Monday, June 13, 2022

SoCal Beaches: Laguna

We quickly learned that each of the beaches in Orange County / Southern California all have geological peculiarities which lend to each beach's distinct vibe.  Newport is "yachty" to me and Laguna is "artsy."  And I love it.  It's my favorite beach town in Orange County.  And no, I never watched The OC or the Hills or any of those shows.  
Laguna Beach
The artist colony of Laguna Beach is one of Orange County’s hidden gems, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. The city’s topography is unique to other California coastal cities with its seven miles of coves and majestic canyons where visitors can explore sea caves, tide pools, ocean side bluffs, natural tide pools and of course, sandy beaches, all within city limits. 
Beyond the beach, the city is home to more than 20,000 beautiful acres of protected wilderness, making it an optimal location for adventurous exploration. From world-renowned mountain biking trails for all levels of expertise, hundreds of miles of hiking, dramatic vistas, verdant hills and marine sanctuaries, there’s no limit of new places to discover during a visit to Laguna Beach. 
Renowned as an artists' colony for over 100 years, Laguna Beach is the epicenter of SoCal cultural life. Home to more than 70 independent galleries, 400 working artists, 100 unique works of public art, and a diverse range of festivals  throughout the year, it's a great place to get involved in the local art scene. 
The city, picturesquely situated among stunning cliffs, coves, and canyons, developed as a coastal resort and art colony, and it now draws millions of visitors annually. The Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters is held at Irvine Bowl, a natural amphitheater just east of the city; held nightly in July and August, the pageant re-creates contemporary and classical artworks with elaborate sets and people posing to resemble characters in the original art, accompanied by a live orchestra. Other notable local attractions include the Laguna Art Museum, formed from the Laguna Beach Art Association (founded 1918), and several arts festivals.
Pick up a free map from the Official Visitors Center (381 Forest Avenue) and take a self-guided tour to explore its numerous sculptures.  First Thursdays Art Walk is a free festive, cultural evening that runs from 6-9pm on the first Thursday of every month. Visit more than 40 galleries and Laguna Art Museum for free - and make the most of the city's complimentary trolley service.

Easily get from point A to point B using the free Laguna Beach open air trolley which runs every Friday (4pm-11pm), Saturday (11am-11pm) and Sunday (11am-8pm) from September through June; and 9:30am-11:30pm during the summer months (July and August).  Download the VISIT LAGUNA BEACH APP for a real-time Trolley Tracker.
Luring artists, beachgoers and water sports enthusiasts, Laguna Beach is known for its diverse beauty and culture. The city's beaches draw six million visitors annually, with each of them having their own personality and specializing in its own activities. Check out these nine coves and beaches along Laguna's seven miles of coastline, which offers 30 to explore. Soak up the sun, kayak, venture out on a whale watching or dolphin excursion, and discover native habitats of sea life that call Laguna Beach home. Part of the Mexican land grant (1837) called Rancho San Joaquin, it was named Lagona, a corruption of the Spanish word meaning “lagoon,” for the two lagoons at the head of Laguna Canyon. Founded in 1887 as Lagonas, it was renamed Laguna Beach in 1904.
Heisler Park is a large oceanfront park that provides access to several beaches, including Picnic Beach and Rockpile Beach, both of which are located on either side of Monument Point at the center of the park. The park also provides access to Diver’s Cove and Main Beach, located on opposite ends of the park.
The park was named after Howard G. Heisler, who bought the property in 1905. It contains art sculptures and offers many amenities, including paved walking paths, large grass lawns, picnic tables, charcoal grills, a gazebo, outdoor showers (at the bottom of the stairways leading to the beaches), bathroom facilities, and, of course, the beaches, where you can lay out on the sand, explore coves or go tide pooling.
Also included within the park is a veterans memorial that was presented by the American Legion Post 222. The Veterans Monument includes two plaques that commemorate the memories of those that gave their lives to protect our freedom, as well as those that served in the armed forces during time of war. The monument also contains a time capsule that was sealed up in 1977 and is scheduled to be opened on May 30, 2027.
The park is located on Cliff Drive, just one block off of the Coast Highway. Turn onto Myrtle Street, which will run directly into Cliff Drive, which has lots of on-street metered parking spaces.  When visiting, consider eating at Las Brisas which serves seafood inspired dishes  (please refer to my previous post about SoCal Dining!).  The restaurant, is located at the south end of Heisler Park and overlooks downtown Laguna and Main Beach. If you plan to spend more than a day in Laguna Beach, consider the elegant Laguna Cliffs Inn or the upscale Inn at Laguna Beach.

