Once again we’re in sunny California! This time, we’re driving from L.A. to San Diego and we have finally arrived in the Orange County, more precisely, in Laguna Beach, a seaside resort of about 24,000 inhabitants that is fortunate to be located on the Pacific Ocean, which gives it a mild climate and a spectacular hilly landscape dotted with rock formations, beautiful beaches, and parks.
The city attracts visitors from all over the world, including us, and we begin our trip along its 9-mile long coastline. The ocean, coast, and beaches are the pride and joy of Laguna Beach and make it one of California’s top destinations. But when we got to the city, we saw that there was so much more. Laguna Beach is charming, first of all, because of its warm hospitality.
- Best Beaches in Laguna Beach
- The Nature Parks of Laguna Beach
- Other Things to Do in Laguna Beach
- Laguna Beach Events
- Shopping in Laguna Beach
- Best Places to Eat in Laguna Beach
- Where to Stay in Laguna Beach
- Location, Directions, and Getting around
Best Beaches in Laguna Beach
Crystal Cove State Park
We start from the north side of Laguna Beach at Crystal Cove State Park (8471 N. Coast Hwy.), a long and narrow beach that is about 3 miles long sheltered by a border of rocks. It is very peaceful here, and it is just what we are looking for right now. We agree that this is one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California and it is complemented by its coral reef, natural pools, and beautiful spots, not to mention the immense forest behind it.
In this area, near Trancos Creek, there is also a Historic District that has 46 cottages dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, which are being renovated for public use. The beach is open from 6:00 am until sunset while the Historic District stays open until 10:00 pm. To get the best experience while visiting Crystal Cove, we recommend that you go at low tide.
Crescent Bay Beach
Also located in North Laguna Beach, Crescent Bay Beach (Cliff Dr. & Barranca St.) is a large and popular sandy beach with some rocky sections. You can go snorkeling, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, and whale watching in April and May, which is an unforgettable experience! The coastline has benches, toilets, showers, and a lifeguard service. West of the beach, Crescent Bay Point Park (271 Crescent Bay Dr.) is a small park with grassy areas on a headland overlooking the ocean, the coast, and the bay. The whole area is a “nice little gem”.
Shaws Cove can be reached directly from Fairview Street and is approximately 655 ft long. It is a somewhat secluded beach (which is why we like it), surrounded by rocks and behind the rocks, there are some houses. The main activities here are swimming, boogie boarding, and scuba diving, especially on the western side (so they say). You can take beautiful pictures of the waves crashing on the shoreline. It is forbidden to collect rocks, shells, or any kind of marine life here.
Main Beach Park
In the center of town, there is a “green jewel”. We are referring to Main Beach Park (Broadway St. & Pacific Coast Hwy.), a busy but not chaotic park. It has a relaxing walkway where you can take a walk and gaze towards Main Beach, which is also a direct continuation of the park. People play many sports here. This is the largest beach in Laguna Beach and it is located where Broadway and Ocean Avenue intersect the Pacific Coast Highway.
One of its distinctive features is the white lifeguard’s turret placed in the middle of the beach. As you head north, the beach becomes rockier. Main Beach is always crowded because of its proximity to shopping areas and restaurants. There are public toilets and showers, benches, picnic tables, children’s games, a volleyball court, and a basketball court. It is a beautiful coastline for everyone to enjoy, especially for families and young people but also for anyone who likes swimming, bodyboarding, snorkeling, kayaking, and bodysurfing. Surfing is not allowed in the summertime because of the strong currents and waves. It is certainly not the ideal place for those looking for a secluded corner in nature, but it is still worth seeing.
Between Main Beach and Pearl Street Beach, there is a continuous stretch of sand. Since there are stairways that descend from the side streets of the main road, the municipality has given 12 different names to the beach segments. It’s also worth taking a walk on this beautiful beach, and one advantage is that you can return to them anytime you want as you walk along the sidewalks of the Pacific Coast Highway. Victoria Beach (2713 Victoria Dr.) is anything but a classic beach and that’s what sets it apart and makes it a fascinating place. It can be reached via the stairs next to Victoria Drive.
On the beach, there is Victoria Tower, an enigmatic tower that looks like something out of a story and is known as the “Pirate Tower”. In reality, it was only the stairway that belonged to a family that owned the house on top of the cliff. Built in 1926, the 66 ft tower rose up to the house and had internal access to the building that allowed the owners to access the beach. Just for the record, it seems that there was a design flaw that made the staircase inaccessible at high tide. However, the tower is still enchanting. Near the tower, there is a cavity that fills up with the waves of the ocean. On this beach, which does not have restrooms, you can play volleyball, bodysurf, and scuba dive. In our opinion, it is absolutely worth visiting.
