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Laguna Beach guide: What to do and where to stay

Laguna Beach, California guide: What to do and where to stay

Laguna Beach, California guide: What to do and where to stay

Luciano Lejtman via Getty

Set along the craggy shore of California is Laguna Beach, a popular beach town for those who live in Southern California and those who are fans of the popular MTV shows "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" and "The Hills." While the beaches are one of the biggest draws, its walkable downtown streets filled with shops and restaurants also make this a great weekend getaway or spring break destination. Accommodations at the beach city range from over-the-top resort hotels to cute beach cottages that are available as vacation rentals. 

This is a local’s guide to experiencing everything that Laguna Beach has to offer. 

Laguna Beach weather

Laguna Beach is known for its great weather virtually year round. Winter sees lower daytime temperatures in the mid-60s, while temperatures in the summer can heat up to the low 80s. The evenings can be much cooler, especially right along the coast. Because of the mild temperatures, the beaches always have people gathering to enjoy a day with family or watch the surfers take on the swells.

Surf Laguna Beach

Surf Laguna Beach


What to do in Laguna Beach

Naturally, the biggest draw of Laguna Beach is the actual beach. The area has seven miles of coastline, which breaks down into 30 different beaches. All of the beaches are open 365 days a year from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. after sundown. Travelers who are interested in seeing the tide pools at the beach should head to Main Beach, Shaw’s Cove, or Thousand Steps Beach. Swimming in the ocean is best at Agate Street Beach, Main Beach, and St. Ann’s Beach, all of which are known for calm waters. 

Surfing is a popular ocean sport in California, and Aliso Beach, Oak Street Beach, and Victoria Beach are popular spots to catch a wave. Those who want to learn to surf can register for lessons with Learn to Surf Laguna Beach. The classes are for anyone who wants to surf, from children to adults, and instructors take great care in making each lesson personalized, knowing not everyone will be starting at the same level. 

Travelers looking to do a little shopping will want to make their way to downtown village, which is the trendy shopping district of Laguna Beach. Here there are almost 100 different boutiques that stretch from the north part of town all the way to the southern edge of the Pacific Coast Highway. 

For a taste of Laguna Beach culture, explore the First Thursdays Art Walk, where over 40 art galleries open their doors to guests. During the event, there is free trolly service to all of the gallery locations. Once inside the galleries, there is often an artist reception, art demonstrations, and even live music. 

Laguna Beach is also known for its focus on wellness. Yoga is a popular practice among residents. Travelers who want to get in on the action while taking in the stunning ocean views can do so every day of the week. Laughter Yoga has classes on Main Beach starting at 8:15 a.m. each day and is a great way to mingle with locals. 

Inn at Laguna Beach

Inn at Laguna Beach


Laguna Beach hotels

Hotel Joaquin 

The hotel experience in Laguna Beach can vary from expansive oceanfront resorts to quaint boutique hotels. At Hotel Joaquin, the Pacific coastline is always in view. The resort-style accommodations are nestled above Shaw’s Cove, which is known for its tide pools. Each room at the hotel has a king bed, which makes this a perfect spot for solo travelers or couples. Along with stunning views from the rooms, the pool deck is a great spot to hang out and see the beach without having to walk down to the sand. A reservation includes Friday night movie nights (with a bar filled with candy and popcorn), morning coffee deliveries, bike and beach game rentals, and a full beach setup with loungers and an umbrella. 

14 West 

If you’re looking for a boutique hotel experience, 14 West has two different options with its North and South buildings, which have contemporary designs and a modern Spanish design, respectively. The South building is better for those who are looking for a more traditional hotel experience, complete with a pool and business center, while the North building is better for extended stays since rooms have a small kitchenette. 

The Ranch 

For a taste of the beach and the mountain canyons, stay at The Ranch at Laguna Beach. The stunning resort has 97 guest rooms and suites, including a deluxe private tree house. The resort has direct beach access via a walking trail, along with plenty of hiking trails for those who want to enjoy a different side of nature. Travelers who enjoy golf can take a swing at the nine-hole course that’s onsite, too. 

