[FYI, this is an unbiased, unsponsored article. No compensation, perks, commissions, etc. So all recommendations are honest and authentic 😊]
If you’re already an Inspirato Passholder, you’re likely well aware of the incredible amount of inventory available at The Resort at Pelican Hill. I believe Inspirato has around 21 villas at Pelican Hill. And this resort if fabulous. I happen to be sitting on the terrace of Inspirato’s Turtle Rock villa as I begin write this. Our family LOVES Pelican Hill. It’s a special place for us. I’ve previously written about our unique family connection to this place here. This is a staycation for us. We’re local. I grew up on the beaches below Pelican Hill and know all the local secret and not-so-secret spots. Whether you’re doing a staycation like us, or traveling across the country, you’re in for a treat!
Frankly, there are a number of perfect itineraries for a trip to Pelican Hill, it all depends and on your travel tastes and preferences. So please understand, this a not “the perfect itinerary”, rather it is “a perfect itinerary”.
We’re currently here for a four night stay on Inspirato Pass and I’ve put together an itinerary that I think is tough to beat! I can’t come close to hitting all my recommendations here, so at the end I’ll bullet point some other items of interest for your consideration
So here we go…
Day 1: (Afternoon arrival and check-in at 4:00)
After your Inspirato team member checks you into your villa, get settled in and unpacked. Perhaps you’ve had Inspirato stock your villa with groceries. If so, you’re all set for your trip. If not, drive down the hill and you’ll find Trader Joe’s about three minutes away. This is the perfect place to grab your staples for the next few days, wine, cocktails…whatever’s your pleasure. And while you’re down there, get to know the Crystal Cove center a little bit as well. It has a number of great shops and restaurants.
As dinner time approaches, dial up Gina’s Pizza in Corona Del Mar (CDM). They’ll deliver right to your villa front door. Gina’s is iconic. It’s a CDM classic. It was my favorite pizza joint in high school when a number of my friends worked there, then into my college years, then in my young professional years….you get the idea…all the way up to this very day. I’m a bit of a creature of habit and I’ve ordered the exact same thing for 25+ years. Here’s the order…Sicilian chicken and artichoke heart pizza, house salad (add mozzarella) with one ranch dressing and one house dressing (drizzle both over a large salad). Adding avocado can be a great call also. Oh, and get at least an order of the Crispy Ricotta Balls…so dang good! If that order is not your style, not to worry as all of their food is delicious.
I can’t think of a much better way to begin to enjoy Pelican Hill than sitting on your terrace and drinking some nice red table wine as you await your Gina’s order. I’m guessing golden hour will be just as spectacular as it usually is.
After your Gina’s dinner, you’ve got some options. If you had a couple more slices of pizza than you had planned or perhaps a couple more glasses of wine than you expected, maybe just linger on the terrace a bit longer before you turn in. I may have fallen victim to this scenario a time or two. Or, if you still have some life force left on this travel day, stroll down to the main resort area, relax in the jacuzzi at the Coliseum pool, and then grab a cup of gelato and the Market Cafe.
You’re vacation is officially off to a wonderful start.
First full day! I’ll call this “stick-around-Newport-Coast-area” day. No need to rush into a flurry of off-site activity right away. There is so much to see and do at the Resort at Pelican Hill and Crystal Cove State Park (the surrounding beach and hill area) that you may just want to take it all in your first full day.
Kick off your morning with breakfast at The Coliseum Grill. Sitting on the terrace overlooking the pool, golf course, and ocean is as good as it gets. And all of the breakfast items are top notch. I’ll often get the chilaquiles or the parfait. The almond granola-crusted french toast is pretty amazing in its own right. This breakfast will have you fueled up for a full day!
