Perfect weather, endless beaches, and artsy vibes make it worth the trip.
Weekend road trips are all the rage right now, and Laguna Beach, just an hour away from San Diego and Los Angeles, is the perfect destination for a quick weekend getaway. With more than 22 beaches, surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving, along with a 7,000-acre wilderness area and more than 40 miles of hiking trails, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise contained in one of the most charming beach towns you’ve ever seen. It’s also famous for its thriving arts community, numerous galleries, and frequent art and music festivals, unique shops and noteworthy culinary landscape. So pack a bag, grab the sunscreen, and cue up your favorite road trip playlist—we’ve got all the best things to do in Laguna Beach right here:
Go on a walking tour
One of the best ways to get to know a new city is to take in the sights on a self-guided walking tour. If you only have a couple of hours to spend, the Heisler Park Walk is a must-do. It features six famous landmarks like the “gnarly tree” and the Laguna Beach time capsule, 17 public works of art, plus endless ocean views, beautiful coastal gardens, and plenty of places to stop for a drink or a bite to eat. The walk begins at the iconic lifeguard tower at Main Beach and takes one to two hours, depending on your pace.
This tres chic Orange County mini-chain usually has a line out the door, especially on weekends, but trust us, it’s worth the wait. The all-day kitchen menu includes omelettes, croques, quiches, and crêpes, plus a few heartier entrees like roasted chicken or salmon. If you’ve got places to be, pick up some classic baguette sandwiches and a bottle of wine for an al fresco picnic, or an assortment of delectable patisserie to go with your afternoon coffee.
How to book: Indoor and outdoor seating is on a first-come basis.
Laguna Beach has 22 distinct beaches, with a little something for everyone, but for an all-day sun sesh, head to Main Beach in the heart of downtown. There’s a couple of basketball courts, plenty of volleyball action and excellent body surfing, (regular surfing is not allowed during the summer months), plus showers and restroom facilities at either end of the beach. Stroll along the boardwalk that runs along the beach, or take a short walk into town for shopping, lunch, or a glass of wine.
Perched on the rooftop of La Casa del Camino Hotel, The Rooftop Lounge is a local favorite for its panoramic views as well as its fresh craft cocktails (their mojitos are especially delicious) and SoCal-inspired cuisine. Munch on shareable apps like charred broccolini and wild mushroom flatbread, carrot and cavatappi pasta, or Snake River Farm American Wagyu steak, and finish with a sweet parfait in flavors like tiramisu, chocolate mousse, and strawberries with mascarpone. Bonus: They’re pet-friendly, so your four-legged friends can join you on the roof.
How to book: Reservations are required and can be made via Resy. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available.
Registered Yoga Alliance instructor Carl Brown leads a vigorous, all-levels 90 minute yoga class at 8 am every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday in Treasure Island Park at the Montage Hotel. Bring your yoga mat, water, sunscreen, and any other props you’ll need for a challenging, uplifting experience surrounded by spectacular views. The class is free, however, donations are encouraged, and 100% goes to support women’s education at Tara Abbey and The Himalayan Children’s Fund in Nepal, so be generous for good karma.
Laguna Beach natives Mike Lombardo and Brent Reynard, longtime home brewers, opened their first brewery in Rancho Santa Margarita in 2014 to much success, followed by their marquee location in the arts district of Laguna Beach in 2018. Their drafts, cleverly named after local landmarks, like Thousand Steps West Coast IPA and Second Reef Blonde Ale, pair well with small plates such as a soft pretzel with red ale jalapeno queso and loaded skins, or inspired bowls, sandwiches, and artisan flatbreads.
How to book: Seating for outdoor drinking/dining is on a first-come basis.
Scope out the Pirate Tower
Nestled against the bluffs at Victoria Beach is La Tour (The Tower), also affectionately known as The Pirate Tower, although there’s never actually been any pillaging there that we know of. It’s story is much more innocent; it was built for state senator William E. Brown, so that the beach was accessible from his home on top of the cliff. It’s best to go at low tide, when there’s fewer rocks to maneuver over and you can walk up to the tower for Insta-worthy shots. Keep in mind that while the beach is public, the tower itself is privately owned, so look but don’t touch.
Sink into one of the tufted seats in this old school, clubby cocktail bar a stone’s throw from the sand and unwind with one of Stateroom’s dynamic craft cocktails. Choose from Liquid Homage, a selection of lively tributes to now-shuttered Laguna Beach hotspots, or Stateroom Standards, spirit-forward libations infused with aged bitters, fresh fruit juices, and herbs. Wine lovers should check out their wine list—everything (except sparkling wines) comes by the glass as well as by the bottle. Hit them for happy hour, Monday through Thursday from 4:30–6:30 pm for deals on select drinks, wine and drafts, and upscale bites like grilled Spanish octopus, artisanal cheese and cured meat boards, kobe sliders, and oysters on the half.
How to book: Seating is on a first-come basis.
On the first Thursday of the month, Laguna Beach’s North Gallery Row hosts an art walk from 6–9 pm, with many featuring live artist demos and live music, along with complimentary bites and drinks. Stroll from shop to gallery and feast your eyes on fine art creations in painting, photography, sculpture, woodworking, and a variety of mixed media. A word of caution: if you’re offered an adult beverage at a gallery, local law enforcement prefers that you consume it on the premises.
Part of the 7,000-acre Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, the Laurel Canyon, Laurel Spur, and Willow Canyon Trail Loop is a moderately difficult, 3.3-mile loop that features a waterfall and is accessible year-round. Start in the Willow Staging Area, then head up the trail and over the initial rocky area, where you can find small caves to explore. Watch for wooden posts along the way; they have a phone number to dial and listen to a prerecorded message about that portion of the trail. You’ll soon come to a meadow; keep your eyes open for Ghost Rock about halfway through on the right. Further on, you’ll see dry creek beds where sharp eyes can spot fossilized shells in the rock, and the waterfall, which will most likely be dry during the summer months. Continue uphill another half mile for a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean on clear days. Walk along the ridge through the Laurel Spur, then down the steep-ish Willow Canyon Trail back to the parking lot.
Established in 1971 with just three volunteers, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center was the first marine mammal rehabilitation center in California and is currently home to 41 California sea lions, Northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals and Northern fur seal patients. Pay a visit to learn about how marine mammals are rescued, rehabilitated, and released (when possible) by one of the many volunteers who make the center operational. Don’t miss their butterfly garden, where you roam among the butterflies and learn how to attract pollinators to your own garden or patio. The Center is free to visit, but is run mostly by volunteers, so donations are appreciated.
How to book: Reservations are not necessary, but the Center has a maximum capacity, which will be noted at the gate. Wait there until a docent is available to greet you.
Mary Beth Abate is a San Diego-based freelance writer by way of Chicago and Los Angeles. Her hobbies include yoga, pickling and fermenting stuff, reading cookbooks and drinking fabulous gin. Keep up with her experiments @MaryBeth_Abate.