St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa

It’s Tuscany meets the OC. Somewhere beyond the trellised colonnades and beyond the ocean, the juiciest—orange and ripe—of Southern California sunsets bids farewell to another exquisite experience at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa. But there is another one coming, and another one—there seems to be no end to a stay’s potential in such a place.

This Dana Point property, just a short drive away from Laguna Niguel and San Juan Capistrano, is armed with all the distinctive St. Regis luxuries we’ve come to know and obsess over. There are fire pits for chilly nights and fountains adding soothing sounds to the evening, trams taking guests to the oceanfront 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf course and beach beyond, and of course, some of the most indulgent guestrooms and suites this side of paradise—large, cushy, and infinitely difficult to leave behind. In the Presidential Suite, there are fireplaces and a piano, too, as well as the biggest of bathrooms and a tub where not two but almost four can easily fit.

Despite a recent change of ownership, the resort, which is still managed by Starwood, “has not skipped a beat,” says director of sales & marketing Michael Mustafa. “We’re in tremendous shape and have maintained our five-star, five-diamond service level.” The St. Regis Monarch Beach is the only property in California to hold those two honors, in fact.

This might be one of the easiest properties to sell to your luxury clientele.

the california touch There is a decidedly fun feel to this very elegant resort, no doubt in part to Mustafa, who has come up with Pure Seduction Thursdays, when the social scene heats up in the property’s main bar and the most eclectic of Southern California characters saunter in for some dancing and imbibing. There is also Martini Mondays, with live music and drink-and-food pairing, and Tea and Tini Saturdays—a rascally twist on high tea.

One of the most exciting aspects of the St. Regis Monarch Beach, in fact, is that it’s very much in tune with its community and draws much attention from the locals. Last year, says Mustafa, their annual tree-lighting event drew 1,800 people, and they expect similar numbers come Nov. 29. The holidays will bring their usual flurry of activity, including its Gingerbread House Academy, which takes place Dec. 5-20.

You can’t really visit any St. Regis without having a food fling. Among the six restaurants here, one of the most popular is Motif. “Our Sunday brunch has quite a following,” says Mustafa, referring to the weekly event loved for its pancake stations, lobster, champagne and many other surprises (Sunday brunch starts at $78 pp). The resort is also home to famous Stonehill Tavern, brainchild of chef Michael Mina, which offers sophisticated tavern fare and Mina’s signature variations on a particular ingredient. The restaurant’s new “Classic Tavern Suppers” offer a different $39 pp, 3-course tasting menu five days a week, starting with Fish & Chips on Wednesdays and wrapping up with Seafood Stew on Sundays.

surf butlers & spa Time spent at Spa Gaucin at St. Regis Monarch Beach is an affair to remember—a full submersion into luxurious pampering with services that rival any other you may have heard about—an Espresso Bath Soak, perhaps, or a Tuscan Shirodhara, in which warm grape seed oil is dripped onto one’s forehead to create inner calm and relieve nervous tension. Friends can indulge in a number of packages such as Women Who Wine, which combines antioxidant wine facials and Mediterranean massages with a tasting of organic wines (priced at $395 pp, not including lunch or guestrooms). Even outside the spa, the property’s surroundings inspire wellness, for which guided meditations, walks and guided “beach boot camps” are popular activities. Guests may also take their turn at an outdoor lap pool (one of several in the resort) with an underwater sound system or at the yoga strap wall in the fitness center with the help of a certified trainer. Moreover, Spa Gaucin Cafe serves decadent-healthy dishes made with all organic ingredients such as a watermelon and mint gazpacho and grilled Tasmanian trout.

Surf’s up at St. Regis too, except here clients get a “surf butler” to help them out. Surf butlers provide individualized lessons and a bit more—they’ll set clients up with the right-sized wetsuit and surfboard, check the water temperature and surf conditions for the day, offer on-land instruction—if necessary—or keep it simple with bodyboarding lessons instead. A 1-hour lesson is $85 for overnight guests.