The St. Regis Monarch Beach Chef Concierge Gundula Reile shares Orange County’s most delicious and delightful spots this winter.- By Hannah Ostrow
snow-specific. Chef Concierge Gundula Reile offers her picks for the best places to eat, shop and play in Orange County this winter
The cooler months call for hearty Italian fare, even if the temperature never drops below 55 degrees. LUCIANA’S RISTORANTE is an enchanting and convenient pick, located less than 10 minutes from The St. Regis Monarch Beach in a charming converted home complete with a fireplace and quaint outdoor seating.
“Luciana’s serves the most delicious pasta dishes, everything created from recipes from northern Italy,” Reile says. “Luciana’s owners have a cooking school in Italy and pride themselves on their restaurant.” (949-661-6500; lucianas.com)
The next town north on Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach boasts two Italian restaurants that come highly recommended: ROMEO CUCINA is a mainstay in town, family-owned and operated for more than a decade. “Antonio and his family bring Italian hospitality into this inviting restaurant,” Reile says. Brick-oven pizzas and homemade pastas await guests’ palates. (949-497-6627; romeocucina.com)
CUCINA ALESSÁ arrived in Laguna Beach in 2010, but this vibrant and immensely popular restaurant shows no sign of slowing down. “What fun to sit at the bar, enjoy a glass of pinot grigio and freshly cut prosciutto, followed by a delicious risotto,” Reile says. Cucina Alessá favorites include delicious dishes such as a diverse prosciutto and mozzarella menu as well as a homemade butternut squash-ricotta ravioli with a brown butter sage sauce that’s available as an appetizer or an entree. (949-497-8222; cucinaalessa.com)
Whether you have children in tow or little ones waiting back at home, the area around the resort boasts several children’s boutiques worth visiting. MAC AND MADI in San Clemente sells clothes, toys, books and other essentials, but Mac and Madi is Reile’s pick because of its enchanting design that is “every little girl’s dream.”
“Every color you can imagine is spread in various little rooms, divided in age groups—the best room is the one with all the colorful tutus,” Reile says. “What fun it would be to buy a tutu, and then go out to see a ballet in one of Orange County’s performing arts venues.” (949-366-6226; macandmadi.com)
The charming LITTLE BOHEMIAN boutique, located in the heart of downtown Laguna Beach, offers a variety of children’s clothing and shoes for every season. “If you’re looking for special gift for a child, here you will find items such as a hand-knitted doll that will stay with a child forever,” Reile says. (949-981-4969; littlebohemiankids.blogspot.com)
Laguna Beach is also home to HILLARY, a sophisticated children’s boutique that stocks pint-size lines from high-end designers like Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney and J Brand. Hillary also carries lines from hard-to-find European designers—a must-have for stylish tots. (949-494-4862; hillarykids.com)
“For someone coming from four seasons, you need to adjust,” Reile says. “It takes time to get a more cozy Christmas feeling.”
Reile’s suggestions for capturing the spirit of the season without the snow? Head to a CHRISTMAS BOAT PARADE in Dana Point or Newport Harbor for a California spin on holiday lights shows: Yachts float by, decked out in festive light designs that rival the most elaborate decorations on land.
The Dana Point Harbor Parade of Lights runs the second and third weekend in December; the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade runs Dec. 19 – 23. (Dana Point Harbor, Dana Point: 949-923-2255; danapointharbor.com) (Newport Harbor, Newport Beach: 949-729-4400; christmasboatparade.com)
Though the weather remains largely unchanged, winter in Southern California does mean at least one mark of the new season: The migration of the gray whales. The season for whale watching starts in December and continues through March, as droves of gray whales make their way from the cold Alaskan waters to the warmth of Mexico’s coast. Take a tour with dana wharf sportfishing & whale watching that leaves from Dana Point, only minutes away from The St. Regis Monarch Beach. (949-496-5794; danawharf.com)