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City Guide : Laguna Beach

City Guide : Laguna Beach


Laguna Beach is the city that has spawned major TV shows and been the set for dozens of movies. As a result, it is often what outsiders think of as quintessential Southern California. And honestly, that’s not entirely inaccurate: the beaches are beautiful (as are most of the people), there are plenty of eclectic and unique stores and dozens of restaurants to choose from serving anything from pizza to fine dining. There’s a lot of options to keep you coming back to Laguna Beach time and time again; it also makes for a really nice getaway weekend. Here’s the one guide that you will need to plan that date night or weekend and to tease through it all to find the true gems of Laguna Beach.

Where to Eat & Drink

The Loft at the Montage

The Montage is well known for its sweeping vistas and expansive property but not to be overlooked are the restaurants they have onsite. With a beautiful setting overlooking the ocean, The Loft is a fantastic place to have a seat and take in the view. However, it’s what comes out of the kitchen that makes The Loft a must for fine dining in Laguna Beach. Chef Michael Campbell came on board just under a year ago and brings his own new style to the menu. He came to The Loft with over 20 years experience in the culinary arts from traditional mid-Atlantic fare in Virginia to a fish house in Barcelona. How best to understand his style now that he’s in Southern California? “Just try the food,” he says, “although there are certain flavor profiles that I tend to work with, there’s nothing that’s off-limits.” Which means there’s always going to be something unexpected and new at The Loft.

The menu changes frequently because as Campbell says, “I get tired of making the same thing. I like the Montage because there is a lot going on and there is always something new to create.” And create he has with a menu full of interesting options:  there’s a roasted beet salad served with a whipped ricotta, garlic, and then a surprisingly delicious savory granola or the chef’s favorite, a duck served with a candied quince & potato gratin. Guest favorites here include the coffee-crusted New York strip steak but my personal favorite is the crispy Brussel sprouts with green peppercorns and garlic. Even the most die-hard carnivore won’t be able to stop themselves from reaching for them all. Green peppercorns are the same berries that are processed to make black pepper but in their raw state, they make the Brussels sprouts irresistible. Once the main meal is over, there’s no reason to stop eating because, with their own in-house pastry chef, dessert is equally amazing.

Mini-Interview with Chef Michael Campbell at The Loft

Q: What’s the one kitchen tool you couldn’t live without?

MC: I’m kind of a knife junkie. I have my old faithful, the one knife in particular that I couldn’t do without.

Q: What are some popular items on the menu?

MC: The coffee crusted steak which has been on the menu for years. People also really seem to enjoy the scallops that I pair with French lentils. I like a really hard sear on one side of the scallops and then served with the lentils for a nice, warm dish.

Q: What do you see as the next food trend?

MC: It depends on the area. When I came down to Southern California and started using sunchokes, which are one of my favorite vegetables, people were like, “what is a sunchoke?” I love them. In a lot of my soups, I’ll use a sunchoke or cauliflower as the base of the soup to get it creamy without making it heavy.

Q: What’s the last thing you cooked for yourself at home?

MC: I smoked a lamb shoulder the other day. I was craving gyros and so I made tzatziki with some warm pita and cucumber salad.

Q: Where do you like to go to eat out?

MC: I like everything. I love Greek food. I just really crave the stuff sometimes. I like going out to fine dining also but then I love just going out for ban mi too. Really anything.

The Loft
30801 Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.montagehotels.com

The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen

Head off of PCH down a seemingly private road called Sleepy Hollow Lane towards the water to pull up along two a couple of multi-story beach houses. Until a just a few years ago, these beach houses were just that but now they’ve been remodeled and transformed into a fantastic outside deck bar and restaurant. One of these three story houses still shares its top floor with a private vacation rental but the rest of the house has been repurposed.

The bottom floor is an open air deck with a full bar and food menu appropriately called The Deck. Then up a flight of stairs and into the adjacent home is Driftwood Kitchen, an upscale restaurant. The effect is more like you are visiting your friend’s awesome beach house where they just happen to be cooking up some fantastic food. The private setting seems so far removed from PCH and the rest of the busyness of Laguna Beach. 

