|Chic Laguna Beach, the jewel of the so-called California Riviera, has
been a favourite of gay men.
About midway between San Diego and Los Angeles and nicknamed
the area began attracting artists around the turn of the 20th century.
formal art colony was established in 1917.
What makes the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
special is its
princely setting atop a
cliff overlooking the Pacific.
Hollywood film stars - Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Bette Davis,
Mickey Rooney - were also an early presence. The 1920s contingent
establish what is still one of the nation's outstanding community
the Laguna Playhouse. The Festival of the Arts, a still-thriving
local painters, sculptors, and other artists that began in 1932, sealed
town's reputation as a cradle of West Coast creativity.
The presence of gays was very discreet during most of the
century, and there has long been occasional tension between some of the
town's mainstream and gay business owners and even residents over the
Laguna is, after all, a coastal arm of conservative Orange County.
Nevertheless, by 1983 there were enough progressive residents to elect
Gentry the first openly gay mayor in the United States. Laguna later
the only town in Orange County to adopt an antidiscrimination policy
protected the rights of gays and lesbians.
Laguna today is a desirable getaway for same-sex couples and singles
The ocean views and landscape are often spectacular, there's good
and dining, and party types will find just enough nightlife to keep
themselves occupied until another gorgeous day begins.
A good spot to begin your explorations in the center of Laguna, at the
oceanside equivalent of a traditional American town green: Main Beach.
breezy park has tile benches, a large expanse of golden sand, heavily
volleyball nets and basketball courts, and a small wooden boardwalk.
and tourists laze in the sun, their peace interrupted only by the
ring of a mobile phone (yuppies abound). Along Ocean and Forest
and along Broadway, are excellent cafes and some art galleries and
North of Main Beach is Laguna's Gallery Row, the most concentrated
art dealing in town, as well as the Laguna Art Museum, which houses a
permanent collection of works by local artists and mounts outstanding
A short drive south of downtown Coast Highway leads to some
businesses, including the
Mart which sells beachwear, men's clothing, gay erotica, and gay videos. The
is the Coast Inn, which has a large bar and disco and a gay beach
behind it, although the accomodation has had some mixed reviews.
Crescent Bay, Laguna Beach
For an enchanting side trip, head south of Laguna Beach several miles
reach San Juan Capistrano, the one town in the area that retains a
California's Mission-era history. Many of the adobe structures here
the late 18th century. Mission San Juan Capistrano is famous as the
host to thousands of migrating swallows from Argentina, and its Serra
is thought to be the oldest continuously used building in the state of
California. A small downtown area has largely escaped 20th-century
Laguna's glamorous and artsy aura continues in the decor, presentation,
quality of its restaurants. There's a budding cafe culture downtown,
Ocean and Forest avenues, and eating establishments up and down the
One of downtown Laguna's top restaurants, 230 Forest
wows diners with imaginative New American and West Coast regional
The emphasis is on seafood: Salmon-and-mussel stew with white beans and
smoked bacon is a top starter.
Zinc Cafe and Market is the ultimate lunch and breakfast spot downtown,
outstanding healthful prepared foods, sandwiches, and gourmet goods and
sunny outdoor dining area aglow with greenery and zinc tables. For good
Cal-Mex fare, head to South Laguna's Coyote Grill. Nearby, the
family-friendly Eva's Caribbean Kitchen has a bright and sunny patio and
great jerk chicken and other healthful West Indian cooking. The
fast-food restaurant Taco Loco is more than just a favorite surfer
it serves fish fajitas and tacos to die for. Get your java fix at
Klatch, a cheerful storefront coffeehouse in the gay neighbourhood, with
desserts, sandwiches, and Internet access.
Laguna's Coast Highway is strung with generally mainstream but
lodgings, from posh hotels that gaze out over the ocean to quite a few
motels - the town is also home to an excellent, gay-owned reservation
service, California Riviera 800, which represents hotels and inns up
Southern California's rich and varied coast.
Flowers, Beach and Falls at Laguna Beach
Nearby, Laguna Brisas Spa Hotel is a cheerful property with a good
in the gay and lesbian community. Rooms are done in cool pastels;
big, comfortable, and have ocean views - and all have two-person
tubs. The setting is a dramatic hill; rooms tumble down the side of it.
enchanting Spanish Mission-style compound, the Casa Laguna Inn has lush
gardens and courtyards strewn with bougainvillea and queen palm trees,
pool and sundeck shaded by banana and avocado trees. The wide-ranging
accommodations include a small romantic cottage with phenomenal views,
about 20 additional units ranging from sprawling ocean-view suites to
moderately priced courtyard rooms.
It's not quite as laid-back as your typical beachfront hotel, but the
formality of the magnificent Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is worth
only to behold the breathtaking views from its 150-foot clifftop
Rooms are spacious and outfitted with top-notch amenities, including
glamorous marble baths, goosedown pillows, terry robes. The public
contain a fine collection of 18th and 19th century British and American
painting - if nothing else drops by to admire these works and perhaps
one of the hotel's acclaimed restaurants.
Nightlife in Laguna is not frenetic. Locals tend to be approachable,
during more touristy times L.A.'s stand-and-model set infiltrates the
For gay men and lesbians, we think the best with its mock-Tudor interior is the Main Street bar
as it doesn't look
a typical beach bar. The crowd, however, is southern California all the
fun-loving and chatty (and often bleached blond). People often sing up
storm around the piano.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Casa Laguna Inn
S. Coast Hwy., 949-494-2996 or 800-233-0449, Website).
(1401 S. Coast Hwy., 949-494-7588 or 800-653-2697).
Grill (31621 S. Coast Hwy., 949-499-4033).
Eva's Caribbean Kitchen (31732
Coast Hwy., 949-499-6311).
Festival of Arts (777 Laguna Canyon Rd.,
Gay Mart (168 Mountain Rd., 949-497-9108).
S. Coast Hwy., 949-376-6867).
Laguna Art Museum (307 Cliff Dr.,
Laguna Beach Visitor Information Center (949-497-9229 or
Laguna Brisas Spa Hotel (1600
Coast Hwy., 949-497-7272 or 877-503-1466, Website).
Playhouse (606 Laguna Canyon Rd., 949-497-9244).
Main Street (1460 S.
Juan Capistrano (I-5 to Ortega Hwy, follow signs, 949-234-1300,
Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (1 Ritz-Carlton Dr.,
Point, 949-240-2000 or 800-241-3333,Website).
Coast Hwy., 949-497-1635).
230 Forest Avenue (230 Forest Ave.,
Zinc Cafe and Market (350
Andrew Collins authored Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA, the Connecticut
Handbook, and six regional gay guides for Fodor's. He can be reached
here at OutUK or direct at GayFodors@aol.com.
Revised December 2018.