The luxury resort company’s flagship Laguna Beach property turns 20.
By Julia Clerk
A spectacular bluff-top property that takes full advantage of its ocean views and that fully embraces the Southern California coastal lifestyle, the Montage Laguna Beach resort celebrated its 20th anniversary in February.
Reflecting the heritage of plein air painting and other creative pursuits in Laguna Beach, “montage” seemed to be the ideal name, something that sounded good on the tongue, for the new resort when it was chosen in 2003 by founder Alan Fuerstman, who now serves as chairman and CEO of Montage International.
“When I first set foot on the property here, I knew it was just such an incredible location and destination and would serve as the ideal platform to launch a luxury hotel brand,” Fuerstman says.
In honor of the resort’s anniversary, Fuerstman received a special proclamation at a Laguna Beach City Council meeting in February, recognizing his vision and Montage’s 20 years of service, providing jobs and contributing to the local economy, supporting Laguna businesses and providing “exceptional hospitality, gracious service and unforgettable memories along the coast” for locals and visitors alike.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Fuerstman snagged his first job in the hospitality industry as a 17-year-old high school student—a part-time doorman at the local Marriott earning $1.30 an hour. Following graduation from high school, he was promoted to bellman and, one quiet night, caught the attention of new General Manager Robert Small, who was impressed with his enthusiasm and knowledge.
During college vacations, young Fuerstman continued to work for and play tennis with Small, who became his friend and mentor. Fuerstman eventually joined Marriott’s management training program and worked his way up to managing The Phoenician, an upscale resort in Scottsdale, Arizona.
After serving as the opening vice president of hotel operations at Steve Wynn’s posh Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Fuerstman decided it was time to create a new luxurious but unstuffy hospitality group that captured a sense of spirit and place. That’s when he found this 30-acre oceanfront location in Laguna Beach, the previous site of a trailer park. When Montage Laguna Beach was built, Treasure Island Park was created for public use as part of the project.
Since 2003, Montage Hotels & Resorts has grown to encompass seven incredible locations including Deer Valley in Utah, Kapalua Bay in Maui, Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina, Los Cabos in Mexico, Healdsburg in Sonoma and Big Sky in Montana, all with luxurious amenities and impeccable service. Montage Cay in the Bahamas is set to open next year. In addition to hotels, all Montage locations also offer residences. True to Fuerstman’s vision, each Montage property offers a unique sense of place and spirit, purpose-built to reflect and quickly become an integral part of its surroundings.
Fuerstman says that his company picks resort locations firstly by finding a destination it believes the luxury traveler wants to visit and then finding a place within that destination that can accommodate the kind of premium services associated with luxury travel. Next the company sets out to design buildings that are suitable for the location in terms of both size and scale. “It’s important not to overbuild on the property—that we’re good stewards of the land and that we build an appropriately scaled project to the opportunity that presents itself,” Fuerstman says.
Pendry: A Family Affair
Montage International also includes contemporary luxury brand Pendry Hotels & Resorts, properties that provide oases of upscale calm in vibrant urban areas that have cultural importance. Fuerstman says this brand is targeted at the next generation of upmarket traveler looking for a more gracious and humble yet energetic and vibrant approach to luxury travel.
A genuine family affair, Pendry is headed by Fuerstman’s eldest son, Michael, who started working in the hospitality business as a teenager, like his father did.
Pendry kicked off in 2014 with plans for a high-rise location in San Diego’s bustling Gaslamp District—which opened in 2017—before expanding to other properties from West Hollywood to Manhattan West in New York, for a current total of seven hotels in the collection. An eighth Pendry property is expected to open later this year near Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
“We are excited to continue evolving as a brand, opening more hotels and bringing the gift of Montage and Pendry to other distinct locations around the globe,” says Mary Rogers, managing director of Montage Laguna Beach and area general manager for Montage Healdsburg and Pendry San Diego. “During our 20th anniversary year, we are thrilled to open a second property in Orange County with the debut of Pendry Newport Beach.”
Luxury in Laguna
At Montage’s flagship property, a 260-room, Craftsman-style resort in Laguna Beach—which has garnered Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond status—guests and visitors can enjoy world-class food and drinks at its signature restaurants and bars and treatments at a 20,000-square-foot spa. Among the many enticing treatments at the spa are a California Wildflower Ritual with its heated herbal poultices and exfoliators and the botanical bubble bath offered during the Romantic Couples Journey. There are even treatments specifically for teenagers including the Miss Montage Manicure and Pedicure.