The menu at Driftwood Kitchen is American Coastal with influences of French cuisine brought in by head Chef Rainer Schwarz. Even though what’s on the menu changes seasonally, always included are some guest favorites like the lobster carbonara (with pecorino cheese and tarragon) as well as the housemade gnocchi. Personal favorites are the grilled Spanish octopus which is served on a bed of chickpea puree and drizzled with a tomato-caper vinaigrette and lemon agrumato. Agrumato isn’t something you see all the time. It refers to an olive oil which is infused with oils directly from the fruit in order to create a flavored olive oil. Using the oil directly from the citrus creates a robust and bright flavor that is unlike the lemon flavored oil you may buy in the grocery store which is typically produced with natural additives or chemical extracts.

Also, not to miss is the housemade potato ricotta agnolotti with fresh mint and a tomato-saffron sauce. And of course, there is always room for dessert. You can make a whole night of it here at these beach houses on Sleepy Hollow Lane - drinks and appetizers at The Deck, dinner at Driftwood Kitchen, and then head up another flight of stairs to the Stateroom bar for after-dinner drinks. It’s all connected together as part of two neighboring buildings and it’s like you’re moving from one room to another in someone’s home, which in this case, is actually true.

The overall effect is a calm, cheerful atmosphere that makes it a fun place to hang out with friends. Their attention to service will make you feel like a houseguest, not a restaurant customer. And with a staff is welcoming and clearly having fun, the creative passion the chefs have for their cooking comes through to deliver a delicious meal and experience.  

Mini-Interview with Sous Chef Rodrigo at The Deck

Q: How often to you change the menu here at The Deck?

Chef: We try to change it three to four times a year and we try to go with the seasons. We won’t pick something that’s not in season and still try to make it work. We always think about the seasons.

Q: How often do you buy food for the restaurant?

Chef: We order food every day, vegetables, fish. We try not to keep anything on our shelf more than a day. Our bread comes in daily and we’ll call and adjust as needed to make sure everything is as fresh as can be.

Q: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?

Chef: I really the gnocchi. The chefs make the gnocchis by hand because you have to be precise. We also have a beet salad with fuyu persimmons that I really like.

Q: What do you think the next big food trend will be?

Chef: Something popular that’s been showing up more and more on menus I’ve noticed is the fungi from corn. It’s called huitlacoche. It’s a mushroom that grows on corn and it’s starting to make its way north on menus. It’s sautéed and used often with squash blossoms.

Q: What do you like to cook at home?

Chef: I like to barbecue. I don’t get to do it too often but when I do I’ll try and cook everything on the barbecue even things like cabbage.

The Deck
627 Sleepy Hollow Ln,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.deckonlaguna.com

Driftwood Kitchen
619 Sleepy Hollow Ln,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.driftwoodkitchen.com
 

The Rooftop and K’ya Bistro

The Rooftop is THE place in Laguna Beach to watch the sunset. A casual spot for after work drinks or after a day at the beach, it’s high above overlooking the ocean with a spectacular view. Mojitos are the thing to order here and there’s a variety to choose from: strawberry, mango, or even champagne. Sit back, relax and enjoy the view with a cool drink. The happy hour is to die for offering a variety of tapas and small plates. This is a great place to come with a group, order a bunch of different items and sample them all.

There are American style tapas like avocado toast with truffle pecorino and sweet roasted tomatoes or small plates to share such as hibachi salmon with portobello mushrooms and a red Thai curry sauce (both highly recommended). Local favorites include the filet mignon but if you are in the mood for some comfort food try the fried chicken or lobster mac ‘n cheese. Chef Craig Connole works to create a menu of simple dishes that deliver; believing that you don’t need to make something crazy complicated in order for it to be delicious.