Aliso Beach Park
Aliso Beach Park is a large and popular family-friendly sandy beach in (31131 Coast Hwy) in South Laguna Beach. There is also convenient parking along Highway 1. Here people walk their dogs on leashes, children play games and there are restaurants, showers, and restrooms. You should watch out for surfers while you are swimming.
Table Rock Beach
At Table Rock Beach (31681 Sea Bluff Ln.), the rocks are the main landmark, both because they outline the beach, which always creates a charming setting, and because there are rocks everywhere in the bay, even in the water. A long row of wooden steps leads to the sandy beach, but the stairs don’t start from Highway 1, so it’s not very easy to find. We asked for directions when we were on Table Rock Drive and some people showed us where to access the beach on Bluff Drive.
It is pleasant to snorkel here and when you look up you can see the seagulls circling in the blue sky and the houses above the rocks that envelop the cove. The beach does not have restrooms or showers. In the middle of the coast, there are boulders of various shapes and sizes. In this small cove, there is a natural arch and at low tide, it is possible to cross it to Totuava Beach, a beach that can be reached more easily from 1,000 Steps Beach. On the south side of Table Rock Beach, many people climb the rocks to access another hidden sandy shore. In a nutshell, explore this beach to the extent of your ability and pay attention to the beauty around you.
1,000 Steps Beach
1,000 Steps Beach (Thousand Steps Beach, 9th Ave.) is one of the largest beaches in South Laguna Beach. There are showers, restrooms, and also a volleyball court. The name might be intimidating, but actually, there are only a little over 220 steps, and it is worth the effort to walk down the steps to the beach. At the top, you will see puddles and caves to explore. There is one cave at the south end where you can enter at low tide and once you cross the tunnel, you will find yourself in a small rocky cove on the other side.
Also, at the north end of 1,000 Steps Beach, there is another cave that you can enter at low tide in order to get to Totuava Beach. What we are trying to say is that 1,000 Steps Beach has exceptional natural beauty. Of course, you should take the necessary precautions here as well.
Three Arch Bay Beach
We want to mention Three Arch Bay Beach in Mussel Cove, even though it is located in the private Three Arch Bay community in South Laguna Beach. Unfortunately, there is no official access to the beach from the adjacent beaches, but if you ask permission on-site to go down one of the three sets of stairs to the beach, you can see three small natural arches at the north end of the bay that give the name to this lovely place. Next to the rock in which the arches are carved, there is another small sandy bay. In Mussel Cove, there are strong currents and there are no lifeguards, so it is best to avoid swimming.
The Nature Parks of Laguna Beach
Although Laguna Beach owes much of its fame to the coastlines, there are a couple of parks that will catch your eye.
Heisler Park (375 Cliff Dr.) is a large park overlooking the ocean with great trails for walks, gardens, picnic tables, barbeque grills, a gazebo, sculptures, and a memorial dedicated to veterans. This park provides access to the coast and it has restrooms and showers.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park (18751 Laguna Canyon Dr.) is a green oasis and one of the last canyons on the southern California coast with 46 miles of trails among willows, oaks, sycamores, grasslands, coastal scrub, and hills where you can enjoy scenic views. Don’t just take walks while you are here. The area is also ideal for mountain biking and horseback riding as well as running. The park is open from 7:00 am until sunset, and there is a parking fee of $3.
Other Things to Do in Laguna Beach
Just as expected, the beaches and coastline took up most of our time (and that’s fine), but we have a few hours left to visit three more places in Laguna Beach, starting with Saint Francis by the Sea (430 Park Ave.), the second smallest Catholic cathedral in the world. It was built in the 1930s and to give you an idea of its dimension, the church has 42 seats and is just under 310 ft long.
The Laguna Art Museum (307 Cliff Dr.) is a museum that houses works created exclusively by Californian artists who have represented the life and history of the state from the 19th century to modern times using many different styles. Even those who are not particularly interested in art will be pleasantly surprised. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for people over 65 and students, however, it is free every first Thursday of the month from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm and it is closed on Wednesdays.
The third place to visit, which is completely different from the previous ones, is the popular Pacific Marine Mammal Center (20612 Laguna Canyon Rd.). Here the marine animals are rehabilitated and released but above all studied for the future well-being of the species. There is also a garden with butterflies. It is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
Laguna Beach Events
The events that take place in the city help to attract even more visitors. During the summer, there are performances by the Pageant of the Masters (650 Laguna Canyon Dr.), a living reproduction of works of art through figures wearing clothes and make-up who resemble. One ticket gives access to all shows.
