Last Updated on July 9, 2023
A magnificently picturesque coastal city in Southern California conveniently located between San Diego and Los Angeles, Laguna Beach is renowned for its stunning beaches, lush landscapes and vibrant art scene. As a matter of fact, summer is the time visitors flock to the town for one of its most beloved art events, the Pageant of the Masters.
Often referred to as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the pageant has been captivating audiences for over 85 years transforming famous works of art into ‘living pictures’ with real people, costumes and elaborate sets. If you haven’t seen it, you must! There’s nothing else like it!
Laguna Beach also boasts seven miles of awe-inspiring coastline with beaches known for their clean sand, scenic beauty and a myriad of recreational activities. But aside from its art, beaches and outdoor adventures, Laguna Beach has some surprises that my husband and I came to discover during our many visits to this beautiful area.
Victoria Beach Tower
While dining at one of Laguna Beach’s restaurants, our server happened to mention a hidden place known as the Victoria Beach Tower. The historic medieval-looking tower on Victoria Beach was built in the 1920s serving as a private staircase to a cliffside home.
To visit, we had to watch the tides because only at low tide we were able to walk around the tower and explore its nearby tide pools.
The Sea Cave at Thousand Steps Beach
As the name suggests, Thousand Steps Beach requires descending a significant number of stairs to reach the sand, but the effort is well worth it. Once again, at low tide, we could explore the hidden sea cave located at the southern end of the beach.
It’s a unique spot to observe marine life and capture great photos.
Although well-known to locals and not completely hidden, many visitors to this oceanfront park don’t leave the beach to follow its entire meandering path. And boy, are they missing out!
The oceanfront park consists of a promenade that’s without a doubt, one of the most beautiful in the U.S., rivaling anything even Hawaii has to offer. Heisler Park offers lush colorful gardens, walking paths, stunning scenic viewpoints and working artists who come to capture the beauty of the region on canvas.
It’s a lovely place for a picnic or relaxing on a bench to “ooh” and “aah” over the views accompanied by gentle ocean breezes.
At low tide, several beaches and rocky outcroppings below become ideal spots to tidepool.
Crystal Cove Historic District
Just north of Laguna Beach, the Crystal Cove Historic District is a preserved beachside community that dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, offering glimpses into the coastal lifestyle of a bygone era.
Crystal Cove comprises around 46 cottages varying in size from cozy one-room bungalows to somewhat larger historic homes. Many feature throwback interiors, colorful exteriors, weathered wood-siding and eclectic beach-themed décor.
In the 1990s, Crystal Cove Alliance in partnership with California State Parks began a restoration project to maintain the architectural integrity of the cottages while adding modern amenities. As a result, the cottages are now available for overnight stays.
The Historic District, situated in Crystal Cove State Park, offers wonderful opportunities for beachcombing, tide pool exploration, swimming, sunbathing with picnic areas and hiking trails.
Treasure Island Park
Tucked away between Thousand Steps Beach and the luxurious Montage Laguna Beach, Treasure Island Park offers breathtaking views of the coastline in an area that’s not as popular as many other beach locations.
The park features wonderfully landscaped gardens, walking paths, picnic area and benches dotting the trails where visitors can take in the magnificent panoramic ocean vistas.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
For nature enthusiasts, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park provides a serene, one-with-nature experience. This expansive park offers a network of trails that wind through canyons, hills, and coastal sage scrub. It’s an excellent location for hiking, bird-watching, and enjoying the native flora and fauna.
Because the preserve spans over 7,000 acres with 40 miles of meandering trails, it never feels overused or overcrowded.
Home to a diverse array of native plant species, the park supports a variety of sagebrush, buckwheat and coastal cacti. Wildlife in the area includes birds, reptiles, mule deer, coyotes and even occasional sightings of bobcats and mountain lions.
First Thursdays Art Walk
Though Laguna Beach is known for its vibrant art scene, many visitors don’t realize that on the first Thursday of every month, the town sponsors an art walk where galleries and studios open their doors to the public, showcasing the impressive works of local artists. It took us a few visits to remember to time our future trips on the dates where we could enjoy strolling through the easily walkable downtown and revel in the creativity of local artisans’ works.
It’s certainly not hidden, but this local icon on Laguna Beach’s main drag was built in 1888 as the first hotel in Laguna Beach. Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style, it drew inspiration from the Spanish missions and haciendas of California’s colonial past.
This charming ‘Grand Old Lady’ with stunning ocean views once welcomed famous Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and John Barrymore. To the shock of locals and visitors alike, on December 31, 2017, the storied hotel closed suddenly. Not just closed. The windows were shuttered. Drab maroon-colored papercovered the front doors. At night only a few dim lights could be seen in exit areas, and the once-treasured hotel became empty and eerily quiet.
Later, it was revealed that the hotel closed as a result of an intense litigation battle.
Now, to the delight of locals and visitors, the hotel is being completely renovated. Though it hasn’t yet reopened for reservations, here’s a little secret: guests can enter the lobby of the hotel, google over historic photos lining the walls and dine directly overlooking the ocean!
Larsen’s, within the hotel itself, offers 180-degree panoramic views as well as outdoor dining with sensational sunsets. Fin features sushi and fresh-caught seafood also with tables overlooking the Pacific.
If you’re planning a trip to Laguna Beach do consider staying in one of its impressive oceanfront boutique hotels, playing on its stunning beaches and soaking in the creativity of its vibrant art scene, but don’t miss these more unfrequented hidden treasures worth exploring.artbeachnature