Laguna Beach emerges from the canyons of the San Joaquin Hills and spills around a Mediterranean.
On Hwy-1, 11 miles South of Newport Beach. Unlike the flat and sprawling coastal towns which precede it on the route from Los Angeles, Laguna Beach emerges from the canyons of the San Joaquin Hills and spills around a Mediterranean-like series of coves, inlets, and sandy beaches. It’s a landscape worth lingering over and also one that encouraged an artistic community – of writers, painters, and even a few Hollywood stars – to settle during the early decades of the 20thC. These days, the art and handicrafts sold from the town’s many street stalls and galleries tend to be quaint rather than creative, but a look around the Museum of Art (http://lagunaartmuseum.org), 307 Cliff Drive, can turn up some of the best local – and state-wide – artists, and is easily combined with a walk along the coastal boardwalk which reveals the weather-sculptured intricacies of the shoreline. For six weeks each summer, Laguna Beach plays host to the Pageant of the Masters (http://www.foapom.com), a bizarre festival (originating during the Depression as a money-raiser for local artists) which features world-famous works of art re-created with local people posing as the central figures, it’s quite the spectacle and as it’s grown bands, stages, stalls and more have popped up in celebration of this wonderfully quirky festival.
DETOUR – DANA POINT
On Hwy-1, 7 miles South of Laguna Beach. Much of the un-dramatic town of Dana Point perches on a dramatic headland named after Richard Henry Dana, author of Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840 and including a description of cow hides being tossed over this cliff to trading ships waiting beneath. The bulging headland shelters a quiet cove which holds the rest of the town – and a very large marina packed with expensive private yachts.
DETOUR – SAN CLEMENTE
On Hwy-1, 15 miles South of Laguna Beach. A dull town but with great ocean views from its hill-top location, San Clemente is primarily remembered as the site of Richard Nixon’s 25-acre Casa Pacifica estate, known as the Western White House during his presidency and becoming his place of refuge after the Watergate scandal. The estate, no longer owned by Nixon, can be glimpsed from San Clemente State Beach, a fine white-sanded strand at the foot of towering bluffs.
DETOUR – SAN ONOFRE STATE BEACH
Off 1-5, 4 miles South of San Clemente. Comprising a great stretch of beach fringed by open country, San Onofre State Beach would be a peach of a place were it not for the nuclear power station which, since 1968, has overlooked these inviting vistas. Foolhardy as it may seem, some locals actually like to swim here on cool days – when discharge from the power plant keeps the ocean waters warm.