Like any city with a high volume of visitors, Laguna Beach has certain tried and true attractions. Spending a day on Main Beach, hiking through Laguna Canyon, and strolling the length of Heisler Park are classics that shouldn’t be missed. But after a few days taking in the well-known sites, you might crave something a little more hidden – something off the beaten track.
Whether you’re a local or just visiting, these five surprising experiences that will make you fall deeper in love with Laguna Beach:
HANGING WITH GOATS
Photo by OC Register
In a city with dry, hot summers, fire is always going to be a risk and the low scrub brush that grows in Laguna is particularly susceptible to burning out of control. To keep people and property safe, preventative measures have to be taken… but what? The ground is too rocky for machines, and the root structure of the plants is needed to stabilize the hills.
In order to prevent wildfires, the city has turned to goats. Each year, Peruvian goats visit Laguna Beach to eat away the fuel source for any potential fire. They do a fantastic job too, mowing the canyon hills bare one section at a time.
Walk along the fire access roads between Moulton Meadows and Top of the World Parks and you might see the goats hard at work. If you have time, chat with their goatherd, Agotilio Moreno, while marveling at the human capacity for creative problem solving and the goats’ capacity for eating indigestible looking scrub.
BUYING POTIONS BY THE WITCH’S TOWER
Over the past few years, the Laguna Beach Farmers’ Market has grown in popularity and nearly doubled in size. No longer just for fruit and vegetable vendors, you can also find expeller pressed olive oil, homemade popsicles, fresh empanadas, and body care products.
On a Saturday morning, stroll the market sampling the wares of the always-friendly vendors and chatting with locals. If you have kids with you, be sure to point out the witch’s tower, on the hills above the Farmers’ Market lot. Over the years, this tower has featured heavily in the bedtime stories told by local parents – usually, it’s owned by a witch, in some cases she’s also the love of the pirate king living in a tower over on Victoria Beach.
In truth, the tower is just a creative way to hide a metering system for the city’s water department, but sometimes truth should be pushed aside to make way for a far more enjoyable myth.
DINNER BELOW THE DESI AND LUCY TREES
Laguna Beach’s Hollywood history is often forgotten or completely ignored – but in the early days of Hollywood, the city was favored by stars wanting to get out of the limelight and studios seeking rugged locations. Back when the Montage Resort was just a trailer park, it was the set for The Long, Long Trailer with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. During filming in 1953, two small palm trees, leaning romantically toward one another, were planted and named the ‘Lucy and Desi trees.’
These days you can have your own romantic interlude under the tress while dining at Studio at Montage. Chef Craig Strong has developed a widely acclaimed menu that feels at once classic and inventive. As you eat, tell the story of the now towering palms – your date is sure to be impressed.
CONTEMPLATE IMPERMANENCE WITH TIBETAN MONKS
Photo by Scott Sporleder
Since 2011, Laguna Beach has been visited regularly by the Drepung Gomang Monks of India (exiled from Tibet). The monks come to work on a ‘sand mandala’ which they create over the course of six days at the Neighborhood Congressional Church.
With onlookers crowding around, the monks work meticulously to build an intricate design – with a patience that is unheard of in this modern age. The work is so delicate that the monks often wear surgeon’s masks, so that their breathing won’t disrupt the grains of sand.
Once the complicated mandala is completed, the monks lead a procession down to the beach – where the sand painting is poured into the Pacific Ocean. Mark your calendar (the visit is typically around the last week in October) and embrace the fact that everything in this life is temporary.
EXPLORING A WRECKED SHIP JUST OFF SHORE
At Cleo Street, just a few hundred feet offshore, rests the Foss 125. Built in 1942, The Foss was a barge that the Coast Guard used to ferry supplies ashore. In typical Laguna Beach fashion – remember this is a town once full of brigands and rumrunners – the details of the shipwreck are murky. Some say it hit the rock reef during a storm, while others argue that it was part of an insurance scam.
Over the years, divers have scoured for treasures among the Foss’s sunken remains – with a fair degree of success. The real allure of the wreck is the artificial reef that the bones of the ship have created. Halibut, sand bass, and rockfish explore the wreckage, while spiny lobsters make their homes in the wreck’s nooks and crannies.
If you’re diving and plan to enter the wreck, make sure you have experience or are being led by an experienced wreck diver. Otherwise, swimming around the outside of the hull should offer plenty of visual entertainment.