In Hungry Concierge, we travel the world to spot hotels that operate with their guests’ food and drink needs squarely in mind — hotels, both big and small, that are located in neighborhoods rich with bar and restaurant options. Because there’s nothing worse than having your trip derailed by crummy room service.
I arrived at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach not only with an overstuffed suitcase, but also a pretty good idea of what to expect from the scenic seaside city. This is Orange County, after all. Between reveling in marathons of Bravo’s Real Housewives Of Orange County (no judgment, please) and other random bits I’d collected over the years (through other quality programming such as Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County and The O.C.), I had the area fairly figured out. So I thought.
I couldn’t ignore the gleaming Bugatti supercar parked out front, or the outdoor waiting area flanked with women sporting enlarged chests and pouts, bouncy blowouts and larger-than-life bling and baubles. But thankfully, I was forced to check the rest of my preconceived notions at the front door. (Or more accurately, the front desk.)
After an 18-month, multi-million dollar renovation completed this summer, the property looks and feels incredibly fresh, airy and chic. The front lobby, for example, was transformed into a tranquil oasis. It features oversized glass doors, cooling marble, gold and beige tones and a signature “ocean fresh” scent floating about. It’s a place you’ll always feel welcome, whether you’re wearing a suit or board shorts.
Perhaps the most alluring part of staying here is the newly launched Island Club, a spacious 2,000-square-foot lounge located on the 20th floor. While some writers are loath to use the word “value” in regard to luxury travel, I’m all for it. Because for $35 per day, you’ll receive a seemingly never-ending list of amenities, including breakfast, snacks and nonalcoholic beverages, beer and wine during the signature “Wine Down” hour. You further receive curbside check-in privileges, access to the spa’s lounge and steam room, custom pillow service and dry-cleaning for up to four pieces of clothing. Try to keep a mental tally of what all these perks would run you at any other hotel (particularly a reputable one in one of the country’s most affluent zip codes) and you’ll see what I mean: Could this arguably be the best $35 you’ll ever spend while away from home?
At the hotel’s restaurant, the Oak Grill, chef Marc Johnson echoes the same casual-elegant ethos with his cooking, which specializes in refreshing twists on seafood, like curry-spiced tuna tartare with crisp papadum and Manila clams steamed in beer and grapefruit. If you want to get into some fun after dinner, swing by the lively Aqua Lounge next door for well-crafted drinks and DJs spinning tunes late into the night.
The Rooms: The hotel’s 292 spacious guest rooms and suites have been refreshed with tones of cool aqua, warm orange, and sage green, plus seashells and succulents to reflect Newport Beach’s natural beauty. The famed beds — guests reportedly return to the hotel for these cloud-like cots alone — are dressed in crisp cotton sheets and lofty goose down comforters to keep you cool in summer and cozy come winter. The Island Club fee I mentioned earlier will only enhance your slumber with the custom pillow program. (I chose the full-length body pillow, which blissfully supported my side-sleeping tendencies.)
The Look: To mark the 10-year anniversary of managing the property, the Irvine Company introduced a contemporary aesthetic that was approachable yet sophisticated with the thoughtful use of nature-inspired colors and details. The goal? Easygoing coastal luxury.
The Neighborhood: A breezy stroll away is the world-renowned Fashion Island, a sprawling open-air shopping center. Not only will you find some of fashion’s most recognizable names here, you’ll also find incredible Japanese cuisine. Sushi Roku, which recently opened in June, is a swanky and bustling restaurant that makes one of my favorite cuisines wildly fun. Dive into inventive and unexpected takes on sushi, like blue crab tartare with luscious uni and caviar, and raw fluke punched up with kumquat slices and yuzu vinaigrette. And please let Eiji Mori, the charming manager and sake sommelier, flex his expertise by guiding you to some lesser-known gems, like Dassai 23, a clean and subtly fruity Junmai Daiginjo. To lunch like the locals, head to Gulfstream, a chic, low-key spot where diners linger over the famed biscuits (yes, they’re worth the wait) and hearty, larger-than-life sandwiches. (The fried grouper, smothered in creamy slaw and crisp pickles, is especially awesome.) In the mood for a quick breakfast or afternoon bite? Pick one of the Waffle Affair’s 21 sweet and savory creations, from a deeply satisfying gluten-free cornmeal waffle to one stuffed with prosciutto and Gruyere cheese. Thankfully, beachgoers don’t have to venture far for good eats with the Tackle Box, chef Brian Huskey’s seaside shack located in Corona Del Mar. Fuel up with smoked salmon and avocado tartines for breakfast, and cheesesteaks and chowders for lunch and an early dinner. And if you head to the O.C. this fall, be sure to check out the second annual Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival (October 2-4), for three days filled with world-class sipping, dining and people-gazing.
Island Hotel Newport Beach
690 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach
Rooms start at $209 per night