This Exclusive California Resort Feels Like a Seaside Italian Village — With Stunning Villas and a Record-breaking Pool

Influenced by renowned Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, The Resort at Pelican Hill is the secret to finding "la dolce vita" in Orange County.

<p>Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

When you think about a dreamy California hotel, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not classic Renaissance architecture. But at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Italophiles can dream big. From the Coliseum Pool and the romantic rotunda to the stately pillars, columns, and olive trees, every turn will transport you to an Italian village.

The Resort at Pelican Hill

  • Community is at the heart of the resort — a Love Local Spa Day Pass offers locals the opportunity to use the fitness, spa, and pool facilities.

  • The expansive grounds include two golf courses, impeccably groomed courtyards, and 1,100 perfectly manicured trees — 750 of them olive.

  • It takes just 15 minutes by car to reach the resort from John Wayne Airport.

All of this isn't to say you won't feel like you're in California — the 504-acre sanctuary is deeply tied to SoCal history, becoming a luxury hideout and a bit of a second home for Los Angeles–based celebrities over the years. It's the slow life that keeps them coming back for more. Think: zero noise pollution and yoga on the lawn with rolling green hills and crashing ocean waves as your backdrop.

If you're yearning to dip your toes in the water, the famed Crystal Cove State Park is just minutes away, its 3.2 miles of golden sand glistening under the sun. A historic seaside district that was also once frequented by Hollywood stars, 46 of its original, rustic-style cottages still stand.

The beachfront cove has a long standing history with Hollywood filmmakers, too. The location's unspoiled, primitive charm has served as inspiration for classics such as "A Few Good Men" and my favorite tearjerker, "Beaches." Naturally, I was eager to explore the "set" with the hope of spotting the deck that wraps around cottage No. 13 — the very place best friends Hillary (Barbara Hershey) and CC (Bette Midler) spend their last sunset together. Eager to explore, we cleared a morning and made it a priority to go, which was easy as the resort provides a courtesy coach. It collects you from your residence and has you at the beach within five minutes. With a complimentary beach bag (filled with towels) in tow, we were ready to go in search of movie nostalgia.

The Rooms

Leaving the main reception, we drove into a gated residential area reminiscent of a modern neighborhood in the Mediterranean. Bungalows lined the pavement with immaculately manicured yards, low-pitched terracotta roofs, and broad front porches. Our one-story dwelling had a large open floor plan with a spacious living room, two bathrooms, and a bedroom that is elevated by its multi-functional office/lounge design. Altogether there are 204 bungalows and each of them brings luxury and character with handcrafted wood-beam ceilings, fireplaces framed by Italian limestone, deep soaking marble tubs, and private terraces with ocean panoramas.

<p>Marshall Williams/Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

Marshall Williams/Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

At the peak of luxury are the villas. There are 128 in total (with two, three, and four bedrooms) and like the bungalows, guests can expect an Italian design influence throughout the space. Ranging from 2,200 square feet to 3,581 square feet, the villas are equipped with gourmet kitchens, dining areas, 60-inch flatscreen televisions, and marble walk-in showers. The use of natural materials throughout makes for a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living, giving guests the best of both worlds.

<p>Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

With thoughtful and comprehensive services, such as personal butlers, private garages, and privileged use of the 10,000-square-foot Villa Clubhouse, it's really no surprise many guests choose the villas for multi-generation retreats and longterm stays.

Food and Drink

<p>Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

Guests have a choice of six restaurants and bars at Pelican Hill. The Coliseum Pool & Grill is popular for its flexibility: You can dine indoors, on the heated terrace, or in a private cabana. All areas provide views of the majestic, 360-degree Coliseum Pool, which features epic proportions of radiant blue mosaic glass tiles — 1.1 million of them — each one intricately hand cut. (It's believed to be the largest circular pool in the world). Our favorite spot was the balcony, an extension from the indoors. It gives you all the al fresco feels while providing an impressive vantage point over the world-class golf course and Pacific Ocean. We particularly enjoyed this spot for cocktail hour; the Spritz was just what the doctor ordered after a hot day perfecting my golf swing, and watching the sun go down while digging into paccheri pasta and herb-roasted chicken was, as the Italians would say, bellissima.

All of the restaurants at the resort offer a completely different mood. The Caffe & Market is on trend for an early afternoon latte, while the Great Room offers seasonally themed cocktails, live entertainment, and a sundown setting for social gatherings.

