Off the Chain in Laguna Beach

New Year Tradition

Often for Christmas, we give each other the gift of travel to begin the year. After nearly a year of no travel, in January ’21 there’s a little extra wiggle room in our budget, and we are like two dogs off the chain and over the fence! But with Mask World still in full effect, it’s important to be wise… and be prepared.

Makin’ a List, Checkin’ It Twice

We choose Laguna Beach, only 45 minutes from home, so easy on the gas tank.

My criteria for our hotel: a larger suite with a full kitchenette, separate living and sleeping areas, and view of the ocean.

Our Getaway Checklist:

  • Big suite
  • Full kitchenette
  • Separate living/sleeping areas
  • Ocean view
  • Walking to food/shopping

I also make sure the picnic basket is fully stocked with treats and wine. Oh, and candles! Candles are not only romantic, but they help neutralize the smell of cleaning products that can be a bit off-putting in your hotel suite. (But honestly, the “new normal” means hotel rooms are a whole lot cleaner than they used to be at check-in!)

Check-In Checkout

The Seaside Laguna Inn is right on Pacific Coast Highway, a short block off the beach, and walking distance to shopping and dining. The front desk staff is friendly and eager to help. Well, there’s a bit of an awkward moment when they hand us a third key. You know, just in case (wink wink). No, no we are not that kind of couple.

We forgot to take a photo, so here’s one from Trip Advisor.

Our suite is perfect! We’re on the second floor, so no elephants bowling at midnight on our ceiling! We enter through a kitchen and living area, and there’s a door to a separate bedroom. The bedroom is quite a surprise! It’s a large room with a king bed, and a sitting area with a big comfy couch and TV.

We have a private balcony patio with a dining table and chairs, and a view of palms and the ocean. The bathroom is nice and there is a separate dressing area to make it easy for both of us to get ready in the morning. And everything has the hint of antiseptic.

The Business of Relaxing

Once we settle in and hang up our clothes, we enjoy a toast on the balcony. The hightop table and chairs seat us high enough to enjoy the partial view of the ocean. We’re looking over a row of amazing beachfront manses, giving us the feel of living in a luxury neighborhood for pennies-on-the-million!

Here’s about 90 seconds of relaxation for you from Agate Street Beach, steps from our room.

Refreshed by grapes and curious about the beach at the end of the block, we head out for a walk. Within a minute we’re on the sand! It’s a quiet, secluded little stretch of beach with rocky outcrops, reefs, and tropical vegetation. We saunter through Golden Hour, and can already feel the relaxation.

Sunset Supping is What’s Up

Dinner tonight is at sunset on our patio. I’ve packed our basket full of charcuterie! On the menu, we have homemade deli pinwheels, salami, fancy crackers, petite brie, Point Reyes Blue cheese, fig jam, grapes, and hummus. On pour, it’s Cherry Blossom Rosé. The color of the wine matches the sunset. Oh, and a little candle light too.

It is quite warm for a January night, so we’re able to stay out on the patio well into the evening and watch the stars pop out of the sky one-by-one.

We get a call from the front desk. Would we like a welcome glass of wine? Why, yes we would! We receive a tray of two glasses of white wine decorated with rose petals. Nice touch! We like the wine, so Andy calls the front desk to inquire as to the name of the wine. “Well, Sir, that is a white wine.” So I guess the name of the wine will remain a mystery.


Breakfast is included in our stay. Due to current events, we get little to-go boxes filled with treats, including fresh fruit, yogurt, goji berries, and wonderful French pastries in plastic.

I must crow about the coffee! Seaside Laguna Inn features a self-service coffee vending machine with mix-and-match shots of espresso, flavors, and even custom foam. It’s so cool! The front desk ladies give us tips on their favorite combos. Why yes, I will try a triple-shot cappuccino mocha!

There’s a lovely indoor seating area and a gazebo where we could enjoy breakfast, but we haul our boxes to the beach for breakfast and beachcombing.

It’s low tide, so can enjoy a long walk and tidepools. We even see a seal play in the waves with a surfer!

Laguna Food Culture

After our morning exercise, it’s time for a day of shopping and art galleries. Midweek January in the midst of the ‘Demic, we have Laguna pretty much to ourselves. It can get very crowded under normal conditions, so it’s a little eerie, but nice to be crowd-free.

The Chocolate Soldier: a must-visit!

I love bringing home the flavors of the places we visit, so gourmet shopping is at the top of our list. First stop is The Chocolate Soldier for tasty, beautiful, handmade chocolates. This jewel box sweet shop is located in a boutique shopping area right next to the iconic “Greeter” statue.

TCS also offers other sweets, teas, and gifts. I love the dark chocolate, especially if orange is involved. Andy goes for dark chocolate too with hint of spice, like chipotle or habanero. We also pick up LuLu’s favorites: milk chocolate caramel turtles and a chocolate flip flop, for dog sitting Farnsworth.

Gone, but not forgotten!

