Every year, around this time, when the cool night’s air hits my skin as I stroll down the boardwalk, I recall my earliest memory of Newport Beach: my first Corona del Mar bondfire. I remember the brilliant orange and yellow-hued fire as it danced against the wooden logs that crackled beneath. The embers floated into the ether. The charred caramel scent of toasted marshmallows mixed with the briny ocean air. As I sat on the cool sand, I knew in that idyllic moment there was no place like Newport in the winter. As the nighttime ocean air whipped my face, we packed up our belongings and headed to Five Crowns. My loved ones and I cut into thick slabs of prime rib as we chatted away the evening.
Orange County never ceases to amaze me during the holidays. The twinkling lights emanating from the yachts circling the harbor during the boat parade, hearty celebratory dinners at Five Crowns, and the holiday festivities at The Resort in Pelican Hill, Hotel Irvine and the Montage give us so many ways to celebrate the season.
“Seas the Holidays”
The annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights grew into a quintessential holiday tradition for the locals. In 1913, the nautical pageant united the community with illuminated paper lanterns strung on fishing vessels. Today, the glowing extravaganza attracts crowds with expansive yachts covered in millions of twinkling lights. Whether its gathering near the shore, huddled with cups of hot chocolate and sweet sugar cookies, or viewing the festivities in the water from a Duffy boat, or my personal favorite–enjoying the light show as it floats by while you wine and dine at a waterfront restaurant–there’s no wrong way to enjoy the boat parade. Dining options range from casual gastropub fare from Balboa Bay Resort’s A&O Kitchen to steaks and bottle service at the colossal Winery Restaurant and Wine Bar on Pacific Coast Highway. A collection of local eateries are listed on the boat parade’s website.
Tucked away in the hills above Newport Coast, the iconic five-diamond Resort at Pelican Hill offers a picturesque backdrop for the holiday season. One of its eye-catching centerpieces is a gargantuan gingerbread display housed in the main lobby. The Candy Land-inspired cookie spectacle is decorated with green and red gumdrops, handfuls of marshmallows, peppermint candies, crunchy pretzels drizzled with white chocolate, and a myriad of other tantalizing sweets.
The Resort features a slew of holiday events, including the Kris Kringle Story Time Mingle, a new complimentary event that includes a meet-and-greet with good old Saint Nick in front of the gingerbread spectacular. Santa parks his sleigh and takes some time away from the North Pole to read stories three times a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Christmas Eve. Those inspired by the humongous gingerbread display can build their own edible opus by joining Pelican Hill’s pastry chef for a culinary class. The interactive decorating sessions are $85 per person and take place on Sunday, December 11 and Saturday, December 17 at 10 a.m. Other ways to celebrate the season include Hanukkah feasts at the Coliseum Pool & Grill, where braised brisket, crispy latkes and baked kugel are served through January PelicanHillResort.com
The Irvine Hotel offers its own special holiday offerings, including its popular 12 days of Christmas menu at EATS gastropub. The Twelve Days menu commences with the chef’s version of “A Partridge in a Pear Tree,” presented as a succulent roasted Scottish partridge with an Anjou pear and gorgonzola tart. On day five, the “Five Golden Rings” are served as golden Berliner Housemade Donuts with a sweet blackberry sauce and chocolate soil.
Further south in Laguna, Studio at the Montage toasts the holidays with a revamped beverage menu that includes a vibrant red Rosemary’s Thorn cocktail with seasonal pear purée and the Winter Barrel bourbon libation infused with almond and vanilla simple syrup.