Laguna Beach

Caitlin’s Laguna Beach Essentials

Our Food writers' Memorable meals & more in Laguna Beach.

When I travel, I have a few priorities. Food is first and foremost: I need both refined upscale spots and laid-back low-key gems that reflect the location and culture. I’m also a big shopper – I’m a sucker for a great pair of sunglasses and all types of dresses. I also love having both fast-paced, exploratory activities and relaxing moments by a beautiful body of water. Laguna Beach represents all of this in one for me, and proves time and time again why it’s one of my favorite places to visit. 

I won’t sell it like a used car salesman, but since my first vacation here at twelve years old, to over a decade later of over twenty-five visits since, this place still feels like a special treat. Whenever I drive down PCH, I roll the windows down and let the sea breeze pull my hair back as the warmth of the sun hits my skin. My spirit lifts knowing it’s about to be back in this sanctuary that has become a second home. 


Memorable Meals: Where I Eat

242 Café Fusion Sushi

There are places you go to as a kid and appreciate for its nostalgic value. A place like my childhood diner is that for me. And then there are places that have been around for years and somehow, retain their star-quality and your business. 242 Café Fusion Sushi is that for me. I distinctly remember taking my first bite of Chef Miki’s fusion sushi when I was a mere middle-schooler. My taste buds sang, confused yet delighted at what I just put in my mouth. I felt like that course after course, uniquely satisfied at what I believed was one of the best meals of my life. Even after all these years eating at many spots around the world, this small gem nestled right on North Coast Highway remains one of my favorite restaurants to this day. Despite being open for so long, this restaurant preserves its classic charm, creative energy, and all encompassing flavorful bites that make you salivate while eating it. Every trip to Laguna Beach, you’ll find me sitting at one of their skim board tables or right at the bar, ordering from the plate-shaped menus, and watching Chef Miki and her all-female staff do their damn thing. 

Highlights: Scallop White Truffle Nigiri, Rainbow Clouds Sashimi, Crunchy Chili Oil on Albacore, Hot Rock Roll, Laguna Canyon Roll, Seared Miracle Tuna Nigiri

Ocean at Main

Ocean at Main is the epitome of Orange County in a restaurant: this airy, modern beach-chic space feels fresh, with both restorative and polished character. The cuisine praises seasonal, crisp produce and draws flavor influence from a variety of cultures – in true Southern California fashion. I haven’t dined here very often since being a relative newcomer in late 2018, but every experience proves to be exceptional. 

Highlights: Gourmet Oam Burger, Green Curry Chicken Breast, Spicy Ahi Tuna Tartare Tartine 

Sapphire Laguna 

I love Chef Azmin Ghahreman’s restaurant because it’s like taking an international tour of the world through food. It feels like he’s taken some of his favorite comfort foods from around the globe and then re-imagined them to perfectly fit into his passion project. He and his team put great attention to detail on every aspect of the meal – from the selection of high-quality teas to the side of Garlic Fries that comes with the Kobe Beef Havarti Cheeseburger to the thoughtful cocktails that change with each season. Most importantly, I feel Azmin’s heart whenever I dine here, and every employee I’ve met exudes this joy when working there.

Highlights: Brunch: A Study of Eggs Benedict (continuously changes) and Braised Pork Chile Verde, Espresso Martini

K’ya Bistro Bar

I grew up eating everything family-style, regardless of whether the restaurant was set up that way. My family and I strategically ordered so that we could share and try everything we desired. I owe a large part of my early curiosity for food and adventurous palette to this. I adore that K’ya Bistro Bar’s structure encourages sharing in this way through an extensive selection of tasty tapas. I especially adore their happy hour specials, where you get half off a food item for each drink you order from 5-6PM. Now that’s one reason to order a lot – one I always happily take advantage of. 

Highlights: Jalapeno Business Cocktail, Blackened Seabass, Bacon Wrapped Dates, Braised Short Rib 

Driftwood Kitchen

Driftwood Kitchen Laguna Beach

You could easily miss this place because Driftwood Kitchen lives on Sleepy Hollow Lane, a discreet street just off the buzzing Pacific Coast Highway, but that would be a mistake. The unparalleled views of the gorgeous Pacific Ocean combined with the high-caliber fresh fish make this one of my favorite casual yet classy seafood spots. The move: come here for lunch when the temperature is at that perfectly sunny, Southern California 72 degrees (which it is most days), and sit outside on their balcony. I love watching the ombré blue waves dance in and out, sitting in awe of the breathtaking view in front of me – one my eyes have seen hundreds of times but never tire of. 

Highlights: Oysters, Grilled Spanish Octopus, Lobster Spaghetti Carbonara

Urth Caffé

I come here for the organic, specialty coffee and stay for the equally impressive Southern-California inspired café cuisine. When it comes to their coffee, I almost exclusively rotate between the Honey Vanilla Latté and the Organic Rising Sun Boba. I know I should branch out and try one of their many other options, but when it’s game time decision, I can’t seem to part ways with either. Come here and hang out for a little, but be warned, they get quite busy on peak hours and weekends. 

Highlights: Eggs Salmone, Panini El Diablo

Zinc Café and Market

An everyday, vegetarian-based café, I love coming here to sit in their garden-like patio, sip on a Lavender Latté (made with local lavender syrup), and people watch. Lots of local Laguna-nites (not sure if that’s even a thing) come here to catch up and/or take advantage of the outdoor seating and bring their adorable pups. I feel very “Southern Californian” (I know that’s a thing) whenever I’m here, and I love it. One thing I always pick up before heading out: a bottle of Blessed Booch, my favorite brand of kombucha that is hyper-local to Orange County. 

