On California's Southern Coast: A Historical Gem With a New Look
Fathom editor Berit Baugher decamped to the west coast for a long weekend at one of Southern California's most stylish boutique hotels.
LAGUNA BEACH, California – Long before Laguna Beach was Laguna Beach, the reality television show that draws eye rolls, it was a quaint coastal town not too far from Los Angeles that I frequented as a child with my family. My mom grew up one town over and my grandparents still live in the same house, so most of my school and summer vacations were spent boogie-boarding in the surf and soaking up the sun at local beaches.
On a recent visit, I checked into the Capistrano Suite at the redesigned Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa, a boutique hotel that shot to the top of my must-visit list as soon as I saw pictures of its stunning transformation. The storied property was built in the early 1900s on a stretch of land nestled into a hillside that overlooks the town's rocky coastline. With the help of interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the 23-room hotel has undergone a complete — and delightful — makeover that is still in keeping with the bohemian beach vibes Laguna Beach longs to preserve.
Inspired by the building's Spanish Colonial architecture, originally designed by renowned California builder/architect team Frank Miller and Arthur Benton, Bullard incorporated deep reds and terracotta into the mostly blue palette. Colorful tiles and ceramics add a Moroccan flare, while his own line of vibrant fabrics and ceiling decorations and other thoughtful details create a warm and inviting environment.
The small hotel is made up of several buildings within an elaborate maze of lush landscaping, winding pathways, and hidden corners that feel like tiny surprises. An outdoor swimming pool and patio with tables and chairs look out on the Pacific Ocean. It's both romantic and charming, but also low-key and welcoming — the kind of place you could easily settle into for a much-needed long weekend. I did, and I'm already thinking about my next visit.
Rates from $279 per night. Make a reservation.
Perched on a hilly stretch of land adjacent to California's famous Route 1, which is locally referred to as the South Coast Highway, Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa is minutes away from many of Orange County's best beaches and a ten-minute walk from downtown.
Spanish Colonial charm-meets-Moroccan flare — at the beach.
This Place Is Perfect For...
Adult couples or solo travelers looking for a place to decompress and dive into SoCal beach living.
What's on Site
The petite hotel has all the necessities one might need for a long weekend on the coast: a heated swimming pool with plush lounge chairs overlooking the ocean, a massage menu with treatments that can be experienced inside or outside, a private soaking tub, valet parking, and an abundance of well-decorated common spaces begging to be enjoyed with a good book or a glass of wine.
Food + Drink
The complimentary European-style breakfast spread is a highlight. Flaky croissants, mini-Weck jars filled with chia seed pudding or yogurt parfait, fresh fruit, and a daily vegetable frittata are piled high on a table in the dining room. A bar with Equator Coffee is stationed near the garden patio. Guests are encouraged to eat wherever they please — inside, outside, or in their room. I gravitated towards the iron tables on the garden patio, where vintage-style navy and white umbrellas shielded me from the morning sun and jazz music played through the hotel speakers.
A menu of small Italian-inspired bites, wines from California and France, artisanal beers, and classic cocktails are available throughout the day for in-room dining or snacking in one of the common spaces.
Number of Rooms
There are 23 guest rooms, including five suites. The stand-alone Bungalow Suite is an 800-square-foot guest house with a private patio, living room, kitchenette, and stunning views of the ocean.
The WiFi is great and free. The mini bar is stocked with gourmet snacks from Dean & Deluca, two nice bottles of wine (Rickshaw Pinot Noir and Miraval Rose), and Acqua Panna water in two sizes. Bathroom toiletries are by England-based label Cowshed and the bed linens are as soft as can be.
The hotel is small, and although luxurious feeling at times, the service and amenities are more in line with a really nice bed and breakfast. To get to the beach you have to cross Route 1, which can be kind of scary during peak traffic hours.
Great interior design and lots of charm that comes with staying in a beautiful old building in a town that doesn't have many good small hotels.
The sleepy Southern California seaside village has a long and storied history that pre-dates its infamous role as the setting for one of MTV's first reality-based television series. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Laguna Beach was a favorite spot for films in need of a desert island vibe. Movies like Treasure Island and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe shot there, along with Now, Voyager, and A Star is Born. Many of the stars in these films, including Bette Davis, took a liking to the area and purchased vacations homes.
What to Do Nearby
Wake up early, grab a cup of coffee in a to-go cup, and head across Route 1 towards Woods Cove, where I spent a morning meandering through the small residential neighborhood, stopping to take photos of the charming beach homes, including the former English Tudor-style residence of Bette Davis. If the weather is warm enough, head down to Diamond Beach and dip your toes in the Pacific.
You'll find a variety of restaurants and shops in town. For a nice evening out, head to The Deck on Laguna Beach for sunset drinks, followed by dinner at Nick's Laguna Beach, a local institution serving classic American seafood. Reservations recommended. For more casual, vegetarian-style fare, try Zinc Cafe & Market. The sandwiches, salads, and soups can be taken to go or eaten at a table on the outdoor patio. Pearl St. General is a family-owned cafe and gourmet food shop with a vintage vibe and newly-opened wine bar.
To bring the SoCal beach vibe home, stop by Huit Laguna, an interior design office with a assortment of cute home furnishings; or Lala: A Kerry Cassill Store, which sells bed and dining linens in eclectic Indian prints. Thalia Surf Shop is the go-to spot for classic surfer brands like Vans and Reef, along with newcomers like Seea and Captain Fin Co. Poler has the most stylish camping gear around, along with a small cafe selling Stumptown cold brew and Salt and Straw ice cream.
Good to Know
Cell phone service can be spotty at times.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get There
By car, Laguna Beach is a one-to-two hour drive from Los Angeles, and a little over an hour from San Diego, depending on traffic.
John Wayne Airport (SNA) is the closest airport and a twenty-minute drive, Long Beach Airport (LGB) is a half hour drive. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Diego International Airport (SAN) are the two large airports in the area — for either, give yourself an hour or two.
Having your own car is the easiest and best option for navigating the town and surrounding area. From September through late June, the Laguna Beach Trolley runs during weekends along the South Coast Highway. In July and August, the free trolley operates daily.
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