RITZ-CARLTON LAGUNA NIGUEL
Not again! Orange County, respect your elders!
For the second year in a row, we have a big hole in the Orange County hotel category. I had hoped to be able to go offbeat this year. After all, what list hasn’t the Resort at Pelican Hill topped in the past couple of years? Maybe I could suggest one of the more colorful beach resorts in Huntington Beach or Laguna Beach.
But all that was dashed by a reader-poll omission that is just too big a blunder to let pass. So my critic’s choice, again, is the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.
The Ritz single-handedly created the idea of “the Orange County Riviera” that today includes a half dozen or so high-quality hotels. Before the Ritz, there was a cluster of nice hotels in Laguna Beach, but most towns along the coast had nothing more than motor inns. In an era where some travel website is handing out awards seemingly every week, the Ritz has racked up 27 straight years of AAA five-diamond ratings.
The hotel opened back when all Ritz-Carltons had to have a fussy horse-and-hounds British country estate feel. That led to some poor design decisions, like having the top restaurant in a windowless interior room. The rooms often lack the built-in amenities of the Montage or Pelican Hill or the racquetball-court-sized dimensions of the St. Regis.
But the Ritz still has the best location on the coast, a place where you can sit out with a drink in the afternoon atop a 150-foot bluff and watch dolphins surf the waves. If you have the legs to wander down to the sand, it has the best on-the-beach location of the major Orange County resorts.
The Ritz now has to fight for a share of the luxury market between Los Angeles and San Diego that it once could take for granted. But it’s no also-ran in that race.
$ell SmArt… with Art!