Laguna Longing

Produced with  Cadillac Magazine

For an LA writer and her two daughters, the stress of city life disappears the moment they hit the road in the first-ever Cadillac CT6.

The traffic and asphalt tangle of LA sometimes can make me feel as if true escape is impossible. But with Laguna Beach just one county away, and the miracle of my daughters and me being free on the same weekend—a week before the Golden Globes, the proverbial lull before the storm—there’s no time for indecision. We start packing for our getaway.

My girls, Madeline and Isabelle, are in the entertainment business (Madeline is a singer/songwriter and Isabelle is an actor), we all travel a lot, and being able to get away without boarding a plane is a treat. Of course, it takes us forever to get out of the house; time is a funny thing when you don’t have a flight to catch. The CT6 Luxury, equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged engine, is quite the glamorous sedan to whisk away three ladies and their adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Lilly and Jennings.

The pups get comfy, Madeline and I adjust our seats, and together we make our way south. It’s a quick drive, a mere 90 minutes, but we are not in a hurry. I follow a friend’s advice and take the long but scenic route to Laguna; instead of jumping on the 405, we cruise Highway 1 in the South Bay for its glimpses of beach towns and the ocean—and because we want to enjoy the snazzy car we have for the weekend, with all the bells and whistles. I’m eyeing the touch-sensitive Cadillac CUE®screen, which can also be controlled with a console touchpad in case you don’t want to touch the screen. “It might be too high-tech for you,” Madeline jokes. She types in our destination before I have a chance to think of a smart retort. Isabelle feels right at home in the back, adjusting the available climate control system to meet her own comfort needs and reclining in her rear seat.

We slow in the surfer town of Huntington Beach. By the side of the road, guys shimmy into their wetsuits and grab their boards from their trucks. Highway 1 now goes by Pacific Coast Highway—just don’t call it “the” PCH if you want to be taken for a local. (East Coasters are always mystified that we say “the” before any freeway—the 10, the 5, the 405—and sometimes, so am I.) The landscape becomes increasingly manicured as we roll into Newport Beach, and at this point the road dips and twists, at times fairly suddenly. I’m impressed by the All-Wheel Drive, the way the CT6 shows off its agility on the coastal road. The CT6 handles the occasional curve with ease, and braking and even speeding up on occasion seem effortless. The ride feels smooth and confident. When we see those gorgeous barrel waves slapping against clean golden sands, we know that we’re crossing into Laguna Beach.

Laguna has a Mediterranean vibe, but more laid back. Whether it’s Positano meets SoCal or Portofino meets Maui, it doesn’t matter. It’s a colorful riot of bougainvillea and Mediterranean houses with orange-tiled roofs and fan palms and royal palms and Canary Island palms. The cool, salty, subtropical air mixes with the warm sun in a perfect alchemy. We turn off the A/C, roll down the windows, and crank up the Bose® Panaray® sound system as we take it slow past the galleries, boutiques, and restaurants, along with numerous art and yoga studios on both sides of Coast Highway. We can drop the “Pacific” now—I mentioned Laguna is casual.

By the time we arrive at Montage Laguna Beach, the sun is about to set. We all feel a bit sentimental as we stayed there in 2003, just months after it opened, when the girls were little. The California Craftsman–style resort is as welcoming as we remember; even the pups seem right at home. The staff spoils them with treats, toys, plush beds, and bottled water.

 

Tide pools below The Ritz-Carlton entice sea life.
The CT6 rivals the ocean view at Aliso Beach.
Tide pools below The Ritz-Carlton entice sea life.
The CT6 rivals the ocean view at Aliso Beach.

From the patio of the ground-floor suite, the first night’s sunset is spectacular, bathing the cliffs in a red and orange glow; the waters of the Pacific glisten, silhouetting palm trees on the bluffs where Montage is so distinctly situated. “Girls, come out, let’s do selfies,” I call to my ladies. This time it’s Isabelle’s turn to make fun of me: “Mom, can you just enjoy the sunset without taking pictures?” But the girls come out, bringing the dogs, and within moments I’m being sentimental and posting the photos. As the sun slips below the Pacific, I’m tempted to drive the CT6 to test the available Enhanced Night Vision technology, which can detect pedestrians in the sedan’s path. I’m intrigued but can’t pull myself away from my room.

