The Best Things to Do in Laguna Beach and Dana Point

People mostly come to Laguna and Dana Point for the beaches but end up staying for a plethora of other activities, from hiking in the surrounding canyons to hopping between the renowned galleries and museums. Visitors can even spend time with injured seals at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, see a show at the historic Laguna Playhouse, or pick up souvenirs at Southern California’s first surf shop, meaning there’s something here for everyone.

Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
While Victoria Beach is among Laguna’s most famous stretches of sand, it remains blissfully quiet and uncrowded. Park along the Pacific Coast Highway and follow Victoria Drive until you reach the steps, then head down to the secluded beach, where you’ll find everything from a volleyball court and circular pool to caves for exploring and prime spots for skimboarding. Head north and you’ll even come across a pirate tower.

The 60-foot-tall tower is a bit of a mystery to locals, though it was likely built in 1926 as an enclosed staircase to the beach for William E. Brown, a senator from Los Angeles. In the 1940s, the city of Laguna sold the tower to retired naval captain Harold Kendrick, an alleged pirate aficionado who dressed in full regalia. He’d often invite the local children over for scavenger hunts for real cash, and rumor has it that there’s still some money and candy hidden in the tower today.
375 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Located along the bluffs on Cliff Drive, Heisler Park is a walker’s paradise. Visitors looking to get some exercise can start at the lifeguard tower on Main Street and follow a one-mile loop through the park, passing more than a dozen art installations—not to mention six Laguna landmarks and sweeping ocean views–along the way. For those seeking something more relaxing, Heisler Park is also home to beautifully landscaped gardens, a marine refuge with tide pools, barbecues, picnic tables, and grassy lawns for lounging in the sun.
339 Broadway St, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
If you’re hoping to see all of Laguna in a short amount of time, hop on the free trolley, which runs in five neighborhoods during the week and along the Coast Highway on weekends. Hours vary by day and season, but are long enough to make the trolley a fun, convenient way to get around town. For special occasions from September through mid-June, you can even charter a trolley for a tour or a memorable ride to your event.
Cleo Street Beach, California 92651, USA
Located next to Main Beach, the much-quieter Cleo Street Beach is a favorite of scuba divers, who come here to explore the Foss 125 Barge. The wreck, which sank just offshore in 1958, is submerged in a mere 55 feet of water, making it easily accessible to even the novice diver. Those up for the adventure will find an extremely well-preserved site, wrapped in coral and surrounded by Laguna’s Marine Reserve, which boasts everything from seals and otters to colorful fish and even some larger sea life. If you’re not a diver, Cleo Street Beach is still worth a trip to stroll the sand with a coffee from the nearby Orange Inn in hand. Just be sure to bring your four-legged friend along, as the beach welcomes dogs.
18751 Laguna Canyon Rd, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Located in some of the last remaining coastal canyons in Southern California, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park offers some 40 miles of hiking trails that wind through oak and sycamore woodlands and up onto ridges with sweeping ocean views. The park is also part of the Natural Community Conservation Planning program, which helps protect rare and endangered species, so visitors should keep their eyes peeled for animals like the California gnatcatcher and the orange-throated whiptail. You might even spot mule deer, long-tailed weasels, bobcats, and red-tailed hawks while exploring the park’s 7,000 acres of pristine wilderness. Stop by the Nix Nature Center on your way in for maps, information, and anything else you might need for an epic hike.
Wood’s Cove, California 92651, USA
You can find stunning tide pools all along the coast of Laguna Beach, but the ones at Wood’s Cove are unique because they’re deep enough for swimming. Part of a rocky outcropping called Cactus Point—which is also home to Orange County’s only blowhole—the pools are full of exciting marine life, from hermit crabs and sea stars to colorful sea anemones. When swimming here, just be sure to leave everything exactly as you found it. The tide pools fall within a protected area, meaning that taking shells, rocks, sand, or other objects is strictly forbidden. And keep an eye on the tides—it’s best, and safest, to visit at low tide when the risk of crashing waves is minimal.
31972 Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Even though it’s more like 218 steps down to this secluded beach, getting here does take a little effort. It’s worth it for the views, though, and to find a nearly empty stretch of sand with one of the best shore breaks in town. Popular with bodysurfers and skimboarders, Thousand Steps is also an ideal place to simply lay down your towel and bask in the Southern California sun. If you’re feeling adventurous, walk south along the shore and you’ll come to Laguna’s most famous sea cave—it’s actually more like a tunnel, with a full walk-through that’s fun to explore. You can also walk north to find the Totuava cave, but pay attention to the water as both caves are only accessible during low tide.
