California Dreaming

Normally, travel abroad is the lure for our family so we felt excited to read that many countries were opening to American tourists this summer. However, pandemic uncertainties and Covid protocols to enter/exit foreign borders left us feeling more at ease to explore vacation destinations right here in the good ol’ USA. We chose to have our family getaway in Newport Beach, California. What a treasure! Open the Map! Find the west coast of the United States and locate a small city south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego on the Pacific Ocean. There you will find lovely Newport Beach and discover what California Dreams are made of: surfers at Crystal Cove Beach, the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, tall palms and a mix of beach cottages and jaw-dropping mansions. The activities seemed as endless as the ocean views.

Our family flew into convenient John Wayne Airport in nearby Santa Ana. After picking up the rental car we headed a short distance to the beautiful Pelican Hill Resort perched in the bluffs overlooking the ocean and Pacific Coast Highway. The atmosphere was elegant Italian. Mature olive trees lined the driveways with a mix of palms and bougainvillea. There are no typical hotel rooms; guests lodge in spacious, well-appointed bungalows that line the terraced hillside, so most rooms offer clear ocean views. The Resort boasts a spa, a huge circular pool surrounded by two levels of cabanas and a restaurant called The Coliseum. There are 2 Tom Fazio designed golf courses, the North Ocean, and South Ocean courses. There are three on-site restaurants (one had yet to reopen post-covid) and all offer exquisite sunset views at dinner time. Pelican Hill is not directly on the ocean, but a shuttle takes guests back and forth all day to Crystal Cove Beach, a six mile long stretch of pristine beach. The resort will provide you with towels, umbrellas, chairs and even a packed picnic lunch for the perfect beach day. Or you can choose to dine at Beachcomber Café or the 1940’s style Shake Shack with great burgers, old fashioned Cherry Coke and Shakes. You will see the surfers hanging ten and enjoy that California experience. Also, on the beach is a 1930’s Seaside Colony made up of original bungalows frequented in the past by the old Hollywood stars that now house art exhibits and gift shops. If the weather is clear, you can see Catalina Island off in the distance.

Whale watching is popular year ‘round and we booked an early morning excursion from Dana Point Harbor with Captain Dave’s. We never saw whales but there was no disappointment since we traveled with dozens of Rossis and Bottlenose Dolphins. It was thrilling to see them leap out of the water. We also saw fat and happy sea lions lounging on the buoys and boat docks.

One day our family hired a private guide from La Vida Laguna to take us out sea kayaking. We departed from Fisherman’s Cove in Laguna Beach in two tandem kayaks. It is chilly out on the water despite being late July. The local temps run from an average of 73 in July to 63 in January. We saw sea lions, pelicans and giant sea kelp that sustains the varied protected sea life in the area. The ocean here brings many scuba divers because the kelp provides stability for the underwater ecosystem so there is much to see. We could have gone sport fishing, paddle boarding or surfing but our time did not allow for additional activities.

If you enjoy shopping there is the famous Fashion Island outdoor mall and the plentiful boutiques in the surrounding villages of Emerald Bay, Corona del Mar, and tiny Balboa Island. Balboa Island reminded me of a small seaside village in New England where my grandparents lived outside of Boston. Lots of quaint shops, families strolling and eating frozen bananas, little beach houses. But don’t let the charm fool you- one cottage for sale was listed at 3.3 million dollars and it was not even on the water!

Restaurants are plentiful and we happily noted there was not a single McDonalds anywhere.  If you prefer to venture out of Pelican Hill resort for dinner you can enjoy many recommendations for fine dining. We had sushi and authentic Japanese fare at Bluefin and tender prime rib at Five Crowns which had the look and feel of an English pub. Locals also recommended Mama D’s Italian, Javier’s and Mastro’s.

Newport Beach has provided the backdrop for television shows such as The OC and movies like Jerry McGuire. Many famous people live in Newport Beach like Chuck Norris, Nicholas Cage, Dennis Rodman, and Kelly McGillis.

Newport Beach provided the perfect summer travel destination for our family to enjoy cool weather, sea activities, great food and all the good things California is famous for. Despite not going abroad, we were not disappointed after such a luxurious and entertaining stay! So, Open the Map! Explore new possibilities in beautiful Newport Beach that will leave you dreaming of California.