The coast on canvas

Two museums and a resort display the best of Orange County coastal art

Ultimate Orange

Long before television discovered the Orange County coast, its beauty was made known in the oils and watercolors of Southern California's pioneering plein air artists. From roughly 1890 to 1930, painters like Edgar Payne and William Wendt captured the coast's rocky coves and sunlit, splashing surf.

Today these paintings are notable for not only their artistic (and monetary) value but also the way they inspired the preservation of portions of the coast.

A member of the county's pioneering Irvine family, Joan Irvine Smith has used her family's wealth to accumulate perhaps the West's greatest collection of California plein air art, much of it displayed in rotating exhibits at the white marble-and-glass Irvine Museum (closed Sun-Mon; free; 18881 Von Karman Ave., Irvine; 949/476-2565).

Another good place to enjoy the plein air art of the Orange County coast is the Laguna Art Museum ($7; 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach; 949/494-8971). And the new Montage Resort & Spa (see no. 19) has stocked its public spaces with art from more than a dozen California impressionist painters, old and new.