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  Where to Stay >> Pelican Hill


Southern California and Pelican Hill. Two essential ingredients for a family holiday full of good old five star American hospitality. Oh, and private butlers, of course!

WORDS Wendy Calhoun

P erched above a pristine stretch of Southern California coastline, I marvelled at impressive yachts sailing across Newport Beach waves in the distance, when my six-year-old daughter, Sophia, surprised me with a hug. “I love this house, Mummy,” she beamed. “I never want to leave.” We were standing on the private terrace of our three-bedroom villa at The Resort at Pelican Hill, a 200-hectare luxury retreat with expansive ocean views, world-class golf, opulent pools, and an award-winning spa. A few steps outside the serenity of our villa were incredible resort experiences to explore, but in that moment, I was completely satisfied holding my daughter while we admired Pelican Hill’s extraordinary vista.

The Resort offers roomy bungalows and suites, but for ultimate pampering or an extended stay, nothing beats their two-, three-, or four-bedroom villas. Our 239 square metre residency had ample space for my husband David, our two wildly different daughters, 16-year-old Brenna and little Sophia, and my husband’s retired parents, Kathy and Bob. Upon arrival, Kathy eagerly inspected the villa’s stocked gourmet kitchen, great dining area with wood-beam adler ceilings, limestone fireplace, private two-car garage with laundry facilities, marble walk-in showers, and grand soaking tubs. Each villa offers its own butler, concierge and personal chef service. A fleet of chauffeured luxury vehicles including a Bentley, is available to guests 24 hours a day so I happily parked my BMW in the garage and left it there during our entire stay.

The Resort at Pelican Hill, which opened in 2008, was built to capture the graciousness of an Italian seaside village, and owes its grand architectural design to the vision of Italy’s renowned Renaissance-style architect, Andrea Palladio. As we took a winding stroll beneath mature olive trees, replanted here with an abundance of fully grown Mediterranean landscaping, Brenna and I discussed how much we appreciated this destination for being an American original. Unlike other resorts in the area, Pelican Hill is a one-of-a-kind escape, not affiliated with an international hotel or resort conglomerate. Brenna mentioned that Pelican Hill is “a rad place to kick back” when visiting another world-renowned first, Disneyland, located less than half an hour drive away. I countered that it’s “a cool spot” to rest after marathon shopping at nearby Fashion Island, a formidable collection of upscale stores that arguably trumps Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive. We agreed to add Newport’s beautiful outdoor mall, Fashion Island, to our weekend agenda. Shopping is Brenna’s favourite teen past time. I know I’m to blame. Luckily, there’s plenty of options nearby to satisfy our retail obsession including several lovely boutiques at the resort.

On our first evening, we enjoyed dinner at Piccolo Restaurant next to the resort’s Villa Clubhouse infinity pool. Pelican Hill features several unique five star restaurants, cafes, and lounges around the property, but reserves Piccolo exclusively for villa guests. A guitarist played Louis Armstrong standards as an auburn sunset melted into the ocean before us. Our server welcomed Sophia with bendable craft toys, crayons, and a sea-themed activity book. Piccolo’s eclectic menu of Asian and Italian small plates had enough variety of tastes for all of us. I indulged in the Asian options with crispy imperial rolls, and yellow fin tuna tartare while my husband devoured Italian whole-wheat pasta with duck ragu, and velvety grilled lamb chops. Our daughters, as well as the grandparents, were most excited by Piccolo’s deserts; coconut cheesecake pops, freshly made gelato, and double chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches.

Lead image: The blissful greens and blues of Pelican Hill.
Above top: Pool views.
Above bottom: Wendy with her daughters, Brenna and Sophia.

The next morning, our butler arrived in a new Cadillac Escalade to drive us to the Spa where a resort nature guide met us. We followed the guide through winding bluff top trails, stepping down spectacular rock formations, and wading through tide pools at Crystal Cove Beach. This favourite local hideaway is a premier state marine preserve perfect for swimming, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and hiking. Whales and dolphins frequent the area, but on this morning, Sophia and Brenna entertained themselves by watching tiny crabs scurry across the sand. I loved eyeing Crystal Cove’s famous beach cottages, used as locations for many Hollywood films including the original ‘Treasure Island’ in 1918, and ‘Beaches’ starring Bette Midler in 1988.

We spent our afternoon relaxing in a private cabana overlooking the resort’s Coliseum Pool, one of the largest circular pools in the world, holding 1.4 million litres of chemical-free saltwater. Over a million hand-cut glass mosaic tiles were hand-set to create the pool’s splendid blue bottom. At 41 metres in diameter, the Coliseum is big enough to never feel crowded, although it is definitely the most popular place to hold court at the resort. Each indulgent cabana comes loaded with amenities. Attendants stopped by regularly to polish our sunglasses, serve cocktails, and deliver festive casual meals prepared at the poolside grill. The cabanas have amazing panoramic ocean views facing the Resort’s Tom Fazio-designed championship golf courses. Their famous golf academy offers yoga golf classes, junior golfer lessons, and complimentary sunset rounds for young golfers.


Above: Sophia in the Villa Clubhouse Pool

From top: Cabana dining by the Coliseum Pool.
Brenna and Sophia enjoying gelato.
Interior of the Camp Pelican Clubhouse.

Although the Coliseum pool is exactly three feet deep throughout its massive diameter, it still intimidated Sophia who preferred the children’s pool at Camp Pelican, a separate facility especially for kids. The Camp features toys, games and crafts, but also has the latest console titles for video game enthusiasts. I lost track of time playing with Sophia in the spouting bubble-jet fountain.

Later, the resort’s concierge arranged for us to take a private sunset cruise around the gorgeous canals near Balboa Island in a chic electric Duffy boat. Yachting day trips and all manner of boating activities are only minutes away from Pelican Hill. David steered the Duffy past fantastic mansions including John Wayne’s former estate.

After dinner, David and I headed to the Resort’s Great Room for a date. The Great Room offers a champagne cart and live music performances. We indulged in original Italian cocktails while listening to a local band play rock classics for an energetic crowd.

The next morning, I headed to the Resort’s award-winning spa for an aromatherapy massage. The 2100 square metre palace features a massive Palladian rotunda, fountain wall, steam rooms, saunas and saltwater Roman soaking tubs. My masseuse presented nine different types of oil fragrances for me to choose from, and after expertly kneading my tired shoulders, gave me a bottle of the oil I selected to take home.

Once I emerged from spa bliss, I discovered my daughters at The Caffé’s gelato counter. They were already listing the things they will do on our next trip to Pelican Hill. I took Sophia in my arms, and relished one last glance at the breathtaking view toward the ocean. “Don’t worry, Mummy,” Sophia smiled, “we’ll be back.”

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