Arts & Entertainment

Surf City Offers Eco-Tourism and Eco-Luxury

clip_image001Summer’s nearing an end, and those long lazy beach days will soon fade into sunset. What’s an eco-friendly, fun-loving, in-desperate-need-of-tranquility human to do? Try a quick drive down to Surf City USA. That’s right; Huntington Beach will wet your eco-appetite, and much, much more.

Sure, Huntington Beach is known for its world-famous surfing, beach bonfires, and fun-loving times, but if you dig your toes a little deeper into its sand, you’ll find much more meat on its bones. On a short weekend trip down to Huntington not too long ago, I found out that there is much more to this surfers’ paradise than meets the eye.

After about an hour of maniac weaving and stopping and starting through the L.A. traffic, there’s a sense of immediate peace upon pulling into the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, where you’re given a pass to relaxation as soon as your keys are given to the smiling valet. You immediately feel like you’re on an expensive jet-set getaway, and all without having to take off your shoes or dump your shampoo at an LAX “security” checkpoint.

The Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort was developed by the Robert Mayer Corporation, based in Newport Beach, and is owned by Waterfront Hotel, LLC, a real estate developer also based out of Newport Beach. In Robert Mayer’s biography, “Without Risk There’s No Reward,” Mayer describes making the most out of a property’s potential, often times and even necessarily taking risks to do so. The pay-off for Mayer’s corporation? A luxurious AAA Four Diamond (19 years in a row!) eco-friendly resort that local Southern Californians, along with tourists from the rest of the country and world, can enjoy in a myriad of ways.

The Waterfront, an impressive beachfront high-rise featuring ocean views from every single room, has been around since 1990. But recently the hotel underwent a fairly extensive $10 million renovation. This makeover includes the clip_image005addition of custom made furniture offering the casual beach living feel inside each and every room.

There’s also the addition of Shades restaurant and bar, tastefully serving Executive Chef Jeff Littlefield’s fresh and simple, yet always flavorful dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Littlefield’s use of fresh, organic, hand-selected ingredients from the Santa Monica farmer’s market set the bar for casual upscale dining so desperately needed in Huntington Beach.

With over 20 years of culinary experience, having worked with some of the most luxurious resorts and restaurants like the Four Seasons, Chef Littlefield is able to make Shades live up to its mantra of “Refined yet uncomplicated.” It evokes what every guest is yearning for in their stay at the Waterfront altogether: a no-pressure retreat from the hustle of the city, without sacrificing any of the luxuries urbanity has to offer.  Littlefield says he believes that, “High quality taste should come from high quality ingredients, free from the masks of complex sauces and cooking techniques.”

But it’s not just the food that will make you feel right at home in Shades. The restaurant also has a chic yet casual outdoor poolside patio for views of bikini bodies lounging and the even more stellar view of the Pacific backdrop. A live musician plays nightly on the patio, infusing the already relaxing atmosphere with a touch of class and carefully setting off the satisfying aura that is Shades.

But don’t worry, there’s much more to do than just eat and drink.

Besides lounging at the expansive ocean-view pool or catching some zzz’s on the luxurious bedding offered in every room, there are local attractions all around, such as the Huntington Beach Wetland Conservatory which I had the pleasure of visiting. It’s a spot on the Surf City map all too often overlooked by those with hearts set on views of six-pack abs and sun-streaked surfers. But this view is much more fulfilling and even exciting. Plus, there’ll be more beach time later, I promise.

The wetlands are located a short distance up PCH at Bolsa Chica and consist of Talbert Marsh, Brookhurst Marsh, Magnolia Marsh, Newland Marsh and the Waterfront Wetlands all within the border of the Santa Ana River and Newland Street in Huntington Beach.

The goal of the restoration project, according to the Conservatory, is to “acquire and restore the remaining coastal wetlands in Huntington Beach.” It may sound simple, but when you consider the droves of developers and settlers lining up to grab their piece of the SoCal beachfront pie, it’s easy to see what this fragile ecosystem is up against.

