Last time the gal was at Monarch Beach Resort and Spa it was St Regis, but then the owners, KSL, decided to run it as an independent. KSL put two more vital ingredients into the recipe for managing this highly successful behemoth without a brand. First, they persuaded Ian Pullan, who had been running their Fairmont Royal Orchid on Hawaii’s Big Island, to move here. And they sold their Miraval resort, and its brand, to Hyatt, without losing the Miraval Spa and gym – well, technically the Athletic Club – which they already had here, at Monarch Beach in California’s Orange County. The 190 acres that therefore encompass this unforgettable resort include a 25-room Miraval Spa with Deborah Lippman nail studio, plus a 24/7 Technogym with Peloton bikes. And, says the gal, the fit will find over 55 complimentary wellness classes, plus pay-for dream analysis with a Swede, Anna-Karin Bjorklund, and aerial yoga and much more, plus 18-hole golf by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
The main challenge, says Dublin-born Ian Pullan, is letting people know exactly what is available. Want to take a mindfulness beach hike? Turn up at 7 a.m. Want to build an aquarium? Well, that is noon to 2 p.m. but it overlaps with weekend brunch at AVEO, one of nine places to eat (this one was designed by Bob Puccini and, although I ate outside on the balcony, I loved the indoor sports bar and the buffet alcove). The 400 rooms, designed by Rodrigo Vargas from Los Angeles, have a hint of the Wynn about them: they are spacious and easy, both from housekeeping and guest viewpoints. 65% of those staying here, by the way, are on some kind of meetings-or-events business, and the day of my visit there were two separate weddings, 700 guests each.
At weekends the drive market, from Los Angeles, Palm Springs and San Diego, arrives in force. One additional attraction is Michael Mina’s six month-old Bourbon Street restaurant, already voted best dining in the whole of Orange County. The sleek tavern-meets-fine-wine ambience, by Anthony Agriam of Bishop Pass Design, lets the maximum number of diners see the spectacular sunsets that attracted some of the 800 who work here (Ian Pullan’s Resort Manager Marcus Krebs, whom I knew in Chicago, fits that category). Part of the restaurant’s success is also the service, led by a delightful professional, Amber Ault. And then, of course, the food… we had two amuses, first an assortment of thin fries with dips, then a crème fraiche and caviar-topped potato stick. My meal-proper started with an heirloom beets salad with ricotta-stuffed burrata, quinoa and banyuls vinaigrette. My friends went for man-sized steaks but I opted for a delicate-appetite zabuton, named for the lower sirloin flap cut that is as flat and square as the Japanese zabuton sitting cushion (it was eight ounces, from Idaho’s Snake River Farms, and we drank Occidental Pinot Noir Freestone-Occidental 2016.
I heard about this extraordinary hotel’s partnerships, including with Cadillac, though Rolls-Royce introduced their SUV Cullinan here on July 27th, 2018 – and sold 20. They work with the locale, especially Mission Hospital and nearby schools. The resort is, in fact, very much part of the community. 135 families are members of the hotel’s club – add all these people together with the up-to-1,100 people who can be staying here at weekends and you immediately see what a busy, and successful, lifestyle environment Monarch Beach Resort is. You are constantly aware of the connection with Monarch butterflies, famous in this area, which give the resort its name: there are butterfly sculptures at the foot of one staircase, above, and at least one of the casual-chic uniform styles by designer Sally Fourmy has butterflies all over it. One lasting memory of this lovely place, by the way, was the make-your-own ‘toast’ on the splendid breakfast buffet, though, to be honest, I put both avocado mash and slices of sourdough with tastings of both egg-white and whole-egg scramble. NOW SEE ROOM 465