All the benefits of a relaxing vacation with none of the hassle.
BY: Sara Smola
Photos: Courtesy of Hotel Irvine
With all the chaos that revolves around the holiday season, sometimes you just need to escape to protect your sanity. But while it’s true that planning a big trip is fun and exciting, there are usually a few stressors that come with it. For a simple quick and easy getaway, my husband and I chose to do a “staycation”—close enough to home that getting there is hassle free (considering the headache-inducing L.A. traffic) but far enough so we can indulge and emerge ourselves in new experiences and return to work feeling refreshed. We booked our stay at Hotel Irvine, a modern and hip hotel located in the heart of the O.C., a mere hour’s drive from Pasadena.
With an entire weekend to experience a taste of all that the Newport coastal region has to offer, we headed down on Saturday morning, enjoying a traffic free drive to our first stop of the day: Sidecar Donuts, a donut purveyor with a cult following due to the innovative flavors. The donuts are made fresh hourly in unique flavors that rotate on a daily basis like huckleberry, maple bacon and peanut butter banana. After a gluttonous carb binge, we headed to our hotel to check in.
From the moment our car pulled up to the valet, we were treated like royalty. The check in process was quick and seamless with little wait. As much as I wanted to nap off the food coma, there was exploring to be done.
We stopped by the hotel’s 24-hour Marketplace where guests can buy snacks, beverages and light bites whenever the craving strikes at surprisingly reasonable prices. The menu offers ample selections including grilled salmon banh mi, New Orleans style mufalata, as well as cheesy calzones and pizzas—all made fresh to order. For those on a health kick, there are smoothies and fresh pressed juices to sip. We picked up a picnic spread with gourmet sandwiches, chips, refreshments, fresh fruit and chocolate truffles for dessert. After picking up our picnic, we headed to the Bayside Marina for our first official adventure.
The hotel kindly arranged for us to have a Duffy boat tour around Newport Beach Harbor through the California Recreation Company. While I had trepidation at first, navigating the boat turned out to be a breeze and I enjoyed the breathtaking view of seaside mansions and the open ocean in the distance. Halfway through our motoring around the harbor, we dug into our picnic, wondering out loud if life could possibly get any better than this. Little did we know, that this newfound bliss was just beginning.
After an afternoon at sea, we set out to conquer a few choice retail destinations at Fashion Island (one of the O.C.’s shopping meccas), opting to hit neighboring South Coast Plaza on Sunday. Fashion Island’s open air shopping promenade features the expected big brands, as well as a few choice luxury retailers. With the temperature a perfect 80 degrees with a slight breeze, I could have spent hours meandering through the open-air shopping center.
We headed back to our room, a spacious suite, with a cloud-like comfortable bed, for a quick nap before making an appearance in the hotel lounge for a round of drinks. Red Bar + Lounge, a happening bar scene featuring craft cocktails and delicious apps. Even locals are known to come to the bar to impress a date. The bartender graciously walked me through the ample libations selection, making recommendations based on my preference for vodka. And recommended a Loose Hound, a modern take on the classic Salty Dog (vodka and grapefruit juice), made with top shelf Ketel One vodka, grapefruit liquor, simple syrup and soda water. The refreshing drink arrived mixed perfectly; the flavors were well balanced with the booze. My husband selected a mescal cocktail mixture, which sparked a discussion on how mescal is made, while we nibbled on a fresh poke and chips appetizer combo.
After our cocktail hour, our stomachs were near bursting but the promise of a delicious dinner by Executive Chef Michael Beck (who previously served a culinary stint at Pasadena’s own Valley Hunt Club) tempted my taste buds. We left the cocktail lounge in lieu of a more intimate setting in the form of the outdoor patio at Hotel Irvine’s restaurant, Eats Kitchen + Bar. Our server Sebastian recommended appetizers including chorizo and pork tacos and pork belly wrapped asparagus. My husband wanted the tacos, I wanted the pork belly so we compromised and ordered both.
Thai inspired dish with a fish so tender you won’t even need a knife. Sweet coconut curry acts as a base for the bed of greens and sprinkle of crunchy water chestnuts and a buttery fillet broth that is the star of show. Lightly sweeter with coconut milk, to keep it from being overly cloying, lemongrass adds a bit of a bite. I even told my husband I wanted to just eat the curry pooling on the bottom of the dish and take it home with me.
Sebastian was very knowledgeable about the menu and had worked on the premises for three years, making suggestions based on our preferences. Every recommendation he gave was better than the next, with the grand finale being the ultra rich deconstructed s’mores cup and a warm apple cider cocktail Sebastian crafted from his own original “off the menu” recipe that we sipped well into the night.
Following our late night multicourse meal and a restful night’s sleep in the hotel’s plush beds, we padded down to Eats well rested though slightly dehydrated but nothing a little hair on the dog wouldn’t fix. We knew, considering our delectable dinner experience, that with brunch we were in for a mouth watering treat. We were correct.
No brunch is complete without booze and Eats Kitchen + Bar is not lacking. For a taste of spice, a “Build your own Bloody Mary” option allows you to experiment with all the necessary accouterments, though we opted for a mimosa flight, made with a selection of fresh juices that complemented the champagne. With the sweet portion satisfied, we put our stomachs in the hands of Chef Jason. Chef Jason calls on his Filipino heritage to execute his savory dishes. Each menu option made my mouth water in anticipation—from the Brioche French toast to the Dungeness crab omelet. A hearty option was the congee—rice porridge with a multitude of flavors. Nothing that touched our plate was bland or lacked flavor—each dish was seasoned to perfection resulting in my inevitable five pound gain during our stay that was well worth it.
After brunch, it was all too quickly time to check out and I (only half-joking) asked my husband if we could move to the hotel. As we drove away, on to our next O.C. afternoon adventure, I was already looking forward to another weekend getaway at Hotel Irvine, though I might need to purchase a new and stretchier wardrobe as a result.