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SECRET SPOTS OF THE WEST : DORYMAN'S | NEWPORT BEACH

Vintage vibe in a beach setting

After a day of sun, surf and sand, a boutique inn makes a welcome retreat, just steps from Newport's pier.

August 17, 2008|Chris Erskine | Times Staff Writer

SECRET SPOTS OF THE WEST

We asked you to nominate your favorite vacation places in the West -- your travel touchstones, so to speak -- and you came back with a satchel full of suggestions. We sifted and sorted and chose six to explore for ourselves. Marvelous or mundane? You be the judge.

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"It's nice to know there are still some quaint and out-of-the-way places even in the O.C.," says reader Caitlin Tusher of Placentia, in her nomination letter.

THE SETTING

Sure enough, this little Victorian inn in Newport Beach seems to be crafted almost entirely out of buckets of varnish, a fitting finish for something so close to the sea. Still, to find an 11-room hotel here comes as a surprise. And a relief.

One hundred steps from the Newport Pier, Doryman's Oceanfront Inn is a vintage hotel in a setting better known for in-line skates and surfboards. In fact, you may have walked by the triangle-shaped inn a dozen times if you frequent this busy stretch of ice cream shops, bike rentals and bars on the often-manic Balboa Peninsula.

Almost like a safe house, this place. It's not till you take the elevator up from the tiny entrance that you find the lobby for the family-owned property, which dubs itself a bed-and-breakfast but better resembles a boutique hotel with a Victorian fetish.

There's nothing subtle about the furnishings -- my wife, Cathy, called the look "early bordello" -- and there are mirrors, heavy frames and fabric everywhere. Our room also featured nude, saloon-worthy pictures on the walls.

I have no trouble with nudity -- except my own -- but the artwork might seem a little bawdy to some.

Yet Doryman's manages to maintain an elegant feel. This place has more brass and oak than Grandma's attic and terrific sunken shower/tubs that are twice as satisfying as most hotel showers.

Our two-room suite slept five of us and opened up to a breezy communal patio.

A good value, as beachfront lodging goes. Cozy two-bedrooms facing the ocean start at $249.

THE VIBE

Inside, dark romance. Outside, sun and fun. Not a bad combination. After staring into the summer glare for eight hours, it's a relief to enter the shadowy world of canopy beds and armoires.

Given the glamorous surroundings, you might think the front desk would be ultra-cautious about guests parading through the lobby after the beach, breaded like corn dogs. But there are no scolding signs or long lists of rules. Even so, the place is immaculate, even as summer occupancy rates range between 90% and 95%.

Indeed, the place is one of the oldest and most popular hotels in the area. One hundred years ago, it served as a bunkhouse for commercial fishermen. Today, recreational anglers line the rails of Newport Pier, elbow to elbow.

Certainly, few places on the coastline combine money and mayhem like this stretch of beach. Bike rental shops crowd the Strand, down the block from bars that open at 6 a.m. Meanwhile, pricey restaurants such as 21 Oceanfront, on Doryman's first floor, offer crab cake appetizers for $24 and $48 rib-eyes (18 ounces).

Take your pick. We chose Charlie's Chili, a 30-second stroll from Doryman's front door, where for the price of an entree at 21 Oceanfront, we fed four people well and had enough money left over for a creamy Balboa Bar at the Pipeline ice cream shop around the corner (cash only).

Nearby, you can rent a bike for $7.50 an hour or test the waters off the pier with a rental fishing rod ($7).

And then there's that beach. This is one of the best family beaches in Southern California, well-groomed and carefully patrolled. If you like your beaches wide, with gradual drop-offs, this is the place. Beware of riptides, though, for the beach can get pounded.

OVERALL

Comfortable for families, Doryman's is probably at its best as a honeymooners' retreat, or for an anniversary weekend for mom and dad (the desk offers gift certificates).

It has far more character than most of the 20 other hotels that compete for your business in this section of Newport Beach, where traffic pours in all summer long. I have to confess, I've had my torturous summer days getting in and out of this area. "Blade Runner" isn't my idea of dystopian Los Angeles. It's Balboa Boulevard on a hot holiday weekend.

So here's my solution. Book a room at Doryman's Oceanfront Inn on a Thursday night, splurge at 21 Oceanfront for a special occasion, then give the budget some salvation with Charlie's the next night.

By Saturday, when the hordes pour in, swirling 'round and 'round the parking lot, you'll be gone with the summer wind.

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Doryman's Oceanfront Inn, 2102 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach; (949) 675-7300, www.dorymansinn.com.

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