Tuesday, May 1, 2012


 SoCal So Cool: 50 Miles of Pure Pleasure 


                                                 Part four of a series

On the last leg of our 50-mile Southern California (SoCal) journey, we opted for three days of utter indulgence.  Exhaustion was setting in from all we had seen and done in the last ten days.  Therefore, we decided, it was time for a truly hedonistic, sybaritic vacation in an idyllic sanctuary on the California Riviera.

With that being said, we began our “operation recovery” with an upgrade to the Captain’s Lounge on the Catalina Express vessel that was to take us from Catalina Island to Dana Point.  This private lounge, available on only four of the fleet’s boats, is located on the top deck directly behind the Captain.  Bloody Mary’s, Captain Tony, and a doting stewardess were at our service as we pre-boarded and lounged on leather banquettes in what seemed like our own private catamaran. 

Upon disembarking in Dana Point, we had time to stroll the quaint harbor while awaiting the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel’s car that would drive us to the hotel, a very few minutes away.   Dana Point Harbor, dedicated on July 31, 1971, is one of the world’s most beautiful man-made harbors.  It is also the “Whale Watching Capital of the West.”   Dana Point has a surfing history to rival anywhere outside Hawaii.  Hobie Alter, of Hobie Cat fame, opened the very first retail surf shop in Dana Point in 1954.  

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Perched atop a 150-foot bluff with panoramic white-water views of the Pacific Ocean and two-miles of sandy beach, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is consistently ranked among the finest resorts in the world.

Upon arriving at the hotel, we were ushered into our spacious room with views of the Pacific Ocean dashing toward the shore below. Although it was morning, we could hardly wait for sunset time to arrive.  The glowing sun, sinking into the Pacific horizon is an unforgettable sight.

Whatever your taste buds crave, the Ritz Carlton will assuage your desires.  Breakfast at the Market Place offers a wide variety of coffee, espresso, sweet treats and more.  ENO is a wine, cheese, and chocolate sensation where guests can indulge in three of the world’ greatest pleasures.

In 2010, RAYA, a restaurant concept by acclaimed chef Richard Sandoval opened in the Ritz Carlton.  It showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, and chef Richard Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors.  

Dinner got off to a great start with a Mojito Cuzco and an Orange Ginger cocktail.  Latin inspired entrees included Chile Ancho-Pistachio Crusted Tuna, Chipotle-Miso Glazed Black Cod, and Achiote Barbecued Salmon.  Dulche de Leche Pudding or Lemongrass Panna Cotta can top off the dinner.  A dramatic Brad Oldham stainless steel forest sculpture backdrops the restaurant’s ocean views.

Nearby Laguna Beach is a magical seaside village with a history that dates back more than 2000 years.  Laguna’s reputation as an artist’ colony began with the arrival of Norman St. Claire in 1903.  St. Claire arrived by train and stagecoach from San Francisco to capture Laguna’s dramatic surf, sand, and picturesque hillsides.  After eyeing his work, many of his artist friends made an exodus to Laguna Beach and it has been an artistic haven ever since.

In 1932, The Festival of Arts staged its first show.  Today, ninety minutes of “living pictures” are presented at the Festival’s Pageant of the Masters where real people pose to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces of art.  It has been voted one of the top three festivals in the United States.

The Sawdust Art Festival, located in a beautiful eucalyptus grove, features artwork created only in Laguna Beach.  The nearby Art-A-Fair features fine art by international, national, and local artists.

Wyland, the world-famous marine artist, posted his first Whaling Wall on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.  Mrs. John Wayne dedicated the mural on July 9, 1981.  It was repainted in 1986 and then tiled in 1996.

Laguna Art Museum, the oldest museum in California, is located about 300-feet from the ocean on Cliff Drive.  It is one of the most spectacular and impressive locations of any museum in the world. 

The dining options in Laguna Beach are as diverse as the artist community itself.  Dining patrons can travel the culinary globe in a matter of a few blocks. Our fabulous dinner experiences took us to Tabu where we were immersed in a South Pacific ambiance.  The following night, our dinner at Mozambique was as if we had flown off to South Africa.  Our final dinner at Raya was divine food with a Latin American twist.  Lunches at Watermarc and Sundried Tomato were pure California.  Be sure to try the latter’s namesake soup, spiked with rich Gorgonzola cheese.  

Togetherness took on new meaning for my husband and myself as we opted for the “Couples Ritual” in the Aquaterra Spa at the Surf and Sand Resort.  For 110 minutes we nurtured our bodies and souls in unison.  Wrapped up like tortillas, with seaweed, blankets and who knows what else, we lay side by side on heated massage tables as Sasha and Lauren tended to our corporal needs.  

Continuing with the healing elements of the ocean, we relaxed in a special seaweed bubble bath for two.   We giggled like teenagers, plotting how we would ever lift ourselves out of that deep, bubble-filled bathtub.  We contemplated calling the fire department or the possibility of renting a crane.  

Well, we made it out of the bathtub…don’t ask how…and it was back to the massage tables. For our side-by-side finale, we each received an Aquaterra Signature Massage, combining time-honored Swedish techniques with our individual therapist’s personal expression of tension reduction and relaxation.  

Laguna Beach is one of those destinations that top my “Must-Go-Back List”.  The natural beauty of this 8-mile stretch of picturesque coastal village, plus all it has to offer, is already calling me to return.  And, I will!

JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 38 national Travel Writer Awards  and an International Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.

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