With a spirit of enthusiasm and a boatload full of fresh ideas, Ashley Johnson leads the strategic marketing efforts for Visit Laguna Beach. In 2012, she was selected as one of the “30 emerging leaders under 30” by the California Travel Association, and most recently, Ashley earned the Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) designation, the only integrated executive program specifically designed for the Destination Marketing industry.
Johnson and her team of seven have their sights set on building Laguna into a globally recognizable travel brand, while always remaining true to the city’s eclectic spirit and artistic origins.
The number one reason I love Laguna Beach is that there’s so much to discover here. There are adventures hiding right under our noses that most people go years without finding. The first one that comes to mind is the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, where they rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals with the help of local volunteers. It’s pretty amazing that such a small and intimate center is responsible for all 42 miles of Orange County coastline.
I grew up in Irvine and remember frequenting Laguna a lot as a kid. My family would come to town for beach days (usually at Main Beach), followed by a stroll and some shopping. I also vividly remember the grunion runs and thought that was the coolest thing on earth! Each summer we would visit Sawdust Art Festival (multiple times) and Pageant of the Masters as my folks always tried to instill art appreciation in me for as long as I can remember. I would also look forward to each holiday season when we would hop in the car and drive to Peltzer Pines Christmas Tree Farm (formerly located in Laguna Canyon) to cut down the Christmas tree of our choosing.
I try to find any excuse to take a ‘staycation' in town so I can experience Laguna Beach as a tourist. About a month ago, I was lucky enough to stay at The Inn at Laguna Beach and had one of the best experiences I've had in a long time. Everything from check-in to check-out was impeccable. We had a corner room on the top level facing Main Beach so we could sit on the patio, relax, and take in the coastal views. Sitting atop Main Beach is pretty spectacular, especially during a Southern California sunset. It's funny because we all aspire to travel to all of these exotic places around the world, and ironically, we have this amazing destination right in our backyard.
I constantly find myself bragging about the amazing food scene in our town. We have everything right here! For breakfast, you can usually find me at Starbucks (venti non-fat soy latte, easy foam) or at Juice & Shakes (the #3 and their grapefruit/cayenne pepper/chia seeds concoction are my favorites!) If I didn’t have dinner the night before, I might drop by La Sirena Grill for a green chile breakfast burrito (the addition of bacon is a must). For lunch, I seem to always be on autopilot and typically end up at Zinc Café, with at least one weekly visit to Sushi Laguna. For dinner, I’m currently obsessed with 370 Common. Their pretzels and horseradish mustard are to die for; the broccolini and pork belly are both pretty incredible too. I’m also a big fan of Broadway by Amar Santana—particularly for their bone marrow, foie gras and Brussels sprouts. Both restaurants also have impeccable wine selections and their chefs are so inventive.
For drinks, Tommy Bahama has a great happy hour (not to mention amazing grilled fish tacos). If I’m in South Laguna, I love stopping in for a glass of wine at Mosaic Bar & Grille at Montage to just take a breath, slow my pace, and enjoy the ambiance.
I am absolutely mesmerized by the sunsets here. I love the vibe at The Deck and go there for either a cold Green Flash West Coast IPA or a glass of wine after work, just in time to watch the sun touch the water. The Rooftop Lounge is another favorite of mine, for 360° views of the city. If you want a little more isolation, try taking in the sunset from Crescent Bay or relax in the outdoor amphitheater seating at Heisler Park (just look for the public art piece of a 16-foot-tall breaching whale.) You can also find me doing yoga at sunset in Heisler Park as there's really no better place to unwind from the day and really reflect on how lucky we are.
I also love that Laguna is such a pet-friendly town. I always find an excuse to take my French bulldog, Lola (@LolaTheFrenchPig), downtown, to the dog park, or to one of the beaches. She also likes to accompany me on my impulsive shopping sprees at one of the many boutiques in town.
About eight years ago, I was driving into town via Laguna Canyon Road and saw something strange. I was waiting at the stoplight right in front of Festival of Arts and happened to glance up to my left to see the entire hill moving. I thought my eyes were blurry, before realizing that there were roughly 500 goats standing on the hillside, chomping away on the dead brush. After a wildfire destroyed nearly 400 homes in 1993, the city received funds for the goat program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The number of herds varies from year to year depending on need. A friendly Peruvian, named Agotilio Moreno, lives in a trailer nearby and manages the goats with his dog, Dulce—moving them around the city as needed.
Laguna is truly a tight-knit community. I am in love with the small-town feel, the walkability, and the pride that residents take in their city. There’s also this incredible array of restaurants and hotels that sit literally on the beach, along with some of the best retail options you’ll find anywhere. I look forward to continuing to spearhead local partnerships with the City of Laguna Beach, the Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses in order to keep marketing Visit Laguna Beach as a top travel destination. Because truthfully, I could not imagine a better place to visit (or live) anywhere in the world.
'My Laguna Beach' is a series of interviews in which some of the city's most prominent fans give us a virtual tour and share their Laguna Beach secrets. TWEET or INSTAGRAM your own Laguna faves to us @VisitLaguna with the hashtag #MYLAGUNABEACH.