Destination: Laguna Beach
My daughters live in Southern California - one in Los Angeles, and one in San Diego. When I travel to visit them, I often spend as much time on the freeways as I do with my family.
This January, I decided to try something different... and that experiment, resulted in a wonderful weekend for all, in Laguna Beach.
I chose the Laguna Beach area, because it was central to both San Diego and Los Angeles, i.e. between my two daughters. The other advantage of this area, is that it is within driving proximity to many different airports: San Diego, Santa Ana, Los Angeles, Burbank, Long Beach. For people (like me) who are flying to the west coast, it's a luxury to be able to cost-compare fares to the different airports. From previous experiences, I prefer to avoid LAX if possible (too hectic). On this particular trip, I flew in and out of San Diego, which is a nice-sized airport with convenient amenities.
As far as accommodations, I chose a vacation home that I found through Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO). I felt that I home would give us more family time and space, than a hotel. I wanted a place where both of my daughters, their boyfriends and a dog, could all relax together. A house also enabled us to keep different schedules, without intruding on each other. The particular home that we chose, was in Aliso Viejo, within a very short drive to Laguna Beach.
January was a great time for us to visit the beach. It was off-season, so crowds were lighter. Yet, in this beach town, there was plenty going on, to keep us all entertained. We enjoyed walking the streets and checking out the small shops; there was enough variety to interest all of us.
Activities in and Around Laguna Beach
Although we were visiting Laguna in off-season, there was plenty to do. It was quite fun, to simply browse the shops and walk the beach.
Heisler Park, adjacent to the main beach, offered us the opportunity to walk, discover beautiful ocean views, and descend down to explore some of the rocky tidepools. We enjoyed finding new and different creatures (but watch out for the sea slug that squirts purple goo! :) ) We even witnessed an octopus catching his lunch!.
Laguna is famous for its art, and the galleries were no disappointment. We started out at the Laguna Art Museum, where we viewed its exhibit on Contemporary Art in Southern California. The exhibit was well laid out, and worthwhile, although (as in any art gallery) sometimes it's "interesting" to think about what goes into classifying any given piece as "art". We had fun picking and comparing our favorites. Tickets were $12 each: we felt that the museum was a bit small for the admission price, but justified that it was a reasonable price to pay, for supporting the arts exposure in this small town. Along the street, there were several smaller galleries and art shops that offered variety and cultural exposure for no admission fee. There are also about 6 dozen artworks in the City's Public Art Collection, located throughout Laguna Beach.
On Saturday morning, we visited the Farmer's Market, in the Lumberyard Parking Lot adjacent to the City Hall. Being from the east coast, I was amazed to see bountiful fresh berries in JANUARY! The selection and pricing were excellent, and many of the market vendors offered free samples (yum!). We particularly liked the small cakes and Afghan breads (samples available for both). Next time, we're aiming to try the tamales. There were many organic offerings, which was important to my west coast girls. The only downside, was that the market did not allow dogs.
On the way home (to Aliso Viejo) from the beach, we stopped at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center on Laguna Canyon Road. This is a small non-profit center, dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of seals and sea lions. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. We were particularly impressed with the volunteers, who were knowledgeable, eager to answer questions and share information. We were informed that January is a "slow time" for rescues, and only saw two seals on our visit (although we found out that there was another elephant seal inside). As a bonus, we also saw a beautiful egret, who evidently had just made the center its hangout. The visit was short, but worthwhile - and we were glad we stopped.
Next door to the marine mammal center, is an animal shelter, where we also were able to meet some new furry friends (too bad that I couldn't take one home with me on the plane!).
Dining in Laguna Beach
Dining opportunities, coffee shops, candy places were plentiful: we enjoyed having lunch at C'est La Vie, where we sat at a table overlooking the ocean. C'est La Vie offered a nice assortment of sandwiches, and luscious fresh-baked pastries. It was a little pricey for our budget, but, after all, we were on vacation - and we agreed that it was well worth money spent for the atmosphere alone. We couldn't resist buying some of the chocolate croissants, to take home for breakfast the next morning.
We, of course, had the flexibility of eating at our vacation rental, but we decided to go out on Saturday evening. We breezed through dining guides, but found that our last-minute planning meant that reservations were hard to get at our top choices. We decided to "wing it", driving to Laguna Beach and choosing a restaurant across from our parking space -- the Romeo Cucina on Broadway. The atmosphere was inviting, and we enjoyed our pizzas. We felt that the pianist was a bit too loud for our liking, and we'll probably choose another place to try on our next visit.
We need to go back!
Although we were visiting in the slow season, there was PLENTY to do in and around the area. We had lots of things on our list, that we didn't have time to check off - so we will certainly return to Laguna. My list includes hiking in the canyons, and exploring more beaches and tidepools. My youngest daughter is hoping to do some wine tasting and perhaps a day trip to Disney. My older daughter is anxious to attend the famous Pageant of the Masters art festival in July/August.
And, without question, the beautiful scenery and beaches are something that we could never get enough of!