travel

Laguna Beach: Beauty Where the Land Meets the Sea

Photo courtesy of VisitLagunaBeach.com

Ilove to look at a globe and note the fine line where the sand-colored land meets the blue-colored ocean. And I love the feeling of being right on that line in one of my favorite beach communities ever, Laguna.

Laguna is the perfect playground for ocean lovers, from surfers to artists to billionaires, all playing in the same proverbial sandbox. Home to surfing championships, even skim-boarding championships, a lively arts community and some of the poshest real estate, Laguna offers an escape from everyday city cares.

Laguna is a regular escape for me and gets better with every visit. Its shimmering sunlit coastline, rugged mountainside, and almost-perfect weather beckons. And there’s so much to do, from culinary innovation to outdoor pursuits to world-renowned performances, making every visit a new adventure.

I’ve lived there, I’ve worked there, and I’ve vacationed there so many times I can hardly count the number of visits. If you ask me, as many have, to curate a list of how to “do” Laguna, here is what I share.

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BEACH IT
With spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, book a room with a view at an oceanfront property like Montage Laguna Beach—it’s my fave. The Craftsman-style property with white, painted wood and bright interiors increases the charm of this California-casual, five-star, oceanfront resort. Enjoy amazing dining and a five-star spa, one of the few in the country, with a private spa pool for adults only that’s worth its weight in relaxation.

The resort is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year by undertaking a major renovation of the spectacular Lobby Lounge with its awe-inspiring panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean; enjoy it from inside the luxurious space or from the outdoor balcony. A fresh palette of color, a new menu with pastries, espresso and teas, along with the decadent chocolate beverages, each with Grand Cru Valrhona, makes this a lobby to linger in. Do make sure to order a glass of Champagne for a late-night stargazing moment at the firepit.

Photo by Baldemar Fierro

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BE ARTSY
You can’t think of Laguna without acknowledging the amazing arts scene in this small but elite community. One hundred years ago, the Laguna Beach Art Association was founded, and since then Laguna has launched rich arts offerings and inspired plein-air artists to paint the natural beauty and rugged surroundings of the community. Galleries line the streets of Laguna, and the Festival of Arts, which experienced a major renovation last year, showcases juried works by 140 local artists. Support the artists who have shaped this community and take home a piece that reminds you of your trip.

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MASTERPIECES COME TO LIFE
If you’re a theatre buff and think you’ve seen it all, grab seats to the hottest ticket of the summer, the Pageant of The Masters. Held in a 2,600-seat outdoor amphitheater, this continuously-run production—85 years strong!—brings artwork by the masters literally to life. This year’s show is “Under the Sun”, and you will enjoy music and narrative along with a visual treat under the stars. Bring a sweater because no matter how warm it is that day, it’s always chilly at the pageant.

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GO TO TOWN
The town of Laguna is charming, and if you wear the right shoes it’s very walkable. In case you’ve wandered too far there’s a summer trolley system, too. While in town, there are lovely upscale boutiques, the obligatory surf shops and, of course, a multitude of galleries. A favorite day spent is to get dropped off at Cress and Coast Highway (just a through-street at this point in town) and walk the shops and galleries all the way into town. I stop at Main Beach, where my son can play basketball on the beachfront court. Then, I walk or trolley back up the hill to end up at La Casa del Camino for lunch and a glass of rosé on the rooftop with spectacular views of Laguna and the ocean. Sunscreen and sunglasses not optional.

Studio interior / Montage Laguna Beach

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WINE AND DINE LAGUNA
I am a fan of fine wining and dining, and Laguna never disappoints. There are so many special places but, as promised, here is my curated list.

As tradition would have it, my dear friend Karen and I always launch our annual vacation with dinner at Studio at Montage Laguna Beach led by Executive Chef Craig Strong overseeing his modern French cuisine with California influence. Located on-property, it gives us the chance to gently ease into the escape with a decadent dinner. She flights red and I flight white, so the sommelier at Studio makes some superb and rare by-the-glass suggestions for us. (I’ve not seen these spectacular wines by the glass ever.)

Make a trip to Selanne Steak Tavern with fine cuisine by Executive Chef Joshua Severson. You’ll find local produce and fish from sustainable environments, free of the bad stuff and full of good ol’ Mother Nature. The upscale tavern is located in a historic 1934 home on PCH, serving modern American fare, with a stellar wine collection and interesting artisan cocktails. The décor is modern and light with different smaller dining rooms and stunning outdoor dining.

The contemporary California cuisine is as delightful as the ambiance.

Pacific Diver Scallops / Selanne

The local hot spot is named for NHL Hall of Famer Teemu Selänne, a 2007 Stanley Cup winner, former Anaheim Duck, and six-time Olympian. It’s also a local favorite, so book your reservation early. Order the Pacific Diver Scallops with Selanne’s five-cheese and mac fondue for a decadent side. If that’s not rich enough for you, order the Wagyu with chef’s seasonal marrow butter. Yes, you will be doing the stairs at Strand Beach the next day. And if you do, that means you can return for the crazy delicious Sunday Brunch just added.

For more casual stops, try Harvest at the Ranch at Laguna Beach for dinner. It’s located in its namesake resort, this time with mountain views. The contemporary California cuisine is as delightful as the ambiance. Try the beet salad followed by beef short rib or the chili-rubbed salmon.

I usually meet my friend Michelle at Brussels Bistro on Forest Avenue every trip, where she recommends the mussels and frites, and if not I stop at 230 Forest Avenue with my artsy friends. Broadway by Amara Santana is another favorite, and for early in the day I am a fan of Urth Caffé on PCH or Zinc Cafe & Market for healthy ways to start the day, big crowds included.

CRAFTY COCKTAILS

Order an inspired craft cocktail from Montage Beverage Manager Troy Smith during your stay.

Cool Cucumber (above) with Plymouth Gin, Verjus, cucumber, grapefruit essence, and egg white.

Purple Rain with Greenbar Lemon Vodka, Licor 43, concord grape juice, and lemon.

Wilson with Aalborg Akvavit, Suze, grapefruit, and pineapple.

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