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California Dreamin’ in Laguna Beach

Located exactly halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, the charming quintessential coastal town of Laguna Beach is the perfect choice for a winter getaway.

With its Mediterranean climate, a weekend here warms the heart and refreshes the soul.

This scenic, shore-hugging part of the Pacific Coast Highway hosts one of the most picture-perfect postcard towns we’ve been to in Southern California. Life imitates art here in more ways than one:

Stunning Sunsets and Oceanfront Vistas

Many inns and hotels offer beachfront lodging with magnificent scalloped, shoreline views, but our favorite has always been The Inn at Laguna Beach.

Being lulled to sleep by the pounding Pacific surf is unforgettable. Greeting the sunrise with coffee on our balcony overlooking a majestic coastline and white-sandy beach was the icing on the cake.

Perched high on a bluff, everything about this boutique place oozes charm, attentive service and attractive welcoming accommodations.

Each evening just before sunset, guests are invited to the Inn’s rooftop patio for wine tasting and to celebrate Laguna’s stunning setting of the sun. When it’s time to settle in for the night, a tray arrives with a sprig of lavender and a pot of Chamomile tea with a soothing message “Relax. Breathe. You’re on beach time.”

Picture-Perfect Beaches

Beach-goers like us find Laguna the ideal place to chill. Whether it’s building sandcastles, watching a spontaneous game of beach volleyball, playfully dodging the incoming tide or just relaxing in our lounge chairs, there are a multitude of idyllic sandy coves to choose from—28 to be exact.

Main Beach is the largest and most popular stretch of Laguna’s beaches. Situated smack in the middle of town, it’s a bustling spit of sand with one of the town’s most iconic landmarks: the historic lifeguard tower.

Our adage has always been to trust the locals when we travel, and while exploring downtown, a shop owner asked us if we’d ever been to Victoria Beach. Surrounded by rocky bluffs, it hosts a bizarre but fascinating medieval structure residents call the “pirate tower.” Constructed in 1926, it is only accessible from the beach at low tide.

Waves during the winter can be high and powerful, as they were during our visit. But beach-goers who happen to know about this secret place find that outrunning the waves is an adventure within itself. (Surfers see it as just another challenge.)

Whale-Watching Season

Winter and early spring are the best opportunities to get up close and personal with some fabulous sea life—because it’s prime whale-watching season.

Whale and Dolphin Watching Adventure Tour in nearby Dana Point is Orange County’s original whale watching company. That means a group of knowledgeable nature specialists who are not only familiar with the Pacific waters and where to find whales but also the history and fascinating stories of this coastal region.

Scenic views along the way were worth the trip alone, and the raised platform on the bow of the catamaran offered awesome viewing of whales and frolicking pods of friendly dolphins. Barking sea lions sunning themselves on rocking buoys were added entertainment.

Celebration of the Arts

Laguna Beach is perhaps most famous for its vibrant art scene and festivals. Although most renowned for its Pageant of the Masters each summer—in which classical works of art are remarkably re-enacted—winter brings its own artistic magic to this beach town.

Sawdust Art & Craft Festival’s winter fantasy takes place on weekends from mid-November to mid-December. Festival grounds are transformed into a winter wonderland where 175 artists create, display and sell their original works on forested sawdust-laden outdoor grounds.

From jewelry, sculpture and textiles to woodwork, painting and photography, these talented artists market their most unique creations within a stunning venue surrounded by trees, waterfalls and thousands of twinkling lights.

The oldest museum in California, Laguna Art Museum has deep ties to the history and culture of Laguna Beach. With one of the most comprehensive collections of California art from the 19th century to present day, its artists celebrate everything from its missions to its beaches and marvelous sea life.

Many of Laguna Beach’s locally owned and delightfully unique shops and galleries are located within an easily walkable downtown. Kitschy, trendy, beachy, free-spirited, eclectic, stylish or retro, it’s guaranteed you’ll find it here.

Though not normally a big shopping fan, I found these incredibly fun boutiques irresistible. It was impossible to walk out empty-handed.

Fabulous Food

From quaint cafes and bistros to fine dining establishments, Laguna Beach has an array of options to indulge lovers of good food.

One of our favorites—because of the stunning ocean views and creative tantalizing entrees—is Las Brisas. This impressive dining venue combines the best of California cuisine with the bold flavors of Mexico’s West Coast. We can unequivocally confirm their ceviche, shrimp Tampiqueño and fresh-catch whole Branzino were equal to the very best we’ve ever had in Baja and the Mexican Riviera.

Afterward, a stroll along the waterfront promenade to walk off dinner under a star-studded sky made for the perfect evening.

Locals are totally into urban chic Reunion Kitchen and Drink, and we understand why.

Happy Hours are immensely popular due to their sensational small plates featuring items like Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos, Crispy Asparagus Spears and Short Rib Sliders. Lining the eatery’s walls, old surfing photos and classic early to mid-century pics of Laguna Beach pay homage to its storied beach town history.

For a totally exotic twist and an unforgettable dining experience, Mozambique is one fun and adventuresome place to visit. Its atmosphere and immensely flavorful cuisine is decidedly unique, both inspired by the Dark Continent’s South African coastline.

The restaurant is divided into separate themed dining areas, one of which is an open-air rooftop lounge with a panoramic ocean view. The Durban Room, Mozambique’s latest renovation is a piano lounge resembling a historic 1920s “speakeasy” with live music.

The Sampler Plate with prawns, chicken pops, farmer’s sausage and beef samoosas served with Mozambique’s own homemade robust Peri-Peri sauce is a perfect introduction to the best South African dishes. Durban Curry with tender braised lamb was another winner.

A sign in one of Laguna Beach’s charming cottage shops quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” That about sums up Laguna Beach.

Well, that and cruising in a top-down convertible, warm sunshine on our faces as the Beach Boys croon “California dreamin.”

In Laguna Beach, life is always good—even on a winter’s day.

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