The Orange County town of Laguna Beach gets to have it both ways: it is both a beach town with a serious luxurious streak and an artistic community.
Laguna Beach’s art community dates back to the early 20th century, when the area’s cliffs became a popular setting for directors of silent films. Today, dozens of galleries dot the city centre, including Kush Fine Art, Virga Gallery and Laguna Art Lounge. Nearby, the glassy Laguna Art Museum exhibits pieces by Californian artists and works that depict life in the state. Every summer, the city also plays host to a handful of popular art festivals. The Sawdust Art & Craft Festival features local art in an outdoor setting—including photography, jewellery, surf art and hand-blown glass—while the Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters pays homage to famous masterpieces with tableaux vivants (living paintings), where actors pose as the artworks.
Much of the town’s beauty, however, is not man-made. Laguna’s six-mile, scalloped coastline includes romantic sea coves, untouched cliffs and a variety of distinct experiences. Main Beach is just steps from the city centre: look for the nearby statue of The Greeter, a tribute to the long-standing local who took on the role of one-man welcoming committee for visitors. For a more remote experience, try climbing the incredible staircase at Thousand Steps Beach, walking along the cliffs at Crystal Cove State Park or checking out La Tour, the castle-like structure on Victoria Beach.
Some of the best views, however, are found along the aptly named Top of the World walk, which starts in Alta Laguna Park. During the summer and autumn, keep your eyes out for giant blue, finback and minke whales, or see the majestic creatures up close on a tour with operator Davey’s Locker.
Embrace Laguna’s luxury with a stay at one of the area’s ocean-front resorts. Enjoy Arts-and-Crafts architecture, a 20,000-square-foot spa and a crystal-blue pool overlooking the ocean at the Montage Laguna Beach, or stay at the sleekly contemporary Surf & Sand Resort, where all 167 rooms have ocean views. Just across Highway 1, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is a modern take on an old-fashioned resort (think barefoot-golf on Fridays) and the only hotel in California to be named one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.
Happily, one of the town’s coolest attractions is free: visit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to see injured seals and sea lions that have been rescued from the region’s beaches and are recuperating before being returned to the wild. The small, family-friendly centre, which opened in the 1970s, was the first of its kind in California.
Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.
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