Stylist’s Kitty McGee embraces the definition of laid-back luxury in Orange County, California
If I had to sum up Newport Beach in one word it would be ‘endorphins’. Having landed at LAX an hour ago, we’re already driving down the picture-perfect coastal highway, Route 101, to Newport Beach. Sitting on the southern California coast between popular hippy surf-beach town Huntington Beach and sophisticated art hot-spot Laguna Beach, the Newport coastline stretches for more than 40 miles and is an instant mood-lifter. I know, I know, everyone loves the sea, but the scale and natural beauty of this golden stretch of coast, not to mention the panoramic views (thanks to the city’s cap on building heights you can see up to Long Beach on a clear day), will take your breath away.
Tourism in Newport has been up since everyone’s favourite American teen TV series The OC came into our lives in the early Noughties. But aside from the glamorous lives of the residents (it came as no surprise to hear that Newport Beach is one of the biggest consumers of champagne per capita in the US), the laid-back atmosphere, great shopping, and fresh and tasty food and drink, it’s the incredible beauty of the area that really takes some beating. Unlike LA, Newport Beach doesn’t ram a plant-based, yoga-loving lifestyle down your throat, but it will make you want to be outdoors.
My favourite view of the Newport coastline is from Pelican Hill; the five star, Italian-inspired, 500-acre resort that opened in 2008 (pelicanhill.com; rooms from £409 per night). Every room has its own cosy fire and terrace with many looking out directly at the ocean, and the immaculate, landscaped grounds that house 700 olive trees, as well as Canary palm trees and Aleppo pines (that smell), are pretty special too. But it’s the view from the restaurant to the Coliseum Pool (one of the largest circular pools in the world), over the two golf courses, out to the ocean that doesn’t get old. It’s the perfect place to sit with a frosé (frozen rosé blended with tequila and strawberries). This is where people really live their best life.
The city is about to experience another spike in tourism as it opens Lido House, the first new hotel on the Newport peninsula for two decades (lidohousehotel.com; rooms from £300 a night) and it’s a gem. Three blocks from the beach and two from the harbour, it’s built on the plot of the old Newport City Hall. Unlike the luxurious Pelican Hill, Lido House is the ultimate beach-house retreat – inspired by Cape Cod and Nantucket architecture, it’s rustic and relaxed. It’s also home to the only rooftop bar in Newport; complete with strings of lights, fire pits and stunning sunsets.
Lido House is a short walk from Lido Marina Village, a charming collection of boutiques and restaurants, including Lido Village Books – a 17-year-old independent book shop with a nautical-fiction section, as well as a set of books on surviving the Trump administration. There’s also Le Labo fragrances, Sugar Paper stationery, Warby Parker eyewear and department store Elise Walker, which has a wonderfully curated edit of stylish beachwear.
Local companies run boat tours of the harbour – there’s a 5mph limit, which is the perfect speed for nosing at the waterside properties (no houses on the water sell for less than £3.5million and each has a jetty leading down to the residents’ private boats). The area is home to tech tycoons, financiers and celebrities, and every house is as fascinating as the next.
The best place for breakfast in Newport is the Beachcomber Café (thebeachcombercafe.com), where you eat on the beach at Crystal Cove State Park. Coffee is served in mugs as big as your head, while you choose between breakfast pizza (topped with scrambled eggs, tomato sauce, mascarpone and rocket), crab cake benedict and lemon ricotta pancakes. Neighbouring beach houses are available for rent at reasonable prices but they get booked-up well in advance.
For retail therapy head to the Fashion Island shopping centre for US favourites including Vince, Joie, Lululemon and Neiman Marcus at much lower prices than you would see here. Upscale bar and restaurant Fig & Olive (figandolive.com) is perfect for lunch, with oysters and crostini with prosciutto and ricotta or burrata and pesto. Or if you shop until dinner, try the paella with prawns, calamari and scallops. For a more casual dinner, dimly lit Pizzeria Mozza is an unbeatable choice (pizzeriamozza.com), the fungi misti pizza is one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten. For dessert, the brown butter and hazelnut praline gelati is a must.
And where better to finish the night than back at Lido House’s rooftop bar? Nothing quite triggers those endorphins like an al fresco cocktail as the sun sets over the Pacific.
Aer Lingus flies to Los Angeles from 15 UK cities. Travel via Aer Lingus’ Dublin gateway and pre-clear US immigration before you board your transatlantic flight. UK to LA via Dublin from £259 each-way when booked as a return trip. Business class fares from £899 each-way; aerlingus.com
Images: Provided by Lido House and Pelican Hill