Inn at Laguna Beach 

The Inn at Laguna Beach is situated ideally in front of the ocean and is just a few minutes from the downtown village. The rooms are charming and have a distinct beachy flair with cream-colored walls and light wood. Most rooms have ocean views, though some have views of the pool or downtown village. What really sets this hotel apart is the daily wine reception on the rooftop terrace, and the milk and cookies hour in the lobby that follows. 

Sushi at San Shi Go Laguna Beach

Sushi at San Shi Go Laguna Beach

Saikawa H. via Yelp

Laguna Beach restaurants

No matter what sounds good for dinner, Laguna Beach restaurants really do have it all. From swanky seafood spots that overlook the ocean to sharable Mexican cuisine with some of the best margaritas in town, there’s no shortage of places to eat. 

Photo Credit: Carmelita's via Yelp

One of the top Mexican restaurants in town is Carmelita’s, which specializes in authentic cuisine, all made from scratch daily. The restaurant partners with local farmers to get the best seasonal and organic ingredients for dishes like shrimp taquitos and crab-stuffed jalapeños that are wrapped with bacon. 

Photo Credit: Skyloft via Yelp

Skyloft is a fun rooftop restaurant where American cuisine is on full display. The restaurant is known for its Texas-style BBQ brisket, tempura-fried avocado stuffed with chilled shrimp salad, and impressive cocktail list. The cucumber basil is a refreshing drink after a long morning at the beach, with a mix of vodka, agave, lime juice, cucumber, and basil. Happy hour, which takes place every day from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. is also popular at Skyloft, where shareable plates run $9 to $19, and drinks are typically $6 to $8.

Photo Credit: Splashes Restaurant via Yelp

At Splashes Restaurant, the ocean is literally at the edge of the restaurant. This upscale seafood spot is located inside the Surf & Sand Resort, but you don’t need to be staying at the resort to dine here. The dinner menu features a variety of options including fresh oysters paired with a crispy jicama salad, lobster bisque that’s finished off tableside, and a whole Mediterranean branzino to share.

Photo Credit: Saikawa H. via Yelp

Sushi restaurants are also popular in Laguna Beach, and one of the most buzzy spots is San Chi Go. Here, sushi and sashimi are prepared with care by a trained Japanese sushi chef. Start with the stir-fried shrimp dumplings, which are made in-house. The backflip roll, which is a spicy tuna roll with cajun seared tuna on the top, along with green onion, red chili sauce and ponzu, is a fan favorite here. 

Drinks at Mozambique

Drinks at Mozambique

Archel N. via Yelp

Bars in Laguna Beach 

Laguna Beach nightlife is the place to see and be seen. Whether that means hitting the local favorite bar, or sitting in a cozy booth at a restaurant and ordering handcrafted cocktails, each of the bars in Laguna Beach has its own distinct vibe.

Photo Credit: Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails via Yelp

Start the night at Rum Social Kitchen and Cocktails. The cozy restaurant and bar feels like an upscale tropical bar infused with a bit of tiki culture. Here the drinks are mostly rum-based and change seasonally. Those who are adventurous can let the bartenders create something just for them, or partake in a rum-tasting flight. 

Photo Credit: Chris M. via Yelp

For drinks with a view, The Deck on Laguna Beach is the place to be. The Red Tide cocktail is a fun mix of vodka, watermelon, cranberry-lime sour, and mint, while the Liquid Vacation mixes coconut rum with pineapple, orange, and guava juices, and is topped with a passion fruit foam. Drinks here are more affordable than some of the other craft bars in town, starting at $13. 

Photo Credit: Phg T. via Yelp

Broadway by Amar Santana is a hot spot in Laguna Beach. The New York-themed restaurant is known for its exciting seasonal cocktail menu. What’s most impressive about the cocktail menu (besides listing the ingredients) is that tasting notes are listed for each drink, which virtually eliminates having to ask the bartender or server if a drink is too sweet or stiff for your taste. 

Photo Credit: Mozambique via Yelp

While Mozambique may be known for its take on African cuisine, its rooftop bar is a great spot to sit back with friends and enjoy a cocktail. The Manzini is a house favorite, with house-made pineapple infused vodka, Serrano peppers, ginger liqueur, and limes. For something a little sweeter, consider the Drunken Elephant, which combines vanilla vodka, Amarula, Frangelico, and chocolate into a sippable drink that’s a delightful swap for dessert.