Laguna Beach: California’s Pacific Pearl

Although it ranks third (behind Alaska and Florida) in miles of state coastline, California is world renowned for its beautiful beaches that stretch all the way from its border with Oregon in the north to Mexico in the south. Perched halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach (Orange County) ranks as one of the state’s “Top Ten Beaches” by the Travel Channel. With the blue Pacific to the west and majestic canyons to the east, Laguna’s seven miles of sand and surf have become a magnet for nature lovers, beach goers, and culture hounds.

Originally a small art enclave, Laguna Beach has developed into a top resort city and destination for world-class artists, yet still preserves its laid-back charm. Its mild, year-round, Mediterranean-like climate attracts surfers, paddle boarders and boogie boarders. A walkable downtown area with an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants is a delightful place to cool off after a day of “hangin’ ten” or simply soaking up the rays. Over the course of many summer-time visits to see family and friends, Laguna has also provided us with the perfect jumping off point for day trips to popular tourist attractions in San Diego (SeaWorld and San Diego Zoo) and Los Angeles (Venice Beach and Universal Studios).

Salt Creek Beach, Dana Point, Laguna NIgel, California

Stunning Salt Creek Beach as viewed from the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

Planning a trip to Laguna Beach? Here are a few of unique family traveler’s top picks:

Forest Avenue: Extending east from Laguna’s popular Main Beach on North Coast Highway (Route 1), this pleasant street is lined with boutiques, ice cream shops, restaurants and galleries—many filled with locally-made crafts and artwork. Make a reservation at 230 Forest Avenue for delicious bistro cuisine.

Gelato Paradiso: More than 30 handcrafted flavors of gelato and sorbetto await you at this tiny shop tucked into Peppertree Lane off of Route 1. My favorite—chocolate hazelnut!

Wahoo’s Fish Tacos: This self-described, “eclectic Mexican/Brazilian/Asian” eatery with a “Hawaiian north-shore vibe,” has the casual surfer culture down to a tee.

Wahoo's Fish Tacos, Laguna Beach, California

[Great place for a quick bite on North Coast Highway]

Cultural Triple Threat: These sizeable annual summer events: Festival of the Arts, Pageants of the Masters, Art-a-fair & Sawdust Art Festivals showcase works of art by local and international artists.

Salt Creek Beach Park: Located just south of Laguna Beach in Dana Point, this is a popular surfing spot due to its offshore reef. Swimming, bodysurfing, boogie boarding and tidal pool exploration are a big draw. Bring a bike and take a ride on the path that leads up and around scenic Monarch Beach Recreational Area.

Dana Point Harbor Pier: Spend an evening exploring the boutiques, seafood restaurants, and the panoramic water views. Or, you might charter a sport fishing boat or better yet, take a whale watching tour.

Ocean Institute: Also on the pier in Dana Point and open to the public on weekends, this is a unique educational experience with hands-on marine science, environment, and maritime history programs.

Mastro’s Ocean Club: Just 20 minutes north in Newport Beach, this excellent seafood restaurant has gorgeous décor, top-notch service, and the ultimate dessert—signature, warm butter cake.

Pelican Grill: For a special occasion, book a table on the ocean-view terrace of the restaurant at Newport’s Pelican Hill Resort and enjoy delicious Napa-inspired cuisine.

Pelican Grill, Pelican Hill Resort, Newport Beach, California

[Superb sunset views from the veranda at the Pelican Grill]

Raya: Located in the Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel and perched a staggering 150 feet above sea level, it features dramatic ocean views and “Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine.” Or, come for the hearty American breakfast and watch the early-morning surfers catch the waves and the seagulls fly below you.

Balboa Island: Looking for a quick day trip? Cross the bridge from Pacific Coast highway in Newport Beach or take the car ferry to this lovely little place. Make sure to stop at Dad’s Original for a homemade, fresh, frozen banana – pick your own dips and toppings.

Las Brisas: This indoor/outdoor Mexican restaurant has unmatched views over the Laguna Beach coastline. Grab a seat on the patio (no reservations allowed) and order the mouth-watering fresh guacamole made with Hass avocado, cilantro and serrano chile, garnished with red onion, tomatoes and cotja cheese — and wash it down with a margarita.

Heisler Park: A walk along the cliffs amongst sculptures and grassy knolls offers breathtaking views of the waves and coves below.  Climb down the stairways or ramps to explore the sea life in the tide pools and gaze out to the horizon to catch a glimpse of seals and pelicans passing by.  The gazebo near Las Brisas makes an excellent photo opportunity, especially at sunset!

LEGOLAND: For a longer day trip, head about one hour south to Carlsbad and enjoy this tribute to the famous, colorful Danish construction toy. There are plenty of rides and attractions including a waterpark and aquarium for kids (and adults) of all ages. LEGO enthusiasts, check out my recent post, “Art of the Brick.”

Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel: Perched high on a 150-foot ocean front bluff, this Mediterranean-style hotel offers stunning views of the Pacific and all the amenities for a stress free vacation: shuttle service to Salt Creek Beach, pools, spa, restaurants, kids club, and easy access to the Monarch Beach Golf course.

Dad's Original Frozen Banana, Balboa Island, California

[Balboa Island Dad’s Original frozen bananas do not disappoint]

LEGOLAND California

[Our first visit to LEGOLAND brings back great memories]

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