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Beyond Los Angeles: 5 reasons to visit Laguna Beach this summer

By: Maxine Sheppard

July 1, 2019

Laguna Beach Coastline © Visit Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach Coastline © Image courtesy of Visit Laguna Beach

Known as an artist's enclave for more than a century, the city of Laguna Beach lies on the Pacific Coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, an hour's drive south of LAX.

Along the southern coast of Orange County, Laguna Beach’s seven-mile oceanfront features over 30 beaches and coves, with more shoreline accommodation than any other city in California. The entire area is a fully protected marine reserve, with abundant tide pools and numerous caves, plus whale and dolphin-watching opportunities year round. Making the most of the creative environment is an offbeat community of actors, musicians, sculptors, potters and painters, who take advantage of the thriving arts scene and 20,000+ acres of Laguna Canyon wilderness for inspiration. With more than 100 restaurants, cafes and bars, and a packed calendar of summer events to choose from, it’s time to head south down the Pacific Coast the next time you’re in L.A.

Festival of Arts

One of the top art festivals in the nation, the summer-long Festival of Arts runs from July 5 – August 31, and hosts 140 of the most admired artists in Orange County. The professionally juried fine art show has been running since 1932, but has since expanded to encompass live music, art workshops and guided art tours, as well as the quirky theatrical celebration of art in “living pictures”, known as the Pageant of the Masters.

Pageant of the Masters is a full production held in a star-lit amphitheatre. Featuring music, narration and painted backdrops, the volunteer ‘actors’ hold their poses in ‘tableaux vivants’, or living pictures. This year’s theme is ‘The Time Machine’ © Image courtesy Visit Laguna Beach

Tide pools and marine life

Two adjoining marine protected areas extend offshore from Laguna Beach, conserving critical species and habitats including intertidal tide pools, kelp forests and reefs. The marine refuge system is a no-take zone, meaning nothing can be fished for, touched, or removed from this area, and the free-to-enter Pacific Marine Mammal Center on Laguna Canyon Road rehabilitates marine mammals that are stranded along the 42-mile Orange County coastline. May to October is the best time to see the annual giant blue whale migration – try Captain Dave’s or Dana Wharf Whale Watching for tours – alongside giant pods of common and bottlenose dolphins.

The shallow saltwater tide pools revealed at low tide are home to a veritable aquarium of sea creatures including hermit crabs, mussels, delicate sea anemones and vibrant starfish © Image courtesy of Visit Laguna Beach

The Ranch at Laguna Beach

Set amid Aliso and Wood Canyons, the tranquil Ranch at Laguna Beach is a member of the exclusive National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a collection of properties selected for their commitment to community and environmental responsibility. Spread across 87 acres, the ranch features an organic harvest garden that provides seasonal produce to the hotel’s restaurant, as well as a sustainably operated golf course, and a recyling system that includes a reclaimed water system and a GLSand glass-bottle crusher – a compact machine that crushes every glass bottle used by the hotel into sand, which is then used to top up the bunkers on the golf course.

 

A local icon for 50 years, the Ranch at Laguna Beach is set between canyon and sea, and offers 97 laid-back rooms © Image courtesy of Visit Laguna Beach

The VIC: Skimboarding World Championship

The Victoria Skimboarding World Championship is held every summer at Aliso Beach Park, with this year’s event taking place from 17–18 August. Unlike surfing, skimboarders catch their waves from the shore, and the sport began as a way for lifeguards to ride down the beach from one lifeguard tower to the next. It was invented here in Laguna Beach, and due to the nature of its shore breaks the city is the self-proclaimed Skimboarding Capital of the World, with professional and amateur skimboarders riding at multiple beaches along the coast. Sit back and spectate, or try your hand at this highly technical activity with beginners lessons from Solag Skim School.

The VIC Skimboarding Championships take place at Aliso Beach, Laguna Beach CA, starring the best professionals and amateurs every August. Here are the highlights of the 2018 event filmed and edited by Skylar Wilson

Summertime happy hours

After a hard day’s sightseeing there’s nothing better than hitting up the latest summer happy hours. The only problem in Laguna Beach is there are too many to choose from, so we’ve whittled down the options to our top three faves to get the night started.

First up is the Rooftop Lounge at La Casa del Camino hotel, where the beach-facing terrace and killer sunset views almost upstage the drinks. Get half price mojitos, beer, wine and mixed drinks from 3–5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Moments from Main Beach, the casually upmarket Tommy Bahama is located in the 1930s Heisler Building and provides a weekday happy hour from 3–6 p.m. Top tip: the signature Baja Margarita with Cointreau, Grand Marnier and Scratch Sour.

On Cliff Drive next to the Laguna Art Museum, Mexican-inspired Las Brisas mixes casual coastal California cuisine served al fresco, with stupendous views of the coastline. Running from 4–6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the twist is that this happy hour is actually for Mexican fare and desserts as opposed to drinks, but with dishes like mahi mahi-filled tacos and sea bass ceviche you won’t be disappointed.

Find year-round ocean vibes at one of Laguna Beach’s best summer happy hours © Image courtesy of Visit Laguna Beach

Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights to Los Angeles from London Heathrow, and three times a week from Manchester.

For more information on Laguna Beach head to VisitLagunaBeach.com

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Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places