Working out of a small kitchen (the building dates back to 1929), it can be a challenge to turn out breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. And when the menu needs a change, the creative juices start flowing and what can start as a list of 50 or more dishes is gradually whittled down to 10 or so new items that can be made in their limited space. This means that there isn’t any high-tech kitchen equipment or gadgets (there just isn’t the room) so all the food that is served is handcrafted and prepared. And fresh.

 

Ordering has to take place every day as there is minimal space for storage. So what some may see a hinderance actually helps to drive fresh, innovative, simple dishes night after night. This is a place where there is something on the menu for everyone and at every price; a good place to hang out, chat with friends over a bottle of wine, and try a whole bunch of different food.

K'ya Bistro Bar
1287 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.kyabistro.com

The Rooftop Lounge
1289 S Coast Hwy,
4th Floor
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.lacasadelcamino.com

Gelato Paradiso

When it’s warm outside and you need something to cool you down or you are just wandering around downtown Laguna Beach, make at a stop this gelateria. Unlike many gelato shops that buy their gelato from a national distributor, at Gelato Paradiso, they make their gelato on site every morning. And the gelatoias (gelato maker), are folks who have been trained by master Sicilian gelatoias so when they say that it’s authentic Italian, they know what they’re talking about. There is an ever-changing array of flavors to choose from so there’s something for everyone. In addition to flavors added for the American palate such as cookies and cream, be sure to try the flavors more commonly found in Italy: mandola (almond), amarena ciliegia (black cherry), and panna cotta for a true Italian gelato experience. Or even better, order an affrogato, a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of gelato like an espresso float. As the sweet gelato melts into the bitter espresso, the resulting liquid is delectably drinkable. 

Gelato Paradiso
448 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.gelatoparadiso.net

Urth Caffé

This coffee and tea shop was born out a meeting the owners had with a Peruvian coffee grower. After learning how many chemicals are used in the production of coffee as we drink it today, the number of rare heirloom coffee varietals that are underutilized, Jilla and Shallom Berman decided to start a café that served organic, heirloom coffee. There are lots of places you can get organic coffee in SoCal, but heirloom coffee is uncommon indeed and definitely worth a try. Some swear that Urth Caffé makes the best lattés on the planet. Coffee aside, Urth Caffé is open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch with gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly options available. Highlights include their famous pecan sticky buns that after just one bite can easily turn into an addiction. For a heartier breakfast, order the Poach di Parma: ancient grain ciabatta, garlic truffle aioli, sautéed mushrooms, and prosciutto topped with poached eggs, wild arugula, and sage butter.  If you miss the breakfast crowd, they do serve some brunch items all day and have a lunch menu full of pizzas and paninis.

Standouts on the lunch menu include the D’Lox Pizza with smoked salmon, herbed mascarpone, red onions, arugula, fennel, and capers. Or for a different take on the ordinary veggie pizza, check out the Melanzane Pizza topped with roasted eggplant, parmigiana Reggiano, fresh basil, Castel Verano olives, and fresh mozzarella. Whether you come for a cup of coffee and a bun or a full meal, you can’t go wrong at Urth Caffé.

 

 

Urth Caffè
308 N Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.urthcaffe.com
 

Where to Shop

Rock Etiquette

The vibe here is chic yet sexy. Founded by an LA fashion industry veteran and a DJ from Latvia, this unusual partnership has created a store where edgy and beautiful meet.      

370 Ocean Ave,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.rocketiquette.com

The SOUL Project

This store was founded on the concept of “socially conscious capitalism.” In a world of fast fashion where clothes are meant to be cheap and disposable, The SOUL Project focuses on carrying items that make a positive contribution to the world and the families who make the clothes. Retail with a purpose, you can feel like you did some good by stopping in here.

1516 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.soulproject.com

The Shop

This is Laguna Beach, a beach town, so no shopping trip would be complete without checking out the fashion of the local beach girl. Beach fashion isn’t just for the summer, after all, since in Laguna Beach it’s summer year round.