As such a vital part of the local ecosystem, to restore and conserve the wetlands is to provide natural habitat in which wildlife populations can continue, or return, to thrive. Once spanning 3,000 acres, the wetlands now only cover 180, a fact not so hard to believe when you see the encroaching human development on all sides of the preserve. But in recent years, sentiments have begun to change, and finally, it’s the wetlands and not the buildings that are gaining ground. To wit: on August 3rd of this year the Conservatory was granted $3 million in federal grant money to be used to further preservation efforts and continue to expand the wetlands.

The conservatory offers a chance to view wildlife at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, located at PCH and Newland Street. Here you’ll be educated and find insight on the impact that humans and technology have on the fragile coastal ecosystems. Also offered by the conservatory are Restoration Days, which occur every second Saturday of the month. These events give anyone a chance to volunteer with routine maintenance and special projects. In conjunction with Restoration Days, tours are given from the Talbert Marsh north to Magnolia Marsh.

If you’re one of those who feel like they can’t escape the work-a-day pace of modern life, spending some time in the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, and even giving a bit of yourself back to it is a great way to relax, educate and reward yourself while helping out with a good cause.

Back at the hotel, the Hilton Waterfront has eco-friendship on its mind as well, going to great lengths to reduce their impact not just on the local environment, but on the global climate as a whole.  Resort General Manager J.D. Shafer says he believes a large part of reducing the hotel’s carbon footprint is to “[put] a portion of the responsibility to preserve into the hands of our guests.” Now that doesn’t mean you’ll be cranking out your own electricity or knitting together your own hemp sheets. But there are plenty of ways to tweak the traditional hotel experience in order to make the whole thing easier on the ole’ ecosystem.

The newest way that the resort is making this type of positive impact is by offering “The Green Room,” an environmentally friendly, self-serve laundry facility constructed of post-consumer recycled materials. From Energy Star units to biodegradable detergent, The Green Room, painted with low VOC green paint, is the eco-friendly way to pack lighter and make better use of what you do bring with you for your stay.

clip_image004The Waterfront even has their own committee to ensure that green efforts are constantly being upheld. The so-called “Green Committee at the Hilton Waterfront”, which is comprised of a variety of staff members from a variety of departments, meets regularly to implement eco-friendly options such as fluorescent light bulbs, low-flow toilets, and a paper-and-plastic recycling system. And it’s not just at the Waterfront where this is happening. Nationally, Hilton Hotels Inc. has set a 2014 goal to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions and output waste by 20% as well as water consumption by 10%.

Oh, and bring the pup!

In the effort to provide one of the only dog-friendly coastal resorts in the area, the Waterfront has partnered with the Preservation Society of Huntington Dog Beach in their efforts to maintain the mile-and-a-quarter long Dog Beach, located just north of the Waterfront grounds. And they’re not done yet: both groups say they intend to lobby for opening up more beaches and playgrounds to pets so they can enjoy the freedom of running around in the fresh air just like you!

As part of their cooperation, the Waterfront’s “It’s a Wonderful Dog’s Life” package automatically donates a portion of its proceeds to the Preservation Society. The package includes a welcome treat for the dog, use of a pet bed, a 20 minute pet walk, and two sweatshirts from Huntington Dog Beach. Finally, a resort that understands pets are part of the family and should be able to venture out and be part of vacationing memories, too!

With all that the Waterfront Resort has to offer in terms of luxury and captivating beauty, it’s all too easy to forget that by enjoying the amenities of the resort, delving into organically prepared meals at Shades, washing your clothes in the The Green Room, or letting your dog run free at Dog Beach, you’re helping to improve the environment and local community that is Huntington Beach. It’s an effortless way to enjoy a getaway and experience the eco-luxury lifestyle without even getting onto a plane.

The Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort is located at 21100 Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach and can be reached by calling (714) 845-8000 or visiting waterfrontbeachresort.hilton.com.
For more information on the Huntington Beach Wetland Conservatory visit www.hbwc.org or call (714) 536-0141.
For information on Huntington Dog Beach visit www.dogbeach.org.

By Maria McDowell

August 27, 2009

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