I think it is only fitting to start my travel guide series in the beautiful town we have called our home for the past seven years. Laguna Beach is such a special community that has managed to hold on to a bit of small town charm among the hustle and bustle of Orange County. There is so much history tucked away in this artist’s community waiting to be discovered. Here is my locals guide to Laguna Beach sharing all of my favorite places to see, eat and shop. I hope this post will inspire you to plan your visit to Laguna Beach.
Where to Stay:
There are a million beautiful hotels in this town, but if you want to live like a local and really experience Laguna, I recommend Manzanita Cottages. Whenever my in laws come to town they stay here and it is such a unique experience. The cottages were built in 1927 and give you a sense of history with modern amenities. There are five cottages total, one is a studio and the others sleep up to 4 people. The grounds are meticulous and you are staying right in a residential neighborhood. The location is a short walk to the beaches, shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a more personal vacation experience, Manzanita is the spot for you.
If you are looking for more of a traditional hotel stay, check out the beautiful Martin Lawrence Bullard designed Casa Laguna.
Where to Eat and Drink:
Favorite Spot for Breakfast: Driftwood Kitchen
Driftwood Kitchen has one of the most amazing views in town. The breakfast is excellent and it is so relaxing to look out at the water and hear the waves crashing while you eat.
Best View: The Deck
The Deck is right on the beach with an unparalleled view of the water. It is the perfect place to watch the sunset and have a drink. Just make sure to get there early, it is extremely popular with both locals and tourists.
Favorite Cafe for Lunch: Zinc
Zinc is a vegetarian cafe serving the freshest ingredients around. It is my favorite place to have a leisurely lunch on a beautiful day.
Best Taco Tuesday: The Cliff
I love the tacos at The Cliff! It is the first place I ever had feta cheese on my tacos, and it is the best. The prices on Taco Tuesday are also the lowest I’ve found in town.
Best New Restaurant: Oak
The design is rustic modern, the food is described as California comfort. If you go for lunch, try my favorite, the pastrami sandwich.
Favorite Local Bar: The Saloon
In my opinion, The Saloon is one of the most unique places on town. It is designed in a standup pub style more commonly seen on the East Coast and in Europe, very rare in Orange County. It has a definite locals feel and a warm coziness to it. While many stay here the whole night, I think it is the perfect transition spot between live music at The Cliff and ending the night at the Marine Room.
Favorite Spot for Live Music: The Cliff
There is no where more magical in town than live music under the stars at the Cliff. The area for live music is a cozy spot with an outdoor bar and string lights hidden amongst little shops. It is without a doubt, my favorite place in town.
Best Spot for Drinks: The Marine Room
The Marine Room is always a good time. They have live music five nights a week and they recently introduced house party nights on Sunday and Monday evenings with beer pong and board games. From the drinks to the decor, everything is on point at Marine Room.
For Dessert: Gelato Paradiso
Getting gelato at Gelato Paradiso is one of my favorite activities on a summer night. The whole experience is immersive. Of course the gelato is incredible, (and very authentic from what I have been told), but there is something about waiting in line down Peppertree Lane, smelling the fresh waffle cones and then walking down to the beach for sunset that I equate with the feeling of home. It always brings back memories of the past seven summers living here. It is a must stop spot on your visit to Laguna.
Best Burritos: Adolfos
To be honest, I was never really into burritos until I had one at Adolfos. Adding red sauce on top to make it a “wet burrito” is a total game changer. The environment is casual, mostly locals, perfect for a summer night or Sunday afternoon.
Where to Shop:
#1: Brass Tack
As a designer, I am always looking for cool shops that have unique, eclectic products. Brass Tack has a diverse assortment of locally and globally sourced furniture, accessories and gifts. If you love vintage or upcycled products, Brass Tack is a must visit.
Huit is a beautiful boutique curated by local designer Tania Cassill. She has thoughtfully created a space filled with modern, organic and vintage pieces, along with gifts such as Moroccan tea glasses and French organic bubble bath. The store is warm and inviting and you will definitely want to visit again and again.
