Corona del Mar
Traveling south through Newport Beach, it might be easy to shoot past Corona del Mar and Crystal Cove while heading to Laguna Beach, but that would mean missing the tucked-away coastline of beautiful beaches, spectacular bluffs and historical cottages. The hub of Corona del Mar is only a few blocks, but its village atmosphere sets it apart from its touristy neighbors.
Crystal Cove State Park (www.crystalcovestatepark.com) is one of SoCal’s most delightful seaside spots -- just look at its historical beach cottages or wander its tide pools and sandy coves. The Beachcomber Café (15 Crystal Cove,  376-6900; www.thebeachcombercafe.com), a converted cottage situated right on the beach, is a must. Enjoy a cocktail as the staff raises the martini flag at sunset.
The landmark Five Crowns (3801 E. Coast Highway,  760-0331; www.lawrysonline.com ) may look like a quaint British country Inn, but instead of stodgy pub food, it offers first-class cuisine with juicy cuts of prime rib and fresh seafood. For upscale comfort food, Crow Bar and Kitchen (2325 E. Coast Highway,  675-0070; www.thecrowbarcdm.com) serves a great selection of gastro pub fare, and the O.C. date shake tradition continues at the roadside Ruby’s Shake Shack (7703 E. Pacific Coast Highway,  464-0100)
With tree-lined streets named after flowers (such as Acacia and Poppy), it’s appropriate to find one of the prettiest botanical gardens at Sherman Library and Gardens (2647 E. Pacific Coast Highway,  673-2261; www.slgardens.org), a 2.2-acre horticultural retreat filled with immaculate gardens, patios and conservatories. Weekends are a good time to get a bite to eat on the darling Tea Garden Patio.
Even if you can’t contemplate the room prices at the Resort at Pelican Hill (22701 Pelican Hill Road South,  467-6800; www.pelicanhill.com), there are plenty of options to enjoy this spectacular setting with panoramic views of the coast: sip espressos at the cafe, watch the sun set over the Tuscan gardens as you dine at the Pelican Grill, or enjoy freshly made pasta at the new Northern Italian restaurant Andrea.
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