For a limited time, The Resort at Pelican Hill is adding even more Italian flair via a three-night, six-course dinner series featuring the Michelin-starred Gucci Osteria Beverly Hills. Tickets can be purchased at

Experiences and Amenities

<p>Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

Activities focused on wellbeing, fitness, and leisure, along with weddings, events, and seasonal happenings are all elements that can make a stay at Pelican Hill ultra-memorable. The resort has a gym, spa, and three pools, including the iconic Coliseum Pool and an adults-only pool. The resort's world-class golf courses, Ocean North and Ocean South, are set against stunning terrain and are designed to meld with the natural landscape.

Pelican Hill is a premier institution for playing golf and a top-tier academy for learning it, so I knew I had to pick up a club. Admittedly, golfing had never been on my radar, so I took advantage of a one-on-one, personalized lesson. Face to face with a PGA Master golf pro, I was out of my comfort zone. Starting from zero, in less than an hour I'd learned how to position my hands and place my grip for consistent shots. By some miracle, I’d even managed to (kind of) master the dynamic movement and form needed to consecutively hit the ball far afield. All of that sounds super technical, anyway, so I'll take the win. Kudos to my excellent teacher; I may have found a new hobby.

Guests can easily book lessons online or schedule tee times on either the north or south course.  Located within the stunning Orange County hills, both offer breathtaking coastal vistas and challenge the player to 18 holes of varied difficulty. Golfers can expect a 44,000-square-foot clubhouse with separate men’s and women’s quarters. There's also Caffe II Italian coffee bar, the Pelican Grill, and a golf shop with accessories.

<p>John Luciano/Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

John Luciano/Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

If you're not into golf, the resort provides even slower ways to relax. The perfect example: 18 cabanas on the upper level of the Coliseum Pool, offering fresh poolside fare via an attendant waiting on your every need.

For Pacific Ocean views or a romantic stroll, the Renaissance-style Rotunda stands beautifully to the right of the Coliseum Pool. Its vantage point beckons curious guests to go over and take a closer look, and I’m glad I was one of those guests. A peaceful energy resonates within the hallowed space of the dome, making it a serene opportunity for meditation or a quiet moment to yourself.

The Spa

When my massage therapist told me she was from the holy land, Jerusalem, the previous 45 minutes of my life suddenly made sense. Ordinarily, while I love a massage, there’s generally a twinge of anxiety preventing me from completely relaxing and reaping the holistic benefits. Not this time. I was 30 minutes in before noticing I'd zoned out. It was a divine miracle. My therapist kneaded my back with stones that were heated to the perfect temperature. She personalized the treatment as she worked and expertly adapted the pressure to remove tension. This was next-level for me as her attentiveness and gentle check-ins allowed me to feel safe enough to relax.

The 23,000-square-foot spa offers 22 private treatment rooms, sauna, salt water Roman soaking tubs, a salon, a boutique, and 25 fitness classes a week.


<p>Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort</p>

Courtesy of Pelican Hill Resort

The 504-acre resort is owned by the Irvine Company, who are respected for their commitment to large-scale coastal preservation (57,000 acres) in California. The company believes in creating environments where nature and people can both thrive, and their commitment to implementing sustainable initiatives across Orange County has evolved from a 150-year tradition of land stewardship.

As we stand by the Rotunda and look out towards the 2,791-acre Crystal Cove State Park, Sarah Kruer, director of branded experiences, explains that we’re surrounded by protected habitat and species that are indigenous to the area. Treating the land as a non-renewable resource, water conservation, pollution management, and energy efficiency are reflections of the resort's commitment to the natural environment.

Family-friendly Offerings

The resort is a community hub with activities that bring the whole family together. Guests can access the event calendar to see what’s on during their stay. For example, kids may have the chance to take part in a beach photography class, arts and crafts, and story time.

The Location

Located in the heart of Orange County and set just 3.2 miles above the Pacific coastline, the resort bridges the gap between Newport and Laguna Beach. Flanked by rolling waves and protected marine coves, this slice of paradise is secluded enough to feel a world away, yet close enough to make it easy to explore the chic towns nearby. It's also only 15 minutes from John Wayne Airport.

Finding the Best Value

With The Resort at Pelican Hill's exclusive packages, guests can luxuriate a little longer for a little bit less. For a minimum two-night stay, enjoy 15% off and a nightly resort credit of $100 (bungalows) or $250 (villas) — plus 25% off a cabana booking at the Coliseum Pool. Other value packages include a Buddies Golf retreat and a Girlfriends Villa Getaway; both offer villa credit and the inclusion of spa/golf experiences when you stay for at least two nights.

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