Right along the Pacific Coast Highway, a 90-minute drive south of Los Angeles (in traffic), Huntington Beach, Calif., has seen some notable hospitality development in recent years. A new shopping, dining and entertainment complex opened in mid-2016, and in June, Paséa Hotel & Spa, a new independent boutique hotel, made its debut as a member of the Meritage Collection.
The development along the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway has been in the works for a long time, and responsibility for the project has passed through several hands, GM Scott Blakeslee said. “We were really fortunate to make the find of a lifetime. You just don’t find [sites] like this in a location like this anymore. It was like divine intervention. We just saw an opportunity and jumped on it.” While Huntington Beach has been a popular destination for day-trippers, beach fans and surfers for years, a limited supply of available sites prevented rapid hotel growth. The problem, Blakeslee added, extends along the Southern California coastline as a whole. “The Montage [Laguna Beach opening in 2003] was the last big development,” he said of the overall region. “These opportunities just don’t present themselves, so [development] is a matter of having availability.”
There are, however, several other hotels along the highway—most notably, the Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, is right next door, and is in the middle of a substantial renovation that will expand its room count and conference facilities. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach is one block down and attracts a corporate clientele. “Their conference center really partners well with us as a boutique resort,” Blakeslee said, noting that Paséa has 34,000 square feet of event space in its own right, and that the variety of hotel options—branded and independent, large-scale and boutique—along the Highway will boost Huntington Beach’s appeal for both business and leisure travel, and for those looking to combine the two.
The concept behind Paséa, Blakeslee said, was to reflect the beach culture for which the city is famous while simultaneously attracting an upscale demographic. To that end, formality is kept to a minimum and a relaxed vibe permeates the hotel. The staff dresses casually and the artwork throughout the property evokes a fun beach. For the hotel’s public spaces, Daniel Fine Art selected pieces from local artists that reflect the local vibe: Laguna Beach-based Jorge Dubin’s Wavelength 4 is made of more than 1,400 rubber flip-flops glued to a panel, while Katlin Evans (based in the same city) collected discarded items (plastic utensils, sunglasses, toys and bottle caps) from local beaches and created two striking collages from the debris.
The building’s very structure is also designed to reflect the ocean and the beach: Design architect WATG created the building’s exterior to resemble waves, and the Balinese-inspired spa has an outdoor relaxation garden with running water (which also helps muffle the sounds of the highway). Guestrooms (courtesy of Monogram at BBGM) have floor-to-ceiling windows and large balconies, encouraging guests to look out over the city or the ocean and spend as much time as possible outdoors. (Aubrey Cook Rogers McGill served as Executive Architect for the property.)
One of the largest challenges the development team faced was how to take a luxury destination hotel and spa kind of culture and mindset and make it immersive and real and really a part of a community that is sometimes not known for that. How do you make it accessible? How do you make it feel like it makes sense within the setting? “The challenge was trying to make sure we gave a nod to the elevated form of a coastal classic vibe that is Huntington Beach,” Blakeslee said. “If you’re going to put a luxury resort there, you have to really go into it knowing your community and what this location means to not only them, but to the world. To the world, this is the Southern California: True to its roots, gritty, artsy—how do you embrace all of those elements and bring them to life in a resort?”