Cottage Furnishings is one of my favorite shops in town. It is family owned and operated with amazing customer service. If you love coastal style, they have a great selection of furniture, accessories, gifts and artwork. If you are visiting, it is the perfect place to find souvenirs and gifts to bring home for family and friends.
Kiska boutique is the cutest little clothing store in town. They have fun and trendy clothes and jewelry for great prices. Everyone who works there is sweet and helpful. It’s a must visit for all of your clothing needs.
#5: Toes on the Nose
There are lots of surf shops in town, but Toes on the Nose has always been my favorite. The customer service there is excellent. The products they offer are thoughtfully selected and not the same merchandise you see in many of the other stores. It’s a great spot to find tee shirts, sundresses, flip flops and lots of other great apparel and gifts.
What to Do:
Best View: Top of the World
Top of the world is a scenic lookout point with sweeping ocean views as far as the eye can see. There is also Alta Laguna Park which has a playground, tennis courts and a baseball diamond. I love bringing my dogs up here to run around and enjoy the view.
Must See: The Lifeguard Tower, Forest Ave and Peppertree Lane
The Lifeguard Tower is one of the most photographed landmarks in town. Its actual purpose serves as a training, viewing and storage spot for lifeguards, but in reality it is much more. It is a symbol of the town, a perfect photo op for visitors and a piece of artwork in itself. If you would like to read more about the lifeguard tower, check out this article.
Forest Ave is the heart of the town. A quaint street with restaurants and shops that still manages to maintain a small town feel despite the hustle and bustle of tourism. My favorite piece of Forest Ave is the gate. Hung in 1915 it is still there today at the intersection of Forest and Coast Highway. It reads, “This gate hangs well and hinders none, refresh and rest, then travel on.”
Peppertree Lane is a historic building originally built around a pepper tree in 1934. It houses Gelato Paradiso and The Saloon along with shops and restaurants. It is such an interesting and unique property, it feels like you are in another country when you walk through.
For the Art Lover: Artwalk, Sawdust Festival and Local Galleries
If you happen to be here the first Thursday of the month, you have to experience Art Walk. Art Walk is an educational monthly event held the first Thursday of each month from 6-9pm. Participating galleries offer artist demonstrations, exhibition openings and more. Learn more about Art Walk here.
The Sawdust Festival usually runs from June 29th through September 2nd. It takes place in Laguna Canyon and offers 200 artists a chance to feature their work. Pieces include handblown glass, paintings, photography, jewelry, ceramics, sculptures and more. It is so much fun to walk around in the summer, listen to the live music, have some food and drinks and take in all of the art around you. It is also a perfect place to find unique gifts. The Sawdust reopens mid November through mid December for the Sawdust Winter Fantasy with live holiday entertainment. It is a great family atmosphere to get you in the Christmas spirit.
Laguna Beach is known as an art colony with over 100 art galleries and studios in town. If you are an art lover make sure to take some time to stroll through and check out all of the diverse offerings.
Best Parks: Heisler Park, Treasure Island Park and Crescent Bay Point Park
When you think Laguna Beach your mind immediately pictures the beautiful beaches, but you may not always think of the parks. There are three incredible parks here that I think are must visit spots.
For almost three years my husband and I lived across from Heisler Park. Heisler Park is an oceanfront park in North Laguna with walking trails, gardens, picnic tables, barbecues and lawn bowling greens. There are also beautiful sculptures located throughout the park which are especially striking against the ocean backdrop. Heisler Park is the perfect place to barbecue and watch the sunset on a summer night. If you happen to be here on the 4th of July, it is also my favorite place to watch the fireworks.
Treasure Island Park is a linear public park comprised of the cliffs surrounding the Montage resort. The grounds are impeccable and the landscaping is lush and filled with many of California’s native plants. There are winding paths with benches overlooking the breathtaking views and the architecture of the resort is something to see as well. Often in the summer I will bring a book are read under the trees here. It is a great place for families to spend a summer afternoon.
