Located in the Aliso and Wood Canyons, The Ranch at Laguna Beach officially opened in November 2016. // © 2017 The Ranch at Laguna Beach
Feature image (above): The property features Laguna Beach’s only golf course. // © 2017 The Ranch at Laguna Beach
There’s something beautifully wistful about Neil Young’s song, “Harvest Moon.” It makes you want to brush up against your loved one and treasure the evening — particularly if “there’s a full moon risin’.”
The same appears to be true about restaurants and cocktails named after the song. After a few “Harvest Moon” cocktails at The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s newly opened Harvest restaurant and bar, my partner and I were certainly quite starry-eyed. (Perhaps it had something to do with the drink’s lime-and-St.-Germaine-infused ice cube, melting away and bolstering the drink’s alcohol content ever so subtly.)
As Orange County natives who fled to Los Angeles years ago by choice, we were as pleasantly shocked with the bar’s first-rate drinks as we were with the hotel’s existence in Laguna Beach, Calif. Though The Ranch is technically located right off the Pacific Coast Highway, about 20 minutes away from John Wayne International Airport, we had never seen this area before. Located high up on a driveway — where it’s wedged between the Aliso and Wood canyons — The Ranch truly feels like a hidden nature retreat.
The Ranch officially opened in November 2016, but the location has come a long way since homesteaders George and Sarah Thurston set up a one-room wood shack here in 1871 or when the nine-hole Laguna Beach Country Club debuted here in 1950. And it also has come a long way since its last iteration as Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, thanks to about three years of renovations.
“This place is iconic to Laguna,” said Mark Christy, a lifetime Laguna Beach resident and owner/principal of The Ranch. “I played golf here if my dad got a promotion at work. It was special to Laguna then, even though it was falling apart. We had a responsibility to this place, and we assembled the right team. We have surrounded ourselves with better-than-great people.”
Though located fairly close to the beach, The Ranch is home to Laguna Beach’s only golf course — and is first and foremost a golf lover’s property.
The greens of the course intermingle with the browns of the canyon walls, which surround the low-lying property and guarantee only nature views throughout golf games. The nature setting is what also makes destination weddings quite popular here.
Spread out like a condominium community, where one central building is eschewed for several smaller, more private condo units (and even a 1,600-square-foot tree house), guests can truly appreciate the hotel’s 87 acres. But worry not, beach lovers: Reminders of the nearby ocean and Laguna’s hippie-chic disposition can be found in the interiors of the public spaces and 97 guestrooms.
Take my Canyon Room, for example. Even the bedroom chandelier embodies the sort of contemporary beachy aesthetic that the property is going for, with its mashup of hemp and stone materials and a flower petal motif. Other highlights include the mirror, held up by an anchor and outlined by rope; the bathroom’s cement-tile statement wall, which seems to refer back to California’s Spanish mission roots; and the distressed-wood cabinet, which looks like it was lovingly brought in with the tide.
Rooms start at 410 square feet and feature vaulted white ceilings and slated walls, plus a small grassy patio to evoke the feeling of staying in your own personal bungalow. So, no wonder other guests during my stay included a young wedding party and a local couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.
The property strikes the right balance between intimacy and amenity. I could while away the time in my large room or join friends at the Sycamore Spa, fitness center, saline pool or golf course.
And, of course, there’s the food, which includes room service, a snack bar and the lodge-like Harvest restaurant. Harvest has its own bar and a private dining room that features a fireplace and overlooks the canyon and the golf course. Many of the ingredients of its seasonal menu come from the property’s half-acre organic Harvest Garden.
“It’s California comfort cuisine,” said Charles Imbelli, the hotel’s executive chef during the restaurant’s opening night. “I want my dishes to feel like something you’ve have had before — even if you haven’t.”
As a vegetarian, I was a little disappointed at the lack of meat-free options on the menu, particularly because options such as the burger and grilled hanger steak looked thoughtfully prepared, aesthetically appealing and completely homemade. Since I visited during the restaurant’s grand opening, I hope that the menu will continue to evolve and apply the on-site garden’s ingredients for a totally plant-based option.
Fortunately for me, though, the bar’s menu filled in. With its mellow ambiance and selection of handcrafted cocktails, local beers and wine, the bar is the best I’ve been to in Orange County. It may have even caused me to dance in the moonlight — a fact I think would make Neil Young proud.