First Thursdays Art Walk is one of Laguna Beach’s most beloved recurring events. On the first Thursday of each month, galleries throughout town throw open their doors and invite visitors inside to mingle, admire artwork, and enjoy food and wine. 
 
By all accounts, the system is a good one. For artists, it creates an opportunity to interact with their audience face-to-face; for gallerists, it’s a chance to grow their following and launch new work; for the rest of us, Art Walk opens us up to what is being created in the city (and further afield) while drinking free wine. It’s a win-win-win. 
 
If you’re headed to Art Walk this month, you’ll quickly find that with just a few hours slotted to roam, there’s too much to take in all at once—especially if you wander without a plan. Instead, chart your course a little and follow these seven kernels of advice for an even more rewarding experience:

1. KNOW YOUR TASTES. If you want to have a positive Art Walk experience, it helps to look at work that interests you, inspires your imagination, fills you with wonder, or invigorates your intellect. In short: it’s a good idea to see stuff you actually like. Do you go for contemporary realism? Try Sue Greenwood Gallery in North Laguna. Prefer nature photography? Forest & Ocean Gallery’s lineup is photo heavy and represents the estate of Ansel Adams plus other famed nature photographers. Want to see sculptures made of glass? Avran Art + Design, on PCH just south of Park Ave., represents multiple sculptors working in that medium—like the visionary Laszlo Lukacsi. Or perhaps you savor blissing out in front of land and seascapes? Laguna North Gallery shows painters who want to visually capture their environments, including some excellent examples of Laguna Beach’s plein air tradition. Visiting gallery websites (listed by location at FirstThursdaysArtWalk.com) will give you some idea of what you might see. 
 
 
Avran Art and Design_Laguna Beach
--Avran Art and Design 
 
2. BUT ALSO STRETCH YOURSELF. While it’s nice to see work you know you’ll enjoy, it’s also fun to try something you aren’t familiar with. Experiment and let someone’s artwork help you see the world in a new way. If you’re a literalist, the work at Peter Blake Gallery downtown, which demands interpretation, might shock your system. But stick around, ask questions, talk to the gallerist (or maybe even the artist) and start to get a clearer idea of what emotions the work is trying to evoke. If you prefer living artists, give De Ru’s Fine Art a try—where you’ll see work from the lions of California’s early impressionist movement. If the opposite is true, visit Joanne Artman Gallery in North Laguna, representing modern-day luminaries like American Martin; or Salt Fine Art south of downtown, which hosts emerging star Andriy Halashyn. The point is: diversity is as good of a thing in art as it is in all other facets of human life. 
 
 
JoAnne Artman Gallery_Laguna Beach
 --JoAnne Artman Gallery
 
3. FOCUS YOUR ENERGY ON ONE PART OF TOWN. Laguna Beach may not be a huge city, but it’s big enough that trying to cover the whole town in one night might wear you down. With the free trolleys running from 6:00-9:00pm on every First Thursday, you can cover a lot more ground, but still it’s nice to not feel rushed. The best strategy is to pick a few galleries to key in on, start at one of them, and widen your lens by checking out what their neighbors have to show. Another method is to ride the trolley for a full loop and peek in to the windows along PCH. The first thing that catches your eye enough to make you hop off the trolley is a good starting point for your evening. 
 
Laguna Free Trolley_OC Register
 --Photo by Orange County Register
 
4. SLOW DOWN. Art, particularly contemporary art, requires your participation. To walk past a piece of work while juggling a glass of wine, a cheese plate, and a conversation means that you won’t actually see what the artist is attempting to show you. Instead of racing from one gallery to the next, take your time, speculate with your friends about why an artist made a certain set of choices, and give that wine and cheese time to breathe. Your experience will be much more rewarding because of it. Durden, a painter who opens his studio every First Thursday at [seven-degrees] says, “I love it when people stop in to ask me about symbols, references, and jokes hidden in my work. It’s a chance to share my thought process and a way to encourage the viewer to look deeper at a piece that might seem simple at first glance.”
 
Druden_Laguna Beach
--Art by Durden 
 
 
5. DON’T FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO BUY ANYTHING, BUT DON’T RULE IT OUT, EITHER. It would be shame to feel pressured to spend money just to enjoy First Thursdays. Gallerists and artists alike understand that the audience at Art Walk isn’t necessarily the same as their core clientele. The evening is a great chance for them to build relationships, gain exposure, and meet future art buyers. Still, if you feel like buying art, whether as an investment or for your home, there’s no need to stop yourself. The purpose of art to beautify your existence, to deepen or broaden the experience of living, or to express emotions where words fail. If you see something you connect to, it might just be time to take a leap! 
 
6. DON’T COUNT ON FREE CHEESE AND CRACKERS FOR DINNER. The fact that many of the art galleries in town offer free food and wine on First Thursdays is a huge perk. HUGE. If you were trying, you could probably feed yourself completely free of charge…though your diet would be heavy on cheese and light on everything else. Instead, pick one of Laguna Beach’s restaurants to supplement your Art Walk. At Broadway by Amar Santana they exhibit work by Laguna locals like Baldemar Fierro, Andrew Myers, and Eric Gerdau, among others. The food is also artful—as Santana is known for exquisite, colorful plating. 230 Forest Avenue also offers a gallery wall with ever changing exhibits featuring local artists. Dining at Tortilla Republic or Watermarc offers a chance to feel the buzz of the street, with art walk attendees dressed in their finest passing by in a steady stream. 
 
Broadway_Baldemar Fierro
 --Photo by Baldemar Fierro
 
7. WHEN YOU START TO FADE, KNOW WHERE THE CLOSEST GELATO IS. Like anything else, art needs to be digested in moderation. If you need a break and a boost, it’s always nice to know that there’s ice cream nearby (in fact, this is a good policy for all of life). Gelato Paradiso on Peppertree Lane usually has a line out the door on First Thursdays and is close to many of the galleries lining PCH. Dolce Gelato, on Broadway, is another perfect stopping off place; especially for those venturing from the downtown galleries toward Gallery Row in North Laguna and they offer a $5 bottomless cup from 6:00-10:00pm during this event. The unspoken First Thursdays policy is straightforward: when your feet get weary eat ice cream. 
 
 
 
INSIDER'S TIP: Laguna Art Museum offers First Thursday Art Walk patrons free admission from 5:00-9:00pm.
 
 
 
--Cover photo courtesy of Mary Hurlbut