Best of the Beaches

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Erin O’Neil and her family adore Wood’s Cove, which Erin says is “kind of off the beaten path.”

Five residents reveal their favorite spots to splash, lounge and surf, reminding us that, for Laguna Beach natives, paradise is right around the corner.

By Bria Balliet


It is no secret that our gorgeous seaside town boasts some of the most amazing beaches in the world. The soft sand is perfect for lounging, building sand castles or taking a shore-side jog, while the stunning turquoise waters are teeming with wildlife. From bright garibaldi to playful sea lions, dolphins and even gray whales, there is no shortage of incredible living creatures to observe in Laguna Beach. Throw in the near-perfect weather year-round and it is no wonder that vacationers come from all over the world to experience this magical place that we call home.

Though Laguna is swarmed with such visitors during the summer months, locals know the best places to go to escape the crowds and still beat the heat. We chatted with five Laguna Beach natives to get their take on the ultimate coastal spots to enjoy the beauty and adventures that our beaches have to offer. From an entrepreneur and new mom to the founder of a world-renowned skimboard company, each found it difficult to settle on just one stretch of sand, but their struggle proves just how remarkable and unique the coastal paradise is here in Laguna. Here, discover some of our readers’ favorite beaches—and what they love about them.



The Local Hangout

DSC_2833ZELLEReditAs a new mom and owner of Ruby Mint—a brand new luxury beach towel line—Laguna Beach local Erin O’Neil has high standards when it comes to which beaches she will visit with her daughter Ryan Ruby. Luckily, most of Laguna’s gorgeous coastline meets her strict criteria. “I grew up going to Shaw’s Cove, so I have this nostalgia for that. And then as a teenager, I would go to Thalia [Street Beach] because all the surfers were down there; … there were all the cute boys,” she laughs.

But her current favorite spot? “It’s definitely Wood’s Cove,” she shares. “It’s super local-based. It’s kind of off the beaten path a little. I feel like you have to know about it to get there.” She also appreciates the calm tide at the beach, which means very gentle waves for baby Ryan to splash in as she grows up.

With an abundance of sea life just beneath the water’s surface, amazing tide pools and the legendary “blowhole”—which she has jumped into on more than one occasion—it’s no wonder that the mom-turned-entrepreneur loves the charming cove. But for Erin, the biggest draw is the local feel. “You just walk down there and you know a lot of people and it’s a lot of familiar faces and everyone is bouncing back and forth, chatting it up, watching out for each other in the water,” she says.

And that is exactly how she would want to spend her ultimate day at Wood’s Cove, comfortable and among friends. “We’re the kind of people that go down [to the beach] all day. … We’d definitely pack lots of food and drink and snorkeling gear, of course, and kind of just post up all day long,” she says. “That’s our ideal day.”



The Surfer’s Sanctuary

Brooks Street is known as a prime surf spot

As a skimboarding legend and co-founder of premier skimboarding brand Victoria Skimboards, Tex Haines has spend most of his life jaunting up and down Laguna’s coast. For this reason, choosing just one favorite shoreline was definitely a feat. “Each beach has its unique characteristics that make it great,” he muses. “I grew up visiting Victoria as an Altadena tourist on weekends and during summer. So Victoria will always be my spawning grounds. I also lived above Crescent [Bay] for quite a few years, so it gets the most picturesque/great tide pools award, especially with the great bluff-top park overlooking it,” Tex shares.

But the beach he settled on as his favorite is the one that appeals the most to his surfer roots. “Now I [live] near Brooks Street and, with lots of surfing and skimming, I end up there most of the time.”

A mecca for local surfers, Brooks Street plays host to its namesake Brooks St. Surfing Classic, which is hailed as the world’s longest running surf competition. Tex himself has competed many times and has especially fond memories of winning the competition’s master division on two separate occasions.

While Tex still loves surfing and skimming at his favorite beach, his beloved activities do not come without dangers, and maybe a few lost possessions. “My wedding band is out there somewhere,” he admits. “I managed to push it off my finger with my big toe as I tried to surf too close to shore and did a human pretzel.” So fans of Brooks Street’s skim and surf scene should keep their eyes peeled in the water. “ ‘Vires acquirit eundo’ [which means gaining strength as it goes] is inscribed into it, just in case some detector-head found it,” he says, hopefully.



The Private Oasis

Rachel Tejada loves the tide pools and fairytale tower at Victoria Beach.

