As a native of California and long-time resident of Southern California, it’s safe to say I am fully obsessed with all things beach. A few summers ago I made it my goal to go to the beach every single day. While most days I just went to my local beach in Santa Monica, having this goal in mind pushed me to get out and explore even more of the iconic coastline beyond Los Angeles.
While there’s many beach towns that have great surf, beautiful landscapes and charming main streets, there’s just something about Laguna Beach that sets it apart. For one thing, the ocean’s tones seem more vibrant here with crystal clear waters that bleed into shades of turquoise so rich it feels like it belongs in a Monet painting.
Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego along the Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach is really a misnomer – there are actually an impressive 30 beaches in the city, and it’s the only marine preserve in the entire region. The diversity of beach experiences in such a compact space is unparalleled and visitors will find everything from rugged sea cliffs and coves teaming with wildlife to long sandy stretches perfect for sunbathing and some of the best waves for surfing in the entire state.
I’ve honed in on the best things to do at Laguna Beach thanks to my dozens of weekend trips over the years. Let’s take a look.
1. Start at Main Beach
Main Beach is the center of Laguna’s coastal action – and it makes for a perfect starting point to explore. Take in the volleyball matches, play basketball or spread out your towel and catch some rays on this large sandy beach.
The iconic lifeguard tower here is a popular filming location so be sure to get a selfie before you hit the water for a swim or try out skimboarding. The Laguna Beach historical society also offers tours that delve into the unique history of this beach.
2. Shop ‘Til You Drop
What makes Main Beach such a great destination (apart from its crystal clear waters of course) is its central location close to all the offerings of downtown, including a fantastic selection of local shops.
Stroll the charming quaint streets all the way to Forest Avenue and delight yourself in boutiques that sell everything from Southern California lifestyle apparel and art to healing crystals and surf boards. Grab lunch at one of the cafes, known for local ingredients and fresh cuisine.
3. Stroll Heisler Park
Once you’ve had your fill of Main Beach and downtown Laguna, stretch your legs and go for a stroll in Heisler Park. Situated atop the bluffs that stretch northwards from Main Beach, this ocean view park is home to walking trails and gardens that make for a peaceful afternoon.
There are plenty of barbecues and picnic tables to spread out and enjoy a leisurely meal. Consider grabbing a sandwich at 230 Forest Avenue Restaurant & Bar and bringing it along to enjoy in this scenic park. Look out for sea life below like the lovable sea lions who come out to sunbathe.
4. Take a Surf Lesson
Speaking of surf, Laguna Beach is one of the best places in Southern California to surf, for beginners and professionals alike. Thalia Street Beach is one of the best places for beginners to learn. Take a surf lesson with La Vida Laguna and paddle out with a local instructor for the best chances of standing up and riding to shore.
If you are looking for a mellower outdoor activity on the water, standup paddle boarding is also a great option. A variety of businesses offer rentals of all types of boards.
5. Hit the Water on a Kayak Tour
No matter which mode of transportation you chose, spending time on the water in Laguna Beach is an absolute must. Take a Kayak Tour to explore hidden reefs, charming coves and kelp forests, all while getting in a workout.
Some tours also allow you to go snorkeling to get an under-the-sea view as well.
6. Visit Tide Pools
The 30 beaches in the city of Laguna Beach are renowned for their diversity of coastal landscapes and marine wildlife. In fact, the destination has one of the highest concentration of tide pools in the entire state of California.
Shaw’s Cove, Treasure Island, Thousand Steps Beach, Aliso Beach, Crescent Bay Point Park in South Laguna all have a great selection of tide pools to explore. It goes without saying, but low tide is the best time to get an up-close look at the marine life.
Whether you are into tide pools or not, Victoria Beach is a must thanks to its fairytale charm and epically azure waters. Take a cliff drive from downtown Laguna to this special beach.
Flanked by the famed “Pirate Tower,” a 60-feet tall tower that seems it could be home to Rapunzel. In reality, the tower was built in 1926 to conceal the staircase leading from one of the cliffside homes down to the beach. The gentle waters of Victoria Beach make it a great place for standup paddleboarding while locals love it for skimboarding.
8. Go Whale Watching
The California coast is home to giant blue whales that stretch up to 100 feet in length. The magnificent creatures can be seen on a seasonal basis in the state and Laguna Beach is one of the best places to spot these unique marine mammals.
Take a whale-watching tour to get out on the water and close up to the whales. Note – many of the whale watching tours actually depart from nearby Newport Beach or Dana Point, offering glimpses of Laguna Beach by boat. After your tour, visit the Pacific Marine Mammal Center to learn more about whales and the other unique species such as elephant seals that call the ocean home.
9. Hit the Trails on a Mountain Bike or Hike
The ocean isn’t the only stunning natural attraction found within the confines of Laguna Beach. Laguna Canyon contains hundreds of miles of dirt trails that lead through the hillsides and offer a world of their own perfect for outdoor activities.
Mountain biking is especially recommended on the trails in Aliso Canyon Park that lead up to gorgeous views of the coastal canyons. There’s 40 hiking trails within Laguna Coast Wilderness Park or head to Crystal Cove State Park for some of the best hiking in Orange County.
10. Celebrate California Artists
With more than 100 art galleries in its vicinity and countless public art works, Laguna Beach is renowned as a haven for artists and art lovers. Simply taking a walk around town will lead you past countless murals.
The Sawdust Art and Craft Festival offers year-round showcases of fine art, pottery, ceramics and more where you can meet California artists. Artworks are on display alongside live music most weekends and classes are also offered regularly for those who wish to learn new skills. Held every summer, the Pageant of the Masters recreates iconic works of art in a distinctly Southern California fashion.
To explore even more art, visit the Laguna Art Museum for collections of local artworks just steps from the beach. Laguna Beach art is world-renowned for creativity, colors and reflection of nature found in a variety of mediums.
Things To Do in Laguna Beach
And there you have it – an insider’s guide to the best things to do in Laguna Beach. From water activities like surfing and checking out tide pools to coastal walks along some of Orange County’s best beaches to boutiques and art galore, there’s plenty to do in one of California’s most pristine destinations. Plan your Southern California getaway ASAP and consider staying at an oceanfront hotel like Montage Laguna Beach to sleep steps from the Pacific Ocean.