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Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

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

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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.

The Arts in Laguna Beach

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, including Kush Fine ArtVirga Gallery, and Laguna Art Lounge, dot downtown. But the artistic spirit of the city is also on display for anyone wandering the streets to see: Murals at The Hive, a cultural and arts hub in the Laguna Arts District, as well as at various other downtown locations, have proven highly Instagram-worthy. 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 in an outdoor setting—including photography, jewelry, surf art, and hand-blown glass—as well as live music on three stages and plenty of food and drink purveyors. Perhaps most famously, the city hosts the concurrently held Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters. The Festival of the Arts is a massive juried fine arts show, featuring not only the work of over 100 Orange County artists, but also art demonstrations and live music. Its sister event, the Pageant of the Masters, is a celebrated outdoor evening performance that pays homage to famous masterpieces with tableaux vivants (living paintings), where actors pose as the artworks.

Nature In and Around in Laguna Beach

Much of the town’s beauty, however, is not man-made. Laguna’s six-mile, scalloped coastline includes romantic sea coves, untouched seaside cliffs, 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, aka the Pirate Tower, a 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.

Another way to see the region’s wildlife up close is to visit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. This is where injured seals and sea lions that were rescued off the region’s beaches are cared for while they recuperate before being returned to the wild. The small, family-friendly center, which opened in the 1970s, was the first of its kind in California, and entrance is free.  

Where to Stay in Laguna Beach

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. Capri Laguna on the Beach lives up to its name with a prime location steps from the water; book one of their ocean-facing rooms with a working fireplace for a relaxing, romantic getaway. 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.

Things to Do Near Laguna Beach

This being the heart of Orange County, there are countless ways to have quintessential Southern California experiences within an easy drive. Head to Dana Point, the Dolphin & Whale Watching Capital of the World, and with a little luck you’ll see some of the world’s largest mammals put on a show. If you are a beach nut, there are several that you have to visit—use this piece on Orange County’s Best Beaches as a starting point. The more urban- and arty-minded can tour the county’s numerous outdoor art pieces, and golfers have several world-class courses to choose from.

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