Visit Laguna Beach’s new president and CEO shares her plans for welcoming people to this oceanside destination as well as a few of her favorite things.
By Sharon Stello
Born and raised in Orange County, Rachel O’Neill-Cusey is excited to help visitors make memories in Laguna Beach, which she describes as “an iconic, quintessential So Cal beach destination with so much rich history.”
O’Neill-Cusey, who previously served as director of sales and marketing at Visit Dana Point, was appointed as the new president and CEO of Visit Laguna Beach in November.
“Laguna Beach is a sought-after destination and I have the opportunity to show our community, our visitors and our friends the endless opportunities and experiences they will have when coming to Laguna Beach for a visit,” she says. “… I love all the creative energy that is flowing through this town and all the amazing art that can be experienced as you make your way through the city.”
Growing up in nearby San Clemente, she has spent plenty of time in Laguna. And to help promote this beach town, she has lots of ideas.
“It’s important for me to continue sharing our authentic Laguna Beach story,” O’Neill-Cusey says. “And by sharing that story, I hope to welcome back our existing visitors, while inspiring a whole new wave of visitors to our coastal destination.”
O’Neill-Cusey plans to record and launch the first episode of a conversation-style podcast in May. Her hope “is for the residents to get involved to share their stories for both our community to enjoy and reminisce and, at the same time, allow the visitor to capture the true essence of this town.”
She’s also established a new with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to curb the impact that so many tourists can have on the city and its “7 miles of hidden coves and majestic canyons.” “We are really wanting visitors to take care of our beautiful town when they visit so it can be a wonderful place for our community to enjoy for many years,” she says.
Through this effort, Visit Laguna Beach is emphasizing six principles that the organization is encouraging both locals and visitors to follow. In part, she says, the message is “keep our city the way you found it by respecting our wildlife, picking up your trash and being considerate of others trying to enjoy our city.”
O’Neill-Cusey hopes to get approval for signs with these messages to be installed at beaches, but until then, the stewardship initiative will team up with hotels and the Surfrider Foundation to get the word out. The destination organization is also working with Sustainable Travel International to include Laguna in the next season of its documentary series, “Sustainable Travel: Where Next?” among other efforts.
“This is helping us conserve and preserve our pristine terrain for this generation and many future generations of locals and visitors,” O’Neill-Cusey says. “We hope to keep Laguna Beach as it is for many years to come.”
O’Neill-Cusey previously worked as a senior sales manager at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa and then The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. She lives in the San Clemente/Capistrano Beach area with her husband, Bob, and has two grown stepchildren, Jodi, 24, and Jimmy, 23. She also has two dogs, Ruby and Doc.
Laguna Beach Magazine: What do you like about working in the hospitality and tourism industry?
Rachel O’Neill-Cusey: Being a memory maker. Some people spend their entire lives researching and planning a special place to go visit, and I love that being in the tourism industry allows us to make sure visitors have the most enriching experience possible.
Do you have a go-to eatery in town?
ROC: I absolutely love Zinc Cafe. Anytime I can sit outdoors and enjoy a coffee, I am happy. I always order house coffee and will alternate between avocado toast or the Middle Eastern breakfast.
What’s the one place or hidden gem that visitors need to check out?
ROC: This is not so much a hidden gem, but there is something so incredibly magical about being at Sawdust Art Festival around sunset and watching one of the live bands perform. I have been going to Sawdust for years and that moment always feels like time is standing still.
Do you have any hobbies?
ROC: I enjoy spending time on the golf course, although I am not that great. I [also] love live music and will take any opportunity to go and enjoy whether it be a big-name artist or someone just starting out.
What’s the last book you read that you enjoyed or that inspired you and what did you take away from it?
ROC: “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music” by Dave Grohl. It was a great reminder that a big dream is worth going for and to always stay humble.