Laguna Beach is a seaside resort city that is much more than a beach town. The city is nestled amongst rolling hills and valleys overlooking the shoreline with great beaches, shops, restaurants, and art galleries - giving it a distinct French Riviera allure.
Laguna Beach is a great destination for a family looking to escape the heat of the inland cities or for couples looking for a romantic stroll on the beach.
Along with great beaches, hiking trails, and tide pool explorations, the city is famous for its artist community, which has plenty of art galleries and festivals.
The “Festival of the Arts” is an art show that gathers over 150 artists from Orange County to show off their handiwork. At night you can enjoy a concert while having a picnic.
At the same location, the Pageant of the Masters starts around 8:30, with local models bringing famous works of art to life.
The “Sawdust Art Festival” is an artist village that gets rebuilt yearly and features art exhibits, family entertainment, workshops, and food.
When you are not visiting the festivals and art galleries, try walking along Cliff Drive, visiting Sunset Beach, or going to the Top of the World. See more details below.
Things to do
Walk around town
Laguna Beach has a lot of hidden gems; you just have to know where to look. You can stop at the visitor center on Forest Street to get some maps and info.
Another way to discover those gems and learn about Laguna's history is to join the Free Walking Tour. Recently, we went with David on this 2-hour tour and learned a lot of interesting facts while enjoying the scenery. Go here to book this free tour (and pay as you wish).
One of the fantastic discoveries that David pointed out is the "Dawson Cole Sculpture Garden." It is a serene place with fountains and beautiful sculptures of dancers. This is an excellent place for a break from your walk around town.
Heisler Park, Main Beach to Arch Cove375 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
One of the best ways to enjoy Laguna Beach is to walk through Heisler Park, down to Main Beach, and on to Arch Cove. This is a long walk, but you can always relax on the beach and enjoy the views.
This walk starts from the south end of “Heisler Park” on Cliff Dr. around High Dr. or Maple St. Once you park, make your way to the footpath along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Tip: Parking is very hard to find around this park. Try parking on one of the side streets leading to Cliff dr. You might need to go further away from the park. Another alternative is to park in one of the city parking areas around Broadway Street (HWY 133) or Ocean then walk back to Cliff drive.
The Park itself is wonderful and worth a visit. It is clean and well-maintained, with good restrooms, picnic tables, and Barbeques. The park is also home to a large variety of shade trees, cacti, sagebrush, palms, and flowers.
After enjoying the park, continue your stroll along the path that commands the best ocean views from any Southern California beach town. It is perched high up the bluffs, with several pathways leading to small, secluded coves and beaches.
Towards the south end of Heisler Park, Cliff Drive veers left into shops, residences, and crosses PCH. You want to stay to the right, where you can find a gazebo overlooking the ocean with a spectacular 360-degree view.
Right on that corner, you will also find one of my favorite restaurants, Las Brisas, where you can enjoy Mexican cuisine with a splendid view. They also offer a great Sunday brunch. The patio, with a full bar, is first come, first served.
Between the Gazebo and the restaurant, a footpath goes down to “Main Beach.” Once you reach the bottom of the path, you are at one of SoCal's most popular and busiest beaches.
Continue your walk along the boardwalk, take your shoes off, and stroll on the sand as far as your feet can. I personally love to walk through the surf and get my feet wet.
Tip: If you decide to visit Main Beach, keep in mind that it is one of the busiest beaches in OC. No parking at the beach, but you can park in town across Pacific Coast Highway.
On your right, you can watch the waves and the surfers. On the left, you will see lots of hotels and restaurants.
One of my favorites is the “Ocean View Bar & Grill”. The balcony is right on the sand, with great views in every direction. The best time to visit is during breakfast hours when it is less crowded. If you visit at lunch or dinner, reservations are recommended.
If you continue walking south on the sand, you may encounter some rocky formations. During high tides, your path might be totally blocked.
You can try to scale those obstacles but be careful. They could be slippery and rough on your feet.
If you prefer to play it safe, climb one of the stairways back to the street level and go down the next stairs.
Toward the end of this walk, you come to Arch Cove at Pearl Street Beach. The beach is famous for its Arch, which you can walk through at low tide. If you prefer not to walk all the way to this point, you can get to it from street level at 1791 Ocean Way. See Thousand Steps Beach below.
Tip: At any point during this fun walk, if you get tired, just go to PCH and hop on the free shuttle.
On the way back, you can retrace your steps or hike back along PCH to enjoy the shops.
Thousand Steps BeachPearl Street, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Another secluded beach in Laguna, Thousand Steps Beach, is named for its length. The beach is at the bottom of a long stairway with around 250 steps. Going back up the steps probably feels like 1000 steps, as well. The official name is Pearl Beach because it is located on Pearl Street.
