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My visit to Montage Laguna Beach, a sprawling luxury hotel perched high above a cliff in Orange County, Calif., began with what I can only call a reverent moment of silence — the natural reaction after walking through the hotel’s vast lobby. There, I stood before floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean and the distant horizon.
Until 2003, that stunning view was private — it belonged to the residents of Treasure Island Trailer Park. In 2003, the 30-acre property was sold, and the trailers were replaced by the elegant craftsman-style buildings of Montage Laguna Beach.
In addition to 248 guestrooms and suites, Montage offers three swimming pools, including the central Mosaic pool. There are also three restaurants on property — considered to be among the best in Orange County.
Five of the suites, which range in size from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet, were newly renovated in 2015. With multiple bedrooms, these are ideal for families and other groups. Montage also contains numerous conference rooms and wedding venues, plus a 20,000-square-foot oceanside spa. Winding ramps and stairs lead down to Treasure Island Beach below the resort, now a protected marine preserve.
The beach is said to be one of the most pristine on the Southern California coast, due to the fact that, until recently, the beach and its extensive tide pools were not readily accessible by the public, only by the trailer park residents. As a result, the tide pools were not ravaged during the last part of the 20th century by collectors gathering starfish, shells, sea urchins and other sea life — unlike most tide pools elsewhere. Today, docents staffed by Montage oversee the reserve on a daily basis and provide information to visitors.
But the beach isn’t the only place with a view. Montage was designed to offer splendid vistas from all over the property. My double queen room, for example, opened onto its own terrace and had a view similar to the majestic one seen from the lobby. And some of the suites are essentially oceanfront homes, such as the 3,000-square-foot Villa Du Couchant, which comes equipped with its own large kitchen.
As for decor, expect ivory and cream walls, linens and upholstery, with colored accents and dark wood furnishings. The marble bathrooms are generous in size and come fully equipped with amenities.
The spa, like the rest of Montage, takes full advantage of the setting and its views. It’s open to both resident and nonresident guests, as are the resort’s bars and restaurants. Upon arrival for a pedicure, I checked in at the spa desk and was escorted to a spacious, glassed-in room. Once seated, I was offered a glass of champagne, which I sipped as I basked in the view of the ever-changing ocean.
However, it turned out that the best was yet to come. Dining at Studio just before sunset is an exceptional experience, and it is easy to see why it a destination restaurant. The stand-alone building, which houses both the restaurant and its dark wood-paneled bar, is situated at the farthest edge of the resort, just above the ocean.
The menu — developed and overseen by executive chef Craig Strong — is a showcase for seasonal food. Most of it is local, but sometimes it features an exotic twist, such as black summer truffles from Western Australia on request. Other whimsical turns include hamachi crudo with yuzu mayonnaise, green apple ginger broth and fresh wasabi; sauteed sea bass with pickled kumquat and red onion bone marrow sauce; and the Guanaja Chocolate Sphere, which oozes with salted caramel and is surrounded by Guinness beer foam. Do consider opting for the wine pairings from beverage manager and sommelier Troy Smith. The restaurant has more than 2,500 bottles, and Smith’s knowledge of lesser-known and emerging wines from around the world is far-reaching.
Whether you opt for a stay at Montage Laguna Beach or simply visit one of its restaurants, its spa or its tide pools, you’ll be sure to have discovered at least one of Southern California’s special places.