Perfectly rustic, with a backdrop of landscape-painting-worthy canyons, boutique resort The Ranch at Laguna Beach is low-key California at its best. Ranch-style cottages and small buildings – some new, others restored – are clustered around the grounds, which include a family-friendly pool, an outdoor lounge area with fire pits, and a locally-loved golf course. Soothing Sycamore Spa will put you in a chilled-out frame of mind, and white sand Laguna Beach is only 350 yards away. Harvest restaurant champions locally-sourced Californian comfort food, the bar has a carefully-curated selection of regional wines and Ben’s Pantry is a local go-to spot for coffees and pastries.
Get this when you book through us:
One welcome drink – either wine or a cocktail – each
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £333.94 ($456), including tax at 14.3 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $38.76 per room per night on check-out.
Rates generally exclude à la carte breakfast (items range from $5 to $18). There is an additional daily resort fee of US$20.52 a person.
Arrange a tee-time at on-site nine-hole Ben Brown's Golf Course. This naturally dramatic private course has sweeping canyon views and elevation changes on every fairway. s to the volleyball and bocce ball courts, use of the pool and free towels, beach chairs and towels, in-room coffee, select daily activities and transportation within five miles of hotel.
At the hotel
WiFi throughout, beach shuttle, swimming pool, golf course. In rooms: LG TV, minifridge, tea- and coffee-making facilities, Lavish bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The Creekside Studio Suites are cosy and romantic; you’ll have views over the canyons and creek from your private balcony or patio. Families will love the Treehouse, which has its own fully-stocked gourmet kitchen with free snacks and all the kit needed to prepare meals; in the open-plan living space, there’s a dining area and a spacious lounge with a queen-size sofa bed and cosy armchairs. In addition to loads of indoor space, it has access to a private gazebo, golf course views and space to run around outside too.
The heated saltwater pool and outdoor hot tub are open to guests all year round. The depth of the 1,300sq ft pool ranges from three to eight feet. In summer, the pool is flanked by sunloungers, and the adjacent Pond Bar serves cocktails and poolside snacks and plies guests with sun cream.
Stress-melting Sycamore Spa is perfectly Californian, with a near-seamless flow between its indoor and outdoor spaces, beachy vibes and natural light. Visit one of its four treatment rooms (one is just for pampering à deux) to indulge in classic massages, clarifying and hydrating facials, body scrubs and wraps, and even treatments to make your feet beautifully beach-ready. The spa uses HydroPeptide, Comfort Zone and Salt of the Earth products in its treatments and there’s a full wellness programme in the works. The 24-hour fitness centre is attached, and a variety of fitness classes are on offer, including rejuvenating ‘Rise and Shine Stretch’ sessions.
Load your suitcase with casual coastal togs; bring your golfing gear and don’t forget the swimsuits – this is California, after all.
Mobility- and hearing-accessible rooms are available; one of the golf carts can accommodate a wheelchair; there’s a lift in the lodge building and a pool lift, too.
Welcome; there’s a Junior Ranger kids’ programme and family activities, including golf lessons for all. The restaurant has a children’s menu and highchairs; baby cots can be added to rooms (and rollaway beds to some), subject to availability.
When travelling with mobile little Smiths, book a spacious Cottage Two Bedroom Suite or the Treehouse, which has its own kitchen and ample space both indoors and out.
There are junior golf lessons, storytelling, ranger excursions, and even a kid’s happy hour at Ben’s Pantry, featuring hot chocolate, lawn games and s’more kits for roasting. On Saturday mornings, a Birds of Prey programme takes place on the Harvest Patio or volleyball court; on Saturday evenings (from 6pm to 9pm), a Kid’s Night Out frees up the adults while little ones enjoy a movie and a buffet dinner ($25 a child, 72-hour advance reservation required).
Children are welcome in the pool with adult supervision.
The restaurant has a children’s menu of much-loved favourites, many with a healthy twist, and highchairs. Breakfast choices include cereal, yoghurt with fruit, eggs, buttermilk pancakes and French toast. At lunch and dinner, Smith Junior can choose from classic kiddie plates including peanut-butter sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and hamburgers.
No need to pack
A travel cot can be added to all rooms, subject to availability. Rollaway beds ($39.90 a night) can be added to Cottage Two Bedroom Suites and first-floor Studio and One Bedroom Suites, subject to availability and confirmation by the hotel.
Nearby Aliso Beach Park has a playground and bonfire pits; the Ranch provides beach towels.
The Ranch at Laguna Beach recycles (including soap and hygiene products, with help from Clean the World charity) and uses reclaimed water to maintain its golf course and grounds. It also manages a mile-long stretch of the Aliso Creek by removing rubbish and other debris, and organises clean-ups of Aliso Beach. An onsite garden is in the works; ingredients used in the restaurant and bar are sourced locally, when possible.
The booths to the side of the bar by the window are cosy and romantic; sit at the bar if you want to chat with locals.
