Chill beach town + hundreds of miles of trails = a great weekend.
Hidden within the suburban enclaves of Orange County is Laguna Beach, the center of the California Riviera and both a bohemian *and* an outdoor enthusiasts paradise that is ideally placed between the pristine San Joaquin Hills (and canyons) and the Pacific Ocean.
While most think of Laguna as a laid-back surfing town (partially true) best known for being the place where skimboarding was invented (fact), locals know it is also the center of the free riding movement in mountain biking (Google "The Laguna Rads") and is home to hundreds of miles of gorgeous hiking, running, and yes, mountain biking trails. Not to mention the ~12 square miles of protected marine reserve making for excellent snorkeling, diving, paddle boarding, and sea kayaking.
Here's one way to get your Laguna Beach fix:
First, check into your room at The Ranch, a gem of a newly-renovated hotel, restaurant, and the only golf course in Laguna Beach hidden in Aliso Canyon where Alison Creek runs into the sea. At sunset the place feels more like Hawaii than California.
Walk over to the Harvest Restaurant and grab one of Chef Camron's remarkable smoked bourbon bacon cinnamon rolls to fuel up for the morning's adventures.
From there, pick up mountain bikes from the Laguna Beach Cyclery and head up to "Top of the World" to ride down the (in)famous Car Wreck Trail. There are numerous loops through Aliso Canyon and back up to Top of the World or over into the Laguna Coast Wilderness. Check the OC County Parks website for maps.
After your ride, head back to the hotel for a shower, grab some good sandals and beach gear, and head to the Sapphire Restaurant & Pantry for lunch. Out front be sure to checkout the statue of Eiler Larson, the "Laguna Beach Greeter" who greeted visitors to Laguna Beach for some 35 years. You may just meet the current greeter, Michael Minutoli.
From there head over to Thousand Steps Beach to explore Laguna's famous beach caves. You'll want to park on 9th ave and cross over the PCH to head down the steps. Be sure to check the tide tables, as some of the caves are inaccessible and dangerous at high tide. The beach is gorgeous and you can also surf, bodysurf, and swim in the man-made tide pools.
For dinner, the underground Brussels Bistro has an extensive selection of Belgian food *and* (perhaps most importantly), Belgian beer from Tripels to Flemish Reds to Lambics.
No visit to Laguna Beach is complete without a stop at the The Orange Inn, a local surfer's joint which a penchant for proteins and starches which is just what you'll need for a morning on the ocean. You can go light with one of their smoothies, which is something else their known for: the owner, John Bordrero, invented them over 40 years ago.
After breakfast, give your legs a break and instead opt for an upper body workout. Book a couple sea kayaks and a tour from Doug at La Vida Laguna to explore the Laguna Beach State Marine Preserve. Doug's a long-time Laguna Beach resident and can give you the history of much of the 12 square miles of marine reserve that make up the majority of the Laguna Coast and the flora and fauna commonly found in the area. From May through October you may get to see Blue Whales on their long migration to Alaska. From December to April Gray Whales are more common.
For lunch, walk over to the historic La Casa del Camino hotel and head upstairs to their rooftop bar and restaurant, which provides epic views up and down the coast and over the popular beach break at Cheney's Point. It's famous for its mojitos and selection of tequilas, and at night turns into lively club scene.
From there, head across the street to The Vintage Poster to checkout their selection of original film, theater, and music posters, some going all the way back to 1870. Head up the PCH from there to Sound Spectrum, Laguna's only vinyl record store that's been around since 1967.
Head south down the Pacific Coast Highway and hang a right on Victoria Drive and down the narrow steps to La Tour aka "Pirates Tower". To get to the tower, once you reach the beach at the bottom of the stairs, scramble up the slipper rocks to the right. The Tower was originally used for people to gain access to the beach via the stairs inside, but has since been sealed. There are pools to explore and swim in if the tide is right, or head back to Victoria Beach for a nap in the sun.
For dinner head to the stunning, multi-storied Mozambique restaurant. Have a chat with the parrots out front and then choose from one of their three bars including a rooftop lounge. The durban curry is fantastic and on weekends there's live music.
For a nightcap, head across the street to The Sandpiper Lounge, or as the locals call it, "The Dirty Bird". It's a Laguna Beach institution and has live music almost every night. It's been owned by the same family, the Harrells, for nearly 60 years. You can find the current owner Chuck there almost every day. Tell him I sent you.
Surrounding most of the town of Laguna Beach is the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, home to some 40 miles of trails and 7,000 acres of coast wilderness preserve. Get up early, lace up your running shoes, and do a loop starting on the Boat Road across the Laguna Ridge. An excellent trail back goes down the beautiful Water Tank Trail, with epic views up and down the coast overlooking the city. During the spring wildflower bloom, you may just catch an epic photo op at a field of Golden Yarrow, just above the tank.
Then head over to the iconic Las Brisas Restaurant for Brunch. The patio gives breathtaking views up and down the coast, and their gazpacho, isn't to be missed.
After lunch, check out of your hotel but put on your hiking shoes for a more leisurely hike through the Crystal Cove State Beach and Park. There are numerous trails through the park, including some into El Morro Canyon with more significant elevation gain, and all are beautiful.
Finally, reward yourself for an iconic trip with dinner at the Studio at Montage, located on a cliff overlooking the iconic Treasure Island Beach. Be sure to take an iconic photo at sunset on the iconic green overlooking the ocean in front of the two iconic palm trees named Lucy and Desi, where the iconic Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez filmed "Long, long Trailer" back in 1953.