Laguna Beach: Absolutely Your Next Road Trip

October 18th, 2010 by Peter Kimmich

laguna beachTahiti is too far away, and Hawaii is overrated. Why spend $1,200 on a plane ticket when right in your front yard lies a weekend tropical oasis?

To the Los Angeles day trip warrior, Laguna Beach is a quick, affordable getaway. This mini-paradise is surrounded by soft beaches, beautiful architecture, fun people, good food and cool nightlife. If you spend some quality time relaxing and get out before you start to get used to it, a weekend in this place can feel like a day in Maui. Or at least a week in the MGM Grand pool area. Here are a couple of places to hit up.


The Laguna Beach area (map) is mostly composed of Laguna Beach itself, the more inland Laguna Niguel, and Dana Point, the piece of land that sticks out to the south. All three areas have nice hotels to call home for a weekend, though they tend to be on the pricey side (it is Orange County). But what they ask for in expense they more than make up for in relaxing atmosphere, classy staff and views you can take pictures of to convince people you were in Greece.

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

ritz carlton laguna beachThe Ritz-Carlton blows everything out of the water as far as accommodations go. It is definitely not cheap, but if you can afford to spend nearly $500 a night you can wake up to huge, jaw-dropping ocean views, dine in a luxurious five-star restaurant with enormous picture windows, explore cavernous, sweet-scented hallways and garden-like courtyards, go down to the beach and hang out with the surfers, or just watch the entire coastline from a lawn chair. Of course, you can do most of those things without actually staying there, but either way it’s a place to be seen. If you’re there on a weekend afternoon in the summer, you might even catch an oceanside wedding. (And if you had yours there, you may tend to develop a bit of a bias towards the place…)

The Marriott Laguna Cliffs

Marriott Laguna BeachA sprawling clifftop resort, the Marriott boasts sky-high sea views through stately trees and flowering bushes, with a vaguely nautical atmosphere that makes a meal on the patio seem like lunch down at the harbor. The rooms seem larger than they really are, with double doors opening onto a sweet balcony (if you got a suite). Evenings are fun, with a cool, blue-lit bar that has a mellow lounge vibe at night. There’s also a more old-fashion watering hole downstairs for sailors who don’t like posh culture. If you can book a couple of months in advance , this place makes a good home port.

Laguna Reef Inn

laguna ree inn laguna beachThe Laguna Reef is smaller and less pricey than the big-dog establishments, without sacrificing too much of the island vacation atmosphere. Perfect for young couples without the retirement-level budget. The place surrounds a foliage-lined pool and Jacuzzi, is directly across the street from the beach and is just a quick walk to downtown Laguna. It doesn’t have quite the amenities of the area’s more expensive places, but it’s close enough that you can still walk into any of them as a visitor. It definitely makes a comfortable, beautiful place to relax when you’re not hanging out in town.

For other mind-blowing lodging experiences ranging from expensive to ridiculously expensive, also look up the Montage, the Surf and Sand, the St. Regis and Pelican Hill. (We recommend going as visitors unless you’re relatively loaded.)

Things to Do

The Beach!

laguna beachWell, it’s called Laguna Beach for a reason — contrary to some of the beaches closer to the Los Angeles area, these are clean and relatively uncrowded. The surf makes for good waves, with popular surfing spots around St. Anns Drive and Brooks Street, as well as at Dana Point where the waves are long and wide. You can build sand castles, play in the surf, go boogie boarding … come on, it’s a beach. The Laguna Beach tourist info site has info on good beaches for surfing, tidepool exploring, snorkeling and other fun stuff.

Downtown Laguna Beach

downtown laguna beachDowntown Laguna is a Mecca of shops, ice cream places, restaurants, bars and trinket stores where you can find anything from polished stone furniture and high-end clothing boutiques to touristy playing cards and refrigerator magnets. Visitors and locals flock the brick-lined streets at all daylight hours, towels on shoulders during the summer. The age range is from toddler to retirement, with something to do for pretty much everyone. The White House is a popular spot for drinks or lunch, Mozambique makes a good date spot, and The Cliff restaurant has eye-popping ocean views (and a good happy hour, we hear).

Art Festivals

sawdust festivalLaguna beach has a huge population of artists and art appreciators, so every summer the town is rich with art displays, festivals, classes and other fun gatherings. The Sawdust Art Festival convenes each year to display the works of local artists and craftspeople on a specially constructed festival grounds that has a vague Renaissance-Faire vibe. Right across the street is the Festival of Arts, another sprawling gathering of exhibits that boasts a long history in the city. The Art-A-Fair is also in close proximity, offering artists’ displays, live music, workshops and artist demonstrations. A weekend in town can easily give you an eyeful of artistic culture.

Just Drivin’

Laguna Beach roadtripThe Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, the South Coast Highway, the 1, whatever you want to call it, the stretch of it that runs through Laguna Beach and the surrounding area is easily the most beautiful stretch of highway in southern California. Watching the coastal community slide past your window as the ocean gleams in the distance is one of the most relaxing driving experiences you can have without leaving the southern half of the state. (For the ultimate relaxing California road trip, the Redwood Highway still has my vote.) Whether you’re on your way to a sweet vacation destination or just passing through, it’s a city not to miss if you’re in the area. Surf’s up.

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