Onto the adventure options for the day; (1) Crystal Cove El Moro Canyon hike – make the couple minute drive to the trail head area and off you go. The views and natural habitat are a thing to behold. Just beware, depending on the route you take, this can be a VERY steep hike, so pick your route accordingly. I’d suggest a hydration pack for longer hikes. The best loop to do to take in the whole experience is a 10 mile loop, but any distance can make for beautiful hike. (2) Walk out of your villa and make your way down to the trails just above the cliffs of Crystal Cove. Walk the paved trails to the north end and then drop down to the sand and walk south until you’re legs tell you it’s time to head back up to Pelican. It’s about 3/4 of a mile from your villa to the beach path so just keep that in mind. There are a number of paths that lead down to the sand so it’s easy to adjust your mileage as needed. (3) Electric bikes around the Newport Peninsula. Have your concierge set you up with this one. A bit less rigorous but tons of fun. You can cruise from the Newport Pier to Balboa Pier and even down to the world famous Wedge (if you’re fortunate, you”ll catch it on a big swell day like in the photo below). And if you loved Gina’s Pizza last night, you can further explore their menu as there is another location at 32nd St. on the peninsula.. (4) If you’re looking for a bit less adventure and prefer more of a retail experience, or perhaps if your party wants to divide up and do different things, some of you may want to hit Fashion Island. It’s a beautiful outdoor mall with great shops and eating spots. My wife and daughters often opt for Fashion Island on the days when I find myself exploring the hills and trails of Crystal Cove.
It may now be time for a siesta! You’ve earned it. I suggest getting cozy on one of your terrace lounge chairs and nodding off for a bit. Is there any better nap set up than lying in your plush lounge chair as Pacific coastal breezes flow over you?
On to dinner at The Beachcomber tonight. Make sure to let your concierge know well ahead of your arrival which evening you’d like to dine at The Beachcomber. Reservations can be tough to come by. The Beachcomber sits on the sand at Crystal Cove. It’s actually right on the beach. There is nothing else like it in So Cal. As far as location, it simply wins. As far as the food goes, it doesn’t quite live up to its setting. The food is fine, but there’s lot of room for improvement. The cocktail menu is solid with a few drinks that pack such a punch you won’t even care what your dinner tastes like. You may want to go ahead and kill two birds with one stone and order the Big Bad Bloody Mary for dinner. This thing is nuts. It’s a Bloody Mary with crab and shrimp around the top. I find it a bit obnoxious, but strangely intriguing at the same time. And yes, at some point in the past I have enjoyed one of these creations.
After dinner, if you’ve still got some party left in you, have the shuttle drop you off at the bar at Javier’s in the Crystal Cove Shopping Center. It’s a people watching gold mine and a fun place for a late drink. If you’re more like me and have no party left in you whatsoever, time to head back to the villa for some shut eye.
Moving on to my favorite day. Have your awesome Inspirato at Pelican Hill concierge set you up with a reservation with Newport Coastal Adventure, maybe for 9:00 or 10:00am (ocean is generally calmer in the morning hours). Head out from your villa a couple of hours before your departure time and grab breakfast at either Rose Bakery or Zinc Cafe in Corona Del Mar. You can’t lose with either of these spots. It will quickly become evident that these are both local favorites, and for good reason. If you decide to hit up Zinc, the asparagus and mushroom omelette is excellent. And should you find yourself at Rose Bakery, keep it simple and select the breakfast burrito of your liking, they’re all great. Also, back in the day this place was called Rose Donuts, so delicious bakery items are in their DNA. I can’t seem to ever leave that place without some sweetly baked items in hand.
Time to meet up with your captain at Newport Coastal Adventure (Follow their Instagram account if you want to get a taste of how awesome this experience can be). No need to go into too much detail about the experience as you’re going to live it out soon enough. Just know this, traditional whale watching out of Newport Harbor is on older, slower boats that leave a whole lot to be desired. Newport Coastal Adventures uses large Zodiac style boats with serious horsepower. It’s a small group of people and you speed around the Pacific covering as much ground as necessary to see all sorts of marine life. In all seriousness (and of course just my opinion), this is the best tourist experience to be had in So Cal. For real.
Okay, you’re now tired and hungry after a few hours out on the open ocean. Time for some sandwiches from Gallo’s, a Corona Del Mar classic. I’ve been eating sandwiches as Gallos on a regular basis since I was 13 years old. That’s 35 years of sandwich eating. On top of that, I order the exact same thing every single time; regular size turkey with pepper jack and a bag of Have’a Chips. And here’s a crazy detail for you, the same guy has been making my sandwich all of those 35 years! That’s right, I’m sure you’ll bump into Jose when you order your sandwich as well. Feel free to ask him how long he’s been working there. So crazy! I’m going to claim that Gallo’s is one of the two most local spots in all of Newport Beach (keep reading for #1 local spot). I will give one warning about this spot. One of my closest friends who also grew up going to Gallo’s is not much of a fan. He states that we all love it and go there so often just because it tastes like delicious nostalgia, not because the sandwiches actually taste good. So, you can be the judge of that. I’ll admit that the bread may be a bit chewy, but I’m standing by this place and my love for its regular turkey with pepper cheese sandwich.
