The sister city of Menton, France, Laguna Beach is a jewel unlike any other. TripAdvisor selected Laguna for a “Top Ten US Beach Travelers’ Choice Award” in 2013. Coastal Living Magazine called Laguna the “Happiest Seaside Town in the Country” in 2012. There are enough activities to fill a book about what to do and see in Laguna Beach. Boutiques line the boulevards and the city boats world-class surfing, breathtaking vistas, and great food and culture. Whether you visit for a long weekend after an LA business trip or stay for a week or more, here are a few of my favorite spots in my town for food, fashion, fun and art.
So I know what you East Coasters say about us Californians when you are out in the Hamptons or whisper about your family and friends who have moved west. It just may be true as we are a healthy bunch out here. For two years, we have had to leave town to visit this new “chain” of juice bars in Costa Mesa and Corona Del Mar. No longer do we have to chase the juice trend, as Laguna has its very own Nekter, which opened in a former Golden Spoon location on Broadway. If fresh juice, smoothies or detoxes are your thing, head here. My favorite is the Greenie with no ice, and if you are in a hurry, take home a pre-made Skinny Strawberry. I did a three-day juice cleanse and lived to tell about it. I felt fantastic afterwards, albeit a bit obsessed with food.
If you are looking for fresh Italian food, take a passeggiata over to Alessa. It’s not actually a secret anymore as it gets quite crowded. Emily, the lovely Italian hostess, will greet you, and seat you, (if you are lucky, air kiss you) hopefully on the outdoor patio lined with a yellow and blue mosaic tiled fountain wall that trickles while you talk. It’s just loud enough to drown out the noise of your neighbors and transport you to the real deal, if only for a meal. Linger over lunch with my favorite Alessa Special Salad—organic mixed greens with grilled salmon, asparagus, pearl tomatoes and well-balanced lemony vinaigrette. The minestrone soup is amazing: fresh crunchy vegetables with a slow-simmered rich broth minus the overcooked pasta found in so many other minestras. It’s a fine spot to people watch. Listen for the street performer with the pitch-perfect, powerful voice belt out show tunes. If it’s too crowded, move south to the Alessa-owned restaurant, Mare, at Cleo and PCH.
Urth Caffe is coming to town! It will be located on PCH, across the street from our own Laguna Art Museum in the former location of The Cottage Restaurant. Urth is an LA-based restaurant famous for its organic teas, coffee, food and desserts; it’s packed day and night in Santa Monica and on Robertson Blvd. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most exciting things to happen to our food scene in ages; organic and hormone-free food, homemade soups and salads that are walking distance from my house in a cottage built in 1917.
If you have your husband’s credit card—or your “uncle’s” (wink wink)—prance on over to Anastasia. Amir Gharavi curates his boutique with the most elegant collection of clothing by tried-and-true and up-and-coming designers. The closest thing to European runways that we have in Laguna Beach, it’s like a museum of clothes, except you can take them home for a fee. Many years ago, I blew a year’s worth of my clothing budget and had Amir dress me in his vision. I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman as he filled the dressing room with simple, well-made neutrals of fine fabrics. I still have many of the special, elegant pieces he helped me choose, and whenever I wear one, my step is a little bit lighter. Anastasia Café allows you to linger, amongst the art, the good taste, and to eat well for breakfast or lunch. Drink the “Vampire” blood, a fresh juice blend of orange, carrots, celery and beet or go Greek with La Greque Salad. I like to add grilled chicken.
Whenever I have a visitor who has never been to Laguna Beach, I drive straight to the Surf and Sand and head down to Splashes Bar. It’s hard to remember what the wine or cocktails taste like because the view is so distracting. All of your senses are engaged as you hear the waves crash along the shore, and view them at eye level though clear glass windows. At high tide, you are immersed in the ocean while drinking or dining on a menu heavily influenced by seafood. Even better than just stopping by for a drink, set up “camp” and use the newly renovated Surf and Sand as your home base. Descend into the Surf and Sand to stay oceanfront (all 167 rooms have ocean views!) with the crashing surf outside your window, right in the heart of town. I love that when you check into the hotel that they tell you what time sunset will be. You can borrow movies for free from the DVD Library at the front desk. Live on the edge and ignore the impulse to block the swoosh of the ocean with the packet of earplugs lying near the bed. The last time I stayed there, (no lie), I watched a lone Stand up Paddler navigate around frolicking dolphins as the sun set with an orange glow.
Don’t leave without visiting the Aquaterra Spa. Stop for a café on the comfy outdoor furniture to read the morning paper or watch the waves on your way to the spa. There is a lovely seasonal treatment called the “Made Fresh Daily” spa scrub and massage, which currently is a Sun Kissed Twist with lemon and Mandarin followed with a mint body butter wrap. I was lucky enough to have Katharina be my guide through the relaxing day where I was scrubbed and rubbed. I ventured outside and put my feet up on the private outdoor patio while I soaked up Vitamin D in my cushy robe. Aquaterra also has a cozy indoor sitting area that features an indoor fireplace and a cute shop with unique clothes, products and jewelry.
Float All Your Cares Away
Who knew the kind of mental muscle it takes to sit still, floating in 1,000+ pounds of Epsom salts in your own private tank for a full hour? Get to know yourself well while you immerse your naked body in a calm pool of salt water that prevents you from sinking, even if you don’t swim. If you do your best to be present, and allow your thoughts to wander, you will come undone, in a good way. I had a sore elbow when I went in, and when I left, it felt good as new. When you are finished, feel your happy cells rejuvenate, appreciate how chill you are, and glow as you walk smugly out the door, satisfied with yourself for a fait accompli that’s equally as worthy as an hour-long run.
It’s Lonely at the Top
If you are a fitness enthusiast and just have time for one outdoor activity besides the beach, head up to this secret spot and hike. Find Dartmoor, which is a dead end street off Hillcrest in North Laguna. Park near the dead end, and climb the steep trails that overlook a view equally as captivating as Cinque Terre, Italy. Stick a picnic from Zeytoon, a small Mediterranean deli on PCH, in a backpack and watch the sun set above the craggy cliffs. You could make it a day hike and continue across the mountain all the way to the Nix Nature Center in the Canyon and cab it back to your car. Please don’t tell anyone I sent you.
Tableaux Vivant: Pageant of the Masters
If you visit in summer, find tickets to Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters. Bring a stole or blanket and binoculars to this open air theatre and gaze at the stars while you enjoy living art in the amphitheater put on by an entirely volunteer cast and a full orchestra. It’s magical!
Salt Fine Art
Driving by Salt Fine Art’s windows on Pacific Coast Highway is like eye candy for adults. When the gallery first opened, I coveted a hand-decorated armoire made by Argentinian artist Lucas Rise, which I ended up buying. It cost more than some cars. But I wake up every day loving that art installation in my living room. It’s the focal point for all family photos and makes me smile every time I walk in the front door. Sometimes, I sit and imagine Lucas in his studio toiling over the geographic patterns and colors (in combinations I would have never thought to put together) all harmonized in a perfect balance of play and color. Carla Tesak is the passionate owner who specializes in emerging Latin artists. If you happen to be in town on a First Thursday Art Walk, head out to enjoy wine, cheeses and fruit at many of the local galleries that stay open late for this event. Get swept up in her passion for the essential element. Salt (like art) is a necessity! Please do tell Carla I sent you.
Suzette Lipscomb contributed the text and photos.
FOR MORE INFO: