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Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach
With its art scene and unique coastline, this Orange County town may be literally picture perfect

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 a legit artists’ community.

Laguna Beach’s art scene dates back to the early 20th century, when the area’s sea cliffs became a popular setting for directors of silent films. Today, dozens of galleries dot downtown, including Kush Fine Art, Virga Gallery, and Laguna Art Lounge. Nearby, the glassy Laguna Art Museum exhibits pieces by California artists and works that express 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—including photography, jewelry, surf art, and hand-blown glass—in an outdoor setting, 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 miles of protected coastline make for a beautiful backdrop. Its scalloped coastline of untouched seaside cliffs creates a series of romantic sea coves and a variety of distinct experiences. Main Beach is steps from the city center—look for the nearby statue of The Greeter, a tribute to the longtime local who took on the role as a one-man welcoming committee for visitors. 

For a more remote experience, try walking the incredible staircase at Thousand Steps Beach, hiking the seaside 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 hike, which starts in Alta Laguna Park. During summer and fall, 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 oceanfront resorts. Enjoy Arts-and-Crafts-style 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-school resort (think barefoot-golf Fridays) and the only hotel in California to be named one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

One of the town’s coolest attractions, meanwhile, is happily free: Go to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to visit injured seals and sea lions that were rescued off the region’s beaches and are recuperating before being returned to the wild. The small, family-friendly center, which opened in the 1970s, was the first of its kind in California. 

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Scott Mansfield

Southern California

Discover Orange County

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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.

“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.”  --actor Dennis Quaid

Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. 

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Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
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