Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach's kaleidoscope of artisans, crafts and galleries mixes with just enough Beach Blanket Bingo-style fun to be the perfect stomping ground for the rich and crafty.
The town has been a mecca for artists since the early 1800s, when the painter Norman St. Clair arrived to paint landscapes of the beach, attracting other artists to capture the vistas of crashing surf, sparkling sands, and steeped cliffs and hillsides. Word of St. Clair's paintings spread, and soon other artisans began to flock to Laguna
. In 1918, the Laguna Beach Art Association formed, known today as the Laguna Art Museum, which features a comprehensive history of Southern California art. Summer arts festivals began to crop up, including the still renowned Festival of the Arts and Pageant of the Masters.
As rumor of this creative seaside town traveled up the coast, it attracted the likes of Hollywood's hottest stars, such as Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Charlie Chaplin, who made Laguna their personal playground. Exclusive hotels and resorts and a variety of gourmet restaurants were born, quickly followed by increased prices.
The main beach is the place to see and be seen, or to kick up your heels and play in the sand; volleyball and basketball courts line the perimeter, and the tan and the beautiful flock to the water to flirt, frolic or simply look gorgeous. Today, Laguna is one of Orange County's most fashionable towns, as well as one of the most culturally rich.
Best Bed & Breakfast
Casa Laguna Inn
Web site: www.casalaguna.com
Guests of the romantic Casa Laguna Inn are irresistibly enveloped by mission-style architecture reminiscent of early Southern California. The inn rests on a hillside and takes advantage of the setting with its terraced, flower-draped patios. Guests can linger alongside the inn's pool, admiring the Catalina tiles and fountains, or simply enjoy views of the twinkling lights draping the coast in the distance. Casa Laguna features cottage accommodations and suites, and most rooms offer ocean views, fireplaces and even whirlpool tubs.
Best Luxury Accommodations
Montage Resort and Spa
Web site: www.montagelagunabeach.com
Perched on a bluff overlooking the sprawling Laguna coastline, the Montage Resort and Spa redefines luxury in a town that is no stranger to opulence. The Montage's 262 guest rooms include bungalows and suites with sweeping views of the Pacific. Accommodations boast feathertop beds, goose-down pillows and marble baths. Resort guests are privy to pristine sand beaches and a private spa, as well as acclaimed on-site restaurants like Studio, which features the cuisine of noted chef James Boyce. For the ultimate in relaxation, the spa offers a variety of massages and body treatments.
Best Family Resort
Aliso Creek Inn
Web site: www.alisocreekinn.com
Nestled into 80 breathtaking acres off the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, the Aliso Creek Inn boasts incredible canyon views, proximity to the beach, the only golf course in Laguna and a pool and wading pool for kids. In short: All the makings of a child-friendly environment. The accommodations are comfortable for families include one and two bedroom townhouses, complete with kitchenettes and private patios. If cooking wasn't in your vacation plans, the inn is also home to the Canyon Lodge American Grill, featuring casual fare and a cozy atmosphere.
Food & Drink
Best Romantic Waterfront Atmosphere
The Beach House
Web site: www.thebeachhouse.com
The Beach House takes glorious advantage of its waterfront location with a deck propped directly above the beach, allowing prime vistas of sand and surf tumbling far into the horizon. The views are glorious at all times, but gain a breathtaking life of their own at sunset, when the fiery sun seems to dip down into the Pacific, the water an explosion of reflected red light.
Best Fresh Seafood
Web site: www.claesrestaurant.com
"The cuisine should provide pleasure, the wine happiness." This is the humble motto of Claes Andersen, proprietor of the award-winning Claes Restaurant, and his restaurant does more than deliver. Chef David Mack has created a menu filled with fresh seafood delicacies. Not to be missed are the seared ahi tuna served with a carrot-ginger sauce and the Mediterranean bouillabaisse overflowing with lobster, crab, clams, mussels and shrimp. The restaurant also serves lunch and Sunday brunch and offers patrons sweeping views of the Pacific coast.
Best Local Breakfast/Lunch Hangout
Zinc Cafe & Market
Web site: www.zinccafe.com
Laguna locals like to start their day with a wholesome breakfast bang, and those in the know get their morning fix at Zinc Cafe, a Laguna Beach essential. This cozy cafe is mere blocks from the beach and serves up energizing morning munchies like muesli with oats, yogurt and fresh berries, a breakfast plate of scrambled egg whites with black beans and brown rice, and frittatas with cucumber salsa. Seeking something a little less healthy? The cooks at Zinc will also whip up waffles with orange butter and pure maple syrup. If you'd prefer to eat on the beach, browse the market's takeaway treats, including soups, sandwiches and salads, and pack a picnic to go.
Best Original Eurasian
5'0" (Five Feet)
When 5'0" (Five Feet) made its culinary debut, the restaurant offered a rarely seen blend of Asian techniques and ingredients and California cuisine, helped create the title "Eurasian," and sparked a culinary outbreak of copycat restaurants around the country. Today, the food fusion may seem less unusual, but the flavors are no less incredible. The menu changes daily, but regularly features delights such as crispy catfish and a stir-fried chicken in a savory curry-mint sauce.
Best Arts Festival
Festival of the Arts and Pageant of the Masters
Web site: www.foapom.com
Laguna's summertime arts extravaganza, Festival of the Arts and Pageant of the Masters, is actually two separate events on one bill. The festival is a gathering of more than 140 juried artists whose original work is on display and for sale. Various media are brilliantly represented, including paintings, photographs, sculpture, ceramics and stained glass. One ticket also gives visitors entry to the pageant - a 90-minute presentation of "living pictures," or famous pieces of artwork re-created on stages with real actors, an orchestra and live narration.
Best Gallery Tour
First Thursday Artwalk
Web site: www.firstthursdaysartwalk.com
Laguna Beach gained notoriety as artists flocked to its shores and proudly claims to be home to countless budding and successful artists whose work is displayed in the town's innumerable galleries. Visiting the many cultural and artistic outlets in Laguna can seem daunting, and one surefire way to guarantee visitors peruse the local talent is via First Thursday Artwalk.
Best Kid Stuff
La Vida Laguna Guided Eco-Kayak Tours
Web site: www.lavidalaguna.com
The family is already at the coast - why not explore Southern California's coves and inlets aboard a brand-new ocean kayak as part of a guided eco-kayak tour? La Vida Laguna offers tours aboard sit-on-top kayaks - no worries, there's room for the kids; each kayak accommodates two adults and a small child (ages 6-11). Tours explore peaceful coves, private beaches and Seal Rock - a sanctuary home to sea lions, pelicans and gulls.
Best Day Trip
Dana Point Harbor
Web site: www.ocparks.com/Danapointharbor
Once the major port between San Diego and Santa Barbara, Dana Point Harbor is now part of the Ocean County parks system. Lying along a rugged cove, this bustling marina features a fishing pier, yacht clubs and commercial sports-fishing operations. A short walk to Mariner's Village or Dana Wharf brings visitors to a quaint area of shops and restaurants. Sea lovers should explore the Orange County Marine Institute, which features classroom instructions, display tanks and exhibits on marine life. The institute is also home to a research vessel that has daily cruises to study offshore marine life.