As a child, my family moved often around Southern California, but I was able to spend middle school and high school in Orange County. Many a summer was spent on the beaches of Newport, Corona Del Mar, and Laguna Beach. I always loved Laguna because it’s an artsy hideaway with a jewel of a cove.
While I was there, I had the opportunity to go on a culinary/historical tour of this endearing town.
It’s a tiny triangular-shaped community that’s purposely been kept small and intimate. There are smatterings of vintage cottages and bungalows throughout the town, some housing art galleries, restaurants, and tiny boutiques. The Festival of the Arts Pageant of the Masters has been hosted there in the summer since 1932.
During the pageant, community members dress up as models depicting characters from famous paintings. They step into a picture frame, and expertly replicate the masterpiece itself. It started as a way to entice people to visit the area during the 1932 Olympics. Visitors enjoy live music, art shows, chocolate tastings, and more. The Sawdust Art and Craft Festival takes place in the summer and the winter.
Our Laguna Beach Food Tour
Two local residents, Erika, and Jeanne were our tour guides. Jeanne met our group at the vintage Hotel Laguna overlooking the water. The original hotel had been built in 1888 but burned down and was rebuilt soon afterward.
That structure was demolished in 1928 and the current hotel opened its doors in 1930. Luminaries like Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and John Barrymore have stayed there. If you go inside, you can take a look at the hotel’s original guest registry.
After learning about the history of the hotel we walked over to the studio and art gallery of Robert Wyland, who is known for his marine murals and sculptures. One of his famous “Whaling Walls” is painted on the side of the building. He has over 100 murals decorating walls all over the world. Part of the proceeds from the sales of his work goes toward marine environmental causes.
During the tour, we visited five Laguna Beach restaurants and enjoyed tasty samples of their culinary expertise.
The Pizza Lounge – Sit on a lounge chair out front, inside, or have a honey-crust pizza delivered to you on the beach.
Slapfish – Sustainable seafood dishes. All their fish is non-toxic and comes from healthy populations. We tried their scrumptious chowder fries. Slapfish started out as a food truck.
GG’s Café Bistro – Mediterranean cuisine. They let us try samples of their homemade hummus with fresh-baked pita bread. Yum!
The Tortilla Republic – I loved the management’s enthusiasm and friendliness. We sampled guacamole, chips, salsa, flauta de Pollo, and, of course, Margaritas.
Gelato Paradiso – Paradiso is the right word for this authentic Italian dessert shop.
You can’t go to Laguna Beach without visiting one of their fabulous art galleries.
Nimble acrobats and fairy-like figures grace the sculpture garden of the Dawson Cole Fine Art Gallery. They were created by Richard MacDonald using live models instead of photographs or drawings.
Some of the subjects include Marcel Marceau and performers from Cirque Du Soleil. Inside the gallery are the works of 10 accomplished artists including Chuck Close.
Fun Laguna Beach Facts
The skeleton of “The Laguna Woman,” was found in the area of the town in 1933 and dates back to 8,000 B.C.
The Tongva Indians lived there around 500 B.C. and called the area “Lagonas,” which meant ‘lakes” in their native language.
Pioneers began to arrive in Laguna Beach as early as 1871 to stake out 160-acre claims. They planted eucalyptus trees because they thought it would make good lumber. It turned out it didn’t but eucalyptus trees are still standing to this day to provide shade.
Laguna Beach Lumber was in operation at 384 Forest St. from 1919-1975 and was owned by the Jahraus family. It’s the oldest continuous business in the city and provided lumber for an estimated 90% of the older buildings in Laguna.
Before that, the wood had to be floated in on ships or hauled by mule because Laguna Beach wasn’t easily accessible like it is now. The Lumberyard buildings are French in style and are now used to house office buildings, a restaurant, and shops. They look the same on the outside as they did 115 years ago.
A battalion of Mormon soldiers came to the area and settled in 1847. They had a huge influence on the development of the area.
Laguna Beach is known for its greeters. The first was a Portuguese man named Joe Lucas who began greeting people as they arrived in stagecoaches starting in 1880.
The most famous Laguna Beach “greeter” was Eiler Larson, from Denmark who held his post for 37 years until he died in 1975. I remember him standing on the street in the ’60s and 70s waving to cars as they passed by.
The “Art Colony” was formed in Laguna Beach in 1903 by a group of local artists and the area has remained art-centric ever since. You can see art on the street all over the town.
Street art in Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach was a hippie haven from 1970 – 1979. A rock concert, known as “Woodstock West” was held in Laguna Canyon. (I spent time in some of the “bohemian” hideaways in the Laguna Hills during that time.)
In the 1980s, Laguna Beach attracted an influx of LGBTQ to the community and elected its first gay mayor in 1982.
The Laguna Beach Historical Society is housed in a vintage beach bungalow built in 1923 at 278 Ocean Ave. It’s open to visitors most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1 pm – 4 pm. They are strict when it comes to the way buildings and houses change their outside appearance to preserve their heritage.
Laguna Beach is now an affluent community but prides itself on being environmentally conscious and generous to its homeless population. Old parking meters have been installed throughout the city painted decoratively by artists. All donations to the parking meters go to feed the homeless.
For more information about this fabulous art colony and beach town, go to the website Visit Laguna Beach for things to do and see there.
Thank you to Women in Travel Summit who offered this tour for bloggers at the WITS16 conference. My opinions are my own.