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(2019 - Fall Issue)


The freeway snaking through Los Angeles is a dozen lanes from one side to the other. My brain didn’t like that math and, as it turns out, my GPS was not too happy either. This seemed like a good time to punch in the coordinates for a saner California beach town experience: 33.5427° N, 117.7854° W., Laguna Beach.

An hour’s drive down the Coast Highway (a.k.a. Highway 1), I could feel my heart rate slow down, the sky seemed clearer and bluer and the pace of, well, everything felt healthier. Pint-sized Laguna Beach (population hovers around 25,000, compared to four million of the behemoth to the north) includes 89 square kilometres of protected wilderness and 11 kilometres of prime west coast oceanfront, riddled with 30 picturesque coves and beaches. When the Big City started to rattle my brain, Laguna Beach was just what the doctor ordered.

Rattled brains or not, in the early years, Laguna Beach was a magnet for amateur artists and weekend painters who came to capture scenes of its coastal beauty. It didn’t take long for the town to gain a reputation as a plein air artists’ getaway. Stepping outside the studio and painting “as one with nature” checked a lot of boxes for many people. And it still does. Laguna Beach has kept its small-town heart but has managed to mix it with a relaxed, upscale lifestyle. Like many Southern California beach communities, Laguna Beach would have you digging deep into your pockets. My pockets are not nearly flush enough to buy property, but, as it turns out, Laguna Beach was the perfect place to visit and soak up that California beach town vibe.


It’s no surprise that, in a town founded by creative spirits, the arts are everywhere. A stroll along the main street is a real find of galleries and artisan workshops, many with creations echoing the influence of sea and sky. I’m not known for my shopping stamina, so every so often I need to step away from the storefronts for a bit of respite and recharge. The Surf & Sand Resort called to me with a main level deck boasting a fabulous view of the beaches, a background soundtrack of the waves, spotting of dolphins and whales, as well as a watermelon margarita that tasted like summer in a glass.

For decades, visitors have come to Laguna Beach to see a performance of the Pageant of the Masters. The unique 90-minute show takes place under the stars in an outdoor amphitheatre just minutes from downtown. Described as “living pictures,” the Pageant started in 1933 as a way to draw people to a local art festival. It became wildly popular and now runs nightly in the summer (weekends through the rest of the year). A turntable stage, meticulous costumes and makeup, theatrical lighting and a 28-piece orchestra all contribute to seamlessly inserting a living character into a 2D tableau recreation of works of art. As part of the illusion, the transformed cast member must sit completely still for 90 seconds. The Pageant is a source of artistic pride for Laguna Beach, enough that each summer more than 140 cast members take their places to help create dozens of picture settings.


Exploring the outdoors seems to be a natural way of life in most iconic California beach towns. After a delicious lunch of salmon and salad al fresco at The Ranch at Laguna Beach—a chic property tucked away in a forested canyon and a member of the exclusive National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World due to its conservation efforts—I found my way to the beach for a guided eco-walk at Heisler Park. The deep waters, tide pools and hidden sea caves are home to a density of marine life including lobsters, sea urchins, bottlenose dolphins, whales, sharks and massive underwater kelp forests, a basic building block of the ocean ecosystem.

There is a “protect and preserve” mindset to this part of the coastline. The waters and shoreline of Laguna Beach are designated a State Marine Reserve, meaning no collection of rocks, shells, animals or sea life is permitted. Our guide reminded us to “take only memories.” Mine were of a breathtaking beach town, with no tangled freeway in sight.

Travel Planner

Plan your Laguna Beach getaway at visitcalifornia.com and VisitLagunaBeach.com.

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