Crescent Bay Point Park is very special to me. It is a quiet park perched high on the bluff above Crescent Bay beach. There is a grassy area in the middle with paved paths on either side following the perimeter of the park. The landscaping is beautiful and the park has many jasmine bushes, filling the air with one of my favorite scents. At the railing overlooking the ocean, Crescent Bay beach is to your left and two popular scuba diving areas, Seal Rock and Dead Man’s Reef are to the right. There are tide pools located at both ends of the cove during low tide. Apparently I am not the only one who finds this park to be special, we have witnessed several proposals and weddings take place here.
Explore: The Tidepools, Victoria Beach
A great spot to visit and get up close and personal with marine life is the tide pools. The tide pools in town, at main beach and treasure island beaches are part of a state marine conservation area. The best time to visit is low tide, and sometimes there are docents there to answer questions and talk about the sea life. One of my favorite activities is to photograph the beautiful creatures and shells that I find in there. Just remember to be cautious of where you step, and don’t take anything, living or not, from the pools.
Another great place to explore is Victoria beach, home of the local “pirate tower” and concrete pool. Just south of Victoria Drive you will find Victoria Beach. Victoria Beach is most commonly known for the interesting tower structure built in the 1920s. The structure is called “La Tour” which is French for tower but locals refer to it as the pirate tower. It is 60 feet tall and was built by the owner of the home as an enclosed staircase to the beach. Kind of a weird design though, because the tower is only accessible at low tide, meaning that the exit to the stairs is inaccessible during high tide. During this same time period, a circular concrete pool was built by the tower. The pool fills with sand and salt water from the waves. Undoubtedly you’ve come across a photo of this on instagram, it seems to be one of the most instagram worthy spots in town.
Best Beaches: Crescent Bay Beach, Shaws Cove, Treasure Island Beach
Everyone in town has their own personal opinion on which beaches are the best beaches. I guess it really depends on what you plan to do, surf, skimboard or relax and read a book? There is definitely a beach for everyone. My favorite beaches are Crescent Bay, Shaws Cove and Treasure Island Beach.
Without a doubt, Crescent Bay is my favorite beach in town. A large cove about 1/4 mile in length, it is located in North Laguna where Cliff Dr. meets Coast Hwy. There is something about this beach that I find incredibly beautiful, and I love the character of the homes up above on the bluffs. Proceed with caution while swimming though, Crescent has a strong shore break that can get as large as 12-15 feet with numerous rip currents. In the summer Crescent Bay can get very crowded so a lot of the locals will head one beach south over to Shaws Cove. Shaws Cove is probably the most popular beach in town for snorkeling. (According to my husband the best time to snorkel here is in September and October where the visibility is on average about 30 feet). This beach is considered a hidden gem, it is perfect for photos and at low tide you can check out the tide pools.
The best way to access Treasure Island Beach is down a ramp on the southwest side of the Montage resort. Near the main ramp are the tide pools and a rock archway to the north. The movie Treasure Island was filmed here in 1934 and in 1953 The Long, Long Trailer starring Lucille Ball was filmed here as well. For many years, this beach was private, belonging to a mobile home community. When the Montage Resort was built in 2000, the land became public and the beach was opened to everyone. A lot of the “treasures”, the sea life you find in the tide pools has mostly been protected over the years since it has only recently been made public. For this reason, you are likely to find all sorts of interesting creatures in the tide pools that you may not see at other beaches. Although all of the beaches are beautiful, there is something about Treasure Island that seems perfect, straight out of a movie scene.
How to Get Around: Ride the Trolley!
Laguna Beach offers a free trolley service which runs every day in the summer (June 30th – September 3rd) and weekends the rest of the year. It’s a great way to see the town and hop between the beaches, restaurants and shops.
I hope you enjoyed my guide to Laguna Beach! Have you visited before? Leave your favorite places in the comments below.
All photos are copyright of Cliff and Coast and can not be reproduced without permission.