2133 Laguna Canyon Rd, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Orange County’s first urban winery, Laguna Canyon makes award-winning wines right in town with premium grapes from Napa and Sonoma valleys. Guests can swing by the public tasting room for a range of different experiences, from traditional pours of signature and reserve wines to red wine tastings directly from the French oak barrels. Complete with 62 barrels, a wine press, a bottling line, and an intimate view of the working winery, the tasting room makes for a fun, educational place to spend a few hours downtown. It’s also available for private events upon request.
24440 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629, USA
Captain Dave’s ocean safaris offer visitors a different way to see Laguna. Departing from Dana Point, the cruises take place on a high-tech, high-speed catamaran equipped with underwater viewing pods so guests can see marine life up close. The boat also features three tram nets on the bow, offering prime views of everything from blue, humpback, and fin whales to orcas, dolphins, and even great white sharks. Cruises are limited to 49 people so everyone gets a front-row seat—plus Mrs. Captain Dave’s legendary triple fudge brownies that she bakes fresh for every trip.
1600 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Established in 1993, Dawson Cole Fine Art is one of Laguna’s top galleries, with works by such big names as Picasso, Matisse, Chuck Close, Wayne Thiebaud, and more. Here, the focus is on contemporary and modern art, with everything from sculpture to drawings to prints on display. When you’re done browsing the showroom, head out back to the stunning sculpture garden, where you can check out even more art while soaking up the California sunshine.
430 Park Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Deemed the second-smallest Catholic church in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1983, St. Francis by the Sea clocks in at just 1,008 square feet, with room for just 42 people at Sunday mass. While it’s certainly diminutive, it more than makes up for its size in charm. In addition to hosting regular services, the church is home to the National “Sick Call” Set Museum, which features kits from as far back as the 1880s that were used to perform last rites. In the choir loft, visitors can peruse everything from crucifixes and bowls for holy water to devotional items like statues, then head downstairs to ogle the church’s beautiful stained-glass windows and wood-beamed ceilings. Though St. Francis doesn’t hold regular hours, guests are welcome following Sunday mass or during larger Laguna Beach tours.
294 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Though there are plenty of surf shops to be found around Laguna and Dana Point, none is more important to the community than Hobie. Way back in 1950, Hobie Alter started shaping surfboards in his family’s Laguna Beach summer home. In 1954, he opened Southern California’s first surf shop in Dana Point, where his brand became synonymous with innovation and craftsmanship. Some 70 years later, his surfboards remain a favorite of top athletes like Phil Edwards, Joey Cabell, and Corky Carroll and continue to inspire surfers all over the world. Stop into the shop, which now stands just two blocks from the original location, to pick up a board of your own, plus apparel, accessories, and everything else you need for hanging ten.
307 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Laguna Beach’s deep connection to the arts goes back to 1918, when 150 local creative residents started the Laguna Beach Art Association (the city’s population was only 300 then). That association went on to launch what’s now the Laguna Art Museum. Although the museum covers countless genres and eras, there’s one thing every piece has in common: They’re all made in California. The 3,500-strong permanent collection spans the early 19th century to present day, from light and space installations to pop art (and also includes pieces by art-world stars like Ed Ruscha and Wayne Thiebaud). It’s rounded out by a handful of new California-centric exhibitions each year. Highly knowledgeable docents—all have completed an extensive nine-month training course—lead lively one-hour walk-throughs at 11 a.m. Friday to Tuesday; groups of 10 or more guests may book guided tours in advance. Must-do: Hit the museum on a Thursday night when it stays open until 9 p.m. and becomes a community hub, with lectures, film screenings, and live concerts in the galleries.
1257 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
If anything’s endemic to Orange County it’s surfing—there are 40 miles of coastline here, after all. It’s not hard to find passionate practitioners of the sport, but doing is one thing and teaching is very much another. For newbies or even intermediate surfers looking to get back on a board, La Vida Laguna’s approachable, confidence-boosting instructors are the surest way to success. In private and semi-private lessons, their goal is to ensure that their surf pupils—starting from age eight—stand up on a wave, of course, but they also want to create more ocean advocates in the process. Wave safety and selection plus etiquette training are part of the lessons, along with pop-up drills, positioning, and gentle pushes at Thalia Beach, which has consistently calm waves for beginners. Guides also lead stand-up paddleboard lessons, hikes, and kayak adventures (expect frequent sea life sightings), tailoring and combining experiences upon request. Appointments are necessary and can be made on the phone, online, or at the company’s historic Craftsman bungalow in downtown Laguna. Local tip: For fewer surfers in the water, book a couple lessons on weekdays during the winter season.
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