At the south end of this beach, there is a natural formation Arch called Keyhole. You can walk through the arch during low tides, which will lead you to another lovely beach called Woods Cove. At high tides, you will have to wade or swim through it.
The beach is also famous for its blowhole. Water rushes through the blowhole with every wave, then recedes. Adventurous swimmers dive into it and swim under the rocks through a little underwater cave. Watch these videos to get an idea: https://youtu.be/GmgVl31gRvk. or https://youtu.be/g0q5OHQEc9s.
Sunset Beach at Montage ResortWesley Dr. at PCH, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
This beautiful and leisurely walk is located at the south end of Laguna Beach. It is famous for its tastefully landscaped walkways and great sunset views.
This walk starts at the intersection of Wesley Dr. and PCH. You can park at the free underground car park or the Montage Resort.
Heading north along the path, you will find beautiful flower gardens, palm trees, and the occasional bench overlooking the beach below. On the right, you will see a great blue mural and nicely maintained restrooms.
Towards the end of the concrete path, you will reach a dirt path with several benches – a nice place to rest before you turn back. It is also the prime spot to relax and enjoy the sunset.
Several paths along the way will lead you down to the beach, where you can enjoy the sand and surf.
Top of the WorldW Ridge, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
This nicely appointed park has an amazing view from the highest point in the Laguna Beach hills. The park itself is an excellent place to have a picnic or play tennis, but most people come for the views and the extensive hiking trails.
Park your car in the free parking lot or on Alta Laguna Road, then walk through a small wooden bridge and up a short trail to get to the beginning of the viewing area. From that vantage point, you can feast your eyes on a panoramic view of the ocean. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island and the Channel Islands in the distance. Closer by, you can gaze at the multi-million-dollar homes of Laguna Beach.
If your goal is to hike, there are a lot of hiking trails starting at this point. A sign at the entrance shows a map of Aliso and Woods Canyon Wilderness trails. You can spend a couple of hours or a full day hiking in this area.
The hike is strenuous due to the steep trail, rocky path, and deep grooves from flash floods. You can make it a little easier by going down to the car wreck and looping around another trail for the climb back up.
Tip: Please remember to take lots of water with you, especially on warm days.
Start at West Ridge trail (off the viewing area). Turn right onto Mathis trail. Turn right again into the Car Wreck trail. This is where it gets tough. Towards the bottom of that trail, you will see the wrecked car nestled in the trees.
As you descend beyond the car wreck, the landscape changes around you into a wooded area with lovely shade trees, a stream, and some benches to rest your feet.
You will start your return trip on the “Oak Grove” trail. After a pleasant stroll, you will turn left and climb back onto Mathis trail. This climb is more gradual, but it is long. Keep going until you hit the West Ridge trail again, then turn left to the main viewing area. You just completed a 7-mile hike.
Pageant of the Masters and Festival of the Arts
You can find artistic photography, oil paintings, sculptures, and handmade jewelry. There is also a section dedicated to junior artists.
Grab a drink from one of the bars, then sit in the garden and enjoy the day's musical performance. You can also enjoy your drink while browsing the exhibits.
If you prefer a full sit-down meal, visit the Terra Laguna restaurant and enjoy your meal under the open sky. Unfortunately, I couldn't say under the stars because in Laguna Beach, most summer nights are cloudy. The restaurant is not top-notch, but it is convenient as no other restaurants are nearby.
The show changes every year. In 2021, the show is "Made in America" - celebrating all the great American artists and their creations.
The show extends beyond the stage. Wherever you are seated, you will catch performances all around you on the surrounding hills. For the best view, try to find a seat in the middle section, "S." If you are too close to the stage, you will miss some of the action.
Dining in Laguna Beach
Sapphire - Laguna Beach
Sit back and enjoy a delicious meal for lunch or dinner. On weekends, you can also enjoy their brunch menu.
We happened to visit in between lunch and dinner on a Friday. They have a reduced menu for that period. Although the items on the menu were few, they were all good choices. We tried Mama's Fish Tacos and the Kobe Beef Havarti Cheeseburger - both were tasty and filling.
The drinks were excellent, too. We tried the Sapphire Squeeze, Lychee Mojito, and The Perfect Storm.
This place is also an excellent spot to study or work while enjoying the view. They offer good free Wi-Fi.
Parking is behind the restaurant in underground-covered car park. Remember to take a token from the restaurant reception before you leave.1200 S Coast Hwy #105B, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
From the top of a cliff overlooking the beaches of Laguna, this Mexican/American restaurant offers Mexican Fusion dishes, an ocean breeze, and a grand view. The prices are high, and the place can get overcrowded, but you are here for the view.
