Look out, Hawaii and Florida. The Orange County coast in Southern California has remade itself into a tony beach destination to rival any other.
That's the message of the OCeanfront, a marketing alliance of resorts, golf courses and retail centers that have banded together to promote the area midway between Los Angeles and San Diego and to counter the perception that travel here begins and ends with Anaheim and Disneyland.
"Most of the countywide marketing efforts for Orange County emphasize the Anaheim area," said Blaise Bartell, chairman of the OCeanfront and vice president of operations for JC Resorts, which owns the Surf & Sand Resort in Newport Beach.
"We want to get the word out to a national audience about the coast and more effectively compete with certain parts of Florida and Hawaii."
The opening of the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in 2001 -- with its beach club, "surf butlers" and 400 rooms with Pratesi Italian linens -- signaled the start of the area's transformation.
The St. Regis was followed by the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach the same year and the Montage in 2002. The Balboa Bay Club, a private club that underwent a $65 million renovation, opened to nonmembers in 2003.
Other OCeanfront members are the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, the Island Hotel Newport Beach, the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott, the Newport Beach Marriott and the Surf & Sand. To participate, hotels must be at the four-diamond level and have guestrooms with ocean views.
This year, the group launched a site, TheOCeanfrontca.com, and a magazine distributed in rooms, to travel agents and through a promotion with American Express.
Two recent TV shows, "The OC" and "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County," helped the group's mission, Bartell said.
"We have not had to work as hard to tout our resort lifestyle," Bartell said. "Those two shows made millions aware of it."
Summer hotel occupancies are already high, in the low 90s, he said. One goal is to draw business to the shoulder season and winter off-season.
The coast will be in the spotlight in December with the opening of the OCeanfront's newest member: the Resort at Pelican Hill, promoted as a "chic, ultraluxurious," Italian-themed resort just north of Laguna Niguel.