Up­scale So­cal En­clave Well Worth A Visit

Escalon Times - - NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES - By CARY ORDWAY Cal­i­for­ni­aWeek­

The city of Los An­ge­les — with its mod­ern glass and steel and end­less driv­ing through sub­urbs be­fore you even leave what re­ally is one large, flat South­ern Cal­i­for­nia metropo­lis —- some­times can be over­whelm­ing to the visi­tor who just wants to sam­ple the So-Cal sun from the van­tage point of one of the area’s many charm­ing beach­front com­mu­ni­ties.

One of the most charm­ing is Laguna Beach, worth the hour or so it takes to drive from the cen­ter of the metropo­lis and well worth con­sid­er­ing as a base of op­er­a­tions for at least part of your next visit to the South­land.

Lo­cated in Or­ange County, Laguna Beach hugs the dra­matic hill­sides over­look­ing the Pa­cific Ocean and stretches for sev­eral miles down the coast. A lot of peo­ple com­pare South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s cli­mate with the Mediter­ranean and so it’s fair that Laguna Beach might well be com­pared with the French Riviera and some of the spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tions along that sun-drenched coast. If ever there was a place to build a coastal city, Laguna Beach is it – beaches, an ocean that beck­ons the soul, and col­or­ful, varied to­pog­ra­phy that seems to wall off this en­chant­ing com­mu­nity from the rest of Or­ange County.

Over the years, Laguna Beach has been built up to in­clude some of the area’s finest tourist ameni­ties, from world-class restau­rants to lux­u­ri­ous beach­front ho­tels. The city has be­come an artists’ en­clave with dozens of gal­leries lo­cated through­out the down­town area and spe­cial events that at­tract renowned artists from far and wide. Once you ex­pe­ri­ence the in­cred­i­ble vis­tas from just about ev­ery part of town, you start to un­der­stand why artists flock here to let that am­biance help guide their cre­ativ­ity.

Laguna Beach might be con­sid­ered a rich man’s Waikiki – yes, it still has the look and feel of a beach com­mu­nity and its lo­ca­tion means you’re never more than a few foot­steps from the sparkling blue sea that re­flects the sun that is al­most al­ways in full view with the ex­cep­tion of a lit­tle gray dur­ing morn­ing hours in May and June. Its palm trees and steep hill­sides also give it that is­land feel, es­pe­cially ap­par­ent when the area greens up with more-than-usual rain­fall. On any given day, tanned and well-sculpted 20-some­things are play­ing vol­ley­ball on the beach right in the cen­ter of town.

But the com­par­i­son ends there, as visi­tors find most shops and restau­rants to be more up­scale than the av­er­age Waikiki amenity. Ticky-tacky tourist shops are held to an ab­so­lute min­i­mum. In­stead of rental cars or taxis, the nar­row road­ways snaking through Laguna Beach most of­ten are pop­u­lated by BMWs, Mercedes and other ex­pen­sive im­ports or, for those slum­ming it, top-of-the-line, leather­trimmed SUVs made in the U.S.

But lest you get the idea you can’t af­ford Laguna Beach, there are enough ho­tels in town to keep at least some of the prices at a rea­son­able level. Some down­town ho­tels of­fer rates that are even con­ducive to bring­ing the en­tire fam­ily – just don’t plan on com­ing dur­ing the busiest hol­i­day week­ends or dur­ing events like the Fes­ti­val of Arts and Pageant of the Masters each sum­mer. If you do plan to come for those spe­cial events, just be sure to plan way ahead be­cause ho­tel rooms can be in scarce sup­ply.

If you’re vis­it­ing ei­ther Los An­ge­les or San Diego, Laguna Beach is an easy drive and should be high on your list of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia must­sees. From Los An­ge­les, your route will take you through New­port Beach, another up­scale en­clave that’s quite vis­i­tor­friendly and worth stop­ping off. From San Diego, the drive up In­ter­state 5 through Camp Pendle­ton is one of the most scenic in Cal­i­for­nia with panoramic views of the coast­line for the en­tire 20 miles be­tween Ocean­side and San Cle­mente. In fact, San Cle­mente it­self is worth a stop with a fun down­town busi­ness dis­trict and a charm­ing vil­lage down at the San Cle­mente Pier. Fa­mous San Juan Capis­trano is in the area as well.

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