In the morning, Isabelle offers to drive into town and bring us breakfast, but I think that’s just an excuse to steal away in the CT6. I had made plans for all of us to check out Zinc: The gathering spot in Laguna, the Ocean Avenue café features a simple vegetarian menu. Owner John Secretan greets us in the coffee shop and presents the signature offerings: a good cup of coffee and eggs on toast (with avocado, of course!). He then joins us at his outdoor patio as we chat food, family, and a little bit of business. “To me, Zinc means the accomplishment of a dream,” he says, explaining that the place is more than just a café; he speaks of “communal energy.” I notice that people all seem to know each other and it’s a place to see your friends and say hello to neighbors.

Before we go back to the car to head to the beach, we spend what seems like an hour a few doors down at the Anastasia boutique. The curated designer collection here is to die for, especially for three fashion-obsessed women like us. We fall in love with pieces from Issey Miyake, ooh and ahh over Italian designers we’ve never heard of, and take photos in at least half a dozen outfits. Anastasia’s owner and buyer, Amir Gharavi, looks like a designer himself, clad in head-to-toe black and telling us about his gallery and designer café right there, in the boutique. I make a mental note to come back, because if his taste in food is as good as it is in clothes, I’m moving in.

A beach hike at Crystal Cove State Park is what’s next on our menu. The 3.2-mile stretch of unspoiled beach is one of Orange County’s best-kept secrets, boasting some of the finest tide pooling in SoCal. We stumbled upon it a few years ago on Christmas Day and fell in love with the rustic beauty of this wilderness oasis. It feels like a world away from civilization. No wonder this gem of a park was a favorite destination for movie sets in the early 1900s to the late 1980s. Hollywood knows how to keep a good secret. (Another little-known fact is that Bette Davis owned a weekend home in Laguna Beach, years before it became cool and way before Montage took over. The Davis home on Woods Cove is not hidden, yet it’s not easy to find unless you spy the fancy “D” inscribed on the chimney.)

The first-ever CT6 at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point.
Waves break on the shore 150 feet below The Ritz-Carlton.
The first-ever CT6 at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point.
Waves break on the shore 150 feet below The Ritz-Carlton.

We lounge a bit at the Montage’s spa, the 20,000-square-foot space overlooking the ocean from its own lap pool, then make the drive south to Dana Point for a final night at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. The place is an institution, a grand Spanish Mediterranean spread, while the lobby is lavish and contemporary, from the richly veined marble floors to the silver leaf ceiling. At check-in, I mention the flowers—mauve-colored roses titled in vertical glass cylinders—and the concierge tells me that they come from Square Root in nearby Irvine. “They come and change them every four to five days,” he tells me. Behind him is a huge HD screen with a live feed of the beach, a favorite of surfers.

Speaking of which, we were lucky to happen upon the resort’s silent auction of artistically crafted long boards. Beautifully painted boards are affixed to the lobby’s stately columns to raise money for Surfers Healing; the child autism organization was founded by Izzy and Danielle Paskowitz, whose own son is autistic. Once they discovered how therapeutic surfing was for their son, they wanted to find a way to offer surf camp to other autistic kids. There are also boards by the top surfboard manufacturer Brawner and the marine artist Wyland. An unconventional board fashioned from recycled wine barrel staves by local artist Derek McDonald, which had been on consignment to the hotel, was also sold to benefit the organization. It took 285 hours to create.

Back in the oceanfront suite, we flick on the outdoor gel fireplace and sit back in our teak chairs. The palms reach four floors above us, and their fronds brush against each other in a whisper that sounds like rain. Isabelle asks if she can take the CT6 in the morning and bring back breakfast for us. I look from the fire to the stars to my girls, wondering when we can do another weekend away. Who am I to say no?

WHEN YOU GO

BEST LODGINGS: Montage Laguna Beach is the flagship property of the luxury brand (montagehotels.com/lagunabeach), and with its California Craftsman architecture and incomparable views, it ranks as one of the world’s finest resorts. Just as impressive is The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel (ritzcarlton.com), which is positioned commandingly atop a Dana Point bluff.

BEST DINING: The vegetarian Zinc (zinccafe.com) counts as the best local haunt in Laguna Beach’s town center. At the Montage, Chef Craig Strong presides over some of the coast’s most acclaimed haute cuisine, while 180blu, perched over the Pacific at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, should not be missed for mixologist Erin Snider’s  tequila sangria.

BEST SCENIC: It’s fun to drive the canyons—Skyline Drive right above Laguna Beach, Bluebird Canyon just south of town—or take South Coast Highway north to the trails and beaches of Crystal Cove State Park.

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