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Our Favorite Summer Towns

The Artsy O.C.

Laguna Beach, California
MTV's Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County recently put the city on the map for a new generation. But this beach town, an hour south of Los Angeles, with its stunning Pacific vistas and ruddy sandstone cliffs, has been an artist's haven since the 1920's. Laguna still has a thriving gallery scene; it also hosts three major summer art fairs. But for families, the surf-and-turf diversions are the draw—from the wild (bodysurfing and kiteboarding) to the mild (whale watching and toe-ring shopping). LAY OF THE LAND Situated between the suburban sprawl of Newport Beach and the fishing wharves of Dana Point, Laguna Beach stretches 7 1/2 miles along the Pacific, with swimming beaches, surf breaks, and tide pools. To the east, Laguna Canyon (www.lagunacanyon.org) is the place for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. Disneyland and Legoland are each a half-hour away; Universal Studios and San Diego's animal attractions are 90 minutes, tops. BEST BEACH Main Beach is smack-dab downtown with volleyball nets and a boardwalk. Wave riders congregate at Thalia Street Beach, home to the coolest surf shops. STAY AT The two-year-old Arts and Crafts–style Montage Resort & Spa (30801 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 949/715-2057; www.montagelagunabeach.com; doubles from $590), the most architecturally impressive spot on the beach. Also consider the newly remodeled, all oceanfront rooms at Surf & Sand (1555 S. Coast Hwy.; 800/524-8621; www.surfandsandresort.com; doubles from $430), an easy walk into town. In nearby Dana Point, the Ritz-Carlton (1 Ritz-Carlton Dr.; 949/240-2000; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles through June 16 from $345, June 17–Sept. 4 $425) offers surfing lessons and a Healthy Taste menu for kids. EAT AT Javier's Cantina (480 South Coast Hwy.; 949/494-1239; dinner for four $60), the local kids' favorite Mexican joint. For more sophisticated fare, try chef Nancy Wilhelm's California twist on seafood and steaks at Tabu Grill (2892 S. Coast Hwy.; 949/494-7743; dinner for four $176). SUGAR FIX Scandia Bakery (248 Forest Ave.; 949/497-1495) stuffs chocolate cream puffs with fresh strawberries. CAVEAT Parking can be brutal, particularly when the art fairs are in swing. The Montage provides car service; the rest of the world hops the free Laguna Beach Trolley that runs from mid-June through August. SPECTACLE Every summer evening, at the Festival of the Arts' Pageant of the Masters (650 Laguna Canyon Rd.; 949/494-1145; www.foapom.com), volunteer models, lighting and set designers, and makeup artists bring famous paintings and sculptures to life. Que Seurat, Seurat!
—DAVID A. KEEPS

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