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Southern Californians shamelessly don their scarves and boots when temperatures drop below 70 — I know because I’m one of them. Come November or December, I also find myself whimpering about how Los Angeles doesn’t truly go through four distinct seasons. When I come across a tree with orange or — gasp — falling leaves, I almost always pause to observe the rare sight.
In reality, Southern California residents have to work rather hard to find something to complain about, since we are blessed with beautiful weather and so many easily accessible travel possibilities. Last October, instead of having to wear layers and thick, menacing socks, my family and I packed up for a weekend in Laguna Beach, Calif. The sun came along too, of course.
Our landing place was The Inn at Laguna Beach, a quiet property atop a pretty bluff that’s sandwiched between the sand and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Rooms and suites feature classic and beachy California decor, and most of them face west, providing guests with views of the surf. And while the inn is surely a hit with couples looking for a romantic escape, its location makes it an ideal choice for families. In our two days at the inn, we used only our stroller and trusty feet to get around.
Inn guests will enjoy the property’s rooftop bar area, where complimentary wine is poured at 5 p.m. each day. If parents aren’t enjoying libations, it’s also a fine place for eating homemade snacks al fresco.
The inn also has a quaint pool area that overlooks the ocean, but when my daughter Olivia and I visited it, we were practically the only ones there. Everyone else had opted for the beach, and we eventually moved toward that direction as well. Pail and shovel in hand, we crossed the subterranean parking lot, headed south along the PCH and, within minutes, were at the iconic hexagonal Main Beach lifeguard station that hosts guards watching over swimmers and surfers since 1929.
Things to DoIt’s easy to be entertained on Main Beach, where sandcastle builders, joggers and volleyball players seem to outnumber seagulls. And the water is just as busy. Stand-up paddleboarding, surfing and skimboarding are popular watersports here, and families can rent gear or arrange lessons from any number of local shops. But with a 2-year-old in tow, we stuck more to the shore than the sea.
While my daughter was happy to scoop sand and play with drying seaweed for hours, her dad made sure we didn’t leave the beach without exploring the tide pools on the north end of the beach. Spread out over a few large rock formations, these protected pools are home to a rainbow of creatures, and on sunny days when the tide is low, docents organized by the city stand ready to help people spot and learn about sea life. Should your family want to see a more substantial tide pool area, hop in the car and head toward Crystal Cove State Park, approximately 3 miles north on the PCH.
Parents traveling with older kids or a good athletic stroller might also head inland on Laguna Canyon Road. From here, hikers can access miles of trails in the 7,000-acre Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The area is full of coastal sage scrub, native grasses and endemic animals, from mule deer to red-tailed hawks.
Where to EatWe played with fire one evening and headed to Nick’s Laguna Beach, an American restaurant that’s more fancy than kid-casual. Olivia was a trooper for about 40 minutes — adequate time for me to thoroughly enjoy a strawberry basil margarita, one of many tantalizing house cocktails. However, she lost her cool not long after our dinners arrived.
Rushed as we were, I was present enough to recognize that the food was great. The light San Francisco cioppino, a fish stew, was served with a freshly baked sourdough loaf, and the classic cheeseburger was a flavorful beast of a thing. As we got up to leave, I made sure to ask for to-go boxes, just in case Olivia wanted a post-meltdown snack at the inn.
For breakfast, we joined early-rising locals at Zinc Cafe & Market on Ocean Avenue, also in Laguna Beach, one of four locations in Southern California. At this eatery, nearly all diners recline on a scenic streetside patio full of umbrellas, chirping birds and shaggy four-legged friends. Olivia loved watching the dogs and birds dart after abandoned crumbs, and my husband and I loved eating an entire meal in one sitting.
At the cafe, expect a full coffee menu and a long list of breakfast standards, from frittatas and poached eggs to oatmeal and fresh fruit. For snacks or cakes to go, check out the European-style market counter.
The Inn at Laguna Beachwww.innatlagunabeach.com
Visit Laguna Beachwww.visitlaguna.com