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Laguna Beach

With its art scene and unique coastline, this Orange County town may be literally picture perfect

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The Orange County town of Laguna Beach gets to have it both ways: It is both a beach town with a serious luxurious streak and a legit artists’ community.

Laguna Beach’s art scene dates back to the early 20th century, when the area’s sea cliffs became a popular setting for directors of silent films. Today, dozens of galleries, including Kush Fine ArtVirga Gallery, and Laguna Art Lounge, dot downtown. But the artistic spirit of the city is also on display for anyone wandering the streets to see: Murals at The Hive, a cultural and arts hub in the Laguna Arts District, as well as at various other downtown locations, have proven highly Instagram-worthy. Nearby, the glassy Laguna Art Museum exhibits pieces by California artists and works that express life in the state. Every summer, the city also plays host to a handful of popular art festivals. The Sawdust Art & Craft Festival features local art in an outdoor setting—including photography, jewelry, surf art, and hand-blown glass—while the Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters pays homage to famous masterpieces with tableaux vivants (living paintings), where actors pose as the artworks.

Much of the town’s beauty, however, is not man-made. Laguna’s six-mile, scalloped coastline includes romantic sea coves, untouched seaside cliffs, and a variety of distinct experiences. Main Beach is steps from the city center: Look for the nearby statue of The Greeter, a tribute to the longtime local who took on the role as a one-man welcoming committee for visitors. For a more remote experience, try walking the incredible staircase at Thousand Steps Beach, hiking the seaside cliffs at Crystal Cove State Park, or checking out La Tour, a.k.a. the Pirate Tower, a castle-like structure on Victoria Beach.

Some of the best views, however, are found along the aptly named Top of the World hike, which starts in Alta Laguna Park. During summer and fall, keep your eyes out for giant blue, finback, and minke whales, or see the majestic creatures up close on a tour with operator Davey’s Locker.

Embrace Laguna’s luxury with a stay at one of the area’s oceanfront resorts. Enjoy Arts-and-Crafts architecture, a 20,000-square-foot spa, and a crystal-blue pool overlooking the ocean at the Montage Laguna Beach, or stay at the sleekly contemporary Surf & Sand Resort, where all 167 rooms have ocean views. Just across Highway 1, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is a modern take on an old-school resort (think barefoot-golf Fridays) and the only hotel in California to be named one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

One of the town’s coolest attractions, meanwhile, is happily free: Go to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to visit injured seals and sea lions that were rescued off the region’s beaches and are recuperating before being returned to the wild. The small, family-friendly center, which opened in the 1970s, was the first of its kind in California. 

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