During our last visit, we ordered Oysters and Salamon tostada for starters. The main courses were Asparagus Omelet and Baked Eggs. We ended our meal with Sorbet and Flan. All the dishes were delicious, and the meal pace was excellent.
After a leisurely meal, you can walk along the cliff in Heisler Park or down to Main Beach. Heisler Park extends for several blocks with commanding ocean views and beaches below. Read more here.361 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
This hidden gem is inside the Sand and Surf Resort in Laguna Beach. The restaurant is right on the sand, seating indoors and on the patio. Both options afford great views of the ocean and the sounds of surf breaking on the beach.
The food is delightful, too. We like to go for breakfast before a brisk walk on the beach. We had Strawberry and cream Pancakes and the Wild Mushroom Benedicts during our last visit.
If you don’t prefer those items, they have a wide selection of pastries, omelets, bagels with salmon, fruits, and even steak and eggs.
The resort is a wonderful place to spend a few days exploring Laguna Beach and Orange County, especially during the warm months.1555 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Enjoy delicious creations right on the sand at Crystal Cove State Beach. The location, inside the historic district and between cottages built in the 1920s, adds to the ambiance.
As you sit and enjoy your drinks and meal, you will love the view, with many beachgoers, the ocean breeze, and the surf in the distance.
Our main course was Maine Lobster Club, Ahi Ahi Tacos, and a Tuna melt. I especially enjoyed my Lobster Club. For dessert, we shared Beignets and a Bread pudding.
It is important to note that there is no parking near the café. You must park across the street at the State Park parking lot (Los Trancos Parking lot). You can take a beautiful hike down to the beach or ride the shuttle for $1.50 per person.15 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, CA 92657
C'est La Vie
A French restaurant right at Main Beach in Laguna. Sitting on the porch and listening to the surf while sipping our coffee and enjoying French pastries is a nice start to our morning. The restaurant also serves a full breakfast and brunch. They have a selection of Crepes and Omelets.
This place is a bakery and a full-service restaurant. Passers-by on Pacific Coast Highway stop to order croissants, macaroons, or French doughnuts filled with custard. But if you stop for dinner, you can order specialties like Grilled Riviera Octopus, Ahi Tartare Napoleon, or Cotes D' agneau (Lamb) - or enjoy a dinner Crepe.373 S Coast Hwy #2111, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
South of Nick's
They serve traditional Mexican dishes along with seafood specials.
During our visit, we tried the Lobster Enchiladas and the Filet Mingon Fajita. Both were very tasty and filling.
For dessert, we tried their Helado Con Churros. Don't let the name "Churros" deceive you. This is a unique, moist and flavorful concoction topped with ice cream.540 S Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA
Harvest at the Ranch
Sitting outdoors on a summer weekend is a wonderful way to relax and enjoy a delicious meal.
The menu is seasonal and always made with fresh organic ingredients. During our last visit, we enjoyed a Harvest Dry Aged Burger, Black Bean and Mushroom Burger, and a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad.
We shared a slice of Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert.
We loved the food, the view, and the service. We will be going back to try their breakfast menu.The Ranch at 31106, S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA
The Promenade on Forest
This pedestrian-only section of Forest Street deserves its own mention. You can find great eateries on each side of this street - most with outdoor patio seating. My favorites are Brussels Bistro, Alessa, MOULIN, and 230 Forest Avenue.
The food and drinks were excellent. We tried their Trout Almondine and the Beet Salad. Both were delicious. The trout was cooked just right, and the mashed potatoes were perfect.
My wife and I had the Zombie in the Park, and we both loved it. We had seconds.
For dessert, we ordered the Crepes Flambee. It wasn't the best dessert we had. The crepes were ok, but they were smothered with the sauce.
I would still recommend this restaurant for its great-tasting dishes.222 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA
Alessa is an upscale Italian restaurant with tasty creations that please the pallet and the eye - and the service is excellent.
On our last visit, we tried two ravioli dishes. We started with Zucca, a butternut squash ravioli with ricotta cheese. We then tried the Nonna Titina ravioli with cheese and spinach.
We enjoyed our meal with delicious drinks. I had the house Merlot which had a hint of plum and cherry flavors. My wife enjoyed a strawberry and basil mojito.234 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA
230 Forest Avenue
We encountered this place by chance as the restaurant we had reservations for was closed. So, we walked along our favorite Forest Avenue promenade and decided to try it.
The place was crowded, but the receptionist was able to fit us in.
We enjoyed a few cocktails, a cheeseburger, a kale salad, and the fisherman chowder. The cheeseburger and salad were delicious - the chowder, not so much.
For the drinks, we loved their fig Margarita and the mango martini.
If you are really hungry, try their hearty meals like Togarashi seared ahi, seafood arrabbiata pasta, and maple brined pork chop.230 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651