A favorite among the Lagunita community residents, Victoria Beach also garners a loyal following of outsiders who make the not-always-convenient trek to its stunning shores because, well, it’s worth it. “It almost feels like your own private oasis, it really does,” says Rachel Tejada, who heads the Tide Water Docent Program at The Inn at Laguna Beach.

To explore the gem of a beach for yourself, patience is a virtue. Parking in the area is difficult, but all good things come with a price. The flat sand and gentle waves have made the cove a favorite spot for skimboarders (just ask Tex Haines), but Rachel loves its topography for her own reasons.

Unsurprisingly, the nature lover and tide pool expert holds a special place in her heart for the wildlife that inhabits the pools at Victoria, in addition to the perfectly smooth sand and clear waters. “I just love the exploration side of our beaches,” she shares. “And being able to look at the tide pools that they have to offer.”

There isn’t one specific memory that cements Rachel’s feelings for Victoria, but rather the consistency of the beach’s beauty and its unique sights such as the enchanting and fairy tale-esque tower that has become a trademark of the beach. As she says, “From the ‘Rapunzel turret’ beckoning people to continue walking down the beach … to the fact that Treasure Island is so close to explore as well, … I feel like Victoria Beach is one of Laguna’s best hidden secrets.”



The Secluded Beauty

By Robert Zaleski
Mark Christy loves paddle boarding in the gorgeous waters of Shaw’s Cove.

For Mark Christy, Laguna Beach native and co-owner of local Hobie Surf Shops and Tuvalu, as well as the new owner of The Ranch at Laguna Beach (formerly the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course), the stunning shores and calm waters of Shaw’s Cove allow him to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of real life and just unwind with friends and family. “If I’m just spending the day with friends, Shaw’s Cove is pretty tough to beat in terms of the aesthetics, the setting and water clarity,” he says.

But the beauty of the tiny cove isn’t all that appeals to Mark. Its seclusion—away from the swarm of crowds that invade other beaches—is a big draw for the ocean enthusiast. “My ideal day at the beach would be any day where I forgot my phone at home,” he shares. “To completely disengage from ‘real life’ for a few hours and decompress takes me right back to my youth, growing up on the beaches of Laguna and spending what seemed like endless days laying on the warm sand and wondering where life would take me.”

One of Mark’s favorite memories revolves around one such magically calm day, on Thanksgiving several years ago. After launching his stand-up paddleboard from the pristine shores of Shaw’s Cove, Mark paddled north, all the way to Crystal Cove. “At this point, I literally could not paddle anymore. A slight wind kicked up, but the water was still completely glassy,” he remembers. “I just turned around, headed south using my body as a spinnaker and gently paddled back to Shaw’s while watching a nearly nonstop display of sea lions, dolphins, rays and large fish dancing on and beneath the surface. It is literally impossible to describe that perfect moment in time.”



The Hidden Paradise

LBM_47_Beaches_Picnic_Shaws Cove_By Jody Tiongco-22
Steven “Sli Dawg” Chew will only give hints as to the location of his favorite beach, but he recommends bringing a picnic if you’re lucky enough to find it.

One of the most alluring aspects of Laguna’s shores is that there is an abundance of hidden coves, tide pools and rock formations to explore for those who are willing to go on a bit of an adventure. One such hidden gem is the favorite hangout of Laguna Beach surf instructor and multimedia artist Steven “Sli Dawg” Chew. “As a surfer growing up here in Laguna, you would think I would pick a surfing beach here in Laguna,” he shares.

But, instead of spilling details that may irk other local surfers, he offers up some information about a very secret and pristine hideaway. And—in true artist fashion—he does so with a poetic riddle.

“I will tell you a tad bit about a treasure called Little Secret Seashell Cove, where there is a little private natural pool that lays upon a bed of mother of pearl from all the broken seashells that glisten in the sunny waters there,” he describes, noting the numerous blue mussel shells that cover the area and provide for his ideal day of shell collecting with a loved one. “A picnic with someone special and a bottle of chilled white wine can be sneaky and fun,” he adds.

For those who wish to visit this fabled magic pool for themselves, Steven isn’t giving up the secret so easily. But, with a little determination and creativity, it may be possible to find with the help of Steven’s clues.

“The magic of this nestled pearl of a place is that all the elements have to come together to really see her in all her seaside glory,” he continues. “It can even be impossible to get there some days because the waves are too big or the tides are too high. But if you luck upon that small slice of paradise on that right day in north Laguna, be sure to thank the sweet ocean sirens that live there for sharing their secret song.”


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