Given its wonderful location on bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point, the Monarch Beach Resort offers everything you would expect from a Five Diamond property.
There’s the Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed golf links that has two ocean-front holes plus plenty of ocean views from other holes; the Miraval Spa, fitness facilities, a brand new swimming pool and newly renovated public spaces and rooms. When you walk into the lobby or other public spaces, they reflect the Five Diamond rating of the resort.
Located in southern Orange County, the resort is ideal for either couples or families. In addition to the pool, a private beach is a short shuttle ride away. Electric shuttles move guests around the resort. The beach, operated as the Monarch Bay Club, functions as a private membership club open to resort guests. There’s beach-front dining both inside and on the patio at the club.
In addition to the Monarch Bay club, dining is available at the newly redone Aveo on the main level as well as fine dining at Chef Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern and 33 North.
The resort previously had been operated by Starward as a St. Regis brand, but the owners as of 2014, KSL Capital Partners, decided to run the facility in-house. Operating luxury properties is in their sweet spot—others include Squaw Valley; Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage and La Quinta in the Coachella Valley; La Costa in Carlsbad, and the Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Island in San Diego Bay. The new name June 1 was the final step in a $40 million renovation for the 400-room resort.
We stayed in a large ocean-view room with a balcony ideal for enjoying a glass of wine while watching the sun go down. We went to the beach to do that, dining oceanside at the Monarch Bay Club. The room and the turn-down service exceeded expectations—we have slept in some excellent beds—this may have been the best with linens to match. The chocolates on the pillows, robes and slippers laid out bedside plus bottled water and glass on the table demonstrated excellent service. The oversized bathroom featured a huge soaking tub, separate shower and two sinks with the personal care amenities to match.
For dinner, we caught the shuttle down to the Monarch Bay Club and sat overlooking the ocean and the beach 10 feet below. As you would expect, the menu featured plenty of fish and shellfish as well the requisite Kale salad—it is Orange County. We started with a tasty appetizer of roasted baby beets on bruschetta topped with ricotta and a fennel-infused, honey, citrus zest, balsamic vinegar dressing.
My bride enjoyed the Chili Glazed Morrow Bay Black Cod that was served over baby bok choy, with king oyster mushrooms and rock shrimp dumplings.
I opted for the fresh fish of the night—a roasted Barramundi served over quinoa with a pomegranate and tarragon sauce. Delightful. We paired the fish entrees with a Pinot Noir.
For dessert, we tried the Lemon Pound Cake in a jar—the third time on the four-day trip we had been served a dessert in a pint Mason jar as well as a wonderful Profiteroles with Pistachio gelato, strawberries and warm chocolate sauce. A perfect way to end a wonderful meal.
The next morning, we dined at the expansive Aveo (large dining room plus large balcony overlooking the ocean and the golf course.) Stairs from the balcony lead down to the pool and the grand lawn. The first place I have seen a smoothie menu in an upscale dining environment. Our egg dishes, the coffee and the fresh squeezed orange juice were an excellent start to the day (single-cup coffee makers also are available in the rooms).
We then adjourned to the golf links for a mid-morning round. The first hole was re-routed due to the upgrades to the grand swimming pool. After the first two holes, we drove the golf cart through a tunnel under the Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean emerged. Hole No. 3 is a short par 4 measuring 315 from the tips. The downhill hole invites the big hitters to drive the green—miss and you are over a cliff, in a trap or asking hikers along the trail to duck.
No. 4 then goes back uphill with a par 3 from 185 yards. It’s all carry. Once you hole out, it’s back through the tunnel and up along the rugged coastal canyons to finish out the front nine. Food, at the turn, is excellent. It is also accessible at No. 1 and No. 6.
The golf course turns inland and resembles a stock country club course with homes overlooking the holes on both sides. Trent Jones Jr. adds water hazards along the back nine that add challenge. The par 70 course plays to a 135 slope form the tips at 6,645 yards.
Given the variety of skill levels of the golfers, pace of play can be an issue. The course offers express lane tee times at 9 a.m. or earlier for players who are confident they can get around in four hours. After that, five hours is the expected time. The five-hour round is backed up by a pro shop guarantee of a voucher for free round if slow play ahead makes your round over five hours.
One nice note: while the Aveo space was being renovated, Starward offered employees the opportunity to transfer to Aspen and work at the resort there. Twelve employees took advantage of the offer—a few stayed while others returned to Dana Point.