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Holidays In The O.C.


Staffs at Orange County hotels, resorts, and restaurants are already as busy as elves, preparing for the holidays. The waterfront Balboa Bay Club & Resort is the picture-perfect place to watch the 103rd Annual Christmas Boat Parade “Merry Christmas Sea” December 14-18. Book an elegant sit-down dinner overlooking the bay in the First Cabin Restaurant, where chef Josef Lageder and team prepare such standouts as seared spice-rubbed wild salmon with mango wrapped in crispy prosciutto with wasabi potato mousseline. You can also opt for a buffet dinner outside on the lawn, or visit Duke’s Place for cocktails and appetizers. Duke’s is named after lateactor John Wayne, who was on the club’s board of governors. Old photos of Wayne and pals adorn the walls, and his famous boat, the three-decker Wild Goose, now used for charters by Hornblower Cruises, is moored nearby. It’s also fun to rent a Duffy electric boat for a leisurely cruise. The boats seat up to 12 people around a table laden, if you like, with drinks and apps, Champagne and dessert. The resort also offers a dinner and concert featuring the All American Boys Chorus in the Grand Ballroom on December 23. Holiday dinners are served in The First Cabin on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve, with a New Year’s Day brunch. Ring in 2012 with a black-tie gala in the ballroom or dancing at Duke’s. Check out holiday rates, perks, and shopping packages with South Coast Plaza. (949/645-5000, www.balboabayclub.com)

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel kicks off “The Season of Giving” program November 19-20 with a Surfing Santa Contest and Holiday Tree Lighting. A surfboard auction that runs through December 31 benefits Surfers Healing, a surf camp for children with autism. Throughout the season, the resort is collecting non-perishable food, toys, books, and stuffed animals for O.C. charities. In return, guests get a card good for 15 percent off restaurants, retailers, and spa treatments as well as free valet parking for the day.

Executive pastry chef Brian Sundeen and his team are crafting the resort’s annual gingerbread display, which this year will include a nine-foot replica of the Pilgrim, a floating classroom moored in Dana Point Harbor. The team will spend more than 400 hours creating the display with cookies, candy, cream puffs, cereal and crackers, donuts and dried fruit, pretzels and waffles, and lots of gingerbread, of course.

The Ritz offers Holiday Story Telling on Fridays and Saturdays December 2-17, and Teddy Bear Teas on Sundays, December 4, 11, and 18. The resort is asking guests to bring unwrapped teddy bears to donate to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. There’s a Thanks-for-Giving Buffet on Thursday, November 24, and a Christmas Day Holiday Buffet. Canned goods collected at the feasts will be donated to the Orange County Rescue Mission. New Year’s festivities feature a four-course dinner and Wayne Foster Entertainment.

Throughout the holidays, relax with a creative cocktail around the cozy fire pits at 180 Blu, the Ritz’s outdoor lounge overlooking Salt Creek Beach. Or dine in Raya, the award-winning restaurant with its inventive Pan-Latin coastal cuisine designed by Richard Sandoval, named Restaurateur of the Year by Bon Appetit. Selections might include lobster, smoked swordfish, Korean fried chicken tacos, miso black cod, or wagyu beef churrasco. For dessert, try the spiced churro con Kahlua pudding. Chef Marissa Gerlach plucks fresh herbs from the resort’s kitchen garden for her chef tasting dinners. (949/240-2000, www.ritzcarlton.com/laguna)

Montage Laguna Beach lights up the coast November 28 with its Holiday Tree Lighting and Open House, featuring everything from hot cocoa and carolers to the unveiling of a gingerbread village and children’s activities. Book a table at one of the resort’s three restaurants. At Studio, chef Craig Strong, a San Diego native, is planning a holiday menu that includes Duck a l’Orange with kumquats, gingered bok choy, and star anise-scented turnip and potato gratin. The Loft restaurant has a Cheese Gallery where fromagiers customize a selection of tastes, drawing from more than 100 artisanal cheeses and dozens of honeys and house-made jams. “It’s the interactive experience that makes it truly special,” says chef Casey Overton. Montage offers a 12-station holiday buffet in the Grand Ballroom on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, as well as dining in its restaurants. Welcome the New Year at a grand gala with a four-course dinner and wine pairing.


During the Twelve Days of Christmas from December 14-25, Montage is offering young guests holiday stocking deliveries, Santa’s workshops, and even “tuck-ins” from Jolly Old Saint Nick himself, complete with milk and cookies. (949/715-6000, www.montagelagunabeach.com)

You can’t get much closer to the ocean than at the Surf & Sand Resort. The property underwent a
$3 million renovation, with guest rooms decorated in shades of sand and silvery blue. Chests of drawers are inlaid with shells, and artwork has the look of driftwood. A pale blue desk lamp resembles sea glass polished and tumbled by the waves. Private balconies open onto the ocean — the sound of the surf will lull you to sleep.

Splashes is a handsome restaurant where you can dine inside on banquettes facing the ocean framed by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, or outside on the adjoining terraces. Sample BBQ octopus, roasted halibut with Manila clams, or grilled lamb with braised fennel. Toast the holidays with festive cocktails from resident mixologist Ryan Velilla such as Musa Mule, banana-infused vodka with house-made ginger beer and fresh lime.

Enjoy the Yule Tide and revel by an open fire with cocktails and appetizers, or hot cocoa and dessert, in 15fiftyfive, the open-air, ocean-view lounge. Enjoy a daily holiday light show as the sun sinks slowly into the Pacific.

At Aquaterra, the spa’s “made fresh daily” treatments are almost good enough to eat. Consider a cinnamon-vanilla scrub topped off with a mint scalp treatment, served up with a warm gingerbread latte. You even get a spice cake recipe to take home. We think Santa would approve. (800/664-SURF, www.surfandsandresort.com)

For more info on O.C. activities, contact The OCeanfront CA. (www.OCeanfrontCA.com)   ANDREA NAVERSEN


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