California Riviera Meets Disneyland
By Suzanne Ferrara
The breath-taking and famous Laguna Beach, also known as the “California Riviera,” has been painted and photographed for more than a century. Laguna’s hypnotic coves, towering palm trees, sandy beaches, and dramatic rocky crags are sights to behold. The curve of the coastline and the hilly terrain gives Laguna characteristics similar to the famed beach of Waikiki of yesterday but without the cluttered buildings.
This award-winning seaside destination is also known as the “Arts Colony” and rightfully so; there are more than 100 galleries in the community where famous painters like Norman St. Claire and Edgar Payne used brushes to transport this majestic scenery to the rest of the world. Many would agree, that no painting or photograph can do justice, to witnessing this captivating southern California coastal destination in person.
Laguna Beach has a handful of luxury resorts, but if you want to experience Laguna on an intimate level, head straight to the Inn at Laguna Beach. Here you will grasp the local vibe of this intimate beach community, and the Inn’s cozy, comfortable and charming atmosphere only adds to its essence. This quaint hotel is only five stories high and has 70 rooms adding to its cozy allure. The inn sits on the town’s most celebrated Main Beach, which is a curved sandy beach and rocky coves with tide pools or on either end of the of the beach. (One of those gorgeous rocky outcrops is just steps away from the inn).
The inn’s central location is not only perfect for experiencing the genuine pulse of Laguna, it stands in the area known as “The Village”, which is full of privately-owned restaurants and shops. (Fact: There are no strip malls or franchises in this area). The Inn is within walking distance of most attractions and restaurants, and there’s a FREE trolley service which runs along the Pacific Coast Highway every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Guest can hop aboard the trolley in front of the Laguna Beach Art Museum next to the Inn.
The Inn at Laguna Beach offers unparalleled views of this one-of-a-kind coastline and the glistening, cobalt Pacific Ocean. Once you put your feet on the sand, you will feel like you’ve been dropped into a movie set. On the South and North end of the pristine sandy Main Beach are the aforementioned rock crags of all sizes jetting out into the ocean. (Tip: The Inn offers complimentary beach chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards and towels. They also have complimentary frisbees, buckets, shovels, and basketballs. It should be noted that all of the concierge employees are eager to make your stay special).
Laguna’s coves are full of opportunities for discovering sea life! When there is a low tide you can see starfish, hermit crabs, and kelp, among other sea species and plants inside the rock formed tide pools. The rocky formations are great for jumping and walking from rock to rock, all the while discovering new vantage points amid this wild, unique beach terrain. (Tip: Be sure to ask the concierge for one of their easy to read maps which illustrates all of the beaches, restaurants, and parks among other places for your discovery).
You can choose to swim in the ocean or take a dip the Inn’s heated pool on the third floor, and here too, is a great view of the coast. (Tip: The two most sought-after suites at the Inn are on the top floor of the Inn. The Laguna Vista Suite has a wraparound balcony offering great panoramic views of the coastline. The Sunset Vista Suite is the second most popular suite and offers a view of the coast as well). The Inn is undeniably romantic, but it’s also kid and pet-friendly!
Among the Inn’s complimentary amenities is a wine hour at the Inn’s Rooftop Bar, milk and fresh house-made cookies to end your day, and to start your day, Starbucks coffee and an assortment of Tazo brand teas. The Inn at Laguna Beach’s concierge is second to none and pays close attention to fulfilling their guests needs. Have concierge set up a plethora of activities including surfing lessons, scuba diving, and snorkeling during your stay.
Need more activity? Laguna has several beautiful hiking trails along the coastal hilly terrain one of the best trails is literally connected to the Inn at Laguna Beach. You can step outside the Inn and immediately onto the two-mile-long Heisler Park walking trail which sits atop a cliff and skirts two of Laguna’s beaches. (Fact: Laguna has several beaches all with different characteristics and named after streets of the town).
For a one-of-a-kind experience, make a 15-minute drive up the coast and board the “Dana Wharf Whale Watch” cruise at Dana Point. Coasting alongside these whales is a site to behold, especially when they spout out vapors from their blowholes. You will also see pods of dolphins on this trip!
After whale-watching at Dana Point, satisfy your appetite with delectable cuisine at Raya, located inside the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. The panoramic glass-enclosed oceanfront view atop a 150-foot cliff is hypnotic! (Tip: While the stunning coastline can be seen from anywhere in the restaurant, request a window table). Another great option with magnificent views is Splashes, a beach-front restaurant, where you can watch the gorgeous sunsets while enjoying coastal-American inspired dishes. Splashes is located inside the Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna Beach.
Want more dining choices? At Three Seventy Common, in downtown Laguna, Chef Ryan (Orange County native) creates mouthwatering dishes with international influences using locally sourced meats and produce. (Tip: Among the small plates, the broccolini with a fried egg is a must. The bone marrow, short rib, pork loin with BBQ mac n’ cheese, and the wild salmon are revered by the locals). Three Seventy Common is also known for its refreshing libations concocted to complement the menu. (Tip: Be sure to try the Chupacabra, made with tequila, lime, cilantro, cucumber, and agave). Save room for the bourbon bread pudding or seasonal berry shortcake.
It is hard to believe, but only 25 miles from Laguna Beach is Disneyland. Disneyland, the place where all the nostalgic magic began, has it all, with many new and classic rides and roaming characters you won’t find in Walt Disney World. Don’t miss Disneyland’s Fantasmic spectacular pyrotechnic and fireworks show; a full-scale eerie pirate ship sails in front of park-goers with dozens of characters on board, highlighted by an impressive Captain Jack Sparrow and stunt performers executing duels and falls. Adding to the magic, Disney California Adventure is just steps from Disneyland and showcases many rides (like Radiator Springs Raceway) and experiences you won’t find anywhere else.
Still need to get out? Just 15 miles from Disneyland is a shopping experience of a lifetime: South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, which is California’s largest shopping center and features over 250 retailers. Costa Mesa also has live Broadway shows and stunning musical performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and the Costa Mesa Marriot is in the middle of all the action. By the way, the Marriot provides shuttle service to Disneyland.
Undoubtedly, this part of southern California offers a Swiss army knife of vacations – cinematic beaches, magical kingdoms, and fine culinary artistry – all within a 30-mile radius. Mark my word, you will never forget this enchanting experience!