Back at your villa now. Time for a nap or pool time? I suggest you hit the Villa Pool this afternoon and multi-task, getting set-up in a lounge chair where you’ll doze off to sleep after a swim in the large, pizza slice shaped pool. The Villa Pool is serene…restful…quiet. Simply enjoy and take it in. Take a minute to reflect on what a blessing it is to be able to enjoy a place like the Resort at Pelican Hill through Inspirato.
You’re thoroughly rested. Time to go big for dinner. And it doesn’t get any bigger than Mastro’s Ocean Club. Adn when I say big I’m talking about how it impacts both your waistline and your wallet. But sometimes you just need to go for it. We always rationalize our Mastro’s dinner by celebrating a birthday or other special occasion. Because usually the bill requires some rationalization in one form or another. Here’s me go to at Mastro’s – bread service, Iceberg Wedge salad, shared sides of lobster mashed potatoes, broccoli florets, gorgonzola mac & cheese, and asparagus (number of sides depends on number in party)…and then the bone-in ribeye cooked medium. And to finish things up, some Mastro’s Butter Cake is obligatory. I’ve unwisely explored other dessert items at Masto’s in the past. Don’t repeat my error. Butter Cake is the only way to go. As for wine pairing, I bring along a bottle of Bressia Malbec Conjuro. Big wine for a big dinner. Was this dinner a bit over-indulgent? Yes. But, at the same time, it was likely a beautiful time spent with some of the people that you love the most.
Back to the villa. Perhaps a cup of decaf on the terrace as you give your food some time to settle before bed. What a day! Time to crawl into your cozy Pelican Hill bed and dream about what tomorrow might bring.
Last full day. I can’t recommend enough walking or running down by Crystal Cove each morning. It’s so beautiful, so peaceful, and it’s your chance to burn off a few bites of Butter Cake. Considering the food intake yesterday, consider in-villa dining with a light breakfast. Both the Parfait and the Steel Cut Oatmeal are simple and do the trick.
Yesterday you cruised around the Pacific with Newport Coastal Adventures, how about today you relax on the sand at Crystal Cove and swim around in the Pacific? Let your Inspirato concierge know you plan on doing a beach day and they’ll get you all set up. The Pelican Hill shuttle takes you down to the beach (3 minute ride) and provides beach bags with towels and water. From there, grab your complimentary chairs and umbrellas from the kiosk at the beach and find a good spot to post up at for the day. The Crystal Cove tide pools are the best in OC so make sure to walk a bit south to check them out. The tide pools start right in front of the “Beaches Cottage” where the Bette Midler/Barbara Hershey movie was filmed in the 80’s. It’s often open for viewing as well so you might want to peak your head in.
For lunch, I’d go with Crystal Cove Shake Shack just a short walk and a climb up the stairs to the top of the bluff. The view is fantastic and it’s a great casual beach setting to grab a burger, sandwich, and a shake. As a historical note, this spot was originally called the Date Shack and specialized in date milkshakes. As a nod to the past, they still serve these up. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why anyone would order a shake made from dates when there were things like chocolate shakes available. I still might not completely understand that, but the date shakes are delicious. My order here generally doesn’t include a shake, but my youngest daughter gets the Oreo Mocha shake every time, and it’s amazing. All shakes are custom made so feel free to get creative with your ingredients.
When you’ve soaked up all of the sun that you can handle, give the shuttle a call and they’ll come right down and pick your group up and take you back to the front door of your villa. Or better yet, you might want them to take you right to the villa pool for a apres beach jacuzzi session.
As for dinner plans for your last evening, how about having your concierge make a reservation at the Royal Hen on Balboa Island. This little spot is a local favorite and a family favorite of ours. We celebrated my daughter’s birthday down there just last month. Food is great. Ambiance is great. And it’s a great way to support local small businesses. Make sure to get down to the island a bit early and enjoy walking around the bayfront and poking your head in the little boutique stores on Marine Ave. The good news for the non-shoppers in your party is that there are comfy benches up and down Marine Ave that are great for people watching while your significant other shops, and shops….and shops. And know that it is obligatory to grab a Balboa Bar or a Frozen Banana after dinner, so either pass on Royal Hen dessert or just double up (It’s your last day of vacation!). Dad’s is our favorite spot for island treats. You can join in on the age-old local debate about whether the Balboa Bar or the Frozen Banana is the better desert. My own personal journey has led me from purely a Balboa Bar person in my younger years, to now more of a Frozen Banana guy with Butter Brickle topping.
Time to burn off some of that dinner and dessert now. Take the walk around Balboa Island (add in the Little Island if you’re looking for a bit more exercise) and call it a night. The walk around the island bayfront is about 1.6 miles and around 2.5 if you add in the Little Island, which I strongly recommend.
Day 5 (check out at 11:00am)
Time to head back to the villa for your last sleep.
Just because it’s your last morning doesn’t mean you can’t do something fun for breakfast! So, it’s time to head to the #1 Newport Beach long-time local hangout, The Galley Cafe (locals simply refer to it as The Galley). Tucked away at the end of a dead end street off Bayside Drive, The Galley is a breakfast joint where you’ll find dockworkers and billionaires alike sitting elbow to elbow enjoying a chili cheese omelette and coffee brewed out of one of those old school Bunn Coffee Machines. It’s a place where no one bats an eye if you choose to have a Bud Light with your breakfast. But, it’s not dingy. It’s clean, classic, and the food is delicious. Before Yelp and Instagram, you’d never see a non-local at this place. That’s changed a bit now, but there’s still no better local breakfast haunt than The Galley.
That’s it! You’re trip has come to a close. There’s still so much left to do in the area that you might want to go ahead and book another trip to Pelican Hill on Inspirato Pass the day you check out.
And now for all of the recommendations that I just couldn’t fit in. Not much detail here but all of the below are highly recommended. And remember, your concierge is an incredible wealth of information about all of the fun things to do in the area. So, here you go:
- Laguna Beach – I didn’t even mention it. The summer crowds in Laguna are not my favorite, but people love it! Pageant of the Masters is awesome. If you haven’t ever seen it, it’s an absolute must do. Get tickets as much in advance as possible. Checkout the Sawdust Festival while you’re at it. Both of these are summer only events. The Studio restaurant at the Montage is a great dinner spot to try if you venture down to Laguna.
- Duffy Boat Rental – I’d make sure to fit this in any itinerary. Get a Duffy for at least two hours so you can have plenty of time to cruise the Newport Harbor area. Your concierge can set you up, but I highly recommend the actual Duffy Boat spot to rent from. Others can be kind of cruddy. Avoid the peninsula rental spots.
- Ruby’s on the Balboa Pier – Located at the very end of the pier. Good food, great location.
- For takeout/delivery to your villa – Panini Kabob Grill, El Ranchito, and Zov’s are convenient favorites.
- Best lesser known OC dining spot – CHAAK in Tustin. Excellent. High end Mexican. A bit of a distance from Pelican, but worth it especially if you’re in town for a week or so.
- Casual/lesser known restaurant – Baja Fish Tacos in hand’s down the best casual Mexican restaurant we’ve ever eaten at. Many locals agree. Fresh, delicious, reasonable. If you’re in the South Coast Plaza Area, hit this up.
- Pacific Whey – just a few minutes from Pelican in a neighborhood shopping center. Excellent breakfast. Super local spot.
- Five Crowns & Side Door – These are two concepts in one classic, historic Corona Del Mar location. Five Crowns is a classic English Inn style spot that’s been around since 1965. Side Door is its more contemporary and hip counterpart. Both are delightful.
- Sapori Ristorante – Local spot for sure. A wonderful Italian place in the shopping center right by the bridge onto Balboa Island. Highly recommend.
Okay, that’s all I got! I know you’ll love your time at Pelican Hill regardless of how you decide to spend your days.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have a question about any of the above.
And, of course, if you haven’t yet signed up for Inspirato Pass, please shoot an email to my contact at Inspirato and they can set you up with the best deal available.