Whether you want to focus on food, family or outdoor fun, residents offer insight to help you craft the perfect day in Laguna Beach.
By Elizabeth Nutt
Laguna Beach teems with gourmet eateries, outdoor thrills and adventurous activities for all ages. With no shortage of things to do, the challenge lies in narrowing down the options, especially if you have limited time to explore. To help you create the perfect day, we gathered tips and suggestions from locals who know the ins and outs of our beachside town and who can help point you in the right direction, no matter what it is that you’re looking for—be it a fun family experience, a tasty burrito and a craft beer, or a workout that takes advantage of Laguna’s pristine coastline or many hiking trails. Here, we’ve created three distinct itineraries for the ultimate day out. They’re so chock-full of tempting to-dos that you may as well clear your calendar.
Hands down, my favorite way to spend the day … is surfing on the beach that i grew up on, [pearl street beach]. — James Pribram
Behind every great adventure is a delicious meal that fuels it, and Laguna offers no shortage of tantalizing eateries that satiate all appetites, no matter what’s in store for the day. “The fact that Laguna has protected itself from the large, commercial brands has resulted in a culinary community of independently owned restaurateurs guaranteeing you a unique and memorable experience that can’t be found anywhere else,” says longtime local Mike Lombardo, co-owner of Laguna Beach Beer Co. Lombardo says that his perfect food-focused day would begin with a visit to the cafe at the recently opened Kitchen in the Canyon for a coffee and breakfast burrito, made with scrambled eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes, and cheese.
The fact that Laguna has protected itself from the large, commercial brands has resulted in a culinary community of independently owned restaurateurs guaranteeing you a unique and memorable experience that can’t be found anywhere else. — Mike Lombardo
For lunch, Lombardo points to Sapphire Laguna for its Kobe beef and Havarti cheeseburger, which is served with garlic fries and best enjoyed outside on the eatery’s patio. Then, it’s on to happy hour at Coyote Grill. “I would advocate a trip to Coyote Grill for their laid-back local vibe and comfort Mexican food,” he says. Lombardo suggests the eatery’s calamari tacos: Tender strips of lightly battered calamari are fried and served with the eatery’s secret sauce, as well as cabbage, tomato, cheese and cilantro, all on a flour tortilla.
Finally, after enjoying the Green Jungle curry dish at Thai Bros. for dinner, you can find Lombardo at one of his favorite local end-of-the-day destinations: The Cliff restaurant. Here, Lombardo will cap off the food-filled day by taking in live music next to one of the eatery’s outdoor fire pits with a cold brew from Laguna Beach Beer Co. in hand.
For Laguna resident James Pribram, former professional surfer and founder of environmentally focused nonprofit The Eco-Warrior Foundation, the town’s charm and its one-of-a-kind eateries go hand in hand. “What’s unique about each restaurant in Laguna Beach is that all have a different … story. As does the town itself,” he says. “… We have every type of food imaginable, from gourmet to your locally owned mom-and-pop restaurants, which are my favorite.” But for Pribram, there’s only one way to start the day, and that’s with a cup of coffee from Pacific Perk at Surf & Sand Resort; in the early mornings, you can catch Pribram enjoying his java on one of the resort’s outdoor couches, near the coffee shop, while taking in views of the ocean and relaxing next to a fire pit. And if you happen to plan your food-focused day on a Sunday, Pribram highly recommends indulging in Tortilla Republic’s brunch (he points to the Suizas enchilada as a menu must-try), where bottomless mimosas can be enjoyed with any entree.
Pribram agrees that Coyote Grill is also a must when it comes to the ideal foodie’s day out, and he says the Mexican breakfasts are “amazing” (think: an avocado-tomato omelet and carne asada and eggs). For dinner, it’s “[Ristorante] Rumari for the best Italian,” which includes mouthwatering options like cioppino, grilled filet mignon, and lobster ravioli. And when it comes to that last libation, as Pribram says: “Late-night stops in Laguna Beach always start at The Saloon and end at the world-famous Sandpiper. Talk about the perfect day followed by the perfect evening.”
To burn off that beer or breakfast burrito, you can opt to spend the morning logging some active hours on land or on the water. “There is so much to do, and it’s all here in Laguna,” says Sean Hunter Brown, an avid surfer and local photographer. “[We have] the most unique beaches, an abundance of ocean activities and the canyon wilderness trails.” For Brown, the perfect outdoorsy itinerary begins with “an early morning surf session, when the beaches are uncrowded and the light is great.” Next, you’ll find Brown embarking on a hike. “The [Laguna] Canyon area has so much to see this year thanks to the rain. Flowers, plants and wildlife [are] everywhere.” Afterward, Brown settles in for a day spent stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), swimming or bodysurfing on the beach—often lingering long enough to watch the sun set behind Catalina Island.
