Laguna Beach, CA is located about an hour south of Los Angeles and an hour north of San Diego. My wife and I spent some time there recently and really enjoyed it. We both thought it would be a good substitute for Hawaii due to the beautiful beaches and views.
The town of Laguna Beach has a downtown arts district with a few streets of galleries, boutiques, and cute shops. There are lots of restaurants and cafes to choose from. There's also the town of Laguna Niguel, but there's no "downtown" area - just a variety of strip malls.
Below I've listed what I learned from our visit. If you'd like to plan a trip to Laguna Beach, I would love to work with you... I have great relationships with the top hotels there. My clients are considered VIPs and are offered free upgrades, breakfasts, spa certificates, etc.
Laguna Beach Hotels
The two top hotels in the area are the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel and the Montage Laguna Beach. Both are wonderful properties but very different. In general I'd say that the Montage is more beautiful but the Ritz Carlton is more sophisticated and calm.
The Montage Resort (250 rooms) is located just a few minutes drive from downtown Laguna Beach and across the street from a strip mall with a CVS and a pizza place (within walking distance). Montage’s guests are roughly 65% leisure and 35% groups, primarily weddings. That means there may be lots of families and kids around the property, especially at the pool. They do have an adults only spa pool but it is only available for the day if you have a spa treatment. The main pool is enormous and very dramatic in the middle of the property, with a view of the ocean. The decor at Montage is kind of old-world traditional… it kind of feels like you are in Nantucket. My favorite feature of the hotel is the large, open lobby with a view of the ocean and pools. The lobby is a great place to sit, talk, people watch, and enjoy the live music in the evening. Montage Resort website.
Click on any photo to view larger.
The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel (396 rooms) is a few minutes south of Montage, about 10-15 minutes away from downtown Laguna Beach. The hotel’s guests are roughly 65% business / groups and 35% leisure (the opposite of Montage), so the feel is noticeably different. The decor is more sleek and modern and the public spaces feel more professional and sophisticated. The staff is accommodating without overdoing it. The rooms are a little smaller than at Montage but they have been recently renovated and everything seems brand new. The lobby at the Ritz is not one large space - there’s a lobby bar and a few seating areas near the entrance and next to the bar itself. There is a nice cafe/market in the lobby where you can grab a quick snack, sandwich or coffee if you don’t want to sit down for a full meal. There are two pools here, both of which are somewhat surrounded by guest rooms (rather than wide open with an ocean view like at Montage) but they can be much more quiet and calm than the Montage pool. Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel website.
Other hotels to consider that I did not have a chance to visit on this trip:
- St. Regis (400 rooms) - Inland location. Golf course.
- The Resort at Pelican Hill (322 rooms). Inland location.
- Surf and Sand (180 rooms). Small pool.
Laguna Beach Restaurants
We enjoyed each of these restaurants and would definitely return. Click on links to view Yelp reviews.
Carmelita’s - Mexican. Fun place, great food.
Zinc Cafe - Breakfast or lunch. Casual, good people watching.
Mollie’s Country Kitchen - Diner, located about 15 min from Laguna Beach. Get the green huevos rancheros. Best breakfast I’ve EVER had. My favorite dish in Laguna Beach area.
House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer - Fun place, great food. We went two nights in a row. Get the ahi poke appetizer with fried wontons - second favorite dish in Laguna Beach.
Other Laguna Beach Restaurants
These restaurants were on our list based on recommendations or just driving by but we did not have a chance to try them on this visit.
Alessa’s - Italian. Looks great, recommended by locals. Very popular, long waits.
Penguin Cafe - Diner. Looks good for breakfast.
Orange Inn - Cafe. Looks good for breakfast.
Nick’s - Popular, recommended by locals.
Stacks - Pancake house.
Baja Fish Tacos - Super casual, recommended by locals. In Laguna Niguel (inland).
Laguna Beach Coffee Shops
Koffee Klatch - Odd place, good location. Desserts look amazing.
Laguna Coffee - Nice local spot, good coffee.
What To Do in Laguna Beach
Stroll around the “arts district” area - lots of galleries, shops and restaurants - Ocean Avenue and Forest Avenue.
Walk around some of the beach parks (Main Beach Park, Heisler Park, Treasure Island Park). These parks are all stunning (especially Heisler Park) and a highlight of our visit.
Drive into the hills between Laguna Beach and Dana Point to see some of the stunning houses.
Laguna Art Supply - interesting shop.
Candy Baron - Great candy store, purchase by the pound. Amazing selection.
Pacific Gallery - Our favorite gallery in Laguna Beach. We went back twice and ended up buying something.
Sit in the Montage hotel lobby at night when they have live music (even if you are staying at another hotel).
Madison Square Garden - Unique shop with a cafe.