Highlights: Huevos Rancheros, Healthy Bowl 


21+ and Over: Where I Drink

Laguna Beach Wine Gallery

I have such an affinity for wine. I’m no stuck-up, know-it-all sommelier (sorry for perpetuating the stereotype to all my somm friends – not all are like this), but I’ve sipped on quite a few glasses and know a good wine when I meet one. I love visiting Chris Olsen’s spot, who is so knowledgeable in all things wine, consistently educating me on new types I’ve never tried, small-production bottles, and straight up superb wines from all over the globe. While I love tasting around the world in the comfort of his cozy yet modern space, the best is Chris’ own wine label: Mile 216. It’s consistently my favorite Pinot Noir, and I try to pick up a bottle whenever I’m in town. 

Highlights: any of their Wood Fire Pizzas 

Skyloft

My first choice for happy hour and rooftop drinks, Skyloft has it all: great vibes, drinks, plates and music, all sandwiched in between Laguna’s canyons and coastline. I’m a bourbon girl and stay ordering their Bourbon Mimosa (Knob Creek, St. Germain, Citrust, Basil, with a float of Prosecco), a cocktail perfect for any time of day. 

Highlights: Their brunch Loco Okimoto – this is one of the best indulgent, ultra-comforting dishes made with garlic sticky rice, grilled SPAM, beef patty, fried egg, tomatoes, red onions, brown gravy and au jus. It’s technically only on their brunch menu, but if you ask nicely, they’ll make it for you during one of their other services. 

Laguna Canyon Winery

Before heading towards the water, I love making a necessary pit stop at Laguna Canyon Winery to taste their wide variety of wines. They pick grapes from Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and bring them down south to create distinct blends in their urban winery space. 

Highlights: Sonoma Valley Trevini Super Tuscan Red Blend, Napa Valley Semillon 

Laguna Beach Beer Company

Admittedly, I’m not a beer person. I appreciate it, but it’s never my preference when looking at a drink menu. Laguna Beach Beer Company changes my mind about that. Walk into their industrial, arcade-like space, grab a board and pick four of their hand-crafted brews for a fun and unique tasting flight. They consistently debut new releases and guest appearances, so it’s a bit hard to pin down a favorite. BUT they do have a core lineup, and I really enjoy their Main Tower Pilsner and Ruby St. Grapefruit IPA.

Highlights: The Lop Kombucha Beer and Orange Crush Cream Ale 


I Don’t Just Eat & Drink: Where I Hangout

Heisler Park

When I want to spend time alone and stroll, I go to Heisler Park. It’s a perfect place to meander parallel to the beach. I cherish the times I see older couples walking along or an artist painting the oceanfront view. I usually walk along to the end, ending up at Main Beach, the most popular and busiest in town. Across the street, I’ll wander along Forest Avenue. If I’m in the shopping mood, I’ll be downtown for the rest of the afternoon.

Treasure Island Park

Explore Treasure Island Beach

The name fits this location – Treasure Island Park feels like its own little island of lush, green plots of land that extend all the way out, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. When I want to show friends Laguna’s gorgeous views, this is where I take them; it’s crawling with photo opportunities meant for the ‘gram. It’s also conveniently located right next to Montage Laguna Beach, one of my favorite resorts. After spending some time in the sun, I almost always walk over to relax in the Montage lobby and grab a drink or coffee – also another prime pictorial opportunity. I gush about this hotel a lot, but it breathes relaxed luxury. Always has, probably always will. If it matters to any of you, it also happens to be one of Justin Bieber’s favorite hangout spots. I’ve never seen him here, but at least you can say you have the same taste. 

Brooks St. Beach

I love surfing. . . but I’m not very good at it. I took one surfing lesson in Hawaii, and I did so well, I arrogantly thought I was a natural. I mean it was truly next level: I was riding a wave, jumped and rotated my body to the opposite side and landed it. I took another in Malibu, and I couldn’t catch one wave. I may try again one day, but my ego is bruised. With that being said, I come to Brooks St. Beach to watch people surf and get lost in their harmonious movement with the waves. 

Pearl St. Beach 

Pearl St. Beach is low-key spot that makes me feel like a local. I normally visit to watch the sunset and listen to the soothing sound of crashing waves – both natural phenomena that don’t seem to get old. I’ll let you know if they ever do, but I can’t help but appreciate the bigness of the world we live in and all the beauty within it, especially in this blessed little pocket of the planet. (Photo by laguna_beach_scenery on Instagram).


Some Standout Dishes:

While they may not be on my overall list, there are places I believe are worth the visit for these specific banging dishes done just right:

  • House Burger with White Cheddar, Caramelized Onions and ‘Secret Sauce’ from 230 Forest Avenue 
  • Chilean Seabass with Thai Green Curry, Garlic Green Beans, and Coconut Jasmine Rice from Starfish Laguna 
  • Wholesome Bowl from Active Culture 
  • Limoncello Pasta with Scallop, Giant Prawns, and Pinot Grigio Wine Sauce from Alessa

Okay, there you have it: my ultimate guide on how to eat, drink, and make your way through Laguna Beach for 2019. I’m sure this list will evolve and grow as years pass, but one thing is for sure: Laguna Beach will always have a special place in my heart (and stomach) that uniquely feeds my appetite, feeds my soul, and I hope will feed all of you the way it does for me.

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About the Author
Caitlin Sakdalan

Caitlin Sakdalan

Caitlin Sakdalan is a social media influencer and food writer. Through her passion for food as an experiential connector of people and cultures, coupled with expertise in social and digital, she shares her extensive food knowledge and experiences to thousands of followers daily. Caitlin is one of Dovetale's "5 best Influencers to watch in 2017," and her photography is featured on Tasting Table, Yahoo, Huffington Post, and other online outlets. Follow her on Instagram @befatbehappy.

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