Having been a recognized tourist destination since at least the late 1800s, Laguna Beach is today most widely recognized for its sun, sand, and surf (and perhaps a mid-2000s reality show). Just an hour south of Los Angeles, the city enjoys all of the wonderful weather and great surf that Los Angeles does, without suffering from quite as much of the traffic and pollution-related issues. One of the largest portions of its image is its dedication to the arts, with many arts festivals occurring annually (including the Festival of the Arts, which lasts for almost two months). Here are, in no particular order, ten things to do in Laguna Beach.
10. Heisler Park
High up on the cliffs, this oceanfront park affords phenomenal views out towards the horizon. With various access points down to the beach, this park has a little bit of everything: picnic benches and BBQ pits for grilling out, large paved pathways great for skateboarding or rollerblading, and several art sculptures. Furthermore, the park also has plenty of tide pools where visitors’ young and old can observe wild looking marine life up close. There are a handful of restaurants and cafes within walking distance.
9. Pageant of the Masters
Each night during the summer, one of the most unique tourist attractions in Laguna Beach occurs at the Festival of Arts: The Pageant of the Masters. Actors dress up like figures in famous paintings from different eras and countries and sit precisely still so that, along with the exquisitely detailed background, they recreate the paintings. Sometimes it is hard to believe that what you’re looking at is actually in three dimensions. The presentation takes place every night at 830 PM during the Festival of the Arts, which takes place between most of July and August.
8. Pacific Marine Mammal Center
As the very first marine mammal rehabilitation center in California, this center began in founder Jim Stauffer’s tub and backyard pool, where he would keep injured or sickened sea lions until they could be released back into the public. The center has a visitor yard that is open daily between 10AM and 4PM. From here, visitors can witness the animals that are receiving treatment and ask questions of the nearby staff, whom are more than happy to help spread awareness.
7. Laguna Playhouse
Being this close to Los Angeles it is difficult to escape the entertainment industry, but this playhouse allows an intimate approach. In action since 1920, the playhouse is a theatre showing live plays nearly nightly in a beautiful cozy venue. Located right near the beach and a handful of excellent restaurants, the theatre is an integral part of a romantic night out on the town. Make a night of it by stopping at one of the nearby restaurants with friends or taking a romantic stroll on the beach. Tickets start at $51 per person.
6. 1,000 Steps Beach
This beach is named for the long staircase that visitors must climb down to access it, although there are actually far fewer than 1,000 steps (it is closer to 230 steps). At the bottom of the staircase, visitors will find one of the largest beaches in the area, typically only crowded on weekends, with large rocky cliffs serving as a backdrop. There are two rock tunnels – one at the south end of the beach and one at the north – that are definitely worth exploring. One tunnel even leads to its own separate beach – but you must be sure that the tide is far out enough to allow for safe passage. Free street parking is available.
5. Laguna Art Museum
With a collection of pieces that span over 200 years, this museum is notable for its propensity for collecting only work by California artists or pieces of art that use California s an inspiration. With over 3,000 pieces, it has a deep and rich collection from which it can draw from for its rotating exhibitions – all housed in a beautifully designed building. The museum also has a lecture series, a kids Art studio as well as periodic concerts and film screenings. The museum is not only a hub for culture in its city, but California in general. Admission is $7 per person.
4. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Located in the San Joaquin Hills, this park is a large 7,000+ acres piece of land protected from development, a refreshing rarity in southern California. The park has plenty of hiking trails, some of which will provide you breath-taking views of the surrounding valley and ocean. Additionally, the park provides several guided hikes that take place periodically throughout the month, listed on the county park’s website. There are also trails available for mountain biking. Be sure to bring water.
3. Take a Kayak Tour
La Vida Laguna is more of a one-stop-shop than anything, offering a wide variety of tours including guided hikes, paddleboarding, bike tours, surfing lessons, drum circles, and plenty more, but one of their most fun events is a guided kayak tour of the Pacific shore. Exploring everything from coral reefs to kelp forests, the two-hour tours will take patrons up and down the California coast, with a fantastic stop at Seal Rock to witness a large group of sea lions. Tours start at $75 per person for the 8AM tours, and $85 per person for the later ones.
2. Laguna Canyon Winery
A family-owned business, this winery made their name in Vancouver, Canada before relocating to southern California. Now, using grapes shipped from Napa Valley, they create delicious and delectable wines that have won numerous awards at the Orange County Fair – the biggest Californian wine competition. They have two staple wines, one of which is called “Purple Paws,” which uses its proceeds to help with homeless pets. Wine tastings take place every first Friday of the month, running $40 per person.
1. Glenn E. Vedder Ecological Reserve
If you already have your diving certificate, visiting this Ecological Reserve is a must, as it provides some of the better diving in the area. However, the specific rock formations also allow the development of some really spectacular tide pools – cool, shallow, saltwater ‘puddles’ that the rising and lowering tide continuously refresh. These pools are accessible by foot (make sure you are wearing some decent shoes for climbing on slippery rock) and are full of starfish, sea urchins, and other marine life. At times there will be University students collecting specimens who will be more than happy to share their knowledge.
If you do find yourself visiting, it is important to remember that the sport of surfing is also an integral part of the city’s history, hosting the longest-running surf contest in the world. It isn’t hard to find a surfing lesson around, so be sure to spend early morning learning. Apart from that, the culture is diverse and deeply concerned with the visual and performing arts. It is hard to travel very far in the city without running into an art store or seeing someone outside with his or her easel. But perhaps the best part of the city is that much of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles has been left behind without suffering the glamour, leaving plenty of places to visit in Laguna Beach.