It’s hard to have a bad day in Laguna Beach. Located an hour south of Los Angeles, this scenic seaside town is full of small secluded beaches, excellent restaurants, and galleries featuring every type of artwork imaginable. Despite its small size, Laguna Beach offers a wide range of activities, especially for outdoor lovers. If you only have a day here, you’ll definitely have a good time, but this can be a great destination for a longer trip as well.
Here are eight things to do on a perfect day in Laguna Beach.
1. Hit The Beach
There’s no better way to start your time in Laguna than at the beach. And fortunately, you’ll have many beaches to choose from depending on what you like to do.
If you’re looking for a bustling beach with volleyball courts, a playground, and restrooms, Main Beach is the place to go. Located in the heart of the city, Main Beach is within easy walking distance of many restaurants and shops.
But if you’re looking for something more secluded, head to Wood’s Cove Beach. You won’t be able to find this beach when the tide is high, but when it’s low, you can relax on the sand or explore the tidepools. There are no services here, so plan to bring food and water with you.
If you want to combine a visit to the beach with a workout, then Thousand Steps Beach is for you. This place isn’t easy to find, but after climbing down the long stairway you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view. Just be prepared for the long climb back up when you’re ready to head home. And fortunately, there aren’t actually 1,000 steps -- whoever named this beach was prone to exaggeration.
2. Take A Hike
It may be hard to tear yourself away from the beach, but the beautiful canyons of Laguna are full of scenic hikes that are worth the effort. The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park contains 7,000 acres of canyons and mountains accessible by 40 miles of trails. The best time of year to hike here is during the spring, when the wildflowers are in full bloom.
A great place to start in the park is the Nix Nature Center, where you’ll find free trail maps, bathrooms, and rangers available to answer your questions.
Laurel Canyon Trail is popular with locals and offers lovely views of the meadows. If it’s been a wet winter in Southern California, you might even be able to see a waterfall at the end of the trail. The total distance out and back is 3.6 miles, and there are some steep slopes, so come prepared for a good workout.
3. Go For A Leisurely Stroll
If hiking through the canyons is more exercise than you want, consider a leisurely stroll through Heisler Park. Starting at Main Beach, this mile-long path winds above the ocean through gardens and sculptures. Along the way are several sets of stairs descending to small coves. Picnic tables are plentiful, making this an ideal spot for an outdoor lunch or dinner. Try timing your visit to Heisler Park with the sunset -- it will be crowded, but the views are worth it.
4. Appreciate The Art
Long before Laguna Beach was a city, it was an artist colony. The first artist, Norman St. Clair, arrived in 1903 and set the tone for this seaside community’s devotion to art. Painters from all over the United States traveled here to capture the ocean and canyons on their canvases.
Today there are myriad ways to enjoy art in Laguna. First-time visitors might want to start at the Laguna Art Museum, located within walking distance of Main Beach and Heisler Park. Here you’ll learn about the history of the town as well as enjoy rotating exhibits, many by Southern California artists.
On the first Thursday of each month, the city hosts an art walk. More than 40 galleries stay open late for patrons to browse, meet the artists, watch demonstrations, and enjoy live music. A free shuttle service is available to all participating galleries.
5. Meet Rescued Marine Animals
When marine mammals become sick or stranded along the coast, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center jumps into action. At the special facility run by highly skilled staff and volunteers, each mammal is nursed back to health and eventually released back into the ocean. Visitors to the center might see harbor seals, elephant seals, and sea lions. Late afternoon is the best time to visit, since it's when the animals eagerly await their feeding.
6. Explore The Ocean
Laguna is a great destination for water sports. Diving, snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kayaking are all fun options.
The coast of Laguna Beach is full of rock formations and coves that provide shelter to marine life such as starfish, sea anemones, garibaldi, seals, and dolphins. In 2012, several portions of this coastline became Marine Protected Areas, and as a result, the opportunity to view wildlife under the water is exceptionally good. Experienced divers and snorkelers should check out Shaw’s Cove, Diver’s Cove, and the south end of Thousand Steps Beach. If you’re interested in learning to dive, Beach Cities Scuba can help.
If kayaking or paddleboarding is more your speed, check out La Vida Laguna, which offers instruction and daily guided tours.
7. Enjoy The Local Cuisine
The dining options in Laguna Beach are endless. Whether you want casual fare or fine dining, indoors or outdoors, there’s something for you. If you’re visiting during the summer, reservations are highly recommended.
While visiting, do what the locals do and enjoy happy hour at one of the many outdoor or rooftop bars in Laguna. The Rooftop Lounge, located on top of La Casa del Camino Hotel, has long been a favorite of folks in Southern California. The Cliff isn’t fancy, but the ocean view is quite appealing. At The Deck, you’ll be steps from the beach while enjoying a cocktail and delicious food.
Laguna Beach has an impressive selection of fine-dining restaurants, which can be a perfect way to end your day in this seaside town. Driftwood Kitchen offers both excellent food and an unparalleled view, since three of its walls are made of glass. Every table has a view. To feel like you’re dining on the beach, head to The Beachcomber and request an outdoor table. To make either of these experiences especially romantic, make your reservation around sunset.
If casual dining is more your style, Laguna has plenty of options. A longtime local favorite is the Crystal Cove Shake Shack, located a bit north of town. Don’t confuse this with the national burger chain. This bright yellow diner opened in 1946 and serves some seriously good milkshakes. Come prepared to wait and eat outside, but you’ll be rewarded with excellent views of the ocean. If you’d prefer craft beer with your meal, check out Laguna Beach Beer Company. Here you’ll enjoy burgers, sandwiches, and pizzas along with a wide selection of locally brewed beer.
8. Shop Till You Drop
If you enjoy boutique shopping, browsing art galleries, or searching for that unique souvenir, then Laguna is the place for you. Here there are few chain stores and no large malls. The shopping experience in Laguna Beach is small and local.
A popular spot to browse is the Wyland Gallery. Robert Wyland is an American artist who has painted more than 100 whales around the world. His interest in whales began as a child during a visit to Laguna Beach. Today he owns 25 galleries, but this one is considered his flagship store.
Laguna Candles features handcrafted candles made with soy wax. The founder, Sharie Hendricks, opened her shop in 2003 as a way to share her passion for candles.
If you’re looking for unique but affordable women’s clothing, skincare, and home goods, then AMENAH is the place. Many of the products here are sourced from female designers and artisans.
Thalia Surf Shop sells vintage surfboards and skateboards along with clothing, shoes, and accessories. And if you’ve ever thought about learning to surf, they also offer lessons.
For Scandinavian-inspired home goods, be sure to visit Vertigo Home. You’ll find everything from furniture and lighting to candles and Danish children’s toys.
What To Know Before You Go
Laguna Beach offers visitors moderate weather year-round, making it a lovely destination for any season. But locals will tell you that summers are quite busy due to special events and festivals.
And if you have more than just a day, consider extending your day to a weekend to fully appreciate all that this charming seaside town has to offer.
For more to see and do in the Los Angeles area, see this page.