Laguna Beach in early fall is one of my favorite times of year. The summer crowds have gone home, and California is having its second summer with mild balmy days. Of course being in Southern California, Laguna Beach is a great 1-2 day escape, where you can enjoy beach weather year-round. Here’s how to create the perfect Laguna Beach itinerary for a day or two.
One Day Laguna Beach Itinerary
Morning-Zinc Cafe & Market
Start your day with a leisurely brunch at the Zinc Cafe & Market, which is located downtown. This mostly outdoor cafe specializes in healthy options including avocado toast and matcha lattes. For something a bit heartier, their breakfast burritos, scrambled egg plates, and healthy bowls do not disappoint. Stop by their market next door to pick up a post-meal treat in the form of a brownie or a slice of cake.
For a fancier alternative, try Nick’s Laguna Beach, which offers decadent choices like California omelets, short ribs benedict, and fried chicken and waffles.
After having a healthyish California brunch, walk through the quaint downtown area, with its boutique shops, art galleries and upscale Italian restaurants. Here’s a few places worth stopping by:
- Kush Fine Art – a one-of-a-kind art gallery that features the metaphorical art of Vladimir Kush.
- Laguna Drug – a pharmacy that also sells unique home goods, gifts, and beach gear.
- AREO – another great gift store featuring home decor and memorable gifts.
- Toes on the Nose – a cute surf shop where you can pick up beach gear and apparel.
- Jasmine of Anatolia – a gift shop with beautiful handcrafted Turkish items, including colorful hanging lamps.
Early Afternoon-Main Beach
Head a few blocks over to the beach, which is perfect for people-watching, dipping your toes in the water, and sunbathing. Travel tip: if it’s super crowded when you arrive, try heading over to the left side of the beach (pass the bathrooms), where there tends to be more room to spread out. Once you have got enough of lounging on the beach, head to the walkway along the cliffs at Heisler Park to enjoy aerial views of the beach and the ocean. This is a popular spot to get married, and if you’re lucky you may spot a wedding taking place amid the bluffs.
Late Afternoon-Crystal Cove State Park
Drive up the coast and spend the late afternoon in this scenic state park that is located between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway. Wander through the Historic District where you can see 46 vintage cottages from the 1930s-40s. Get up close and personal with sea life at one of the many tide pools on the beaches (check out this map for the best spots). For something a bit more active, take advantage of one of the many hiking trails in the area. Stop by the Ranger Station at the trailhead to get directions/trail conditions.
A beach alternative is the Thousand Steps Beach, where you will get in your daily steps (though there’s more like 200 steps instead of 1000). Because of its limited access, this beach provides a quiet retreat away from the beach crowds that frequent Main Beach.
Head back to town, and grab dinner at this former private home-turned restaurant, where the only thing that rivals the food is the views. Make sure to reserve a spot out on the deck, for a front row seat to the sunset. The dinner menu features fresh seafood, like grilled Spanish octopus, steamed Carlsbad mussels, and lobster spaghetti carbonara. For those who are craving meat, there’s some solid steak options.
For dessert, walk over to this local favorite, which is hidden in an alleyway right off the main sidewalk along the Pacific Highway. Don’t be deterred by the long line, this gelato is worth the wait. Get one of their homemade waffle cones, that you can smell all the way from the street. For those who are dairy-free, plentiful sorbetto options are available.
Laguna Beach Sights For An Additional Day
If you are planning on staying another day, here are some additional sights to see from art galleries to white sand beaches:
- Pageant of the Masters – a popular visual arts performance every summer where famous life-sized paintings are reenacted with live people. Runs from early July through the end of August.
- Sawdust Art Festival – a casual art festival featuring over 200+ artists, as well as live entertainment and art activities. During the wintertime, there’s a Sawdust Art Festival Winter Fantasy on the weekends from mid-November to mid-December.
- Laguna Art Museum – view an impressive collection of art solely from California artists ranging from the 19th century to present day. Admission is $7 for adults/$5 for students (18+). First Thursdays of the month from 5-9pm are free.
- Pacific Marine Mammal Center – learn about rehabilitating local sea mammals, including adorable harbor seals. Visit the current patients by taking a tour of the facilities given by a volunteer. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Open 10am-4pm every day, except major winter holidays.
- Aliso Beach Park – a popular skim-boarding spot and one of the only beaches with first-come fire pits. There is cheap parking, and is less crowded than the city’s main beach.
- Victoria Beach – one of the most photographed beaches, this white sand beach has the iconic Pirate Tower and a man made pool, as well as views of million-dollar mansions in the background. Parking is difficult, and your best bet is along the PCH, including metered parking near the Montage Resort.
Related post: The Best Beaches In Orange County
When is the best time to visit Laguna Beach?
The most popular time to visit is during the summer, but to be honest as I mentioned before the best season is early fall. Visiting during September-October means avoiding crowded beaches and long lines at restaurants. Although if you are planning a trip specifically around Festival of the Arts (including the Pageant of the Masters) then it’s worth braving the summer crowds.
Parking is not cheap in downtown Laguna (learned that the hard way), and it’s better to avoid the overpriced parking lots altogether. Instead, park up in the hilly residential neighborhoods right above downtown for free and then use the Jahraus Park staircase to make your way into downtown.
Another parking alternative is to park in one of the lots on the outskirts of town, and then take the free trolley into downtown Download the Visit Laguna Beach app with the Trolley Tracker here.
Where To Stay In Laguna Beach
If you want to extend your day trip into a weekend getaway, you can definitely splurge on stunning beach-side resorts, but if you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, these two are great options:
A central and affordable option that is located steps from the beach and includes a complementary breakfast.
A short walk away from the beach and the center of town, complementary coffee to start the day.
What is your perfect Laguna Beach itinerary?
Photo source: Crystal Cove State Park