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Courtesy of Visit California

Insider’s Guide to Laguna Beach

Insider’s Guide to Laguna Beach
Embrace the outdoors, culture, and laid-back luxury in this charming seaside community

Montage Laguna Beach

This five-star beachfront hotel toes the line between being a hub of activity and a luxurious, only-in-southern-California hideaway. For restoration, head to the sprawling spa for a customized wellness-oriented treatment or a meditation class. Mind cleared, make your way to the onsite outfitter Compass Sports—where staff will coordinate local mountain biking, paddle boarding, hiking, and surfing expeditions—or to the palm tree–lined, mosaic-tiled pool. Big ocean views and a light, airy design define the 250 rooms; for guests seeking extra solitude and space, there are bungalow suites, which are essentially private beach houses. At the hotel’s three eateries, it’s all seasonal all the time, from the fresh morning juices to evening cocktails. That ethos peaks at the fine-dining restaurant, Studio, where executive chef Craig Strong creates elegantly plated French-meets-California dishes using locally sourced fish and meat, along with vegetables picked from the hotel’s 1,000-square-foot garden. Pro tip: In a setting this transporting, you almost want to break into song. Good news—the hotel will rent out mini guitars to guests for the duration of their stay.

Driftwood Kitchen

This casual, open-air restaurant sits above an untouched stretch of Laguna Beach—and capitalizes on that beautifully. Floor-to-ceiling windows encircle the dining room, so it appears to be floating above the ocean, all the better to watch the sunset while eating hand-shucked oysters and sipping Rum For Your Life cocktails. Chef Rainer Schwarz’s menu centres around seafood, prepared with a range of international influences—Spanish octopus is grilled with chickpea puree and za’atar, and lobster stars in a spaghetti carbonara. The spot draws a stylish crowd not just for dinner but also weekend brunch, with a must-try version of eggs Benedict (made with Berkshire ham and blood-orange hollandaise, plus steak or crab). While waiting for a table, sidle up to the Stateroom Bar, the former home library of Old Hollywood actor Slim Summerville, for artisan libations heavy on fine bourbon and whiskey. Pro tip: Locals know best, and they can’t get enough of the whole fried branzino, served with roasted shishitos and ponzu sauce.

Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Beach’s deep connection with the arts goes back in 1918, when 150 local creative residents started the Laguna Beach Art Association (the city’s population was only 300 then). That association went on to launch what’s now the Laguna Art Museum. Although the museum covers countless genres and eras, there’s one thing every piece has in common: They’re all made in California. The 3,500-strong permanent collection spans the early 19th-century to present day, from light and space installations to Pop Art (and also includes pieces by art-world stars like Ed Ruscha and Wayne Thiebaud). It’s rounded out by a handful of new California-centric exhibitions each year. Highly knowledgeable docents—all have completed an extensive nine-month training course—lead lively one-hour walk-throughs daily at 11 a.m. Friday to Tuesday; groups of 10 or more guests may book guided tours in advance. Must-do: Hit the museum on a Thursday night when it stays open until 9 p.m. and becomes a community hub, with lectures, film screenings, and live concerts in the galleries.

La Vida Laguna

If anything’s endemic to Orange County it’s surfing—there are 40 miles of coastline here, after all. It’s not hard to find passionate practitioners of the sport but doing is one thing and teaching is very much another. For newbies or even intermediate surfers looking to get back on a board, La Vida Laguna’s approachable, confidence-boosting instructors are the surest way to success. In private and semi-private lessons, their goal is to ensure that their surf pupils—starting from age eight—stand up on a wave, of course, but they also want to create more ocean advocates in the process. Wave safety and selection plus etiquette training are part of the lessons, along with pop-up drills, positioning, and gentle pushes at Thalia Beach, which has consistently calm waves for beginners. Guides also lead stand-up paddleboard lessons, hikes, and kayak adventures (expect frequent sea life sightings), tailoring and combining experiences upon request. Appointments are necessary and can be made on the phone, online, or at its historic craftsman bungalow in downtown Laguna. Local tip: For fewer surfers in the water, book a couple lessons on weekdays during the winter season.

Ironwood

When this wine-country style restaurant opened in the Laguna Hills in 2016, it was instantly embraced by locals. Maybe it’s the hillside location—no bikinis in sight—that allows diners to breathe easy and indulge. Maybe it’s the warm wood-clad dining room with its lively open kitchen. Or maybe it’s the craft cocktails and 25-plus international wines poured by the glass. Regardless, Ironwood is not the place to come while on a diet. The biggest reason: the house-made giant meatball, served with fresh, made-from-scratch herb pappardelle, spicy pomodoro sauce, and ricotta salata. Limited numbers are made each night, so it’s worth going early for (the dinner-only restaurant opens each evening at 5 p.m.). The menu also features American Wagyu burgers, mac and cheese skillets, pork shanks and fried green tomatoes with fresh burrata—plus colourful, palate-cleansing salads incorporating handpicked local ingredients. When the weather’s good, a retractable roof is pulled back from the heated patio to reveal views of the picturesque Saddleback Mountains. Must-order: the warm fromage blanc brownie with Nutella ice cream.

In Partnership with Afar

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Huntington Beach by Scott Mansfield

Southern California

Discover Orange County

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27
July
Average (°C)
June - Aug
35°
High
11°
Low
Sept - Nov
31°
High
5°
Low
Dec - Feb
15°
High
2°
Low
Mar - May
26°
High
5°
Low

From board shorts to mouse ears to designer clothes, what you wear in this sun-splashed corner of the state says everything about how you like to play. Whether it’s surf-perfect beaches or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns dotted with luxury yachts, “The O.C.” stands out as one of California’s—make that the country’s—most iconic destinations.

“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.
The magic of Disneyland, walking through the tunnel underneath the train station to Main Street, it just transports you to other places and other times.
John Lasseter
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Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
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Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun washed European look straight out of the Riviera. Santa Barbara, nicknamed 'the American Riviera,' has a burnished antique look like much of the Mediterranean,...

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End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village, pedestrian friendly...

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Orange County is the cultural center of the surf world and Huntington Beach is like the heartbeat.
Corky Carroll (Orange County surf legend)
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O.C. Shopping

Discover boutique brands and bargains

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July/August

With a nickname like ‘Surf City, USA’, Huntington Beach is the obvious place for this 9-day, sun-and-wave extravaganza, the world’s largest surf event. Top pros including Kelly Slater and Rob...

Surfers competing in the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing
William Fovall/Flickr
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Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Orange County's Luxury Resorts

Live like a star at posh getaways

The good life might have been invented in ‘The O.C.’—especially when it comes to resort destinations. With spas, elegant dining, five-star...

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Get into the coastal vibe

Maybe it’s the sun-streaked hair, the frequent smiles, the eyes always gazing west, looking to the horizon to see when the next set might roll in. It’s the unmistakable look and vibe of a...

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Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Crystal Cove State Park

Stroll a perfect beach with an intriguing past

In 1912, an early Laguna Beach artist described finding a rugged coastline “with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and...

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If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Golf in Orange County

Tee up at top courses, with some ocean views

With ideal Southern California weather and some of the country’s most celebrated courses, Orange County justly earns the nickname ‘California Golf...

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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind the scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of actvities...

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Photo by Michael Saechang/Flickr
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Courtesy of Orange County Great Park

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Explore an impressive urban park

Turning former military land into a roughly 1,300-acre green space, this Irvine park is as ambitious as it is beautiful. Though it...

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Every year, the Orange County Great Park Balloon dons a smiling jack-o-lantern mask, marking the unofficial start of fall in Orange County.
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Irvine

This centrally located Orange County city is the perfect home base for shopping, dining, and kid-friendly exploring

Irvine’s central location—45 miles from Los Angeles, 85 from San Diego, and 15 minutes from ...