Think pared-down luxe: classic denim and breezy linens.
At Harvest, chef de cuisine Kyle St John creates modern Californian comfort food with locally- and ethically-sourced ingredients (some from the hotel’s own garden). The dining area has an oversized fireplace and surveys Aliso canyon and the golf course; for the best views, take a table on the patio. The lunch menu features colourful salads and flavourful sandwiches; dinner options range from pan-seared salmon to cider-brined pork porterhouse to brioche-bun burgers. At breakfast, keep it healthy with smoothies, steel-cut oats and egg-white frittatas, or go all out with a plate of chicken and waffles or breakfast enchiladas. Café-style Ben’s Pantry serves up rustic, organic fare; check the chalkboard for daily specialities. It’s the place for local-vibe alfresco coffees, light bites and coastal wines, and a favourite stop-off for pre-golf pastries and something from the espresso bar.
The Harvest bar focuses on handcrafted cocktails, with seasonal specialties. Beer enthusiasts can sample a taster flight of local craft ales and lager to whittle down to their favourite of the 18 on-tap offerings, and wine aficionados can choose from sommelier Jesse Rodriquez’s carefully curated list of regional varietals. Settle in with your drink of choice and soak in the 180-degree canyon views.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 11am, lunch from 11am to 3pm, and dinner from 5.30pm to 10pm. Harvest bar is open from 11am to 11pm.
A slightly streamlined version of the restaurant menu is available from 6.30am to 9.30pm.
Surrounded by the Aliso and Wood Canyons, the Ranch at Laguna Beach is a five-minute walk from one of the area’s prettiest beaches, Aliso Beach Park.
John Wayne Airport is 30 minutes away by car; arrange transfers with the hotel from $124 each way. The larger Los Angeles International Airport is an hour and a half away by car, depending on traffic; one-way hotel transfers start at $159.
San Juan Capistrano station is nine miles away; Amtrak and Metrolink trains run regularly between there and Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo.
Laguna Beach is 10 minutes away by car; from the Pacific Coast Highway (South Coast Highway), turn onto Country Club Drive. There’s on-site and valet parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Book a round of lessons at Ben Brown’s Golf Course, spend some pampering time in the Sycamore Spa, or simply lounge by the fire pits on the terrace with a local varietal in hand. At 8.30am on Saturdays and Sundays, ‘Rise and Shine Stretch’ – a 45-minute yoga-inspired class of static and dynamic stretching – is held poolside; mats are provided for early-morning yogis. It’s followed by a 40-minute Cardio-Sculpt Circuit Training class, which combines high-intensity interval training with machines, free weights and body-weight exercises, at 9.15am in the fitness centre. The hotel runs a free shuttle to Aliso Beach Park, only five minutes away; this family-friendly stretch of sand also has a playground and fire pits. Whale and dolphin catamaran safaris can be arranged by the front desk, as can be stand-up paddle board and kayak rentals at nearby Dana Point. Nearby Heisler Park is good for seaside picnics, Aliso and Wood canyons are excellent for day hikes and mountain biking (all the gear for the latter is available to hire at the hotel), and nearby downtown Laguna has plenty of shops and galleries. Staff can guide you to hidden surf spots, and tree-covered Catalina Islandis a 90-minute ferry ride away (or a 15-minute helicopter ride from John Wayne Airport).
For oceanfront alfresco meals, head to the Deck on Laguna, where fresh oysters and sharing plates are the stars of the menu. Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico takes a gourmet approach to authentic Mexican cuisine, using locally-sourced ingredients. Choose from a mouth-watering selection that includes ceviche, seafood enchiladas and shrimp taquitos; there’s an impressively long margarita menu, too. For modern American fare, look to Broadway by Amar Santana, which has a farm-fresh, seasonally changing menu and an open kitchen that takes centre stage; try to snag two of the six coveted seats at the chef’s table. Splash out on the tasting menu (with optional wine pairing), and save room for the bourbon-vanilla-bean panna cotta. Seafood-centric Driftwood Kitchen is right on the water’s edge and open all day; go for the crab-, goat’s cheese- and avocado-filled Laguna Omelette at breakfast, or grilled local swordfish at dinner. Starfish takes the crown for the best Asian cuisine in Orange County; choose from ocean-fresh sushi, sharing plates of soft-shell crab bánh mì sliders and braised barbecue pork buns, and a cocktail menu that’s not shy about ginger- and green tea-infused drinks.
Breakfast any day of the week at Zinc Cafe. Specialties include breakfast bánh mì, Spanish baked-egg casserole, and the ginger-syrup-drizzled Zinc waffles; order a green-tea matcha latte and you’ll blend right in with the locals. You could also go for eggs many ways, baked goods and healthy fruit-filled smoothies. Zinc is open for lunches of burrito bowls, pizzette, salads and sandwiches, and sharing-plate dinners paired with local wines. For Sunday brunch, hit up Lumberyard; go savoury with the bacon-and-cheese Lumberyard Scramble, or sweet with cinnamon-vanilla brioche French toast or decadent ricotta pancakes heaped with bananas, caramel sauce and whipped cream.
