One of Southern California’s best-kept secrets has to be the charming quintessential seaside town of Laguna Beach located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego.
With 42 miles of stunning sandy beaches, secluded coves, seaside cliffs, ecological preserves, tide pools teeming with sea life, there’s nothing about Laguna that doesn’t seem magical.
And if nature hasn’t already blessed Laguna Beach with sheer unadulterated beauty, rest assured its talented artists have captured its magnificence in other ways. Laguna celebrates the arts better than any other Southern California Coastal town. Just strolling through its downtown, we found a myriad of unique and creative works celebrating the sun and the sea.
Where to Stay in Laguna Beach
Though we’ve stayed at other places here, our hands-down favorite is always The Inn at Laguna Beach perched high on a bluff overlooking the azure waters of the Pacific and the town’s central park and beach.
Everything about the inn says “perfect vacation”—from its location within the very heart of Laguna Beach to its attractive well-appointed comfortable oceanfront rooms and attentive personalized service.
With unsurpassed views of the Pacific Ocean from its balcony rooms to falling asleep to the crashing of the waves, we would have been tempted to never leave our room if there wasn’t so much to explore in this marvelous beach town.
Each evening close to sunset, wine is served on the inn’s Pacific Terrace rooftop bar to celebrate the sun’s disappearance into the horizon. And as an added special touch each evening, a tray with a pot of steaming aromatic Chamomile tea is delivered to each guestroom with an accompanying note to “Relax. Breathe. You’re on beach time.”
Where to Play in Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach proudly boasts a total of 28 beaches lining its majestic shoreline.
Referred to as Laguna’s “Window to the Sea,” Main Beach sits in the heart of Laguna’s village. Famous for its iconic Lifeguard Tower this sandy playground is filled with happy beachgoers who surf, swim, compete at beach volleyball or build sandcastles. Others stroll and bike along the promenade or walk their dogs as Laguna Beach is well-known as one of the most canine friendly villages in all of California.
Victoria Beach, a fairly secret location not known to many visitors is surprisingly located in a residential area of town. A narrow and steep set of concrete stairs descends to a secluded pristine beach surrounded by rocky cliffs pounded by impressive winter waves. At low tide, a soaring 60-foot medieval-like “Pirate Tower” can be seen and accessed from a small beach cove. Even then, dodging the powerful incoming surf to reach the tower can be quite an adventure.
There can’t be a more beautiful promenade on the West Coast than the incredibly picturesque oceanfront Heisler Park high sitting over the bluffs of Laguna Beach. Walking trails lead to stunning gardens, overlooks and a gazebo all offering commanding views of the Pacific Ocean and the tide pools of its lower beaches.
Each bend in the trail leads to more awe-inspiring vistas. Benches along the way invite strollers to sit, breathe, relax and celebrate the gifts Mother Nature has created. And artists with their colorful palates try to best capture the essence of their spectacular surroundings.
Picnic tables and barbeques are located on the park’s grassy areas for those who love to grill in the great outdoors or play lawn games like Bocce and bowling. A towering metal whale sculpture pay homage to coastal California’s most massive of winter visitors.
Though Laguna is surrounded by water with a multitude of activities available, winter brings its own adventuresome fun. Late November through mid-spring is prime whale-watching season.
In nearby Dana Point Harbor, known as the Whale Capitol of the West, Dana Wharf Whale Watching Company takes guests out to open Pacific waters in one of its adventure catamarans in search of whales, dolphins and other marine life.
It’s not only the whales, playful dolphins and sea lions bobbing on ocean buoys that make the trip memorable. It’s the knowledgeable captains and staff that share educational and fascinating facts about the region and coastal sea life during the two-hour scenic cruise.
Where to Dine in Laguna Beach
If dining with a view is important as it is to us, grab a front row seat at sunset at spectacular Las Brisas. For a more casual setting, their heated outdoor patio is a perfect choice. For more formal dining, the interior of the restaurant has recently been renovated and the setting is luminous and enticing.
Entrees here combine the best of California cuisine with the bold flavors of Mexico’s Baja and West Coast regions.
Vince, the restaurant manager suggested we try something completely different for a starter, the signature Neuske’s Bacon. Thick, crisp and grilled, then served with a blistered red pepper and chimichurri sauce, it’s a dish so unique it will forever be described to others as a “must-try.”
Followed by a fresh Ceviche- smoky, rich with cured seabass and shrimp, this was as every bit good as we’ve had in the Mexican Riviera. But with its orange chili sauce, it stands on its own stellar merits.
Dinner entrees were the perfect choices- tender, meaty Day Boat Scallops and a crispy moist Whole-Fish Branzino, which was even better than the best chef offerings we’ve had in Baja California.
Dessert was yet another standout with a Berry Tostado, light and crisp and served in a caramelized almond shell with ice cream and plump juicy berries.
With their spectacular views and some of the best food on the coast, Las Brisas will always be one of our favorites. Though we’ve been to Laguna Beach numerous times, we find Las Brisas just too good to pass up.
For an absolutely exotic treat, guaranteed, there’s nothing on the Southern California coast like Mozambique Steakhouse. Its extraordinary atmosphere and immensely flavorful cuisine is decidedly unique, both inspired by the Dark Continent’s South African coastline. Dining here is like having a world of sensational experiences under one roof.
The restaurant is divided into separate themed dining areas, one of which is an open-air rooftop lounge with a panoramic ocean view. The Durban Room, Mozambique’s latest renovation is a delightful new twist. Taking the form of a vintage piano lounge circa 1920s, the Durban is literally a modern-day “speakeasy” with live entertainment.
Bartenders here are masters of their craft and can create just about anything you could imagine—like the Xai Xai. Made with citrus rum, Zaya rum from premium blackstrap molasses, guava and passion fruit nectar, the innovative concoction was ambrosial and smooth.
Not surprising, the restaurant has the largest selection of fine South African wines between the California Coast and Washington, D.C.
Entrees here are creative, tantalizing and divine.
For a perfect introduction to South African cuisine, Mozambique’s Sampler Plate is the way to go. With luscious prawns, tender chicken pops, flavorful farmer’s sausage and tasty beef samoosas served with the restaurant’s own robust Per-Peri sauce, this is an awesome dish to share.
South African’s love curry and they’re experts at perfecting the taste in a dish. And so it was for the Durban Curry with tender braised lamb, potatoes, carrots and onions.
A perfect finish to a perfect meal was the Macadamia Nut, Banana and White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Amarula cinnamon crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream. It was sinfully savored.
As the sun sets on yet another beautiful day in paradise painting the sky with a palate of gold and orange, we fully understand why Southern California’s had so many songs written about it.
From the Beach Boys “California Girls” to Cheryl Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun” to the Mamas and the Papa’s “California Dreamin,” one thing is certain —they must have all spent time in Laguna Beach!
A member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association, Noreen is a frequent contributor to several online and print publications. She shares her latest adventures, photos, and published stories on her What’s In Your Suitcase? Facebook page. Her stories reflect her love for travel, history, adventure and family.
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