Wolk Morais designers and longtime Daily contributors Brian Wolk and Claude Morais write in with everything you need to know about an excursion to Laguna Beach, California.
Anxious to escape from Los Angeles, yet cautious of safe travel in the time of a pandemic, we decided to follow in the footsteps of our celebrity forefathers (and mothers) and head south to Laguna Beach. When Bette Davis, Humphrey
Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and John Wayne needed to take refuge from the City of Angels, Laguna Beach provided a safe harbor for all their bohemian desires. Things haven’t changed much since the golden age of Hollywood and Laguna Beach is still a picture perfect enclave for a beautiful mélange of celebrities, surfers, artists, and the LGBTQ community. It’s been five years since we documented our life changing cross country road trip for The Daily Front Row, so we thought Laguna Beach would be the perfect first stop on our California road trip anniversary tour.
WHERE TO STAY
If Palm Springs is the Hamptons of L.A., and Ojai is upstate New York, Laguna Beach falls firmly in the position of Montauk. Under the creative direction of Robert Mckinley (designer of Montauk’s uber-hip Ruschmeyer’s), Hotel Joaquin oozes with eclectic charm and West Coast elegant nonchalance. Perched on a cliff with panoramic views of the majestic pacific, this pastoral pied-à-terre is a bastion of relaxation that seamlessly blends the south of France, St. Barths, and a California beach town. The open-air seaside villa makes for the perfect escape and allows its guests to commune with nature safely and without distraction. In fact the digital detox goes as far as replacing televisions in the suites with record players and a well-curated vinyl collection. The brilliantly appointed accommodations are replete with exquisite details including original photography, hand loomed art tapestries, sensual ambient lighting, and balconies with epic views of The Laguna Bay.
All the rooms have independent air conditioning and heating systems so there is no shared air with other guests, other than the lingering fragrance of the Le Labo Santal 33 bath amenities! The service at the hotel is sophisticated and invisible, and if one prefers, strictly digital. When you are ready for breakfast, just shoot a text to the front desk and a bountiful tray of fresh baked scones and piping hot coffee arrives in minutes. If you would like a well crafted cocktail, a glass of rosé by the pool, or charcuterie platter at sunset…it’s no further than an SMS away. And speaking of the pool, the brilliant arrangement of furniture on various platforms allows all of the guests to bronze safely in a socially distant fashion. But Laguna is about beach culture, and Hotel Joaquin’s proximity to the town’s most treasured beach is its best kept secret. Just a stroll down a quiet path brings you to Shaw’s Cove, where the local surfers come and go wearing board shorts and drinking Pacifico. This striking cove is a marine wonder bordered by craggy rocks, palm trees, and endless sunset views. Per your request, the hotel is happy to install beach chairs, towels, or perhaps a table for a romantic lunch al fresco. Speaking of outdoor experiences, the hotel’s open air lounge and bar are the perfect way to wind down the day with an expertly stirred Negroni in front of
the roaring fireplace.
RESTAURANTS AND CAFES
Nick’s: If you feel the need to be amongst the glitterati of Laguna Beach, head to Nick’s for an elegant meal on their outdoor patio. Reservations are a must, and hard to come by, but the team at Hotel Joaquin made this happen for us. The menu can best be described as Californian comfort food; fresh, delicious, and a touch naughty. Our favorites included the boneless fried chicken and the steak sandwich served on corn bread.
Driftwood Kitchen: Elegant oceanfront dining awaits in this beautiful converted seaside Victorian home. Lunch served on the postcard perfect veranda is a must. The thunder of the crashing waves is the perfect accompaniment to the delightful
salads and stellar wine selection.
The Cliff: This casual Americana bistro offers the largest outdoor terrace for dining in Laguna Beach. Perfect for a post-surf fuel up, the classics on the menu are where The Cliff excels including the enchiladas and The Cliff burger.
The Orange Inn: Since 1931, this charming cottage café (initially a refreshment stop for cowboys) has been serving up the best coffee in Laguna Beach. These days the menu includes a delicious selection of fresh squeezed juices, healthy
sandwiches, and salads. The Orange Inn’s biggest claim to fame is that it invented the smoothie!
242 Sushi: This Laguna hipster hot spot is where Chef Madame Miki Izumisawa serves up very impressive sushi and inventive soups. There’s only a handful of sidewalk outdoor tables, so be sure to reserve and dress warm!
ART & MUSIC SCENE
The Gallery District of Laguna Beach is an institution in and of itself. Just walk out of the hotel and head downtown for an endless assortment of artistic wonders. One gallery of note is Kush Fine Art, dedicated to the post-surrealist work of California painter Vladimir Kush. Also worth checking out is The Laguna Art Museum, the oldest fine art institution in the area.
Sound Spectrum: Just across the street from Hotel Joaquin is Sound Spectrum, a record store established in 1967. Hours could be spent browsing through incredible vinyls and music memorabilia.
The HIP District: Like ‘Laguna’s Williamsburg,’ the HIP District (an acronym for Historic Interesting Places) is at the southern end of town and encompasses a myriad of vintage stores, antique marts, and cute coffee shops housed in historically significant buildings. This bohemian little hood is definitely worth a stroll!
The Lumberyard: This incredible Tudor shopping center is like stepping back in time. Charming craft stores and cafes makes you feel like you are shopping in a chic European open-air market.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The San Joaquin hills that border Laguna Beach offer a bevy of mountain hikes and biking trails, but for those who prefer to mix their outdoor wonderment with shops, cafes, and sculptural installations…Heisler Park is for you. This highly Instagramable beach path offers a glorious way to commute throughout the town that mixes nature, commerce, and art.