1020 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.theshoplaguna.com

What to Do

Ritual Yoga

There are yoga studios on seemingly every corner in SoCal so it can be difficult to sort out the good from the bad. Ritual Yoga is on the right path. They lead mostly “hot yoga” classes here but differentiate themselves by their experienced instructors and by the way in which they heat the room. Most hot yoga studios use regular air heaters to introduce hot air into the room.

At Ritual Yoga, they use infrared heat which has several benefits including not circulating air which may be uncomfortable for people with allergies to dust or pollen. Also, it eliminates the noise of fans blowing and the heat is constant. There are also lighter yoga classes here including some done by candlelight so both beginner and advanced yogis can a class that meets you wherever you are in your practice.

1390 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.ritual-yoga.com

La Vida Laguna

If you want to head out on the water, head to La Vida Laguna for kayak tours, surf lessons, and paddleboard rental. And for an extra challenge, try SUP yoga or attend a fire dancing workshop.

1257 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.lavidalaguna.com

 

 

Laguna Sea Sports

If you want to go under the water, Laguna Beach has some of the best diving in Southern California. This is due to the kelp forests and reefs in the area that keep the waters crisp and clear. Additionally, there are some great beach dives so you don’t have to worry about paying for a boat dive. The place to start your diving adventure is at Laguna Sea Sports. Shaw’s Cove is an easy dive spot literally behind the dive shop making it not only convenient but great place to learn to dive.

 

 

925 N Pacific Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.beachcitiesscuba.com

Where to Stay

La Casa del Camino

This Spanish-style boutique hotel on the ocean built in 1929 is the place to stay if you want to be in the heart of Laguna Beach. Walking distance to countless shops and restaurants, the location for experiencing everything this beach enclave has to offer can’t be beaten. This historic hotel offers a variety of themed rooms.

The Spanish-style rooms are warm and welcoming and have hand carved wooden furniture reminiscent of the hotel’s opening days. However, if you dream of surfing, check out their super cool Casa Surf rooms that have hand painted or singed surfboards on the wall, plenty of underwater photos, and a definite surfer’s vibe.

You won’t go hungry at La Casa del Camino either with K’ya Bistro on the first floor and The Rooftop bar upstairs. There’s even a small bar in the lobby with live music in the evenings. Charming, quaint, and classic, La Casa del Camino is a piece of history right in the middle of Laguna Beach.

1289 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.lacasadelcamino.com

The Surf and Sand Resort

Located along the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway sits the stunning Beachfront Hotel. The Surf and Sand Resort offers a luxury coastal esthetic with luxurious artwork, custom textiles, modern lighting fixtures, private furnished balconies and more. Whether you are looking to have a local staycation or transport yourself to a California haven, this hotel has everything you need. Their beachfront pool allows you to swim and tan while sipping cocktails, grab breakfast, lunch or dinner at Splashes Restaurant with the famous Executive Chef Ron Fougeray. The Aquaterra Spa provides you with customized massages, skincare treatments, seasonal body treatments and more. This hotel is one place you must stop at during your Laguna Beach vacation.

1555 S Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.surfandsandresort.com

The Montage Laguna Beach

If you are going to splurge, this is the place to do it. With amazing views from every room coupled with fantastic dining and amenities, you can pull in here, park your car, and never leave. This grand Craftsman-style hotel sits on 30 acres of land on a coastal bluff with charming walking paths through beautifully landscaped grounds leading to the beach below.

And there is no such thing as a bad room at the Montage: each of the 250 guest rooms come with an ocean view. Rooms and the view aside, just entering the hotel you are welcomed into an elegant lobby leading to a stunning overlook. If you want a place to relax and unwind, there is a 20,000 square foot spa on site. Or you can sit by the pool. Or enjoy a drink and watch the sunset. However you spend your time, the Montage is the place to escape to and leave the world behind.

30801 Coast Hwy,
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
www.montagehotels.com
 

Written By: Susan Krupa

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