corona del Mar and the Americana main street of boutiques and galleries on Balboa Island for more hidden-gem deals.

After a massage at the hotel spa, reserve your dinner table with an ocean view. For pleasure by the glass, check out the tasting bars at Wine Lab in Newport Beach or ENO at The Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel.

Golfers will want to pack their best clubs. Condé Nast Traveler readers named The Resort at Pelican Hill the No. 1 California golf resort. Carved into the canyons by Tom Fazio, the South and North courses deliver a spectacular Pacific backdrop.

The O.C. is rich in arts and culture, too. Jazz festivals, classic car shows, and an international film festival highlight a full calendar of entertainment. Escape sweltering summer temps at the nine-week Sawdust Art Festival and Pageant of the Masters, both in Laguna Beach. Catch a top performance on tour at Segerstrom Center for the Arts or take in an exhibition of works by California artists at Orange County Museum of Art.

Take your dog on this trip. Dog-friendly hotels, sidewalk cafés, and open-air shop-ping mean a weekend where everyone can be part of the fun.


The Resort at Pelican Hill
22701 Pelican Hill Road South,
Newport Beach,

The Island Hotel
690 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach,

The Balboa Bay Club
1221 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach,

The Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa
900 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach,


21 Oceanfront
2100 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach,

The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove
15 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast,

Fashion Island
Canaletto Ristorante Veneto,
Rustica Califiornia Wine Bistro,
Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine,


Corona Del Mar Plaza
800-984 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach
Includes Antonia, Brighton, and Sprinkles Cupcakes

Crystal Cove Promenade
7845-8085 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach
Includes Gap, Banana Republic, and Williams-Sonoma

Fashion Island
401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach,
More than 200 specialty boutiques, world-class department stores, and the first freestanding California boutique of Elie Tahari (1-949-258-7933)

Features Cole Haan, Prada, Gravati, and more

South Coast Plaza
3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa,
280 department stores and boutiques, award-winning restaurants, and performing arts venues

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Reader Comments:
Jun 1, 2011 03:03 pm
 Posted by  SurfsUp

Newport/Balboa is o.k. if you like that sort of thing. Owned a house there briefly; no urge to go back. I'd rather see where I'm going than have my nose in the air.

How about more information on Laguna Beach (lots more than just the Festival) and Huntington (more than just surfing)? Both are much friendlier than Newport/Balboa.

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