Heisler Park in Laguna Beach, California is not a hidden gem. Its beaches are no secrets, and its beautifully-manicured landscape is rarely devoid of people. Despite it being a popular place to relax, walk, and exercise in Orange County, Heisler Park is still underrated.
How can this be possible if it’s a popular spot? Because Heisler Park’s popularity does not overshadow its quality. Moreover, as compared to Laguna Beach’s other most popular parks and beaches, its higher in quality and lower in visitor density. Heisler Park is regularly less crowded than Main Beach, Crystal Cove State Park, and Aliso Beach Park. Yet, it is a more pleasant park than any of those options.
Heisler Park has a lot going for it. The park is quite expansive, with multiple walking trails that wind through its bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. These walking paths lead down to a handful of beaches and coves, including Picnic Beach, Divers Cove, and Rockpile Beach. (Several of which make our list of the Top 10 Beaches in Laguna, California.)
There are also a number of public art installations lining the walkways and throughout the grounds, which underscore Laguna Beach’s legacy as an “artist community.” (Although that legacy seems to be fading as home prices surge.)
From the perspective of a visitor to Laguna Beach, these art installations are undoubtedly the most compelling aspect of Heisler Park. The design of the pathways that meander through its grounds are a close second.
During the day, you’ll still see plenty of artists with their easels painting amongst the palms, readers curled up with their books on hammocks, families have huge picnics and cookouts, and couples posing for engagement photoshoots. This is also a popular spot for the filming of television shows and commercials, but that tends to happen early in the morning.
While Heisler Park is certainly popular with tourists, it’s just as much a snapshot of life in Laguna Beach. Locals abound walking dogs, practicing yoga, playing lawn bowling, enjoying a post-meal stroll, painting, or just lounging around.
For your visit to Heisler Park, we’d recommend parking north of the area on a surface street, near the intersection of Cliff Drive and Wave Street. In this area, there are no meters (otherwise, you’re looking at about $3 an hour). Be respectful of the fact that this is a residential neighborhood–don’t park in front of driveways or gates, and don’t make a loud ruckus while walking from this area to the beach.
Alternatively, you could park along Pacific Coast Highway (also free) farther south of downtown, and take the free trolley to Heisler Park. This is a fun way to get around town, particularly during summer tourist season when parking is in short supply downtown. Click here for the trolley schedule.
Before walking to Heisler Park, make a detour into the vacant southward facing lot, which should be near where you parked. This is one of the best quasi-public views in the city, and will give you a great photo of Laguna Beach’s coastline, pretty much all the way to Dana Point. While this is technically trespassing (probably?), plenty of people–locals included–do it, and whomever owns the lot doesn’t care enough to put up a sign, fence, etc.
After that, make another quick detour to Shaw’s Cove. This is a pocket beach that’s often fairly devoid of people, making it a good spot for our dog to burn off excess energy before we take him into Heisler Park. The downside of this beach is that it’s so small that even a handful of other people there can make it feel crowded.
Next stop, Diver’s Cove. This is a bit larger, and adjacent to the northern boundary of Heisler Park. Whether the cove is officially within the bounds of the park is unclear to me (and does it really matter?).
Our agenda from there tends to be doing the walking circuit. This post does an exceptional job covering the art installations you’ll see along the way–the walk you’re doing from this point is basically the reverse of what’s detailed on this map. (We recommend skipping the stops on the other side of PCH.)
The ideal time to start this walk is about 45 minutes before sunset. If you go at a leisurely pace, you’ll arrive in the area of the Sunset Point Gazebo. If this viewpoint is crowded (and it often is), find another spot in the area. There’s no shortage of great spots in this immediate area for watching the sunset.
From there, you’ll end up down by Main Beach during the waning sunset, after the crowds have already cleared out. Rather than turning back right away, consider doing dinner at Nick’s Laguna Beach. This is our favorite restaurant in the city, and unlike other spots that are hoity but serve mediocre cuisine (we’re looking at you, Las Brisas), Nick’s is a humble restaurant. What it lacks in pretentiousness it makes up for in some of the best sandwiches you’ll ever have.
Circling back, you’ll return to Heisler Park during the blue hour (or under the stars if the wait time at Nick’s was long), seeing the park in a whole new light. This is pretty much the perfect afternoon and evening in Laguna Beach.
Overall, we highly recommend a stroll through (or stop at) Heisler Park if you’re visiting Southern California. There’s a reason it has earned an entry in our 101 Things to Do in Southern California eBook (get yours–for free!), and it’s one of the places we visit more than anywhere else in Laguna Beach. It’s probably a close call as to whether we prefer Treasure Island Park at the Montage Resort or this more, but there’s no reason not to do both. Heisler Park is one of the best public parks in all of California.
If you’re planning a California vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to do. For Los Angeles-centric trips, we’ve found the most useful guidebook to be The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas, which is written by locals (and we use it even as locals!). If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been to Heisler Park in Laguna Beach? If so, what did you think of it? Any other parks that you preferred? Any additional tips to add about the park that we didn’t cover? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!