Fodor's Associate Editor Maria Teresa Burwell recently spent a week soaking in the vitamin D on the shoreline of California's Orange County. Although it has a reputation for family travel and all things Disney, Maria and her friends hit Orange County for a girls' getaway. In between her strict sunbathing schedule, she managed to shop, dine, and pamper herself like a pro.
Why Orange County?
I'd been hearing about the indulgent resorts, spas, and luxury shopping malls, and it sounded like heaven after a long, bleak east coast winter. With my wedding on the horizon, the time was right for a girlfriend getaway.
What were some of the best places you ate?
Like the other ladies in my company, I came to Orange County to indulge. My personal mantra was No Dessert Left Behind. Our first night we hit Splashes, the seaside restaurant in the Surf & Sand Resort, with tables extending right over the beach. We were so close to the ocean that the roar of the waves was deafening, forcing us to shout through the meal, but the panoramic view of rolling waves and surfer eye candy was deemed a fair trade off. Lobster gnocchi and several glasses of Perrier-Jouet made the night complete.
While Splashes was the closest I came to the water without getting my tankini wet, that classic sunset-on-the-beach view was easy to come by and remained a staple of our trip: Studio (at the Montage), The Californian (at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach), and the Balboa Bay Club and Resort all delivered the goods when it came to fine dining topped off with a fine view. Of course, dining like this can get pricey. Thankfully, Orange County also has several places where you can pick up fixings for an inexpensive picnic. Sapphire Laguna and Pacific Whey Cafe & Baking Company are two great spots for delicious supplies. If you've got the food and the fantastic view, who needs the flatware?
What was the shopping scene like?
The nice thing about Orange County is that it takes shopping very seriously. The women here are hardcore in their boutique crawling stamina. I went to Fashion Island first; their stores are joined together by open courtyards, which is totally novel for a New Yorker like me. I was happy to abuse my credit card at Kate Spade while getting a little color on my shoulders. But we couldn't finish our trip without paying a visit to the show-stopping mega-mall South Coast Plaza. While it's not al fresco like Fashion Island, the selection of luxury labels brings its own sunshine. All the ladies could appreciate the bling on display at Tiffany's and the Rolex store. However, most of us stuck to the smaller scale delights at Jo Malone, the British perfumer renowned for her rich scents. We spent a good hour spritzing fragrances like wild fig and cassis.
The two malls here really dominate the shopping scene, but most of the stores inside remain the same as the ones you'd find in malls back home, which is why we did a detour to Trovata in Newport Beach. Their line is very Coco-Chanel-goes-surfing—AKA laid back, California style with a Parisian twist. It was pure Orange County, and we loved it.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Being a spa junkie, I have to admit that visiting St. Regis's Spa Gaucin was the height of my trip. My treatment, the Customized Kate facial, was full of little bonuses like cranial massage and aromatherapy. Post-treatment, the spa's Jacuzzi was a relaxing spot to dish about our treatments and rave about each other's skin.
Because Orange County is chock-a-block with resorts, you can't chuck a seashell without hitting a day spa. All those terrific choices make it hard to pick one. My advice is to look for a spa that embraces the focus of your trip. Spa Gaucin offers a girls' getaway package called Women Who Wine, so I knew they'd be the right choice for us. But if I were planning a romantic trip, I'd look for a spa with couples massage, co-ed public spaces, and lots of candlelight. Don't be afraid to ask for a tour of the facilities before you book, too.
What advice do you have for someone going to Orange County?
It's so easy to be lured into one resort and have all your needs met, but resist this. The beauty of Orange County is exploring the coastline. Hop around from place to place sampling dinner in one spot and sunset cocktails in another. Each beach town has its own personality and attractions to offer. A good rundown of several different venues is featured on www.theoceanfrontca.com. Check out the OC Register's entertainment section (www.ocregister.com/entertainment) for listings of restaurants, spas, and shops. And of course Fodor's Orange County coverage is a great place to educate yourself about the different neighborhoods, which is a smart planning strategy. When one lady wants to bike on the boardwalk and another wants to sip a mojito, you can hit a beach that offers both.
--Maria Teresa Burwell
Photo Credit: the OCeanfront