Like many people in Orange County, I often find myself lamenting the changes that have taken place here: the population surge, the bygone businesses, the increasing lack of open space. I enjoy the benefits of a modern area—fantastic new restaurants, first-run films, endless cultural opportunities—but there are occasions when I’d like to step back in time. What would it have been like to live in the Crystal Cove cottages in the ’50s? Whatever happened to the little Italian restaurant where we had our first date? Just how many orange trees were here?
A recent visit to The Ranch at Laguna Beach brought forth a mix of emotions: comfort, awe, serenity, and nostalgia for something I’d never experienced. Ben Brown’s Restaurant opened
on this site in 1967, and the restaurant and resort have had many names since. The restaurant was a dark, comfy space with a meat-and-potatoes spirit, and Ben Brown’s Golf Course elicits nothing but fond recollections. So how do you square a community’s wistfulness with the need to update
a dilapidated property? Enter Mark Christy, a Laguna Beach local, and his team of fellow dreamers, who purchased the estate in 2013 and began a three-year restoration. The results are overwhelming. The new restaurant, Harvest, is open and airy and captures every view of the canyon, while keeping the welcoming spirit of Ben Brown’s. Beautiful vistas abound, and you walk around the resort thinking “I can’t imagine it any other way.” The team’s vision was rewarded on an international scale when National Geographic named The Ranch one of its Unique Lodges of the World, a recognition of dedication to the environment and the community. It’s the only one in our state, and one of six in the U.S.
All this is proof that it’s possible to keep the flavor of the past while still being relevant. We tip our hat to some successful entities with our feature, “Icons of O.C.”