Highland Springs Resort's friendly staff has been welcoming guests since 1884. The present-day grounds include a thousand-year-old black oak tree in the Cherry Valley foothills, more than 20 acres of farmland ripe with organic herbs, and miles of hiking trails accessible with a visitor guest pass. The deluxe inn room, which echoes the resort's rustic, simple feel, hides behind green and growing charms, including gardens, vined verandas, and plumes of shrubbery rearranged daily by millions of heavy-lift butterflies. Located roughly 80 miles from San Gabriel, Highland Springs Resort is close enough to bookend your work week without spending all of it in the car.
When you set foot inside Original Roadhouse Grill, you may hear a crunch. Look down, and you’ll see hundreds of peanut shells scattered across the floor— remnants of the complimentary peanuts served by the bucketful. Country music and classic rock plays from an old-fashioned jukebox as servers perform lively line dances amidst walls of colorful knickknacks and neon signs. The atmosphere is equally as energetic in the kitchen, where open-air mesquite-wood grills roar with flames that sizzle hand-cut USDA Washington State steaks, juicy bison burgers, and thick slabs of ribs. To craft their renowned Texas egg rolls, the creative cooks fry up plump wonton shells stuffed with cream cheese and jalapeños. Servers bear the heavy platters into the dining room, along with cups of regional beers and mason jars of Wild West–inspired cocktails—such as a Luckenbach lemonade and a Bootlegger iced tea. The restaurant staff encourages guests to dress casually, welcoming worn blue jeans, comfortable T-shirts, and loose-fitting wedding gowns.
A small flight of stairs leads guests down into a rustically decorated room, which evokes the ambiance of a subterranean wine cellar with its earthen arches, barrel-lined walls, and soft chandelier lighting. Designed by the artisans who created Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, the dining room appeals to a similarly nostalgic whimsy. However, the cooks slightly modernize the menu's historic European roots by introducing unexpected ingredients.
The chefs elevate simple grilled-cheese sandwiches by slipping in braised short ribs, caramelized shallots, and horseradish cream alongside the gruyere and monterey jack cheeses, and a splash of cognac adds even more richness to the silken lobster bisque. Thai barbecue-glazed tofu and basmati rice also help to distinguish the menu by lending it a distinctly international flare.
Staying true to its name, The Cellar proudly features a 1,400-bottle wine list, which, according to the staff, helped to garner the restaurant Wine Spectator's exclusive Grand Award. The selection includes familiar staples, boutique producers, and rare vintages from virtually every major wine-producing region except the Marianas Trench.
Originally the location of San Clemente's jailhouse and fire station, the retro-modern Blue Danube dishes out flame-cooked steaks, seafood, and European specialties in a renovated space that maintains original jail cells for private parties. Blend the best of surf 'n' turf with the bacon-wrapped-shrimp appetizer ($8), or beam taste buds to Budapest with the goulash soup, a substantial stew that balances meat and vegetables on its nose and twirls flavors on its fingertips ($6). Butter-drizzled shrimp scampi entertains the tongue with sizzle, snap, and a capella sea shanties ($15), and the flame-kissed pepper steak ($21) and the wiener schnitzel ($15 and up) waltz with appetites to the tune of the restaurant's namesake. The plump pillows of apple or cheese strudel may inspire overjoyed strangers to spontaneously wed in Blue Danube's in-house chapel ($5).
From inside The Vintage Steakhouse, it would be easy to pretend that a passenger on the trains passing just outside the window is engrossed in a pristine early edition of The Sun Also Rises, smoke swirling off the Chesterfield perched absentmindedly between his fingers. Without much effort, you might conjure a woman in the bar car, gratefully sipping a Southside and sending up a wordless celebration of the reversal of Prohibition.
That’s because restaurant resides inside the historic Capistrano Depot, which, despite its 1894 build date, bears an unmistakably art-deco vibe evocative of the 1920s or ‘30s. A trio of arched windows is the focal point of the main dining room; when trains aren’t sliding past their decoratively gridded glass, diners can peek through bougainvillea and willow trees to the 200-year-old adobes planted behind them. Inside, knotted wood planks run across the 18-foot ceilings, a near match to the hardwood floors glistening beneath.
A smaller dining room sits in the adjoining Dining Car, a fully restored 1927 Pullman train car upholstered in warm reds and golds. Candlelit tables for two line each side of the car, under which couples’ intertwined feet rest softly upon the regally patterned carpet. The ambience is a bit more social in the Chef’s Alley room, an 1887 freight house with its own cocktail bar and more contemporary décor.
No matter where parties choose to dine, they’re presented with a thoughtful menu of hand-cut steaks and seafood accented with local, organic produce. The chef prepares all dishes over an open-flame mesquite grill, giving everything a juicy, so-that’s-what-fire-tastes-like flavor. A chef’s selection of veggies and the patron’s choice of potato accompany the entrees, which range from filet mignon in a cabernet demi-glace to prawns sautéed in a sauvignon-blanc sauce.
These rich sauces pair perfectly with the more than 150 varietals that populate the restaurant’s wine list. Though heavy on French and Californian selections, the temperature-controlled wine cellar also has a few Spanish, Australian, and Italian bottles tucked away. The cellar also stores a few cases of bubbly for the prix-fixe Sunday brunch’s bottomless champagne special, ensuring a festive follow-up to the smooth live jazz that plays every Friday and Saturday night.
The cuisine crafters at O'Neill's Bar & Grill offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus of delectable eats in a warm stone-and-wood dining hall. Sink into a chair near a flat-screen HD television to pair eye feasts with hunger quieter such as the 14-ounce, maple-cured pork chop ($23). Outdoor eaters can warm appetites on the sun-splashed patio providing picturesque golf-course vistas, and saturate parched taste buds with flavor floods from the succulent New Zealand king salmon ($24). Those looking to diversify states of consumable matter can sip a selection from the 2010 Wine Spectator award of excellence-winning vino list, which offer more efficient and delicious palate-enrobers than tiny purple pullovers. Although O'Neill's Bar & Grill hosts special events, this Groupon is only valid on their everyday menus.