In late spring and summer, the hotel’s iconic Mosaic Pool offers a unique underwater virtual reality adventure where guests can experience snorkeling or a trip to outer space. For guests who want the “real deal,” Montage Laguna Beach has joined forces with Adventure IO, which offers exclusive, locally inspired adventure experiences led by professional athletes and local experts. The menu includes everything from learning to skimboard or surf with world champions to hydrofoiling, hiking with a photographer to capture family moments, a luxurious yacht experience and more. These adventures may be booked through the resort’s concierge or on the Montage Laguna Beach website.
“We strive to be people’s home away from home, where they feel taken care of, special and recognized every time they visit us, leaving with new cherished memories,” says Rogers, who adds that this approach has not wavered since the opening of Montage Laguna Beach.
As for the company’s future? Fuerstman says to expect continued growth, focused on quality and quantity. “We have a robust pipeline in front of us,” he says, noting that there are currently 14 hotels, equally divided between the Montage and Pendry brands along with 11 signed management contracts for future hotels. “There’s international growth in front of us, as well as continued growth here in North America.”
Montage is actively committed to giving back to the communities it calls home through the Hearts of Montage program. Also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the program has expanded to all Montage properties (with a Hearts of Pendry program also in place at all Pendry locations).
The associate-formed and -led program allows employees to support local community organizations that provide empowerment opportunities to those in need, focusing on education, senior citizen care, family socioeconomic assistance, health care and disease prevention as well as environmental protection and education. Support comes in the form of volunteering time, plus offering expertise and financial assistance.
Last year, Hearts of Montage in Laguna Beach hosted and participated in more than a dozen local programs including beach cleanups, American Red Cross blood drives and providing backpacks with school supplies to underserved children in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach.
20th Anniversary Celebrations
Montage Hotels & Resorts is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Laguna Beach resort with yearlong partnerships, packages and pop-up events worldwide—some already announced and more being added throughout the year. And Laguna Beach residents can get in on the celebrations.
“We truly care about our local community and will be celebrating them with several exciting experiences,” says Mary Rogers, managing director of Montage Laguna Beach and area general manager for Montage Healdsburg and Pendry San Diego.
Rogers says locals can get involved through “the return of Montage Los Cabos’ famous Thai restaurant Talay to Studio Garden this summer; a new full-sensory, 150-minute treatment with VR technology at Spa Montage; elevated retail offerings in collaboration with Jimmy Choo and Jonathan Simkhai at Treasures, plus more.”
These designer collaboration pieces will be available starting in April at some resorts (including Laguna) and online at shopmontage.com.
The company is also offering an anniversary hotel package called “Montage Twenty” which includes up to $200 per night in resort credit as well as a complimentary view upgrade at check-in (subject to availability) with any stay of two or more nights at any location through Dec. 18.
As a special toast to Montage’s 20 years, 300 bottles of limited series Clase Azul Ultra and Montage XX Anniversary tequila will be available for guests to sip neat or in a special “Dolce Veinte” cocktail at Montage Laguna Beach (as well as the Healdsburg and Los Cabos properties). This extra añejo tequila has been aged in both American whiskey and sherry casks. The liquor comes in hand-fashioned decanters that have an illustration of sunset at the Montage Laguna Beach swimming pool.
The exclusive bottle isn’t available to purchase, but comes with the Legendary Laguna Offer, which includes a five-night stay in the 2,800-square-foot Catalina Suite, a $1,000 food and beverage credit, a $1,500 Spa Montage credit, airport transfers (if needed), a whale watching trip for two, private docent-led tour of Laguna art galleries, and the take-home 20th anniversary gift collection including a Montage Laguna Beach custom brick building set, a custom-designed Simkhai x Montage resort collection scarf and the bottle of tequila, all in a Jimmy Choo limited edition Laguna Beach tote bag. Only two of these stay packages are available at $50,000 each for travel through Dec. 18.
The Montage Laguna Beach custom brick building set mentioned above, with 2,122 pieces to re-create the resort’s buildings, walkways, greenery, artwork and pools as the ultimate anniversary keepsake, will be available for purchase in the fall; all proceeds will benefit the Hearts of Montage program, which aids local organizations that empower people and causes in need.
Beginning in early April, Montage Laguna Beach will welcome a completely redesigned s’mores cart at its seaside fire pits, complete with new fixings from house-made citrus to vanilla marshmallows and squares of double milk chocolate with sea salt caramel.
A new 20th anniversary scavenger hunt for kids also kicks off April 1 through Paintbox, an immersive program that offers the resort’s youngest guests with enriching activities and local knowledge. For years, children have been collecting Montage merit badges for completing fun tasks like riding the Laguna trolley, building a sandcastle or catching a wave. Those who do all 12 activities receive a pirate pin to represent their Pacific Explorer status. This year, a special 20th anniversary Montage merits pin will be awarded to those who finish the scavenger hunt to discover fun and interesting historical facts about the resort.
Photos courtesy of Montage Hotels & Resorts