Heavenly indulgence reigns at Montage Laguna Beach

The sparkling crescent beach below the bluffs on a brilliant day at Montage Laguna Beach. Photo by: Alison Reynolds

LAGUNA BEACH, CALIF., February 10, 2014 – Montage Laguna Beach is a fully immersive resort experience located on the bluffs of some of the most spectacular scenery in Southern California. Open since 2003, its 248 guestrooms sit on 30 acres of sculpted grounds overlooking a sensational wide white sand beach and two stunning hidden coves tucked away along the emerald Pacific Ocean. Whether relaxing in its Craftsman bungalow styled rooms and suites, luxuriating in the magnificent spa, or enjoying a resplendent meal at Studio restaurant, Montage Laguna Beach is the very definition of heavenly indulgence.

From the moment of arrival through every step of the Montage experience there is complete awareness of the key element of constant, conscientious, impeccable service, from all parties. From doormen to busboys, from maids to spa attendants, at every turn, in restaurants or by the pool, the sincerity and thoroughness of the staff was beyond impressive on a royal scale without ever being obsequious or suffocating. Combine that with impeccable dining, beautiful rooms and an awe inspiring location, and it is easy to imagine never leaving the resort during the entire stay, or needing to.

Montage is built on the grounds of what used to be the Treasure Island trailer park, in the historic town of Laguna Beach, long favored as an artist’s haven. For decades Alice Morris had a single wide Silverstream trailer here whose lawn spread 30 feet to the edge of the precipice overlooking the beach below. Her granddaughter, photographer Alison Reynolds, spent a great deal of time here as a child growing up. It is particularly touching for Alison to stand where she used to play, in this beautiful resort that has been built in its place, and know she will always be able to return to this very spot to enjoy it again and again.

The architectural structure of the hotel itself is built in the Craftsman cottage style so elemental to the heritage of Laguna Beach, stretching across the property in a wide arch. Each room at Montage faces the ocean, with most having a view of the signature pool at the center. The 60 one bedroom corner suites are impressively luxurious, with wrap around balconies and Arts & Crafts style furnishings.  37 distinctive bungalows now occupy the area where Alice’s trailer once stood, overlooking the pathway along the bluffs and the thundering ocean below.

Strolling the grounds of the resort along the cliffs in the late afternoon sun is a visual wonderland. Take the time to walk the beach at dawn, and wander through the natural tunnel between the glistening sand and the hidden coves just over the rocks and around the corner. Plunge into the emerald water off the beach of the first cove, or climb out onto the rocky precipice that punctuates the end of the property, a literal adventure in paradise come to life.

Spa Montage is one of the most impressive in-house resort spas in memory, with an outdoor lap pool overlooking the ocean, a beauty room for manicures and pedicures, and luxurious locker rooms with hot tubs, cold plunges, steam rooms and saunas. A couple’s massage with two masseuses who exchange places several times during the treatment is a delightful and highly recommended encounter, exceeded only by the skill and personalized attention they bring to the event. A full gym, a lovely shopping area, and the ever attentive staff round out what is surely the quintessential spa experience.

The award winning Studio restaurant is at the very center of the property in its own magnificent Craftsman style cottage. Executive Chef Craig Strong delivers a powerful series of French influenced California inspired dishes that delight and enthrall with their refinement and brilliant execution. Serving Captain Lisa Padilla, who has been at Studio for 11 years, walks you through an exquisite multicourse meal in a stunning atmosphere of dark wood interiors, floor to ceiling windows, and a warm patio awash and glowing in the soothing aura of the setting sun.

Tuna tartare in a kombacha squash consommé and chilled Kumamoto oysters in different sauces of gezbacho, avocado horseradish, and cucumber crème fraiche are fabulous innovative takes on opening courses. Duck confit cocoa ravioli with sage blossoms is nothing short of a revelation, with spectacular flavors and a hearty texture. Bouillabaisse risotto with lobster and calamari is simply amazing, a signature dish, light and creamy, rich and delicate.

Sommelier Pamela Singh expertly pairs the courses with a series of wines from the exceptionally deep wine list, especially the stunningly delicious and hard to find J. Rochioli 2004 East Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. It is a perfect accompaniment to the tender and succulently flavorful venison loin with huckleberries in a grand veneur sauce, a masterful tour de force.  Black cod with mussels, artichoke and a parsley persillade is a delicious culinary wonder, firm and tender, a delight for the senses, cooked to perfection.

Portions are moderate, and a succession of plates stretched out over several hours is an exquisite way to best savor the experience. Appetizers run $25, second courses around $30, and main courses are around $55, somewhat pricey but well worth the indulgence at this singular destination restaurant. Memorable evenings at Studio segue seamlessly into romantic nights and extremely pleasant dreams in the suites of Montage, until the amber glow of morning brings the promise of another day in paradise.


Rooms start at $445, one bedroom suites start at $945.

Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles

All photos by Alison Reynolds

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