Picnic Beach is the northern beach of Heisler Park. The park above the beach offers grassy areas to spread out on and many picnic tables as the name suggests. Scuba diving is popular at Picnic Beach and the adjacent cove to the north called Diver’s Cove. Tidepooling is also popular here when tide pools are exposed at low tide at the south end below the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club. Picnic Beach is a wider sandier beach than Rockpile Beach which can be found in the cove just around the corner toward Laguna’s Main Beach.
Rockpile Beach is the southern beach of Heisler Park.  Rockpile Beach is in a south-facing cove with rocky outcroppings at each end. At high tide this narrow beach nearly disappears, but when the tide is out excellent tide pools are exposed. Bird Rock is a large rock offshore at the east end of Rockpile Beach. Beyond this eastern point is the Main Beach of Laguna Beach. Access to Rockpile Beach is easiest at the middle of the cove from the park near Jasmine Street. There are also stairs to the western end of the cove near the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club. On the other side of this point is Picnic Beach. Parking can be found along Cliff Drive all along Heisler Park. Note that swimming is not permitted at Rockpile Beach because it is a designated surfing area.
Diver’s Cove Beach is at the west end of Heisler Park near downtown Laguna Beach.  The beach is right below and just east of the Divers Cove Condominium building. A public stairway access can be found adjacent to the building.  As the name indicates this is a great cove for scuba diving with reefs just offshore. The rocky point that supports a large condo building provides Diver’s Cove Beach some protection from the west although rip conditions still make swimming dangerous at times.
Main Beach is a nice sandy beach in a broad cove that faces southwest. Main Beach has a grass park located where Broadway Street (Hwy 133) tees into South Coast Highway (Hwy 1) in downtown Laguna Beach. I love hitting Main Beach as you come through the canyon.  The park offers a boardwalk, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, a play area for children, and a wide sandy beach for getting your tan on.  Lifeguards look on from a tower near the middle of the beach. After it rains a creek appears out of nowhere and will flow out from under the park and cross over the sand. Rip currents can develop here so be careful swimming. Surfing is not allowed in the summer months. North of Main Beach is Heisler Park which has tide pools and south is a long stretch of connected beaches starting with Sleepy Hollow Beach that can be walked at low tide. Metered street parking is available along Highway 1 and the many side streets.  Filled with people walking along the boardwalk eating ice cream or gelato, sunbathers marking their spot in the sand, kids playing on the jungle gym and splashing in the waves, beach volleyball games hitting the sand and basketball players jumping on the court for a pickup game, this is the place to people watch. 
If you are looking for a good launching site to go kayaking, Crescent Beach provides mostly calm waters for an easy send-off. On the water is where action is found: the likelihood of seeing seals, sea lions and dolphins up close is high. Put your phone in a waterproof case to capture the action, but make sure you keep a little distance to avoid disturbing the animals' natural habitat.
Head to Aliso Beach-fire pits set up along the sand are perfect for a hangout with your closest friends or family, just steps from the waves. Bring a cooler, some blankets and don't forget the s'mores! Make sure you claim a pit early, as they are first-come, first serve, and fill up fast. If you don't, join in on someone else's fun. It's a great way to meet new people and party together!
Wood's Cove is a local favorite, lined with beach houses and rich in history. It's tucked away below the cliffs and hard to find when the tide is high. A great beach to get in tune with the Laguna Beach lifestyle, this stretch of sand is cozy, and can be completely covered in ocean water during high tide. When the tide is low, the magic of the cove reveals tide pools, tunnels and caves to explore. Find free parking off Diamond Street, carry in your picnic, and bring some water shoes for venturing over the rocks and wading until the tide comes in.
Shaw's Cove is one of the most secluded coves in Laguna Beach. Round up your snorkel gear and take a dive in this oceanic pool to take in the beauty of colorful creatures living under the sea. Locals know that the north side is the place for underwater structures and beautiful plant and sea life. Expect to see garibaldi (the most common), perch, rockfish, and sandbass. Take note that this beach is very rocky and sand is limited for the sunbathers.
If you are a newbie when it comes to surfing or want a good lesson to teach you the fundamentals, Thalia Street Beach is for you. Just off Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), find surf shops that offer rentals and lessons. You can partake in a group or private lesson to learn the ropes and enjoy a day spent out in the water. There is plenty of beach to dry off on post-wave catching.
Closer to Kelly Slater surfing skills? Head to Rockpile. Be mindful, this is typically a "surf only" beach with rocks lining the break and hiding underneath the waves. If you are in the water, make sure you are experienced with this sport, as the waves pop up and curl fast. If you are a spectator, grab a beach chair, but be watchful for incoming waves that can sneak up and soak you. If you want to stay dry and get a great view, head up to The Deck, a casual beachfront restaurant and bar, to grab a drink and watch the action. The swells vary per day; you won't always see monster waves come crashing in, but when they do, they are a treat
Spend a day on the hidden beach at Treasure Island, accessible only by climbing over rocks or swimming around a craggy headland, and you might find yourself glancing over your shoulder, longing for a one-legged buccaneer with a parrot to wade up on shore. 
Nowhere is the town’s pirate mystique so potent as on Victoria's Beach. It’s easy to imagine an 18th century scalawag guzzling tankards of rum on the sand after burying a chest brimming with gold. There, battered by the unending cycle of tides, stands a lonely stone turret—affectionately called the “Pirate Tower” by locals. The tower is sixty feet tall and seems to have been birthed directly from the sandstone cliffs that surround it. For residents and visitors alike, the sight of the structure and its small, unevenly shaped windows launches visions of retired freebooters keeping their weather eyes peeled for the sight of the Jolly Roger on the horizon. 
Victoria Beach is hidden down a long staircase, which lies under a canopy of trees in a small neighborhood that can easily be missed as you are cruising down PCH. At the north end of the beach, find one of the most mysterious structures in Southern California: La Tour (also referred to as Victoria Tower), a castle-style tower built at the base of a cliff. The tower houses an enclosed staircase to the beach from a private residence up on the bluff. Needless to say, the tower is a favorite spot for professional and amateur photographers as well as locals and visitors. HINT: Be sure to check the tide tables before your visit as the tower can only be accessed at low tide, and proceed with caution.

