Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Laguna Canyon, and spanning just 8.8 square miles, is the artist’s colony and beach community known as Laguna Beach. A local treasure in Orange County located 30 minutes south of John Wayne Airport, Laguna Beach is synonymous with near-perfect weather year round, gorgeous sunsets, water sports, fresh California cuisine and afternoons frolicking in the sand. In other words, it’s the perfect beach vacation waiting to happen. Here’s the Forbes Travel Guide version of two perfect days in this picture-perfect Southern California beach town.
There are plenty of hotels in Laguna Beach but only one that earns the Five-Star distinction from Forbes Travel Guide: Montage Laguna Beach. This 248-room luxury oceanfront hotel occupies 30 acres of prime real estate surrounded by cerulean-hued waters, beautifully secluded beach coves, lovely landscaped parks and eminently Instagrammable panoramas.
The customer service is impeccable here, as you’ll find when you are personally escorted to your ocean-view room or suite. Decorated in a sunny yellow-and-white palette, the vibe of each unit is happy and uplifting. French doors open onto a balcony where you can enjoy a morning coffee or relax with a glass of wine in the afternoon. A plush bed and marble baths featuring Antica Farmacista lemon-verbena-scented bath products contribute to the richness of the environment.
Though you’ll be tempted to linger in your room, an entire day awaits, so don a swimsuit under your clothing and set out to explore Laguna Beach. If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, ask the concierge about hopping on the free Laguna Beach Trolley, which runs every 20 minutes and picks you up in front of the hotel (the trolley service runs seven days a week during the summer), and take it over to Heisler Park.
Situated at the top of a cliffside bluff, you’ll get to visualize Laguna Beach at its finest here. Postcard perfect and stunningly beautiful, there are winding paths that hug the ocean, benches strategically placed throughout the park, public sculptures to admire, and artists stationed along parts of the pathway selling landscapes or drawing portraits.
Spend about 30 minutes enjoying the surroundings, then head for the Laguna Art Museum for an early afternoon dose of culture. Current notable exhibitions include a retrospective on 20th-century California artist Helen Lundeberg and works on paper by Los Angeles modernist Frederick Hammersley.
Lunch is probably on the mind at this point, so you’ll want to pop in next door to grab a patio seat a the iconic Mexican restaurant Las Brisas. Toast to a fabulous afternoon with The Don margarita, followed by seafood dishes such as the ahi tuna poke tower or the seafood salad.
Las Brisas is located adjacent to Laguna’s Main Beach, so when you’re finished with lunch, it’s the ideal time for some fun in the sun. Chairs, umbrellas and boogie board rentals are available at Main Beach Toys & Games if you are so inclined. Beach towels are also available for purchase if you just want to spend your time swimming or laying in the sand.
However, if you find the public beach too busy, the obvious alternative is to head back to the Montage and grab a lounge chair by the pool. Cabana boys will be on hand to assist you with towels and run your drinks while you relax.
You’ll have time for a quick siesta before heading out for the evening. For dinner, you’re headed back to downtown Laguna Beach, the home of chef-driven restaurants such as Broadway by Top Chef Season 13 finalist Amar Santana.
If available, request seats at the chef’s table — essentially the bar that overlooks the open kitchen — so you can ogle the food as it’s prepared. Santana’s fare is bold and cooked from the heart, so no matter what you order — from roasted bone marrow to Spanish-style grilled octopus or a fantastic pan-fried whole branzino with pickled mushroom and truffle jus — you can rest assured that it will be outstanding.
Sleeping has its advantages when you’re on vacation, but while you’re here, why not wake up a bit early so you can throw open your French doors, inhale the energizing ocean breeze, and start your day on a natural high?
Afterwards, throw on some yoga gear and a pair of tennis shoes, and spend the morning taking in the outdoors. Your first order of business is to stop by the The Loft on the fourth floor for a to-go cup of complimentary coffee or tea.
Next, you needn’t go far, because right behind the hotel is a scenic path that leads to the picture-perfect Treasure Island Park and Beach. The beach itself is ideal for a jog, if you want to get some exercise in, but a better option might be to remove your shoes for a leisurely stroll on the sand with the waves lapping at your feet. Just make sure you’re back at the park by 10 a.m. for a session of yoga, which will cap your morning with a spiritually uplifting namaste.
Morning exertions complete, it’s time for brunch. If you want to stay on property, ask for a table on the balcony at The Loft, where you can quench your thirst with a glass of cold-pressed juice and sate your hunger with a build-a-benedict topped with your choice of salmon, lobster or Canadian bacon.
As it’s approaching lunchtime, however, you might be inclined to leave the property for a bite on the sun-filled decks at Driftwood Kitchen, a local treasure that sits on the beach in the Laguna Village area up the street from the hotel. Plan to indulge in a meal filled with fresh, impeccably prepared seafood. Sample the Dungeness crab cakes and savor the tasty mussels steamed with copious amounts of garlic and white wine. But don’t leave without trying the absurdly moist and delicious swordfish sandwiches.
Next up, you’ll want to spend some time exploring the downtown area. Find street parking around Forest Avenue, then set about on foot for boutique shopping at spots such as Anastasia Boutique and visiting galleries such as Kush Fine Art, The Signature Gallery and Pacific Gallery. When you reach the corner of Forest and Pacific Coast Highway, take some snaps with the statue of Laguna Beach’s official greeter, Eiler Larsen, in front of The Greeter’s Corner Restaurant. Then find a shady spot to relax and people watch at Laguna’s Main Beach, before heading back to your hotel for a well-earned spa appointment.
Five-Star Spa Montage Laguna Beach is a destination itself. The 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor sanctuary has its own private pool overlooking the ocean, a state-of-the-art fitness facility, and separate his-and-hers locker rooms, each with a Jacuzzi, Swedish sauna, eucalyptus steam room, cold plunge pool, outdoor shower, and indoor/outdoor relaxation areas.
Give yourself enough time to complete a full water circuit before unwinding with a cup of tea in the elegantly appointed relaxation room. The must-not-miss treatment here is the Seven Flower Ritual because in utilizes healing flowers for a multi-service treatment (massage, body buff, facial) that will leave you smelling and feeling utterly pampered.
There’s time for one final meal in Laguna Beach, and you’ve reserved the best for last: chef Craig Strong’s six-course tasting menu at Montage Laguna’s fine-dining establishment, Studio. The restaurant is perched on the bluffs, making it the perfect place to visit just before the sun sets. With the pink, orange and purple shades of dusk dancing across the sky, you can dive into a sumptuous meal featuring plates of Dutch white asparagus with cured tuna, egg mousseline and caviar, or sautéed foie gras and lobster — decadent, delicious and as memorable as Laguna Beach itself.