Experience LAGUNA Like a Local

Ann Wycoff checks into her waterfront pad at Sunset Cove Villas and soaks in the bliss of the Southern California coastal living.

Sunset Cove Villa 3
We all love a luxury hotel stay, but if you truly want to tap into the spirit of a place, sometimes checking into your own residential pad proves to be a richer experience. The cool thing about the Sunset Cove Villas is that you can have your own one-, two- or three-bedroom spacious spread, right smack on the beach with endless ocean vistas, and enjoy upscale hotel amenities without the crowds or $75 breakfasts.

Sunset Cove VillasGuests may choose from eight individually-styled villas that have the feel of European beach cottages with lots of marble, maritime accents, woods and wicker. It’s easy to cook for the family in the gourmet kitchens, and, of course, there are fireplaces and flat screens and living rooms with giant glass doors and windows framing the sea. Sitting on the deck, you’re so close to the Pacific you can actually feel the ocean mist and taste the salty air. Not to mention, you can watch the dolphins catch the waves with the local surfers while V formations of pelicans soar right above your head and sailboats slice the sea with sleepy Catalina floating in the distance.

Orange Inn Laguna BeachWhen you choose to leave the comforts of your villa, a quick walk up Sleepy Hollow Lane leads to the bustle of Laguna Beach. For morning fare favored by the locals, slip into the low-fi, friendly Orange Inn for fresh croissants, warm cinnamon rolls, seriously good coffee and breakfast burritos, plump with eggs, beans, cheese and avocado.  It’s also the home to the “Original Smoothie” and California Date Shake as this place has roots as far back as 1933, once a juice outpost at the edge of Irvine Ranch, serving fresh OJ and shakes to thirsty travelers, beachgoers and ranch cowboys.

Laguna has myriad boutiques and charming shops for vintage antiques, haute couture, boho beachwear, cottage décor, and local artwork. Laguna’s identity is tightly wrapped into its artistic soul so the village with rife with galleries, sidewalk shows and compelling museums. The first Thursday of every month you can join the monthly gallery walk, an easy way to take in the art scene, or you can also visit the Laguna Beach Art Museum.

Sawdust Studio Art ClassesIf inspired by all the incredible creativity, head to Sawdust Studio and take a class in oil painting or in something you never thought you could actually do like fused glass where you can create a sushi set or stunning decorative plate. More creative afternoons can be spent making silver jewelry or ceramics and glass blowing. These classes, taught by talented locals, serve as uplifting family projects as well. After a day of shopping, art-making or body surfing in the waves, head to La Casa Del Camino for a blackberry mojito at the Rooftop Lounge, a festive airy perch above the crashing waves for fiery sunsets.

For dinner, we love the grazing plates at Watermarc to explore Chef Marc Cohen’s inspired menu. Start by sampling the mixologists’ elixirs such as Maui margarita, tequila jazzed with freshly muddled pineapple, lime and a jalepeno kick or their Elderflower cocktail, alcohol alchemy with St. Germain, Prosecco, lemon, and a soda spritz. The dinner menu spins the head and revs the appetite with so many compelling flavor pairings, so it’s best to share. A quick tease includes ahi watermelon skewers, smoked bacon wrapped dates, herb-crusted lamb chops with feta crème fraiche, sizzling lime shrimp, and green-lipped mussels in saffron lemon crème. (We’re still thinking about the filet mignon pot pie.) If still hungry, seafood paella, braised short ribs, and cedar plank salmon are also standouts and the extensive well-curated wine list offers excellent pairings.

But of course, since you have your own villa – and sometimes getting out of your beach cover ups and dragging the kids out is not worth the ordeal – you can always fire up the grill right on your deck or head up to the Sunset Cove’s communal space for a group barbecue or lounge on the deck with sunset cocktails.  (There’s a major grocery store in walking distance from your villa.) One evening, while enjoying wine and cheese on the patio a mother gray whale and her calf swam by as the sun dropped into the Pacific – so perfectly choreographed it rendered us speechless.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach offers a portal into SoCal beach culture and is particularly appealing in the summertime when the water warms and the sunny days linger. But as every good traveler knows, it’s better to live like a local and experience the soul of a place, then float through as a tourist. So hit Sleepy Hollow Beach for that morning run, grab your coffee and smoothie at the Orange Inn, become well-versed on the latest art exhibit in town, stand up paddle beyond the breaks, and build sandcastles with your kids in front of your private pad. Try the House of Big Fish  for clams and cold beers, or grab a stiff drink at the local watering hole Marine Tavern for a game of pool or live music. Stargaze from your Sunset Cove private deck and fall asleep to the rhythms of the lapping surf. And then you’ll leave with a sweet taste of life in Laguna.

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