Ah, summer. That time of year when the days are long, the nights are warm and vacation is on everybody’s mind. If you’re looking for a charming coastal destination, it doesn’t get better than Laguna Beach. By far my favorite getaway in Southern California, Laguna Beach is a seven-mile stretch of surf and sand with a laidback vibe, beautiful beaches, and a thriving art and culture scene that feels more like a charming European beach town than a city located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Summer is a great time to visit with plenty of festivals and events, but there’s never a bad time to go. Laguna Beach is truly a year-round retreat. Here are my top picks for where to go and what to pack for your beachside getaway.
WHERE TO STAY
The Inn at Laguna Beach
Talk about a room with a view! Situated right off the coast next to the heart of downtown Laguna, The Inn at Laguna Beach is my idea of the ideal hotel situation: It’s close enough to all the action so you can walk everywhere, but it’s also removed enough so you can enjoy your own space. Whether you want to go eat, shop, see a movie, walk to the beach or park, it is truly the best location in town. Do yourself a favor and book abalcony ocean view room. You’ll feel as though you’re out on the sand but even better because you’re in the comfort of your own private patio. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of dolphins swimming… I did!
Laguna Beach House
How’s about going to a beach house for the weekend? If you prefer a boutique experience to a big-box hotel chain, you will love Laguna Beach House. This adorable two-story property has just undergone a $1.5 million renovation and it shows. The 36 rooms are super cute with a beachside cottage-surfer feel, there’s an expanded pool deck and fire pit, and I love the Lather amenities and mini bar stocked with snacks from local brands like Have’a Corn Chips. Self-parking is ridiculously easy and free (!) and the location is hard to beat: You can walk to Heisler Park in about a minute (it’s basically your backyard) and downtown in ten. Oh, did I mention the nightly wine reception and cookies? Yes, please! Room rates start at $197.
WHERE TO EAT
Love is definitely in the air at Driftwood Kitchen. With stunning ocean views and an outdoor dining balcony that hovers above the shore, it’s no wonder this waterfront restaurant is such a hot spot for a romantic night out. When my husband and I were there, I overheard at least four other couples saying they were celebrating their anniversary! It’s also great for groups and families and has a fun bar area. As for the food, let’s just say that everything from the quinoa salad and grilled artichoke to the wild king salmon (yes, I broke vegan for the occasion) and handcrafted specialty cocktails are as incredible as the views.
This cozy spot is a real gem in the middle of downtown Laguna. It was one of the only “nice” restaurants that showed up when I was searching for vegan-friendly options in town. The kitchen turns out clean California cuisine with a focus on organic, seasonal produce and natural meats. I absolutely love that they have separate vegan and gluten-free menus, so no matter what your dietary needs are, everyone can enjoy a meal together. And the food is be-yond. I had no idea a cheese-free stuffed poblano pepper could be so delicious!
WHAT TO DO
Wow! Who needs Hawaii or (insert tropical paradise location here) when you have Heisler Park? This beautiful slice of nature along the bluffs of Laguna Beach is a must-visit. With spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and lined with colorful flowers and trees, this pedestrian and pet-friendly park is perfect for a romantic walk, having a picnic or just lounging around and soaking up the scenery for the day. Definitely check out the gazebo for the ultimate photo spot, walk down to the tide pools below and grab a spot at one of the many quiet beach coves. You’ll never want to leave!
Main Beach Park
Located in the middle of town with its famous white lifeguard tower, Main Beach is the largest and most popular stretch of beach in Laguna. It’s where families go to let their kids run around on the large grassy area, friends grab a bench to watch the waves, and guys play basketball on the two free courts. I recommend going early in the morning or at dusk to enjoy the quieter moments. This is Laguna’s busiest intersection, but it can be amazingly peaceful.
A visit to Laguna Beach wouldn’t be complete without spending some time in the charming downtown area lined with boutique shops, art galleries, restaurants and bars. Even if you’re not planning a shopping spree, it’s always fun to go for a stroll, look around and get a sense of the local neighborhood. And if you want to see even more of Laguna, take the trolley. It has frequent pickups, it’s absolutely adorable and it’s free!
WHAT TO PACK
I love vacation. Is this the greatest sweatshirt of all time or what? Leave it to Chaser to create the coziest pullover perfect for breezy summer nights. This LA-based clothing line is my go-to for casual boho-meets-rocker chic sweatshirts, t-shirts, silk tops, tanks, maxi dresses … the list goes on. The best part is, even when you’re not on vacay, Chaser’s easy threads will make you feel like you are.
Taschen Travel Tote
Nobody wants too much baggage on vacay and the Taschen travel tote ($199.99) is just the ticket for your summer getaway. But what makes this bag different than every other bag is that you’ll be the ONLY one carrying it. That’s because each one is individually handmade in LA by designer Jose Guardado. Although no two are the same, each collapsible caryall has a cotton interior (I love the fun patterns), rubberized feet (it protects your purse’s bottom!), plenty of pockets and a removable shoulder strap. Fabulous!
iS Clinical Sunscreens
I’m always on the hunt for the next great non-chemical sunscreen that’ll protect my skin without making it break out. And I found it! Innovative Skincare’s Extreme Protect SPF 30 is non-greasy plus has antioxidants and micro-fine zinc oxide. For body, try the Eclipse SPF 50+ ($38) which has a silky matte finish that keeps you shielded during prolonged outdoor activities… like reclining by the pool while sipping, snacking and catching up on gossip mags.
Elf Shine Eraser
Hot weather = greasy face. At least that was my complexion equation before I discovered Elf’s Shine Eraser blotting sheets. I’m obsessed!!! They absorb oil without moving makeup and each sheet has green tea extract, which is supposed to minimize pores. The best thing is that they’re only $1 for 50 sheets. Every time I go to Target I stock up on at least a few because I keep thinking they’re going to discontinue selling them. One dolla make you holla!
Jose Eber Dry Texturizing Spray
When it comes to summer hair, less is more. And when I’m on vacay I usually skimp on using any styling tools in favor of a more natural look. This hybrid dry shampoo and texturizer ($24) absorbs oils, sprays on clear and helps create volume. A summer hair lifesaver!
No beach day is complete without music and the UE Boom ($199.99) portable Bluetooth speaker is perfect for packing. It has a 15-hour battery life, 50-foot wireless range and it’s water resistant and even stain resistant. Plus, it comes in your choice of cute colors. Music to my ears!
Want to look taller and thinner in your summer sneakers? Yeah, thought so Lift Kicks are Hollywood’s best-kept secret for adding a little lift and length to those of us who are um, vertically challenged. (I put them in my high-tops since I refuse to wear sneaker wedges.) Apparently, these heel inserts aren’t just for the ladies, either.Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, Bruno Mars and Ryan Seacrest are all fans. Sorry, guys. The secret is out!
Other great places to visit in Laguna Beach:
Surf & Sand Resort – Location, location, location. This place is literally on the beach. You’ll think the waves are in your room.
Pacific Edge Hotel – Great location with a lively night scene and dining deck
The Deck – Hugely popular (and loud) spot for food and drinks right above the sand
Taco Loco – The ultimate taco shack (they even have vegan!) and Laguna’s most famous street food spot
And for the latest and greatest in lifestyle and entertainment, be sure to check out Marpop.com!