The Place: Southern California, USA
Your Starting Point: Los Angeles
Your Destination: Laguna Beach, California.
The Road Map
Beyond the glitz from the OC (Orange County) is a more laid back set of beach towns to explore along the coast before getting to your final destination.
From the port of San Pedro to the beachside setting of Laguna Beach, there’s more to the coast than Beemers and the salmon-panted elite (although, there’s some of that there for you to see, too). And, once you get there, you’ll have plenty to do and see.
Start from LAX and drive down the coast to spend the night in Laguna Beach. Get on the freeway and head south, taking the Harbor Freeway down to San Pedro to begin your coastal tour and immediately hop on the Vincent Thomas Bridge to cross over the Los Angeles Harbor. San Pedro is one of the largest seaports on the West Coast, and you’ll recognize the bridge and the harbor from films and TV shows that have been filmed there (Usual Suspects, Gone In Sixty Seconds, The Love Boat). The bridge, as you’ll see, provides a birds-eye view of the harbor and Catalina Islands in the distance.
From there, drive straight through downtown Long Beach on Ocean Avenue along the coast. The downtown area, around Pine Avenue, is popular for its restaurants and bars. The waterfront contains the performing arts center, an aquarium, the Queen Mary ship and a dome that formerly housed the Spruce Goose.
You’ll soon make your way to the coast, where there are some beautiful old homes on your left, with the coast on your right. MOLAA (Museum of Latin American Art) sits on the ocean side and is a brilliant stop for brunch and an exhibition.
Further along, you’ll come the quaint hamlet of downtown Belmont Shores. Keep driving and you will come to another small bridge with a wetlands and wildlife refuge on your left and the beach on your right. Then, you’ll head through Sunset Beach, which will turn into Huntington Beach.
Huntington Beach is famed for its surfing. The OP Pro and US Open Surfing events are held here, the city houses the International Museum of Surfing, and local Robert August is one of the main surfers who toured the world in the Bruce Brown surf film classic “The Endless Summer”. But there’s more to Huntington than just surfing: you can go horseback riding at the equestrian center, explore the ecological reserve and wetlands, enjoy bike trek along the coast, or go shopping.
From here on out is all well-televised solid So Cal beachy environs. Newport Beach (both beach side and back bay), Corona del Mar, and finally Laguna. It’s a great drive, and once you’re in Laguna, take some time to explore. Depending upon what time of year you visit, the arts are at your feet with the Sawdust Festival and Pageant of the Masters, as well as the Art Walk and the galleries that are open year round.
Belmont Shores -There are fun shops and restaurants and the side streets are filled with 1920’s bungalows. There’s also a kayaking hut in the harbor, next to the sailing school, which rents kayaks. Kayaking the harbor is great, especially as you can kayak through the canals. Once you’re back on 2nd Street, you’ll go over a small bridge and be back at the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), which immediately takes you through Seal Beach, a sleepy beachside community where the pace is slow and the disposition sunny.
Huntington Beach – This is a fantastic mid-point stop. It’s open, fresh, and you’ll enjoy the water view and ocean breeze. There are a lot of food options located at the pier, on the beach, or around the main streets. Stretch your legs and wander.
Laguna Beach – Part hippie/part chic with tree lined streets, art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, surf shops, ocean views and outdoor activities, this is a great town to spend some time exploring.
Don’t forget to stop at Crystal Cove State Park, which you’ll find right before you approach the town. Once there you’ll find rugged bluffs and canyons, clear water, tide pools and renowned wildlife (Crystal Cove is great for birdwatching).
Meanwhile, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park provides trails for hiking and biking. There are the renowned beaches – great for taking in the sun, skim boarding, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Renting a sea kayak is a great way to explore many of the hidden and private beaches that the general public generally doesn’t get to see.
There’s also Thousand Steps Beach, which is fantastic, but as the name indicates it’s work to get back up (it’s worth it, though).
And when you’ve done all that and are ready to relax, there’s a bevy of food and bar options.
Shorebreak Hotel (pictured above) – Huntington Beach does surfer chic hotel with contemporary décor, ocean views. The hotel is located across the street from the pier — and in the center of all things nightlife. One of the amenities we like: access to a private courtyard with fire pits.
Newport Beach Hotel – An upscale boutique hotel with ocean views and access to downtown Newport. The spot also spots a spa and private entrances for certain suites.
Pacific Edge Hotel – Laguna Beach hotel situated right on the water with two heated pools, hot tub, and just blocks from the center of town.
Laguna Beach Surf & Sand Resort – Private ocean view balconies, beachfront pool, award-winning spa, and ocean side dining and bar with sunset views.
Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles – This is serious soul food, exactly what it says in the name, not to be missed.
Café Viva – Long Beach, inside MOLAA on the coast, does a great brunch.
25 Degrees – Good burgers and bar food.
Duke’s (pictured above) – Set on the pier with a great view and fab poke tacos.
Pizzeria Mozza – This is an off-shoot from the Batali/Silverton restaurant in LA, with the same great pizza and antipasti.
Wahoo’s Fish Taco’s – A So Cal chain that does fresh fish tacos well, this is a great pit stop after the beach.
Beachcomber Café – Set in Crystal Cove, this place is always packed due to the great sunset views. Book ahead.
Javier’s –Solid Mexican in Crystal Cove, with great views and people watching.
House of Big Fish and Iced Cold Beer – A self explanatory name that does what it says on the tin: great fresh fish and cold beer.
NEApolitan Pizzeria & Birriera – The pizzas are wood-oven fired at this pizzeria, along with craft beers on offer, this place provides a relaxed experience of comfort food done really well.
Studio – Set in the very upscale Montage Hotel, this fine dining restaurant is notably good with a great wine list.
Sapphire – The menu is locally sourced and organic, which you can enjoy fireside on the patio.
Laguna Coffee Co – Lots of free live music here on Saturdays.
The Sandpiper – A dive bar known for its live music scene.
More To Do:
Art – Lots of galleries, museums, and expos all over Laguna, including a monthly art walk on Thursdays. Also, located on PCH is the Laguna Art Museum with 3,500 different works of art and alternating exhibitions.
Surfing – Doheny State Beach is best for beginners.
For the more advanced there is body surfing at Balboa Beach, the home of the famed Wedge in Newport Beach (pictured above). It’s here that the fearless are known to body surf waves up to 15 feet. Do not try if you are a novice!!! Seriously!!!
Sailing – Newport Beach (pictured below)
Kayaking – Long Beach, Huntington and Newport Harbors, and Laguna Beach has guided tours that give you access to some of its private beaches.
Tide Pools – Aliso Beach and Crystal Cove are known for their tide pools, check for low tide.
Golfing – Everywhere (it is So Cal, after all).
Lead-In Image Courtesy of Mat Hayward/Shutterstock.com
Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach, Photo Courtesy of Juancat/Shutterstock.com
Huntington Beach Pier Photo Courtesy of Randy Hines/Shutterstock.com
Shorebreak Hotel Photo Courtesy of JDVHotels.com
Restaurant Photo Courtesy Of Duke’s
Wedge, Newport Beach, Photo Courtesy of SipaPhoto/Shutterstock.com
Back Bay, Newport Beach, Photo Courtesy of Marie Appert/Shutterstock.com
Also in our Road Trip series:
As a career sommelier, Kimberley Drake has overseen some of the finest wine programs and operations in America and Asia. Her accomplishments range from working as a sommelier at Jean Georges in NYC to opening Hong Kong’s Café Gray Deluxe as their chef sommelier. Kimberley can be reached at Kimberley@NewsWhistle.com.