Weekend in Laguna Beach

This California town is built for quiet, romantic getaways. Here's where to stay and what to do

Laguna Beach California

For a refreshing fall walk try a sliver of the 7 miles of Laguna Beach coastline about 50 miles south of Los Angeles.

Gina Sabatella

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Yes, I admit this wasn't the first time I'd forgotten an important event. Let's not get hung up on that. What's important is that I quickly and admirably redeemed myself.

Once the florist came to deliver the white dendrobium (I collect orchids) and I read the note ― "Happy Anniversary. Love, J" ― I immediately jumped into action: In less than an hour, I'm driving my wife, Jan, to Laguna Beach, our favorite seaside village.

It is a place blessedly stocked with eateries where a guy can get noteworthy huevos rancheros while his beloved browses chic shops along Ocean and Forest Avenues for bejeweled sandals during winter sales.

Laguna Beach also happens to be where we spent a few days on our honeymoon years ago, so I have that going for me.

Short of hiring a helicopter, there are only two ways to get to this gallery-filled artist colony, either along Orange County's Coast Highway or down eucalyptus-laden Laguna Canyon Road, which curves like a riverbed, flowing down to the sea from the base of steep hills dotted with aerie bright-white homes that look like seagulls perched on precipices.

As we roll into town just before sunset, we feel like we're dropping into a box canyon with the Pacific Ocean as its only outlet, making the village feel cozy and isolated, particularly in the fall and winter months when the crowds thin out.

A chilly breeze brings the faint smell of menthol (the canyon's eucalyptus trees) and something sweet, like saltwater taffy, perhaps from one of the candy stores. Long sheets of purplish orange clouds scatter like flaming blankets across the sky, suffusing the ocean, the sky, even Jan's face with a fireside glow.

"This is such a special treat," she says. "I can't believe you thought of it. By the way, where are we staying?"

Fortunately, I'm prepared for this question. I've been turning it over in my head from the moment we left home. I was thinking we could try to get a room at the hotel where we'd spent three nights on our honeymoon, even though it wasn't that great. But then my spousal guilt kicks in, so I decide to bite the bullet and go all out at Montage Laguna Beach resort and spa: California Craftsman architecture. Plein air art lining lobby walls. Feather-top beds. Soaking tubs for two. Views of Laguna's beaches. Jaw-dropping room rates. That sort of thing.


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