Any day that begins by the sea is a day off to a great start. In Orange County, California there are certainly many seaside towns to choose from, but one of the most picturesque is Laguna Beach. While this beach town might be most known for its arts, culture and the yearly Sawdust Festival and Pageant of the Masters it is also an ideal spot for some family fun.
What could be more enticing than a full day of family fun that is so geographically fabulous you can park your car once and not move it all day? How about the thought of not having to schlep a bunch of stuff here and there or finding a family friendly hotel that is both reasonably priced and in and ideal location near the sea? Starting your day in an oceanfront room at Vacation Village which puts you at the edge of the Pacific Ocean – where only the fish are closer-fulfills every one of these criteria.
Situated on a pristine stretch of beach with recently renovated rooms, guests are treated to the sound of waves crashing under their balcony as they sip morning coffee. With a slice of heaven right outside the door, this is coastal living at its best.
After awakening to nature’s beckoning surfside call, begin your day at a casual roadside beach shack called Orange Inn. Open since 1931, it claims to be the home of “the original smoothie” and brags “the best coffee in town.” Photographs depicting 77 years of Laguna Beach scenes and history grace the walls, inspiring you to kick back and enjoy the surfer vibe amongst the mix of locals and visitors. Sip a cafÃ© mocha or a dig into a hearty breakfast dish while relaxing over one of the numerous papers left there for all to read. And once you’ve got a full stomach, get out and explore all the nooks and crannies this gem of a town has to offer.
Laguna Beach is a gold mine of exploration for outdoor family travels and marine education. Its majestic rocky shorelines and reefs make the city extraordinarily scenic but they also support one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world – creating numerous “pocket beaches,” or as they are more commonly known, “tide pools.”
Tide pools are all over Laguna, but some of the best ones are right off the town’s center by the volley ball courts which are walkable from the beach at the hotel. It’s about a 1/4 mile walk and lovely.
These unique habitats are home to numerous sea creatures including California mussels, barnacles, and sea stars, and they have all adapted to living both above and below the water, enduring the change of tides and temperatures.
Little kids are fascinated by the intimate, feet-in-the-water interaction with nature, a simple and safe way to introduce them to the creatures of the sea. Easily accessible (and free!) to all, these tide pools have a “no touch, no take” policy but exploration is easy, up close and personal. In addition, several spots have great signage explaining the surrounding sea life so you can further investigate the beautiful ecosystem.
Next, head to Ocean Front Park in the heart of town that is often packed with volleyball players, artists, people of all ages and corners of the globe, and of course, families. A large beachfront playground lures every child that passes by and features slides, swings and an ample sandbox. Parents will appreciate the view and sea air, and kids will appreciate the fun. Right behind the playground is a store called Main Beach Toys, a great stop to purchase a new beach toy or a rent some gear (strollers, boogie boards, volleyballs – no need to lug it all with you). And as you work up an appetite, a wide variety of culinary satisfaction is mere steps away.
For lunch, head back towards Vacation Village and just across the street is a deceptively simple yet delicious low key taco stop called Taco Loco. With outdoor seating it not only features an expansive Mexican seafood taco bar, but it’s also a great place to kick back for a little people watching. For a great twist of the ordinary, try a lobster taco or blackened Mahi Mahi Burger. All the dishes we tried were delicious and the ambience is “straight off the beach” casual.
Head back to Vacation Village to enjoy a little more time on the beach. Family friendly attendants provide complimentary towels, lounge chairs and umbrellas. Again, no schlepping: genius! Outdoor showers and rinse stations allow the family to clean up before going inside.
For dinner, walk a few paces over to the adjacent oceanfront restaurant appropriately called The Beach House. From 4:30 – 6:00 the restaurant features a menu that lobs one third off the regular dinner price. It’s the perfect time to dine with your family at a fraction of the price. Menu winners are grilled pacific swordfish with garlic-cilantro chimichurri sauce served with basil & asparagus risotto, and the lobster quesadilla with brie, Monterey jack and roasted tomato salsa.
After dinner, head back to your cozy room and to the balcony which should be renamed “Sunset Shrines” as in the evening you can look out and see almost everyone sitting on their balcony enjoying the best show in town. Then, slip into bed and let the sound of the ocean lull you to sleep for the perfect end of a perfect day.
What & Where:
Vacation Village (647 South Coast Hwy; 949-494-8566 or 800-843-6895)
Orange Inn (703 S Coast Hwy; 949-494-6085)
Main Beach Toys and Games (150 Laguna Ave; 949-494-8808)
Taco Loco (640 S Coast Hwy; 949-497-1635)
The Beach House (619 Sleepy Hollow Ln; 949-494-9707)
Helpful Hints: If you go to the Beach House website before visiting, print out the coupon good for two free desserts.