Laguna is nothing if not a beach town. Although it covers just 8.8 square miles, the coastal community is home to more than 30 pristine stretches of sand. It’s also where surfing pioneer Hobie Alter started making boards in his parents’ garage in 1950, opening Southern California’s first surf shop in neighboring Dana Point four years later.
Today, surfers still fill Laguna’s waters, but beaches here aren’t simply for those looking to hang 10. Across town, you’ll find spots for divers, animal lovers, families, and more, all detailed below in our list of nine distinctly different Laguna beaches.
For families: Main Beach
Main Beach may be located right in town, but it’s Laguna’s largest beach so it never feels too crowded. Families headed here will be happy to find a bustling boardwalk, basketball and volleyball courts, a play area for children, and access to Heisler Park and its tide pools. Lifeguards regularly patrol the beach so parents can rest easy, and the water is always inviting, with calm tides and mostly sand underfoot. Note that surfers are not allowed on Main Beach during the summer months.
For romantics: Thousand Steps Beach
Thousand Steps Beach sounds particularly challenging to access, but don’t let the name fool you. It’s only a few hundred steps—218, to be precise—to the shore. The moniker does visitors a favor, however, as it helps hold back the crowds. One of the largest beaches in Laguna, Thousand Steps is also one of the least busy, making it a prime destination for couples seeking some alone time or solo travelers hoping to find solitude on the shore. When visiting, be sure to walk to either the north or south end to explore the caves on either side (be aware that they’re inaccessible during high tide). To get to the sand, find a legal parking spot near the intersection of Ninth Avenue and Coast Highway, then walk down from there.
For swimmers: Sleepy Hollow Beach
Located just outside town, Sleepy Hollow features a quiet stretch of sand where visitors can find peace and plenty of space. The water here has a soft, sandy floor, with only a few dots of rocks and reefs, making it a good place for swimming. Hop in, do a few ocean laps, then retreat to the shore and take a nap in the Laguna sun. Sleepy Hollow is also a short walk from Main Beach, should you want to pop into town for lunch or shopping between dips in the water.
For surfers: Thalia Street Beach
Down a long flight of stairs at the finish of a dead-end road, you’ll find one of Southern California’s best surfing spots: Thalia Street Beach. The tiny stretch of shoreline is reserved exclusively for surfers, so swimming isn’t allowed here—though you wouldn’t want to anyway with the extreme rip current. Instead, come to catch some waves or simply watch the surfers do their thing (surf competitions are held regularly throughout the summer and fall months).
For divers: Cleo Street Beach
With its massive sunken barge offshore, Cleo Street Beach is a diver’s paradise. According to California Wreck Divers, the barge was moored in Laguna in November 1958 and filled with a deck load of gravel for a construction project, but it sank in place after a massive storm came up the coast. Today, it sits 200 yards from shore and 55 feet below the surface, meaning you can easily swim from the beach and explore the site yourself.
For waders: Treasure Island Beach
Located behind the Montage hotel, Treasure Island Beach lives up to its name with magnificent tide pools that are only revealed during low tide. When the Pacific recedes, the shallow ponds in the beach’s craggy rock formations are filled with crabs, starfish, and other tiny marine life to explore. Be warned, however—the pools are dangerously inaccessible during high tide, so time your treasure hunt accordingly.
For explorers: Victoria Beach
One of Laguna’s best-known stretches of sand, Victoria Beach is a scenic spot for an adventure. Here, visitors can join a beach volleyball game, wade in tide pools, or explore a few caves. At the north end of the beach, they’ll also find the famous Pirate Tower—a 60-foot-tall structure from 1926 that once served as the home of retired naval captain Harold Kendrick. A known pirate aficionado, Kendrick allegedly dressed in full pirate regalia and often invited the neighborhood children over for scavenger hunts for real money. As legend has it, there’s still some cash hidden in the tower today.
For animal lovers: Crescent Bay Beach
Wide and sandy, Crescent Bay Beach is known for its beauty, but it will especially please those who love a good animal sighting or two. Seal Rock sits offshore, where the namesake mammals warm themselves in the California sun year round. Visitors aren’t allowed on the rock, but they can take all the pictures they want and can snorkel and scuba dive nearby. For something even more exciting, visit Crescent Bay in the spring or summer and you may spot some blue whales on their yearly migration to cooler waters.
For insiders: Wood’s Cove Beach
Wood’s Cove isn’t a private beach, but it’s so hard to find that it draws mostly locals. To get here, follow Diamond Street to its end at Ocean Way, then take the steep staircase down to the sand. Walk north to see the rock arch that leads to Pearl Street Beach at low tide, or go south to enjoy the tide pools. The beach is also an ideal destination for scuba diving, though it’s a bit uninviting for swimmers because of several big rocks and frequent rip currents. Be sure to plan your visit accordingly, as Crescent Beach can get crowded during the summer and all but disappears during high tide.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Laguna Beach and Dana Point