The sheer physical beauty of Laguna Beach reminds me of the Mediterranean Sea. Deep bays and cascading hills drop into the ocean. Coves, sandy beaches, and picturesque rock outcroppings create the landmarks of this quintessential town located fifty miles south of Los Angeles.
Pioneers began to develop Laguna Beach when 160-acre government land grants were given out in the early 1870’s. Farmers and ranchers were the first to move to the area. After the “flood gates” opened, all types of pioneering spirits began to arrive. The “free-style” atmosphere, combined with the cliff-rimmed beaches and breathtaking views attracted individualist types from the very beginning.
After LSD guru Timothy Leary became a common local sighting in Laguna Beach during the 1960’s, hundreds of hippies followed his lead. Hollywood heavy-weights drawn to Laguna include Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Heather Locklear.
Artists began to discover Laguna Beach in the early 1900’s and by the 1920’s, half of the population were artists. Today, Laguna Beach is home to over 100 galleries and artists’ studios. An idyllic place of “undisturbed and undiscovered beauty” it is not unlike Santa Fe, Aspen, or Acadia National Park in Maine.
All of these places were initially “put on the map” when they were discovered through the eyes of an artist. The artists were drawn to the beauty of these areas, painted the mysteries and magic of what they were seeing, and shared their vision with the world. After the artists find these alluring places in paradise, the word gets out and they are no longer a secret.
It is unfortunate, but generally true that after the artists’ discovery of pristine little spots like this, real estate prices soar, and the artists can no longer afford to live in the place they discovered.
It is important to note however, that Laguna Beach is a town that supports the artists who live here. Over 400 visual artists call Laguna Beach home. I spent an hour talking with artist Mike Tauber in his Laguna Canyon Studio. This long-time Laguna Beach artist couldn’t have been more welcoming. He agreed this is an expensive area to live in, but added that because of the support offered by the city, he and many other artists are able to make a living here.
Laguna Beach attracts people from all over the world and many of them become the artists’ clients. In the summertime three art festivals are held simultaneously and art competitions abound. Open studios are offered on the first Saturday of every month and 22 non-profit organizations offer year-round classes. Sixty-five pieces of public art are displayed throughout the town.
The First Thursday Art Walk attracts over 3,000 people on the first Thursday of every month and features the art galleries of Laguna Beach, with trolley service offered throughout Laguna Beach from 6 to 9 p.m.
In addition to supporting the thriving art community, there are hundreds of hotels that dot the Southern California Coast and a few of them are stand outs. You may already know Laguna Beach is not a “budget” destination. The current economy however, is tempting many businesses to offer special deals and The Ritz Carlton is no exception.
The Ritz, a luxurious hideaway in Laguna Nagel, sits high on a 150-foot bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The resort is simply one of the finest along the California coast. The expansive grounds are landscaped with willows, sycamores, and a colorful spectrum of beautiful flowers. A sense of quiet peacefulness and exhilaration are the first words that came to mind when I stepped out onto my patio during the early morning hours of my stay. The rugged beauty of the steep cliffs and miles of endless hiking trails just beyond the expansive lawn were waiting to be explored.
Mornings started with a quick cup of coffee, stretching on the lawn, followed by brisk walks with my dogs on top of the cliffs. During these walks I felt as though I were in another world, a world filled with tranquility. After walking, it was time for yoga and Pilates class on top of the cliff. It was easy for me to see what the artists must have seen so many years ago and still see today. The Ritz offers incredible amenities, including an ocean-view gym, a roof-top bar with cozy couches and fireplaces, daily exercise classes, a full-service spa, and tennis courts. Restaurant 162’ features superb California cuisine with an emphasis on fresh fish and seafood.
Cozy B & B’s and small hotels are an integral part of the over- all charm of Laguna Beach. Casa Laguna, a mission-style landmark with a hacienda-style design has been a favorite choice for writers and artists for many years.
The inn, voted Orange County’s Best B&B, offers breathtaking landscape, private patios and an ocean-view pool with spectacular sunsets. Chef Joshua Roberts prepares gourmet breakfasts in the morning. A wine and appetizer hour featuring local delicacies is offered each evening. The hotel was one of the first to join the Green Hotel Association of America.
Summertime in Laguna can be crowded. If you’re seeking a bit of solitude, the perfect place to visit is Crystal Cove State Park located just south of Laguna. The park stretches for three miles along the coast and up the hillside into El Moro Canyon. This is the largest remaining piece of coastal land in Southern California open to the public. It is refreshing to know that places like this still exist.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel: (800) 241-3333, or http://www.ritzcarlton.com/laguna. Rates start around $450 a night.
Casa Laguna Inn and Spa: (800) 233-0449, or http://www.casalaguna.com. Rates start around $150 a night (off season).
Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau: (800) 877-1115, or http://www.lagunabeachinfo.com.
The three premier art festivals held each summer include The Festival of Arts, Pageant of the Masters, and The Sawdust Art Festival. You can visit all three festivals for the summer season for around $19.00, visit http://www.lagunabeachpassport.com
Ann Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego, CA.