Travel: Orange County, More Than Just Golf

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It's the closest thing California has to a Riviera.

Orange County is located along the famed PCH Highway defined by Newport Beach to the north and Dana Point to the south. With TV series like Bravo's Real Housewives of Orange County and MTV's Laguna Beach defining its reality, it's not difficult to see why the OC is home to some of America's grandest and most expensive resorts.

It's newest is The Resort at Pelican Hill, a five-star resort property along a world-class, 36-hole, Tom Fazio-designed golf course that is luring destination golfers to a dramatic bluff above Crystal Cove along the Newport Coast.

Freestanding villa room at the Pelican Hill Resort.

How to Get There

Orange County is accessed via daily nonstop flights to John Wayne Airport from most major U.S. gateways. Visitors arrive to one of Southern California's chicest airports, contained within a freshly refurbished terminal with a voluminous ceiling supported by walls of glass that brings aviation back to its glamorous past. The airport is limited to smaller plane categories like 757s and A319s, so don't expect to find flatbed service unless you're flying in on your own G5. Once you arrive, it's a 15-minute drive to the resort, located just a few minutes from the sea and Newport's glitzy outdoor mall known as Fashion Island.

First Impressions

A speedy 60-mph thoroughfare leads to the entrance of Pelican Hill, a short series of driveways and signs hidden under mature shade trees that could just as easily lead to a prized Tuscan estate if not for the head-on ocean views and surrounding community of 5,000-plus square-foot custom homes. The property is owned by the Irvine Co., a real estate management company that also owns the nearby Island Hotel and Resort, formerly the Four Seasons Newport Beach. Modeled after the villages of the Italian countryside and work of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, Pelican Hill Resort maintains a native California character despite its Italian influences.

What to Expect

Pelican Hill is a world-class golf club that would be a destination even without the new five-star resort. Until five years ago, the area was a desolate mountain of wild grasslands and game reserves above a picturesque stretch of sand known as Crystal Cove. Now the area is one of the priciest residential developments in Orange Country with a high-end strip center featuring William Sonoma and Banana Republic as well as ever-expanding Fashion Island with its Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales located 15 minutes north. The hotel is removed from the main road with all structures built to maximize ocean and golf-course views and to minimize interaction with the encroaching urbanization.

 

A stunning golf-course view at Pelican Hill Resort.

Finding Your Room

The resort is home to 204 bungalows and 128 villas offering fully outfitted vacation getaways with attached parking spaces and private entrances. Guest rooms open to gleaming Travertine floors under 16-foot rustic wood ceilings that frame soaring views. Bungalows feature integrated living and sleeping areas with granite wet bars, 50-inch plasma TVs and limestone fireplaces. Furnished terraces offer side-by-side loungers and small seating areas for morning coffee. Larger villas are available with a two-, three- or four-bedroom layout complete with fully equipped stainless-steel kitchens, great room with formal dining room and on-call butler service. Bathrooms are lined in marble with muted beige walls, double-sink vanities and deep soaking tubs and separate rain showers lined in mosaic tiles.

 

 

Living area of a four-bedroom villa at Pelican Hill Resort.

 

Pool and Spa

At the center of the resort is the Coliseum Pool, touted as the largest circular pool anywhere. It offers a 360-degree design and terrace views of the Pacific. Around the tiered decks of the pool are several freestanding cabanas equipped with furnished lounges, LCD TVs and mini bars stocked with Mumm or your Champagne of choice. Those that need even more pampering eventually discover The Spa at Pelican Hill. It's a world-class health and fitness facility 20% larger than the competition with 22 treatment rooms offering a menu of massages, facials and scrubs. Inspired by the Baths at Carcalla, the spa is equipped with Roman soaking pools, herbal steam rooms and state-of-the-art fitness center.

The Golf Course

This isn't your usual "build-me-a-super-course" golf property at the latest five-star resort. Two golf courses known as the "North" and "South" have both been rated in the nation's Top 100 by Golf magazine. The North course is known for its scenic ocean views and grand finale that will have Torrey Pines regulars pining for more. The South is the more architectural of the two, with equally heralded 18th hole and challenging greens that few will succeed in completing with less than two balls. The course is navigated on specially equipped golf carts with cushy high-back seats that bring a new level of luxury to cart snobs.

Restaurants and Lounge

The hotel is home to three eateries, including Pelican Grill, which debuted this year, with its serine dining room framed by an open kitchen and panoramic views of the Pacific. An additional outdoor dining room is ideal during warmer months for enjoying a seasonal menu of sustainable Italian-inspired cuisine by chef Thomas Ryan, who creates an array of innovative seafood and meat dishes. An adjacent bar offers all-day entertainment with two 9-foot-by-6-foot plasma TVs for watching daily golf and sports events. Additionally, two small cafes, Andrea and the outdoor Coliseum Cafe, offer an array of casual all-day dining options.

What's the Real Deal?

While the crowd at Pelican Hill is yet to be defined, we're hoping the revered golf club will bring in a fresh-faced crew of locals all but nonexistent at many nearby resorts. For those looking to take a closer peek, Pelican Hill Resort debuts on Nov. 26 with room rates starting at $695 a night.

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