Destination Laguna Beach

One of the cutest coastal beach towns in California, Laguna Beach has no shortage of charm!

This small town, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, ooccupies just 8.8 square miles, but packs a mighty punch when it comes to local attractions. It’s filled with picturesque beaches, hiking trails, a walkable downtown, and slew of summer art festivals.

The city becomes exponentially more crowded between June and September, and for good reason: warmer waters bring beach goers to the many nooks and crannies that make Laguna Beach and its many coves popular. But just as enticing as its natural beauty and beach culture is, the Laguna area is equally known for its lively arts scene, not to mention its celebrated history as an artist mecca going back as far as the end of the nineteenth century.

When the Laguna Beach Art Association started over a century ago, the founders had no idea what it would grow into. All they knew was that Laguna’s rolling hills and sparkling coves were particularly stunning subjects for plein air paintings.

Laguna’s location, nestled between the San Joaquin Hills and the Pacific Ocean, makes it one of the most exquisite spots in Southern California. Its climatic extremes, relative inaccessibility, and undeveloped beauty and charm fostered and nurtured an adventurous colonial artistic spirit back in those days when artists were drawn to the area to set up artists’ colonies. Despite the inconveniences of living in Laguna, the sparse population was nothing if not independent, pragmatic, and a bit cocky: after all, they themselves had discovered this small slice of paradise. Artists could gather to paint out-of-doors, living together in a relatively relaxed community while being free to roam the countryside in search of their inspiration.

Today, Laguna Beach’s art scene is alive and thriving. It’s rich history of attracting artists, rebels, and free spirits has shaped its place as a vibrant creative community.

Laguna has over 100 art galleries and artist studios.. If you’re in town on a first Thursday of the month, a wonderful way to discover the arts scene here is with the city’s First Thursday Art Walks when galleries throughout town throw open their doors and invite visitors inside to mingle, admire artwork, and enjoy food and wine.

And, the summer months provide even more opportunities to engage with the art world. From July-September, Laguna Beach holds several renowned events which are hosted throughout the quaint village and surrounding areas. Favorites on the summer calendar includes the Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Art Festival. These annual festivities have been drawing crowds for decades, and continue to solidify Laguna Beach’s spot as an artistic hub.

Started in 1965, The Sawdust Art Festival plays a vital role in supporting the careers of local artists. From June 30-September 3, the Sawdust Art Festival draws more than 200,000 visitors. Guests are invited to shop from over 160 artists along sawdust-covered paths in a hand-built village of fine art and eclectic craftsmanship. Live music, complimentary art classes, glassblowing, art demonstrations and a variety of outdoor dining and saloon offerings- round out this experience for nine weeks during the summer.

Just across the street from the Sawdust venue, the Pageant of the Masters (and its adjoining Festival of Arts Pavilion) is one of the most unique productions in the entire world. An outdoor amphitheater welcomes guests each evening for ninety minutes of tableaux vivants (living pictures), incredibly faithful recreations of classical and contemporary works of art, with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces. Imagine experiencing Van Gogh’s paintings with actors recreating the scenes on stage under the stars.

This summer, Pageant of the Masters celebrates the 90th anniversary of the first presentation of “living pictures” at the Festival of Arts. The 2023 theme, ART COLONY: IN THE COMPANY OF ARTISTS acknowledges the deep connections of the Festival and Pageant to the early artists who settled in Laguna Beach. It will also feature other memorable stories of artists assisting one another through cooperation and fellowship in vastly different eras and circumstances around the world.

The outdoor venue, professional orchestra, original score, live narration, intricate sets, sophisticated lighting, expert staff and hundreds of dedicated volunteers all come together to create this magic. Deservedly so, the production has won global recognition as the best presentation of its kind. Advance tickets are a must. And do get the binoculars available on-site no matter where your seats are; seeing the actors up close in each pose is 100% worth it!

The artists’ narrative carries on and seems to grow stronger each year in Laguna Beach. For these reasons and more, we can’t think of a better spot for a summer beach getaway filled with some culture! ☐

Photos from Visit Laguna Beach

Where to stay:

Accommodations here run the gamut from casual to luxury. A few to consider:

The Inn at Laguna Beach for a boutique hotel within easy walking distance to area attractions.

Laguna Beach House for coastal chic beach décor and airy comfort.

Crystal Cove Beach Cottages for a rustic and historic lodging experience right on the beach (these no frills cottages are run by the Crystal Cove State Park Conservancy).
Montage Laguna Beach for an Oceanfront splurge.

Where to eat and drink:

Splashes for the best Ocean front dining. Brunch here is a great option as is sunset dining on the patio where you can watch the waves roll in and sometimes encounter a light Ocean spray.
Brussels Bistro for a taste of Belgium, including Belgian beers and large pots of mussels and fries double-cooked in beef fat.
Broadway by Amar Santana for fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced menu, in a beautiful industrial space.
Salerno for fresh homemade pasta and a true Italian feel.
The Deck for Ocean view cocktails (get there early to grab a table).
C’est La Vie for casual breakfast and French pastries.
Gelato Paradiso for an after-dinner treat of artisanal gelato, hand-made in small batches every morning (be prepared for lines).

Where to shop:

Laguna Beach makes it easy to shop local with no shortage of unique shops and boutiques.
A few favorites include: Vertigo Home, Sourced (a co-op space of local artists and designers) and the artist shops adjacent to the Cliff Walk.

Other things to do:

Go for a hike at Top of the World for amazing Ocean views.
Check out one of the area’s many beaches including Victoria Beach, Thousand Steps Beach or Table Rock Beach.
Visit the Laguna Art Museum which showcases only California artists.
Take in a show at the Laguna Beach Playhouse, one of the oldest continuously operating, not-for-profit theatres on the West Coast.

Megan Reilly covers interior design, lifestyle and travel, and is based in Los Angeles. She is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of WestEdge Design Fair, a tradeshow and lifestyle event that takes place in Los Angeles and Dallas.