Before it became a TV star, the O.C. — Orange County, California — was LA’s poor relation. Disneyland’s home was no magic kingdom for golf, just a sunny sprawl between Torrey Pines and Riviera. Then Tom Fazio built two tracks at Pelican Hill, both better looking than Mischa Barton. You can also follow the trail of Tiger Woods, who grew up in the area. It’s not exactly like a pilgrimage to the Old Course (golf’s real OC) in search of the spirit of Old Tom, but the weather is better and the accommodations are spiffier. Just be prepared for the ego bruising when you arrive at John Wayne International Airport and your teen asks who the Duke was.
Monarch Beach Golf Links
6,601 yards, par 70; Greens fee: $150-$185; 949-240-8247; monarchbeachgolf.com
Monarch Beach, south of the much-photographed beachfront hub of Laguna Beach, is the sporty Mini Cooper of Orange County courses. A kick to play, the former site of the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Team Matches is a true subcompact, a little too small for its own good. Architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. had only a corner of beachfront to work with. That’s why the only seaside hole, the dogleg par-4 second, calls for a less than thrilling 4-iron off the tee. Monarch’s best holes are the tough par-3 fourth, the bruising, criss-crossing seventh and the 19th — a cozy grillroom with commanding views of the sea.
Pelican Hill Golf Club
Ocean North: 6,856 yards, par 71; Ocean South: 6,589 yards, par 70; Greens fee: $175-$250; 949-760-0707; pelicanhill.com
Tom Fazio’s dramatic duo at Pelican Hill, half an hour from the airport in Newport Coast, offer postcard scenery without a strip mall in sight. Both the Ocean North and Ocean South layouts feature forced carries over canyons and memorable — some might say cruel — finishing holes. The North has views of Catalina Island, plus a tricky, uphill 17th called “Gut Check.” If you play only once at Pelican, opt for Ocean South with its gimmicky-but-fun 13th, “Double Trouble,” a par-3 with a pair of greens — the closest only 110 yards from the tips. Better yet is the 17th, which plays toward the ocean and has one of the best tee-to-green vistas on earth.
Tustin Ranch Golf Club
6,803 yards, par 72; Greens fee: $85-135; 714-730-1611; tustinranchgolf.com
Designed by Ted Robinson, Tustin is one of the county’s pleasant if unremarkable upscale daily-fee tracks, replete with fountains, lakes and waterfalls.
Coyote Hills Golf Course
6,510 yards, par 70; Greens fee $90-110; 714-672-6800, coyotehillsgc.com
Carved from an oilfield by Cal Olson and Payne Stewart, working oil wells still dot the course. Coyote Hills is short and not too taxing — a good warm-up for the other O.C. tracks.
H.G. “Dad” Miller Golf Course
5,892 yards, par 71; Greens fee $13-$32; 714-765-3481; anaheim.net
Quirky and crowded, but legendary to trivia buffs. The eponymous “Dad” was 93 years old when he aced the 13th hole. The 614-yard 17th, soon to be shrunk in a Fazio renovation, was a favorite of Tiger Woods, who demoralized opponents in high school matches here by hitting the green in two — with a 2-iron.
Anaheim Hills Golf Course
6,250 yards, par 71; Greens fee $42.50-$57.50; 714-998-3041; anaheim.net
Your weekday greens fee of $42.50, cart included, is a ticket to the wicked (the impossible uphill third hole and 254-yard par-3 fourth) and the wacky (two par 4s under 300 yards), with dizzying shifts in elevation. In these canyons southeast of Disneyland, real coyotes and roadrunners are known to frequent the course. One foursome found a mountain lion sunning itself on the 14th green.
You might be only a short drive from the glamour of Hollywood, but the only stars your kids will be interested in are at Disneyland. Another O.C. landmark is South Coast Plaza, the Costa Mesa megamall that racks up $1 billion in sales each year. But that’s not the only shopper’s paradise in the county. Fashion Island, an outdoor mall, has all the retail sizzle you’d expect in Newport Beach, plus a carousel, koi ponds and several crowd-pleasing fountains. From the mall’s west-facing escalators, you can see sailboats on the Pacific.
Just up the coast, Huntington Beach bills itself as Surf City, USA. After a visit to the International Surfing Museum — home to curios and artifacts like one of wave legend Duke Kahanamoku’s old boards — grab a fish taco at Wahoo’s. Chomp it on your way down Main Street to the sport’s Walk of Fame and the Huntington Beach Pier, which affords sky-high views of the dudes riding breakers below.
Where to Stay
Since 2001 the $240 million St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa has been knocking guests’ socks off with its balconies and terraces, Picassos and Chagalls, private beach club and golf. Rooms start at $369. Call 949-234-3200 or visit stregismonarchbeach.com
The four-star Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach is just a half a mile from the surfing theatrics at Huntington Beach Pier. Rooms start at $250. huntingtonbeach.hyatt.com
If you’re traveling with kids, the jungle-themed Embassy Suites Hotel Anaheim South with a 14-foot waterfall and Koi ponds is just a mile from Disneyland. Rooms start at $139. embassysuites.com
Where to Eat
The top-ticket grub is at the St. Regis’ French restaurant, Aqua. But the best views are from the outdoor tables of the sumptuous Lobby Lounge, where high tea is served each afternoon. Save room for something completely different: truffle popcorn.
For fresh seafood, big steaks and award-winning ale, head to Taps Fish House & Brewery. The best time to go is for the Sunday jazz brunch, but bring your appetite. You can feast on an all-you-can eat raw bar, plus jambalaya, omelet and waffle stations, with bottomless flutes of champagne to boot. Imperial Highway, Brea, 714-257-0101
If you only eat pork chops once a year (and you happen to be in Orange County at the time), have them at Salt Creek Grille, where they claim to serve “the best pork chop on the planet.” This steaks and chops lodge-style joint also has an attractive fire pit for outdoor dining and is popular with the locals. Pacific Coast Highway , Dana Point, 949-661-7799