Laguna Beach: An Insider’s Guide

laguna beach insider's guide

The most famous beach in Southern California, Laguna Beach is home to great surfing, extraordinary shopping, and near-perfect weather year-round. The ideal day trip to Laguna consists of meandering down Pacific Coast Highway with the top down (or at least the windows), grabbing a bite or two to eat, hopping in and out of art galleries, and checking out the tide pools.

I’ve taken a stab at the near impossible task of narrowing down the endless list of highlights that Laguna Beach has to offer to a list of must-sees: the 3 best beach spots, the 3 best restaurants, and the 3 best places to shop.

With this guide you’ll be sure to get an enticing foretaste of Laguna; just enough to get you hooked. Careful, you might not be able to leave. This place is magical.

3 Best Beaches in Laguna Beach

1| Emerald Bay

This is my family’s go-to spot for picnics and body surfing. It has a nice long stretch of beach and is rarely as crowded as downtown Laguna Beach by the boardwalk. It’s a great spot to surf, boogie board, and make sand castles with the kids.

laguna beach - insiders guide - emerald bay


2| Crescent Bay

Crescent Bay is one of the hardest beaches to find in Laguna Beach, making it the most treasured by locals.

laguna beach - insiders guide - crescent bay beach

This is also where you can see tide pools teeming with wildlife. You won’t be able to resist traversing barefoot across the rocks and brushing your fingers over the sea anemones. Keep in mind if the tide is too high, you won’t be able to access them. Keep an eye on the tide patterns and go when the tide is low.

laguna beach - insiders guide - crescent bay beach sea urchins


3| Thousand Steps Beach

This hot spot is a little further away, past Emerald Bay and Crescent Bay in South Laguna. The trek down 230 steps to this beautiful spot is well worth it, even though it may feel like 1000 steps when you’re coming back up!

laguna beach - insiders guide - thousand steps beach

Thousand Steps Beach is simply gorgeous. Just watching the crashing of the waves against the rocks in breathtaking.

laguna beach - insiders guide - 1000 steps beach


3 Best Restaurants in Laguna Beach

The food in Laguna is fantastic! It was exceedingly more difficult to narrow the restaurants down than it was the beaches. These restaurants are the ones I take my out-of-town friends to because they cannot be missed!

1| Madison Square & Garden Cafe

Charming and eclectic, Madison Square & Garden Cafe is a delightful brunch spot. From the shop full of garden and home decor to the uniquely decorated outdoor seating, an afternoon spent here is nothing but pleasant.

laguna beach - insiders guide - madison square

The eggs benedict is really good here, especially paired with a delicious cappuccino. Also, order a small bottle of champange and their fresh-squeezed orange juice to make your own mimosas.

laguna beach - insiders guide - mimosas


2| Driftwood Kitchen

I was taken here for my birthday last year and fell in love with the view of the ocean from this restaurant. The butcher steak and pork belly dish as well as the lobster spaghetti carbonara (see below) are my top two picks. Be sure to make reservations because this place is very popular, especially around sunset.

laguna beach - insiders guide - driftwood kitchen


3| Watermarc

This sweet spot is right by downtown Laguna Beach near the boardwalk. After you’ve spent a few hours sunbathing and swimming, you’ll definitely work up an appetite for Watermarc. It is no exaggeration to say that everything on the menu is tasty. The bacon wrapped dates, homemade ricotta cheese appetizer and the lambchops are sure to wow you.

laguna beach - insiders guide - watermarc


Oh and we can’t leave out dessert! An ever-growing line of people waiting to eat an unforgettable scoop of heaven from Dolce Gelato is proof enough that this place rocks. And it’s just across from Watermarc.


3 Best Places to Shop in Laguna Beach

1| Crystal Cove Shopping Center

There’s a great mix of standard retail stores like Banana Republic and Pier 1 Imports with boutique shops for both men and women, like At Ease for Men and Coastal Cool. If you work up an appetite when shopping, Bear Flag Fish Company or Babettes are both delicious.

laguna beach - insiders guide - crystal cove shopping


2| AREO Home Decor

I included this shop because it is such a fun place to pass the time. Out of all the home decor shops in Laguna Beach, this one has the best selection of decorative pieces, candles, soaps, and Laguna trinkets.

laguna beach - insiders guide - AREO home decor


3| Sawdust Festival

If you want to snag a handcrafted souvenir from Laguna Beach like a piece of art or handmade jewelry, check out the Sawdust Festival in the summertime.


Also in the summers, the Pageant of the Masters is a spectacularly unique art show where famous works of art are brought to life on the stage!

At its core, Laguna Beach is an art town. The city was first inhabited by artists, filmmakers, and writers in the 1920s. There’s no shortage of awesome art galleries for you to peruse through along Pacific Coast Highway.

laguna beach - insiders guide - art walk

On the first Thursday of every month, there is an art walk where you can grab a glass of wine and make your way in and out of the myriad of galleries. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to see one of the gallery’s featured artists painting right in front of you.

It’s time to come explore!

Now that we’ve whet your appetite for Laguna Beach, how can you help but carve out a day to soak in the California sunshine in this beautiful beach town? As an Orange County native, I come here all the time. It feels like a getaway even though it’s minutes from my home.

Laguna beach - insiders guide - crystal cove beach
A typical summer day at Crystal Cove Beach


Laguna Beach Insider's Guide

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Photos 8-11, 18 belong to author

Author: Carlin

Carlin is an Orange County native. When she's not traveling, she loves to hang out at the beach, hike and explore new places to eat.