Perfectionist’s Los Angeles Daytrip to Laguna Beach

Why is this the perfectionist’s day trip to Laguna Beach?  Well, that’s because I planned a day trip recently for my first time to Laguna and kind of failed miserably at a few key aspects.  Lucky for you, travel is about trial and error and now I can help you plan a day trip to Laguna Beach filled with fun, sun, and the best salad you have ever eaten.  I have written it out uberly detail-oriented in the hopes that you will bring some spontaneity to the trip, but have a reference guide should you need to refer back for some ideas!


laguna beach


10:00 AM DRIVE

If you are leaving from Los Angeles, know that it could take you anywhere from about an hour and half to two and a half hours to get there.  Waze it the morning of your trip and plan accordingly so you don’t get hangry like I did.  When you are about 10 miles out, look at Yelp or navigate your way to a grocery store to buy some food for the picnic you are about to have.  We found a Bristol Farms a few miles out and got some brie cheese, baguette, hummus, pita chips, fruit, and beverages.  There is also a Trader Joes right next to the  Crystal Cove State Park beach which may or may not be your first stop!  Make sure you grab a bunch of napkins, plates, and cutlery from the deli department.


crystal cove state beach laguna beach


12:30 PM BEACH

Once you’ve gotten the goods, you have a choice to make.  I had heard great things about Crystal Cove State Park so we started to head over there.  I had read both on TripAdvisor and Yelp that it was totally worth the $15 to park and that the beach wasn’t crowded at all even on the busiest of holidays.  Well, that might be true, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.  Turns out, we parked and paid our $15 to go to Crystal Cove State Beach which was jam packed with people and the tide was so high that you couldn’t actually sit on the beach and picnic unless you wanted an underwater meal.  I have heard of Dinner in the Sky, but I wonder if someone has invented a “below the sea” dining experience just yet.  We ended up eating our picnic foods at one of the benches next to the Beachcomber, but weren’t quite as relaxed as we wanted to be.  After doing some further research during lunch, we realized that there was actually a better, more secluded beach about a mile down the road with gorgeous views.  It’s all part of Crystal Cove State Park, but there are like four different Yelp locations and people get them confused (like we did).  Just know that you want to park in the $15 lot behind El Moro Elementary School and then cross the street.


Heisler Park laguna beach



So, here’s the thing.  I know I just spent all this time talking about how to get to the right Crystal Cove State Park beach.  And, if you want an incredible beach with glorious views, you should definitely go there.  But, your next stop is to Heisler Park for another picnic of sorts and Main Beach in Laguna just happens to be right there.  So after all that, I would probably suggest just going to that beach.  There is 4-hour metered parking at Heisler Park which is very convenient.  So if you decide to go to the Main Beach in Laguna, after your four hours are up, head back put some more money in the meter, and proceed to find your spot at Heisler Park.  Sit back, relax, have a drink, pull out some playing cards and portable speakers and enjoy the incredible views.  If you’ve had a difficult week and just need that healing place to relax, I promise that Heisler Park will do the trick.


laguna beach picnic bench



July or August: If you are taking your day trip during July or August, you should get tickets (in advance) for the Pageant of the Masters show at 8:30 PM.  Therefore, you should make a dinner reservation for 6:00PM.  The whole reason why I went down to Laguna Beach in the first place was to go to one of my all time favorite restaurants, Tommy Bahama.  The Mai Tai’s there are great, but my favorite is the food…the Duo of Dips appetizer (the zesty pub cheese dip is the greatest dip of life) and the Char-Grilled Filet Mignon Salad.  The salad comes with grilled potatoes, roma tomatoes, crispy shiitakes, garlic aioli, and tamarind vinaigrette.  so. unbelievably. good.  Also, make sure that you make a reservation at the Laguna Beach location since there is one in Newport Beach as well.  I made a reservation at the Laguna Beach one but for some weird reason thought that I had incorrectly made one at the Newport Beach spot.  We get to Newport Beach and realize that I was wrong like five times over, but luckily they squeezed us in.

Rest of the year: If you are not in Laguna Beach during July or August, it would be fun to take a drive around the homes in Laguna Beach along Skyline Drive and check out the views.  We found the cutest secluded picnic area on the drive!  Art fairs and festivals are a large part of Laguna Beach culture, so you should check to see if the Art-A-Fair, Sawdust Art Festival, or another appealing exhibit at an art museum is scheduled.


Tommy Bahama laguna beach



July or August: After the most delicious dinner ever, head to the Pageant of the Masters, a “living pictures” event where classical and contemporary art works are recreated by real people.  The Pageant has been held since 1933!  You want to arrive at the Pageant at least 45 minutes early to walk around and see all of the art on display.  Many people actually picnic at the venue; however, I think Tommy Bahama is too good to pass up.  Make sure you go to the bathroom right when you get there as there are only a couple of restrooms for the entire Irvine Bowl.  Also, when purchasing your ticket, I suggest sitting as close as possible.  I was nervous that sitting in the third row would be way too close because some of the show is performed on the sides, but I strongly believe that the reason why I thought the show was so incredible was because I was so close.  I don’t want to explain too much about the production because it is truly a personal journey.  During the first portrait, I was laughing at the fact that I had to sit in a chair and watch people stand still for two hours.  By the end of the show, I could have watched the performers stand in each painting for two more hours.  I was so moved by the Pageant of the Masters and the incredible quality of the production.  The show is truly one-of-a-kind and absolutely should not be missed!  Note on parking:  I suggest parking near the Pageant and walking to dinner, so that once the show is over you can get to your car easily.

Rest of the year:  It is time for dinner at Tommy Bahama!  See above for the whole reason I came to check out Laguna Beach in the first place.  Luckily, I have a new appreciation for Laguna’s beautiful coastline and bustling city center so I now have a few other reasons to come back here besides salad and cheese dip.


laguna beach


10:00/10:30 PM DRIVE HOME

Complete your 12-hour day trip with no traffic!  Hooray!  It should only take you about 45 minutes to an hour to get home which I am sure after this complete day, you will be very happy about as you climb into bed for the evening.


Heading elsewhere along the coast? Check out some of my other posts for more of that Cali lifestyle!

Los Angeles Coastal Cities: Perfect Day Trips to Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu

Visiting Santa Ynez Valley: Two-Day Itinerary

Downtown LA: Best Places to Eat



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