Whiling away a lazy afternoon or sniffing out new adventure makes for wonderful activity options in Southern California. But sometimes we yearn for the tried and true: the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of home. Out-of-towners may be passing through or we may want to share a few favorites with new friends or family. Either way, the itinerary that follows is a day-trip equivalent to comfort food. No matter how often we visit these iconic fun spots, eateries and natural marvels, we seem to walk away with a renewed appreciation for, and inspiration from, our beloved swath of SoCal coast.
The stretch of coastline from Corona del Mar to Laguna Beach reveals its beauty in steep hillsides dotted with houses both quaint and modern. Cliffs overhang sandy beaches that dissolve into the Pacific’s foamy edge. Spend a blissful and invigorating day on land and sea, never more than a stone’s throw from the water’s edge.
9:00 – 10:00 a.m.
Begin the day at Fisherman’s Cove in north Laguna Beach and snag a metered parking spot on Cliff Dr. between Beverly and Myrtle streets. Secure it for the full four hours. Head south toward downtown and enjoy a stroll through beachside Heisler Park with its lush landscaping, stately palms and the manicured greens of the 85-year-old Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club. Laguna’s whimsical public art installations include the 16-foot “Breaching Whale” near the amphitheater. If there isn’t a wedding going on, tuck into the gazebo to admire the iconic view that has inspired so many local artists.
10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Be back at Fisherman’s Cove to meet your guide from La Vida Laguna at the top of the stairs and embark on a 1½-hour ocean kayak eco-tour. Worried about waves? Fear not; you’ll paddle out through calm waters. No experience is needed, but swimsuits and sunscreen are must-haves. As your kayak slices gently through the water just off the beach, you’re likely to spot dolphins, kelp beds, garibaldi and maybe a pod of whales. Don’t miss Seal Rock, whose inhabitants aren’t seals at all but rather a vocal and adorable pack of sea lions.
Noon – 1:30 p.m.
After you shake off your sea legs and regain your car, head north for an ocean-view lunch at Crystal Cove State Park. Parking is available just off Coast Highway at Los Trancos, where $15 buys a parking space and a short walk or shuttle to the beach. The full-service Beachcomber tops the dining options with its coastal-inspired salads, sandwiches, fish tacos and daily specials. If lighter fare and a laid-back vibe fits the bill, pull into Ruby’s Shake Shack, located on the ocean side of Coast Highway, where the biggest issue will be which creamy shake to order with your burger and fries.
1:30 – 5:00 p.m.
Allow plenty of time to explore Crystal Cove’s Historic District and tide pools rich with sea life. The Visitor’s Center offers a wealth of information about the history of the area along with pictorial handouts describing the native species that abound. Take a breather on the warm sand or refresh with a dip in the ocean or a walk along the path above. Whiffs of sagebrush and the sea silently revitalize as you keep an eye out for indigenous birds. For organized events, check the schedule online for Crystal Cove’s docent-led walks and plein air art classes.
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
As the shadows lengthen, hop back in the car and continue north to Corona del Mar for apps or an early dinner. Local haunts for cocktails and starters include the one-of-a-kind SideDoor, Quiet Woman and The Crow Bar and Kitchen. Before it’s too late, give yourself five minutes from SideDoor and 15 from the other locations to walk down to Inspiration Point, at Ocean Blvd. and Narcissus Ave., where you’ll wrap up a perfect day with an awe-inspiring view of the California sunset.
Parks and Activities
Fisherman’s Cove: Fisherman’s Cove Beach is a small south-facing beach tucked away in Laguna Beach. Find parking along Cliff Dr. near the beach entrance. californiabeaches.com/beach/fishermans-cove-beach
Heisler Park: Along the bluffs on Cliff Dr. from Aster St. to Diver’s Cove, this ocean-front park has walking trails, gardens, a marine refuge with tide pools, picnic tables, barbecues and lawn bowling greens. visitlagunabeach.com/listings/Heisler-Park/1563
La Vida Laguna: Exclusive Sea Lion Kayak and SUP tours, along with surf lessons on our fabled breaks, and bike tours through Laguna Beach’s scenic seaside village. lavidalaguna.com
Crystal Cove State Park: One of the most beautiful beaches on the coast, located off Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach with over three miles of pristine beach to stroll and 2,400 undeveloped acres for hiking, biking and equestrian use. crystalcovestatepark.org
Docent-led walks and plein air art classes: For reservations visit crystalcovealliance.org/education/public-programs
Corona del Mar: A seaside neighborhood in Newport Beach with restaurants, trendy shops, antique stores and art galleries. Swim, surf or dive at Corona del Mar State Beach.Restaurants
The Beachcomber: A ’50s-inspired beachside eatery serving California cuisine with spectacular oceanside views. Los Trancos parking is free with vaildation. thebeachcombercafe.com
Ruby’s Shake Shack: An oceanside ’40s-style kiosk with outdoor seating serves breakfast and American comfort fare, salads and shakes. rubys.com/locations/newportcoast
SideDoor: An English-style gastropub in Corona del Mar. sidedoorcdm.com
Quiet Woman: A favorite spot for generations of locals serving sophisticated comfort food. quietwoman.com
The Crow Bar and Kitchen: A neighborhood gastropub featuring an extensive beer selection and gourmet pub grub. thecrowbarcdm.com