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Orange County, California Travel Review

We are always California dreamin’ in Casa Raiford. I spent a year living in Northern California when I was a teenager, and my husband and I just can’t get enough. It’s probably our favorite place (does it count if we also say that when we talk about that time we spent a week in Hawaii or every few months when we spend a weekend in NYC?) – and we’ve fallen hard for every California city we’ve visited. San Francisco has our hearts, and so does Napa – but it’s SoCal that has our hearts. Why? Not just because some of our very favorite family members call the OC (Orange County) home, but because of every single thing.

It’s barely been two months since we were there last, and I thought I’d bring you an OC travel guide guaranteed to make you never want to leave (including a few places we love and adore in and around LA, too).

There’s just something so beautiful about the mountains on one side of you and the ocean on the other. The beautiful sunsets, the blooming flowers everywhere, and the gorgeous architecture help. A view everywhere you go isn’t the worst way to live. Craig and I live our best life when we are in the OC, and it’s where we will eventually end up calling home – though probably not until the kids are grown and out of the house.

Where to Stay

If you’re in the OC, you want a view – and we have four very favorite places you cannot miss.

  1. The Balboa Bay Club Resort

It’s situated directly on the bay in Newport Beach, and it’s everything. You get gorgeous views, amazing restaurants, and the most fun staff. And if you want to pick up a Ferrari or a Maserati, you can just cross the PCH and pick one up across the street. It’s seconds from Fashion Island, not far from South Coast Plaza, and an easy drive up or down the PCH anywhere you want to go.


  1. The Montage Laguna Beach

Listen, this is THE place to stay. We cannot get enough of the Montage, and it is our first priority every single time we are in the OC. Do not forget you must have lunch at The Loft – and ask to sit outside over the pool, over the ocean. It’s a must.

  1. The Surf and Sand Laguna Beach

You cannot go wrong at the Surf and Sand. It’s centrally located in LB, it’s gorgeous, it’s upscale, and it’s literally on the sandy beaches in Laguna. If you want to be about 7 feet from the Pacific, you want to be at the Surf and Sand.

  1. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

It’s not really a big secret we are huge RC fans, but this is by far our favorite anywhere in the world. The hotel sits atop a gorgeous cliff overlooking the ocean. There is nothing better than grabbing a glass of vino in the hotel bar and taking it outside to grab a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs in the gorgeous lawn at the edge of the cliff. If you can grab one before the sunsets over the ocean, do it. Bucket list item, for sure.

Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel photos 

Where to Eat

Okay, so I have about a million places on this list, and they’re not all in The OC simply because we do take day trips to LA and have fallen a little bit in love with more than one place there. I’ll break them down for you, however.


Javier’s Newport Beach If you want a gorgeous view of the setting sun over the ocean, amazing food, and the most spectacular atmosphere with the best prices imaginable, you want Javier’s. It’s chic, it’s fun, and it’s amazing. The décor is to die for.

The Rooftop LoungeYou’ll find this little gem at the top of the La Casa del Camino hotel, but you’re going to want to find parking wherever you can (get your quarters ready for the meters) because you won’t find valet here (major downfall). However, the rooftop bar sits directly above the ocean, it’s spacious, and the drinks are on par.

{Do not forget to order the fresh cinnamon donut bites as a brunch appetizer at Splashes…}

SplashesThis gorgeous Surf and Sand Resort restaurant has the most spectacular Sunday Brunch, and we never miss it. You can make a reservation, but you’re almost always better off just heading downstairs to the bar and taking in the view if you can’t get one of the most spectacular little tables for two directly outside on the deck. The Bloody Mary’s here are everything.

The LoftEvery time we get to Laguna, we check in and head straight to the Loft at the Montage. Sit outside. Enjoy the view – and perhaps you might consider splitting an appetizer and an entrée with the person you love most because the servings here are so big you’ll still never finish if you’re both working on them.

A&OIf you have time for a light lunch, try stopping at the Balboa Bay Club to enjoy bayside dining. The drinks are good, the food is good, and it’s always fun to watch the multi-million dollar yachts go by. If you have time, rent a Duffy Boat and take a few hours (and a bottle of champagne) out into the Newport Harbor to enjoy the most beautiful views.


(Photo by Geoffrey’s Malibu)

Geoffrey’sIf you’re interested in heading up the PCH into Malibu, make this your stop. Breathtaking views, beautifully crafted cocktails, and inspiring menu-items are everything you love and more.


(Photo by Dorchester Collection)

Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-AirIn Bel-Air? Eat here. You’re sitting in the garden beneath the gorgeous bougainvillea, by the amazing landscaping, in the gorgeous California weather – you cannot go wrong. Ever.

Honorable mentions – Mozambique and Las Brisas in Laguna Beach are both amazing, but they don’t quite make the cut as far as must-see when we have a quick trip and no additional time. If we do have an additional day, we stop here.

Things To Do

So, I’d totally recommend spending time with some of our most amazingly favorite people on the planet if you’re in the OC, but they’re ours – sorry. If you can’t spend quality time with Action Alan and the gorgeous Helene, however, I’d recommend you ask someone else what to do for fun around here.

We basically find the most beautiful views, sit down and order a cup of coffee or a cocktail, and we drink in the view. Or we go shopping; South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island, please and thank you. Crystal Cove is super cute, too.

It’s also one of our favorite things to do is to park in Corona Del Mar and walk up and down the gorgeous streets looking at the quaint little homes, the amazing oceanfront homes, and stopping in the cutest little boutiques and restaurants. We love the do the same on the Balboa Peninsula and in Laguna Beach, too. Stop, walk, shop, eat and drink, laugh, ask ourselves why we haven’t made the move to California yet, remind ourselves that we need to be near our parents until the kids can babysit themselves, and laugh some more.

Basically, California is always a good idea, especially if it’s Orange County. It’s perfection.


{All photos taken by Tiffany Raiford using iPhone 8 Plus except Geoffrey’s Malibu photo by Geoffrey’s Malibu and Wolfgang Puck photo by Dorchester Collection}


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