As winter rages on in the Northeast, an idyllic corner of the world beckons…
Laguna Beach, California, where I was fortunate to begin 2022, is an antidote to the winter blues. Located in Orange County, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Laguna Beach is a perfect trifecta of surfer beach town, artist colony and hippie holdout culture. It is uniquely wonderful and reminiscent of a simpler time. You know you’re in a consummate beach town when the street names are Cliff Drive, Marine Lane and Wave Street.
There’s something about this place. I am freer, lighter, unburdened; I am my best self. During my morning run along the beach, I revel in the calm, the stillness. I breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with invigorating salty air as life’s simple pleasures stretch out before me: kids play in the sand, dogs chase balls, couples walk hand in hand, waves crash upon the shore. It is magical. In this moment, anything seems possible.
Main Beach, with its iconic lifeguard tower, is the centerpiece of this seaside town. (Of note, the lifeguard tower is one of the most photographed landmarks in Southern California.) Main Beach also houses a boardwalk, playground, beach volleyball nets and basketball hoops– all facing out towards the Pacific Ocean. A stairway near Main Beach leads to Heisler Park– a picturesque walkway high above the oceanside cliffs.
Quite by accident, our rental cottage was located in the HIP District (Short for Historic & Interesting Places,) a stretch of seven blocks along Pacific Coast Highway between Thalia & Bluebird Streets that is a hub for all things California Cool. Here, art galleries, vintage clothing stores, surf shops, funky restaurants and ocean-view rooftop bars peacefully co-exist.
A must-see stop in this neighborhood is Sound Spectrum, THE destination for music fanatics– “spinning groovy vibes since 1967.” The cramped shop features a treasure trove of old record albums, rock & roll posters, vintage band T-shirts and other music memorabilia that owner, Jim Otto, has been collecting since the mid-60’s. Once inside, my rock ‘n roll- obsessed husband is like a kid in a candy store.
A new addition to the HIP district at the corner of Cress Street & South Coast Highway is a striking mural of former Laker, Kobe Bryant, and his daughter, Gianna, who were both tragically killed in a plane crash two years ago. The mural is attributed to graffiti artist, Hung Tran; this work transformed the artist from a former addict and ex-con to a sober and creative talent whose career has officially skyrocketed.
Another unique feature of Laguna Beach is its topography, which is distinctive among California coastal cities. Laguna boasts seven miles of coves and secluded beaches where one can explore sea caves, natural tide pools and oceanside bluffs– 30 beaches in total– from Crescent Bay and Shaw’s Cove in North Laguna to Aliso Beach at the Southern tip. At low tide, many of these tiny beaches connect into one long, beautiful sandy walkway.
Laguna is also home to over 20,000 acres of protected wilderness and green space, which makes it ideal for hiking, biking and exploring. One of our favorite spots is The Ranch at Laguna, with its 9-hole golf course carved into the dramatic walls of Aliso and Wood canyons. The course is not a championship layout, but it is natural, lush and serene, with stunning vistas on each hole. The golf course reflects the town’s low-key personality and is disparate from a stuffy country club or manicured resort. The icing on the cake? Live music and cocktails outside on the patio, creating an inviting “19th hole” environment.
On this frigid, icy day in Connecticut, I harken back to those peaceful beach walks, hikes in the canyons and strolls through the charming town with its colorful, beachy hues. I picture myself on a rooftop perch, sipping a sunset-shaded Aperol Spritz as the sun fades over the Pacific… and, once again, I am California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.