Another foodie shop we visit is The Spice Merchants of Laguna Beach [now closed]. I am thrilled to do some big spice shopping! They have every spice, spice blend, and loose leaf tea you can imagine. We pick up some tea for our youngest daughter’s birthday.

And naturally, lots of treats for me: whole juniper berries, cardamom pods, black Hawaiian sea salt, raspberry-chipotle blend, herbed truffle seasoning, and organic habanero powder. I am in my element.

Don’t forget to visit the surf shops for some rad beach wear. Andy and I both shop for some new threads until we get hungry.

Taco Tuesday in Laguna

Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant is a must-visit. It looks like a little taco stand, but there’s dining both outside and inside with an ocean view, when permitted. Avila’s is a short walk from our hotel, so we can walk up and order margaritas to go… blood orange for me, jalapeno for Andy. We also order an ahi tuna poke bowl, and blackened mahi mahi tacos, plus chips and guacamole (naturally).

An easy, breezy lunch on the deck.

We take our feast to our patio to enjoy lunch, relaxing with the cool ocean breeze and swaying palm trees. This is how margaritas taste best! Everything is very fresh. The guacamole is topped with pico de gallo and served with colorful chips. My poke bowl is light and fresh with perfectly seared ahi. Andy’s tacos are excellent!

Livin’ La Vida Laguna

After lunch, we head deeper into town for more shopping and art galleries in the bustling Main Beach Park and Heisler Park areas. Well, typically bustling. They have blocked off the street and turned it in to a pedestrian mall. But in January ’21, pedestrians are an endangered species!

We visit the Vladimir Kush Fine Art Gallery, a surrealist painter. You can visit his galleries virtually.

We also hit Tuvalu, one of my favorite home décor shops. Strolling their shop is an exercise in restraint! We pick up a brie baker, which I’ve wanted for a while.

The first week of January 2021, “social distancing” had Laguna all but empty.

Next we hit Main Beach for an evening stroll, and to soak in Heisler park.

Big windows on mansions in the hills have a great view, but also make a blinding hazard close to sunset!

Heisler Park runs along the cliffs overlooking the ocean and coves. Walking this park is a treat, with lush, tropical landscaping. There are grassy areas, picnic benches, BBQs, and art sculptures. Stop in at Las Brisas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a stunning outdoor patio view.

Another Day, Another Adventure

The next morning, we are up with the sun. We grab our breakfast-in-a-box and fuel up on the fabulous coffee. Three more shots for me! Hey, the robo-coffeemaker-from-the-future doesn’t mind!

It’s a nice day for a beach hike, and that means less chance of seeing anyone else at Pirate’s Tower!

We’re on a quest to find a cool landmark on Victoria Beach called Pirate’s Tower, only accessible at low tide. Turns out, we’re in for a bit of a hike.

We see some amazing tidepools on the way.

Normal access is closed, so we head south and hit the beach at Treasure Island Park. This means we get to enjoy lovely secluded beaches, tide pools, and a bit of rock climbing on this warm, sunny January day as we beachwalk north.

Finally, we make it to Pirate’s Tower! Yarr! It does not disappoint. This mysterious tower attached to the cliffs was built in 1926. The stone turret is actually a long-abandoned, enclosed 60-foot staircase to the property above.

By the time we make it to the tower, the tide is low enough to be accessible, but still high enough to still give us some awesome crashing waves at the circular retaining wall at the base of the tower.

Obligatory selfie with iconic landmark.

Up Your Coast

Next up, we cruise just a bit north to Crystal Cove. We totally see why this is such a highly-recommended beach!

These cottages are for rent… cheap!

We were not actually prepared for how cool and extensive Crystal Cove is, grabbing some quick sandwiches thinking we would just check it out. But this is not merely a beach.

Crystal Cove has these strange, perfectly round rock formations buried in the sand.

Sure, we enjoyed a long walk on the sand. But this spot is a secluded cove with vintage cottages that you can rent. Hint to Andy! We will be back to explore in the future!

We top off our last evening in Laguna popping a bottle of Orfila Benign Neglect Confusion, and settle in on our patio for the sun’s nightly show, dipping into the Pacific.


No Hurry to Get Home

One side-effect of ‘Rona was cocktails to go.

In the morning, one more 3-shot cappuccino! We do a little more shopping and visit Las Brisas for lunch. This is another must-visit restaurant with indoor seating, but seemingly acres of outdoor tables perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

At Las Brisas, California meets the flavors of Mexico. They’re offering family-sized Prix Fixe meals with margaritas. We go for it, and it is way too much food for us to eat in one sitting! This means I don’t have to cook tonight.

We score pork belly adobo tacos, rice, beans, chips, salsa, guacamole and salad.

This is also a spot that needs revisiting… and we do!

Pork belly adobo, as decadent and tasty as it sounds!

Fast Forward

Imagine this time lunching on an 80 degree November day, sipping cocktails, the ocean breeze keeping us cool. This go-round, a shrimp and crab ceviche, steak and lobster enchiladas, and spicy margaritas.

Bookending 2021 with visits to Las Brisas.