The Coast News Group
Built in 1947 as a motor court, today’s Hotel Joaquin is a comfortable sanctuary of 22 rooms at the north end of Laguna Beach. The managers have taken pains to search for, locate and display relics like original postcards and matchbook covers from the hotel, originally named La Playa. Photo by Jerry Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

Laguna Beach, minus the crowds

Attention local SoCals: It’s spring and that means that the beaches are ours.

In another few months, our favorite stretches of Southern California sand will be overpopulated with out-of-area bodies and their coolers, umbrellas and beach toys. 

So, until nearly Memorial Day, enjoy the sweet solitude and quiet that are ours in places like Laguna Beach. 

These “slow days” are not going unnoticed by area workers, according to an employee at Hotel Joaquin, a boutique establishment at the quieter north end of downtown. 

Built in 1947 and called La Playa (“An exquisitely appointed motor hotel overlooking the blue Pacific”), Hotel Joaquin was renovated in 2018 and now bears the name of the local mountain range.  

“I love this time of year,” the employee told us as we enjoyed a welcoming complimentary cocktail at the airy living-room bar at the hotel. “Not much traffic and I can find a place to park when I come to work. People are more laid back.”

This long view of one of several coves along the Laguna Beach coastline can be seen from the mile-long cliffside trail that includes Heisler Park. Come summer, this scene will be a thing of the past. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Come summer, though, this quiet village vibe evaporates and Laguna Beach morphs into one of the most densely populated towns on the West Coast. The crush of summer visitors, especially during weekends and art festivals, makes it more of a challenge to enjoy the town’s unique coastline, shops, galleries, public art and trove of appealing eateries. 

It had been some years since my husband and I explored Laguna Beach (year-round population: 23,000), so we made a 50-minute, midweek drive north, checked into Hotel Joaquin, and spent most of our two-day stay enjoying the walkability of the town’s spectacular coastline. 

We were delighted to discover that the starting point for the trail to downtown and Main Beach was just a few yards from our hotel. (Just as close: a pickup point for the free trolley. See below.) The mile-long, bluff-hugging trail eventually brings walkers to the north end of Heisler Park and ends at Main Beach. 

Come summer, this spot of sand will be wall-to-wall people, but for now, it offers plenty of room to spread out, snooze on a blanket or do cartwheels. 

While following this mile-long walk, we learned how the ocean views must compete with the trail’s landscaping, stairways to nearly-deserted coves and glistening beaches, and lots of thought-provoking public art.

Even the benches along the bluff walk in Laguna Beach have something to say. Called “Support,” this 1999 work by Louis Longi provides a bird’s-eye view of the Laguna Beach coastline. It is one of many city benches that doubles as a work of art. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

One notable stop: Monument Point, a memorial within the borders of Heisler Park that honors military veterans and offers a spectacular westward view.  

What is now Heisler Park was once slated for development. Thankfully, this coastal property eventually became city property, and Laguna Beach has preserved, maintained and enhanced it and all paths leading to it through the years.

Signs along the trail remind you that this also is a protected marine area.

The city also has wisely provided a way to get around town without a car. It provides the year-round Laguna Beach Free Trolley, not to be confused with the Summer Breeze, another free, summer-only trolley that runs between Irvine and Laguna Beach. 

The former runs on Coast Highway between North Laguna/ Heisler Park, downtown, South Laguna/ Mission Hospital and the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point. It runs every 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the route you ride. 

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