Meanwhile, Greg MacGillivray, who is a longtime Laguna resident, environmentalist and president of MacGillivray Freeman Films, believes the outdoors easily facilitates the ultimate day because Laguna offers unparalleled scenery. “Lagunatics have a concern for nature, so we’ve all fought hard to keep our ocean and our hills natural and healthy,” he says. Though the outdoorsman enjoys a mountain bike ride through the trails in Laguna Canyon, as well as surfing at Thalia Street Beach, he suggests starting with a SUP session. “Stand-up paddle is better in Laguna than anywhere else because of our clean water …, [which is] due to our city spending millions to capture storm-drain runoff before it reaches the sea,” he says, adding that Laguna’s no-take zone and Marine Protected Area are “allowing the fish to come back.”
Stand-up paddle is better in Laguna than anywhere else because of our clean water … — Greg MacGillivray
Pribram, too, appreciates being surrounded by the area’s natural beauty, and spends as much time as possible outside—which he also recommends for anyone seeking the perfect Laguna day. “The beaches in Laguna … are some of the most unique and beautiful beaches in the world … decorated with secluded coves and reefs, making for crystal-clean water on sunny days—perfect for snorkeling and stand-up paddling,” he says.
Pribram’s ideal day would begin with a SUP outing in the early morning, “through all of the reef passages [and] kelp beds, only to stop momentarily to dive through the blowholes and caves. Nothing beats an amazing morning out on the water paddling,” he says. Of course, Pribram cites surfing as his “first love” and favorite outdoor activity in town. He prefers to head out a little later in the morning, around 9 a.m. “Hands down, my favorite way to spend the day … is surfing on the beach that I grew up on, [Pearl Street Beach]. … There’s just something so special about being in the water and standing up on waves and riding them.”
For families looking to plan the perfect day in Laguna, options abound, too, when it comes to fun activities for both parents and children. For Chris Olsen, owner of the Wine Gallery restaurant and dad to Tyler (age 7) and Tanner (age 4), his ideal day begins with breakfast at the “kid-friendly” Orange Inn, which serves up items like bagels, muffins, freshly baked cinnamon rolls and breakfast sandwiches that will appeal to the whole family. Next, it’s a jaunt to Bluebird Park “for some running around.” According to Olsen, Bluebird’s amenities can’t be beat: It boasts picnic tables, children’s play areas and ample grassy space for family games or picnics. “Bluebird Park is one of the best parks in Orange County and we go there a lot for play days,” Olsen says.
Of course, in Laguna, some beach time is also in order, and Olsen prefers to bring his kids to family-friendly Hakama Beach. For a fun adventure for all ages, he also points to the Agate Street Beach tide pools, “through the arch … [during] low tide, for the younger kids,” he says, adding that the blowhole over at Wood’s Cove is great “for the big kids.” (Note: The tide pools below Heisler Park, during low tide, are also great for families, as docents are present to educate visitors about the tidal habitats and answer questions. Crescent Bay, Treasure Island and Shaw’s Cove also boast tide pools teeming with sea life.)
When it comes time to take a break from the sun, Olsen enjoys a “walk up to Adolfo’s for lunch and a ‘dad beer.’ ” After fully digesting their Mexican meal, the family will head back to the beach in front of Surf & Sand Resort for a swim. And, to cap off the day, you’ll find them walking over to Wine Gallery for a family dinner (the restaurant’s pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, more than appeal to parents and kids alike).
Many of the beaches and wilderness trails are places you can thoroughly enjoy with the whole family. — Sean Hunter Brown
As for Brown, there’s no better way to spend the day with his family than in the great outdoors. “Many of the beaches and wilderness trails are places you can thoroughly enjoy with the whole family. [There are] lots of places to get off the beaten path but still be close to many amenities for children,” says Brown, whose ideal outing with his daughter, Finley (age 11), includes bodysurfing at Oak Street Beach. Brown says he loves creating new memories at that coastal spot, where he spent much of his childhood. “Nothing beats a full beach day in Laguna with the family,” he says.
Whether you have kids in tow, an appetite for outdoor adventure or simply want to indulge in some of the area’s best food, each day in Laguna offers endless opportunities for every interest.
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