Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California is a seaside resort famous for its artist community but the real attraction is seven miles of beautiful beaches, perfect weather, a myriad of dining establishments, nightlife, shopping and of course, more art galleries per square mile than any other California community. Laguna Beach is the jewel of Orange County with the Pacific Ocean to the south and west, Crystal Cove State Park on the northwest, Laguna Woods on the northeast, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel on the east, and Dana Point to the southeast.
Laguna Beach, California rises quickly from the ocean to the hills. Laguna Beach reaches an elevation of 1,007 feet at the highest point. There are few roads in and out of Laguna Beach with the Pacific Coast Highway connecting to Newport Beach to the northwest and to Dana Point to the south, and State Route 133 passing through Laguna Canyon to Interstate 405 and 5.
The second oldest city in Southern Orange County, Laguna Beach, California exists for one simple reason. Laguna is situated in an area that was considered to be worthless and none of the large ranchos in the surrounding areas claimed it during the land grab which ensued after California was taken away from Mexico.
With scarce amounts of land available for homesteading, settlers arriving after the Civil War found a tract, known as "the public lands"--a the coastal strip from Laguna Canyon to Three Arch Bay. One of the families of settlers, the Thurstons, claimed the land in Aliso Canyon and built a house about a mile from the beach during the 1870’s. A community named Arch Beach was started just north of there at the mouth of Bluebird Canyon. By the early 1880s most of the land around its small Post Office and general store had been subdivided. At about the time that Orange County separated from Los Angeles County and became independent in 1889.
By 1900, five families of homesteaders occupied Laguna Beach, struggling to farm land that was not easily sustainable. By renting sections of the beaches to farmers from Tustin, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Riverside, and other inland communities, they found an additional source of income, catering to people who were eager to escape the summer heat and created the laguna Beach tourist industry was born.
The area was discovered by a group of landscape painters in the 1920’s, who laid the foundation of the art community which is still thriving to this day. Since then many more groups "discovered" Laguna Beach and added incrementally to the town's diversity. Hollywood actors and directors, retirees, hippies, yuppies, and most lately the very-well-to-do have made Laguna Beach, California their home and added to the local culture.
Laguna Beach is the home to the internationally known Festival of the Arts - Pageant of the Masters. The first pageant ever held in Laguna was an Indian pageant promoted by Isaac Frazee. It was called Kitshi Manido and was held in the large eucalyptus grove at sleepy Hollow (corner of Catalina and Arroyo Chico streets). The second Kitshi was held in 1927 in Laguna Canyon on the Boys Club property. In 1932, Roy M. Ropp conceived of the idea of a pageant and art festival. El Paseo (a little street by Hotel Laguna) was used as the site. Booths were set up and a stage was built on which people posed against painted backdrops to recreate great works of art. Eventually, James Irvine donated a small canyon for the pageant, and on the tenth anniversary of the festival, Irvine Bowl was dedicated.
In spite of growth and commercialism Laguna's "village" character still remains. Being surrounded by mountains and greenbelts and ocean helps keep Laguna Beach relatively isolated. Laguna Beach, California has retained its charm and with its unique geography and an artistic spirit it is unlikely to be absorbed into the urban culture of nearby California cities.
Another little bit of history--during the Nixon years, when President Nixon visited his home in San Clemente, the press corps stayed at the Surf & Sand. Rookie reporters like Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Diane Sawyer stayed there often. These network television reporters taped segments from the beach in front of the hotel.