At the Sawdust Art Festival (935 Laguna Canyon Rd.) artists and craftsmen from Laguna Beach exhibit their works along covered walkways, such as ceramic, glass, wood, jewelry and even clothing. From June to September, the festival is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, while between November and December the festival continues for 5 weekends and what is most beautiful about the festival during this period is that the site of the festival is transformed into a winter wonderland. There is no shortage of craft demonstrations, live music, as well as an outdoor food court. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for those over 65, and $4 for those aged 6 to 12.
The Sawdust Art Festival hosts the Bluewater Music Festival at different times of the year. On those occasions, in addition to music, the program will include anything from cooking demonstrations to different kinds of visual arts, such as sculpture, painting, printing, ceramics, and photography.
Similarly, from June to September, the Art-A-Fair (777 Laguna Canyon Rd.) takes place and artists from all over the world show off their mastery in photography, jewelry, ceramics, glass, leather, wood and sculpture. There are also workshops. Here too there are dining options and you can listen to live music. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for people over 65 and students, and free admission for children under 12 accompanied by an adult. We have realized that there is a great interest in art in Southern California and here in Laguna Beach we have had further confirmation of this. There are many art events so it is very likely that you will be able to attend one of them.
Shopping in Laguna Beach
While visiting Laguna Beach, we discovered its incredible natural beauty, but now we want to see a bit of city life, so let’s move on to the energetic, colorful and commercial areas of the city.
We want to do some shopping, so we head to the HIP District along the Pacific Coast Highway, between Thalia Street and Bluebird Canyon. There is a variety of shops and activities, for example clothing, jewelry, massages to beauty treatments, books, flowers, home decor and 27 art galleries! There is also no shortage of attractive restaurants and cafes. In the city we can still smell the sea breeze. We can see the ocean from the city, and we know that it is only a few steps away (…sometimes a few steps more).
Best Places to Eat in Laguna Beach
We would like to recommend a few restaurants where you can try the specialties of Laguna Beach. Ruby’s Diner (1555 S. Coast Hwy.) is a casual restaurant that opened in 1982 and was inspired by the 1940s. You can also eat on the rooftop patio with a view of the ocean. In front of the restaurant, you can take a look at the exhibition of classic and vintage cars. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serves salads, soups, omelettes, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, smoothies, and phenomenal sandwiches. At Sapphire Laguna (1200 S. Coast Hwy.) the dishes are inspired by international cuisine, such as Malaysian black pepper shrimp, fish tacos, pork quesadilla, and black chocolate creme brulee.
If you are looking for other places to enjoy a meal with an ocean view, we recommend Splash Restaurant (1555 S. Coast Hwy.) inside the Surf & Sand Resort where you can also eat on the patio. The restaurant has medium-high prices and is renowned for its fish dishes but also serves meat, sandwiches, vegetables and on weekends you can enjoy an excellent brunch. The Loft Restaurant (30801 Coast Hwy.) located at Montage Laguna Beach serves American cuisine, but an added value is the beautiful view of the beach. Inside the restaurant, it is worth it to stop at the “Cheese Gallery”, which has 50 different types of cheese from California and the rest of the world. Skilled cheese masters transform this food into works of art.
Where to Stay in Laguna Beach
At Laguna Beach, there is a wide choice of accommodations. There is that Surf & Sand Resort (1555 S. Coast Hwy.), which resembles a Mediterranean village. The rooms and suites have a balcony with an ocean view and fast internet access. The hotel has a spa, a restaurant, a meeting room, and a pool with a view of the ocean. Hotel Laguna (425 S. Coast Hwy.) is a combination of Californian atmosphere and European style. It offers both rooms and suites that have ocean or garden views. The hotel has a private beach, meeting room, spa, free wi-fi, and restaurant on the beach.
The Montage Laguna Beach (30801 S. Coast Hwy.) is a luxury hotel with a spa, an oceanview pool, and restaurants. The rooms and suites have views of the ocean and are predominantly decorated in white. We also recommend The Ranch at Laguna Beach (3116 Coast Hwy.), a resort close to the beach with a casual-chic atmosphere surrounded by nature. The spacious rooms and suites have 360° views and fast wi-fi connection. There is also a spa, a restaurant, and a 9-hole golf course. The property offers fitness and cooking classes and activities for all ages.
Location, Directions, and Getting around
Without traffic, Laguna Beach is 50 minutes away from the Los Angeles International Airport (1 World Way) and about 30 minutes from the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana (18601 Airport Way).
Driving around in a car is a perfect option in order to have the most independence during your trip, but people who prefer public transportation can use the Trolley Tour, a kind of bus that is active every day from 9:30 am to 11:30 pm from June to September (the dates change every year, so you have to check on which days of the month the Trolley Tour begin and end) while during the rest of the year the Trolley Tour is active only during the weekend.