These surreal imaginings may not be based in fact, but research proves they aren’t pure fiction either. The tower’s origins aren’t particularly mysterious. It was built in 1926 as an enclosed staircase to the beach for William E. Brown, a senator from Los Angeles. After coming to California in 1882, Brown developed into an avid and acclaimed painter—making Laguna Beach a natural fit for his dream home. The tower was surely influenced by its owner’s aesthetic tastes and love of Laguna’s diverse geography. 
In the early 1940s, Brown sold his home to a retired naval captain, Harold Kendrick. Kendrick was a lifelong pirate aficionado and found himself attracted to the home because of the odd, slightly askew tower. Records call Kendrick as “eclectic and fascinating as the buildings themselves” and go on to describe how he would dress in pirate regalia and invite local kids over for games and stories of the sea. Winners of Kenrick’s puzzles and scavenger hunts received “cold cash”—the chance to grab a handful of money from a change bowl kept inside the refrigerator. The tower itself often made an appearance in Kendrick’s tales and children longing to buy candy knew to search its many cracks and crevices for slyly hidden coins. According to the Laguna Beach historic register, “finders were keepers.”
These days, the property has switched hands a number of times and the tower is kept under lock and key—a skeleton key, one hopes, pockmarked with flecks of rust. The stories of coins tucked between the stones are all but forgotten now. Still, as long as the tower is standing, it will inspire the imaginations of bold spirits young and old longing for the days of wild-eyed rogues sailing under the black flag. Note: The Pirate Tower can only be accessed at low tide. At the south end of this beautiful stretch of beach, there is one of the best places around for skimboarding. Grab your board and head to this hidden gem, to slip, slide and hang with the locals.
And lastly, don't miss a Laguna Beach sunset. Cress Street Beach is one of the best places to sit and watch as day turns to night. The colors and patterns that fill the sky are simply stunning-pink, orange, purple and more. Cress Street Beach also happens to be a romantic spot, with a bench located halfway down the stairs that's the perfect place to watch the waves come in. Afterward, head up to The Rooftop Lounge for a cocktail atop the hotel La Casa Del Camino.

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