If you’re planning a day in Laguna Beach, California and don’t want to spend all your time soaking up the sun, our 1-day itinerary offers a step-by-step plan for the best things to do and where to eat & shop. It also includes several of our favorite beaches, hidden gems, and more.
Having a step-by-step itinerary for a sleepy beach town might seem…extreme. To be totally honest, it is. One of the joys of visiting Laguna Beach as opposed to Santa Monica, Venice, or Malibu is that life moves at a slower pace. The restaurants are more casual, the beaches are quieter, and the atmosphere is noticeably subdued. That’s part of the appeal, and why we love Laguna.
Accordingly, under no circumstances should this itinerary’s steps be viewed as stringent commandments or a rigid route from which no deviations can be made. Rather, think of this itinerary as a very loose outline of what we think is a good north-south path to take through Laguna Beach that will take you around some of the best beaches and other highlights.
If you want to skip three-quarters of the stuff here and spend the day chilling in Divers Cove, that’s totally your call. (And not a bad decision!) Since this is pretty a straight-line route, you can easily modify this itinerary, skipping spots or adding things as you see fit without missing a beat.
Sea Seal Rock – Thanks to the marine layer, trying to watch the sunrise in Laguna Beach is a fool’s errand, but one fun early morning activity you can enjoy is heading to Crescent Bay Point Park to watch check out Seal Rock, a large rock about 120 yards offshore where seals and sea lions take refuge.
The park also offers panoramic views of Laguna Beach, especially to the south, so you happen to get lucky with a good sunrise, this is a nice spot for it. Moreover, you’ll find plenty of meter-less and permit-free parking on the streets in this area, making this a good area to park your car for the day. You’re much better off relying on your feet, the free trolley, and Uber or Lyft, anyway.
Oceanside Stroll – The stretch of beaches in this area are among the best in Laguna. You’ve got Crescent Bay, Shaw’s Cove, Fisherman’s Cove, and Diver’s Cove (in order). The middle two are the smallest, and are sometimes totally devoid of people. Even at their busiest, these four beaches are significantly less crowded than Main Beach and other popular tourist spots in Laguna. If you need some beach time, we’d recommend choosing one of these.
If not, enjoy the oceanside stroll that will eventually take you to Laguna Beach’s Crown Jewel: Heisler Park. While it’ll be tough to compete with the ocean for your attention, keep an eye out for the beautiful public art installations along the way.
Coffee Break – In our experience, the three most “controversial” topics amongst Laguna Beach locals are best beach, parking, and where to find the best coffee. Urth is the “it” cafe in Laguna Beach, a chic location that is popular with the social media and tourists. The coffee is just okay, but the lattes and some specialty drinks are pretty good. We like it, but it’s not the end all, be all of coffee in Laguna Beach.
If you’re more of a coffee purist, Madison Square & Garden Cafe next door has a loyal following, as do Zeytoon Cafe, Zinc Cafe, or Laguna Coffee Company, all of which are within this general vicinity.
A.M. Art Walk – Laguna Beach is known as an artist community; a reputation that endures despite high real estate prices changing the local flavor. Nevertheless, there are myriad public art installations, galleries, and exhibitions dotting the town. You’ll encounter a lot of this by simply walking, but it doesn’t hurt to consult this list to determine which specific galleries you might want to seek out.
The main point of interest here is Laguna Art Museum, which is an intimate venue with a range of California art. Obviously, you’re not going to find work by Picasso, Monet, or other masters here; where Laguna Art Museum excels is in providing context and background. Its exhibits showcase Laguna’s origins as an artist colony, and illuminate California’s history.
Lunch at Nick’s – Once you’re arted out, it’s time to refuel. Nick’s Laguna Beach is just down the street and is our favorite restaurant in the city. The menu here is American comfort foods, and it’s all relatively safe.
While very good, Nick’s being the “best” restaurant in Laguna Beach underscores the chasm between dining in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach. This restaurant wouldn’t even register in L.A., yet it’s beloved here.
Shop ’til You Drop – While you’re in “downtown” Laguna Beach, it’s also a good time to do some shopping. There are a ton of boutiques in this area; do a loop of Ocean Ave and Forest Ave to see what appeals to you.
If you’re looking to buy some normal souvenirs, we recommend Fawn Memories. Prices are about half what you’ll pay on Pacific Coast Highway, and the owners are lovely. (Although part of that might be that my parents buy an obscene amount of bric-a-brac here each time they come to visit.)
Happy Hour at Mozambique – This multi-level restaurant features a rooftop veranda with ocean views, plus happy hour food and drink specials.
We frequently take out of town guests here for these specials and the sunset, and recommend the Mozambique Mule, Pork Chop, and Burger.
Pirate Party – Back on the “right” side of Pacific Coast Highway, we recommend heading down to Victoria Beach, home of the famous “Pirate Tower” that is one of Laguna Beach’s iconic features.
Depending upon the tide, it could be difficult to access the tower itself, but even from a distance it makes for some pretty photos. (You’ll also spot O.J. Simpson’s former oceanfront residence on your way down to this beach–and from the beach itself.)
5-Star Picnic – Nothing says luxury resort like a box of wine and bag of Cheetos. Nevertheless, we’d suggest walking from Victoria Beach to the CVS or Gellson’s supermarket across the street from the 5-star Montage Laguna Beach before heading to Treasure Island Park, that resort’s oceanfront park.
If you’re apprehensive about having a picnic “at” this hoity hotel, don’t be. Treasure Island Park has a number of picnic tables overlooking the ocean, and it’s large green spaces are popular spots for locals to bring bottles of wine and watch the sunset. (Technically, this is only legal with a “bona fide meal” so it’s super-duper important that you eat the entire bag of Cheetos, ha!)
Dinner – If you’re still hungry after polishing off that bag of Cheetos, we’ve got several options for dinner. The closest option–if you’re dressed for it–is dining at one of the gourmet restaurants in the Montage Resort.
If you actually took our suggestion and walked over to Gellson’s (or want to do that now), you can grab food for a cookout in the fire pits at Aliso Creek Beach, which is the next beach over from Treasure Island Park.
If you parked near Crescent Bay and need to make your way back to your vehicle, you can take the trolley or an Uber to any number of restaurants, from Selanne Steak Tavern (best fine dining in Laguna Beach) to Thai Bros (an informal spot with arguably the most ambitious cuisine in Laguna). Whatever you do, don’t go for something with oceanfront seating. You can’t see the ocean at this hour, anyway, and all of those restaurants–without exception–are more about the view than the food.
That wraps up our full-day itinerary for Laguna Beach, California. Hopefully at least some of these suggestions were helpful; even if you spend 6 hours lounging in the sand and only do 3-4 other things on this itinerary, you’ll still have a great time in the seaside town!
For more tips, info, and advice, please consult our Laguna Beach, California Planning Guide. If you’re visiting other spots during your California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been to Laguna Beach? If so, how did you spend your day (or days) there? Any other places you enjoyed that you’d add to this 1-day Laguna Beach Itinerary? If you’re yet to visit, what interests you most? Any questions? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!