Guests at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club often meet Lance Murphy soon after checking in. The 60-year-old Southern California native drives a woodie-style tram around the 175-acre property.
"Technically my job takes me to the beach 15 to 20 times a day," Murphy says. "From the tram stop near the main lobby, I drive guests to the pool, or through the tunnel to Salt Creek Beach, or down to the Monarch Bay Beach Club."
Located south of Laguna Beach and north of Dana Point, Monarch Beach has been Murphy's "office" since 2014. But his connection to the area runs even deeper—he's lived in southern Orange County for the past four decades.
"The Monarch Beach neighborhood is serene, it's majestic, it's natural,” he says. “It's like an island that's separate from the rest of the coast. There's a heartbeat and a soul here, and I get to connect our guests to this beautiful environment."
The private Monarch Bay Beach Club is one of the hotel's biggest attractions, he says. "This long stretch of sand flows to the very end of Salt Creek Beach, and that's where the Beach Club is located. We have a team on the sand that sets up your beach umbrella and chairs. It's very private and exclusive, almost like a place in the South of France."
Murphy, a lifelong ocean enthusiast, learned to surf as a kid in the 1970s. Recently he's taken up the sport again on a 10-foot longboard. "In my free time, I go to to the beach three to four days a week, sometimes to get in the water and surf or sometimes just to sit on the sand and look out at the ocean. It's so calming," he says, adding that he likes to “head down the coast to Trestles Beach, near where President Nixon used to live in San Clemente. The train goes right by Trestles, and it's beautiful to walk around there. It's still a very rural part of Orange County.”
In addition to alluring beaches, the coastline from Laguna Beach to Dana Point Harbor has a vibrant art scene, oceanfront restaurants, and stroll-able attractions. Some of his favorite places to eat include Las Brisas, Luciana's Ristorante, and Shwack Beach Grill. "Everything is so close together," he says. "You never have to get on a freeway."
But Murphy says what stands out most to the visitors he meets is the pristine coastal scenery. "When I'm at work, I always take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. Each moment is brand new because it's just so magnificently beautiful."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Murphy provided a few bonus recommendations that are popular with locals and are sure to please visitors:
Best museum: "The Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor is a nonprofit museum devoted to marine science and maritime history. I highly recommend people go there because it's an easy way for all ages to learn about, understand, and appreciate the ocean. It's very educational and interactive. Kids can touch sea stars and other creatures in aquarium tanks, and you can tour a schooner, the Spirit of Dana Point."
Most unique shop: "Walk inside The Fragrance Boutique in downtown Laguna Beach and it's like being in Paris. The walls are lined with glass bottles, each filled with a different scent. It's like a perfume laboratory. You can smell the different scents, and the owners will assist you in creating your own personal fragrance."
French fare: "C'est La Vie is a very authentic French restaurant in Laguna Beach. They serve beautiful pastries, omelets, quiches, Monte Cristo sandwiches. There's an idyllic outdoor deck in the back that overlooks the beach. There's only enough space for a few tables, but it's a lovely spot for eating outside with an ocean view."
Best tour: "The best way to see marine life is to get a seat on Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching tours out of Dana Point Harbor. They have see-through glass in the bow of their catamaran. You can see dolphins under the surface swimming right alongside the boat. Plus, at the end of the tour, everybody gets a fudge brownie."
Sweet spot: "In Laguna Beach, there's a quaint, beautiful passageway called Peppertree Lane. It's dreamy, and it has two great dessert shops side by side. Gelato Paradiso makes authentic Italian gelato and homemade waffle cones. It's so good that there's often a long line on the weekends. Right next to it is a charming place called La Rue du Chocolat. You walk inside and it's filled with freshly made truffles and other handmade chocolates."