Pelican Hill on a Warm Winter Sunday

Ten minutes deep into a Phantom of the Opera-inspired uphill climb on the elliptical, my phone rings. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have answered but the gym was empty and something about seeing the incoming call flash across my screen just as “Angel of Music” was reaching its soaring crescendo gave me pause.


“Hey, what are you doing right now?”

“I’m uh, running.”

“Stop. We’re going to Pelican Hill.”

She hung up, my friend who favors brevity over flourish and tropical, poolside drinks over exercising on a Sunday afternoon. I had never been to The Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Coast before and only heard about it as that place nearby where Kobe Bryant and a sprinkling of effervescent O.C. Housewives lived, women of bouffant, blonde hairdos who mani-pedicured across TV on weekday nights.

I also knew from almost four years spent as a Newport Beach local that traveling southbound on Pacific Coast Highway toward Laguna Beach, you can see the mansions collect like a herd of stucco buffalo along the hilltops and an impressive, arched gateway announcing “Newport Coast” to any who dare pass.

Twenty minutes after the phone call—I did a quick, Broadway-style costume change—and there I was, driving with my friend through those very gates, twisting up a hill to a valet area lined with luxury cars, each one painted a teeth-whitened bright. Bentley, Tesla, Mercedes, Ferrari … the gang was all there. Sheepishly, I snapped a photo when no one was looking, although secret’s out because here it is:

Pelican Hill

The pool/restaurant area at the resort is called The Coliseum, appropriate to describe the balustrade terrace at its entrance, winding twin staircases attached to either end. Ten or twelve Doric columns support a wrap-around balcony occupied by sleek cabanas and creamy lounge chairs, and circumnavigate a pool that looks like a Roman bath except fifty times as large. The circular vista bursts into golf-course green at its farthest curve and past the sand traps and tumbling, manicured lawns, you’ll find ocean. It’s just a hairpin of something blue in the distance but serves as a reminder that if you told friends you were lounging by an oceanfront pool, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

Newport Beach

“Vodka? Rosé? Champagne?” A young man in a crisp, collared shirt, empty tray balanced on half-steady palm, leaned my way. He seemed nervous. Or maybe he was reacting to my own trepidations about being among such aquatic pomp. (“This is THE place to be seen on a Sunday,” my friend’s friend, whose name I can’t remember, had said minutes earlier.) 

“We’ll take a pitcher of grapefruit and vodka,” Forgot Your Name told him. 

Newport Beach cocktail

For the next two hours at Pelican Hill, our group of six or seven dipped in the pool and out, sipped on our fruit-blushed drinks with enough enthusiasm to warrant another round, took photos so everyone not there might hope they could be, and snickered at the Gatsby-ish extravagance of wearing heels and expensive jewelry to a pool, just as an eighth (or ninth?) girl joined us in pink stilettos and a gloppy diamond necklace.

Self-deprecation seemed to ebb and flow with avarice on this endless Sunday afternoon until the two could hardly be seen as any different and even I was confused whether we were laughing at how ridiculous it was to revel in such a lavish scene or else laughing at how ridiculous it would be to do anything else.