‘Give me Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek any day – I was too old for The OC’’, said Mr Smith as we entered Orange County, the eponymous setting of the Noughties TV drama. ‘Speak for yourself!’, I thought. I might well have been too old, but I remember addictively catching up on my weekendly dose of beautiful people and beautiful beaches in all its pop-culture glory.
Travelling down from LA, Orange County with its hummer-dinger cars and nouveau mansions, is positively suburban by contrast – like Surrey is to bigger sister London. As the Pacific Coast Highway wound south, we approached our home for the weekend: Laguna Beach.
I thought we might encounter the drunken party town portrayed in MTV’s racy Real Orange County reality show (my TV tastes aren’t always so low-brow, I promise) but we were pleasantly surprised by the charming arts ‘n’ crafts bungalows tumbling down towards the sea, the chic boutiques and the all-round artsy vibe.
Veering off our coastal path, we headed down a dusty road to our hotel, the Ranch at Laguna Beach, set in the heart of a verdant valley. Chirpy valets offered to park our car and ushered us into the buzzy lobby. In fact, we hadn’t quite anticipated just how buzzy it would be…
It was a Saturday afternoon in balmy October – with wedding season still in full swing – so we’d missed a spot for dinner at the Ranch’s restaurant, Harvest (lesson learned: make sure you book in advance). But no bother, dinner with the lapping waves of Laguna in ear-shot would do just fine.
From the homely, neutral decor, we could see why it’s a private family resort. Modelled on a coastal ranch, inside is all chunky beams, antler chandeliers, exposed Flintstonian walls, hurricane lamps and driftwood artwork. Outside, sturdy wooden rocking chairs stand beside fire pits and atmospheric festoon lights, with sweeping views over the golf fairways (a major draw at the hotel) and the canyon. While our room was prepared, we headed over to take in views of the valley and grab coffees from Ben’s Pantry café.
My phone soon rang with news that our cottage suite was ready. The smell of new sofas and carpets hit us as we entered the huge two-storey, two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,125sq ft ‘cottage’, complete with entertaining area and extra sofa bed. Our prime real estate also featured a patio and balcony overlooking a Pinterest-perfect American wedding playing out on the golf course below.
We nosy Brits headed straight for the rocking chairs that doubled as front-row seats, and popped open a bottle of chilled prosecco we procured on route. The wedding linen dancing on the breeze and the spectacle of the bridal-party parade – starring 20 family members, 12 bridesmaids (one of whom tripped), 12 ushers, six flower girls and a stunning bride (whose serenity amid the pomp was a feat) – played out in front of us.
At dusk, we headed back into Laguna for a fireside dinner at highly-recommended restaurant Splashes, where the waves washed beneath us, before returning to the hotel to find the now twinkling golf-course wedding drawing to a close. Pillow chocolates were snaffled before flopping onto our downy bed.
Not unlike Dirty Dancing’s Kellerman’s Resort, there’s a schedule of activities available at the Ranch, from a rise-and-shine stretch class to hot cocoa and storytelling around the campfire. Mr Smith’s eyes lit up at the prospect of a high-intensity, interval-training class at the shiny fitness studio, so he rose with the other early bird and left me to a lie-in. Refreshed, we headed to Harvest restaurant for a So-Cal Sunday brunch full of Mexican favourites, including chilaquiles (breakfast nachos loaded with sunny-side-up eggs, black beans, roast-tomato salsa, queso fresco, avocado and a dollop of smoked-paprika sour cream) to set us up for a day at the beach.
With miles of sand around Laguna, we were spoilt for bathing spots, but had it on good authority that Aliso Beach, nearest the Ranch, was a beauty. The waves crashed and bronzed surfers deftly pounced on their boards. The allure of doing dolphin dives of our own was too great, so we braved the wild ocean, doing a few washing-machine spins, losing my sunglasses (schoolgirl error) and nearly (but luckily not quite) my bikini.
Mr Smith had booked dinner in time for sunset at laidback local restaurant Driftwood Kitchen, where – along with sensational seafood – we were treated to sweeping views of the Pacific, a rainbow-hued sunset, dolphins and a lazy seal dancing on the surf.
Not wanting the night to end, we headed back to base for a nightcap. The enveloping darkness surrounded us as we kicked back in a pair of rocking chairs to contemplate this stunning stretch of California. The real joy is that it feels like two holidays in one: you can head to the beach to see dolphins; or the hills to spy birds of prey circling over the canyon.
Back in our palatial bed, a sleepy Mr Smith leant over: ‘Is The OC on Netflix? Maybe it’s worth a watch after all…’, before slipping off in seconds. Nibbling the pillow chocolates, I smiled contentedly and promptly joined him.