Tucked along the coast less than an hour drive's south of LAX in tony Orange Country, Laguna Beach is in reality what a foreigner's happiest fantasy of Southern California must be: an endless parade of sunny skies, white sand beaches, and wave after wave of crystal clear and, rare for the West Coast, warm water – all nestled happily within a thriving cultural community. Its natural bounty aside, Laguna also has plenty of top-notch restaurants, art galleries, and nightlife options to satisfy even the biggest city slickers when the sun goes down. And what with all the happy citizens playing beach volleyball, surfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, beach combing, and whale watching, it's enough to make visitors have an existential crisis.
The best place to stay in Laguna is The Inn at Laguna Beach. Built in the 1920s as an artists' refuge, the classic beach hotel recently received a multi-million-dollar, environmentally sensitive, head-to-toe renovation – and it's an even better version of itself now.
Centrally located in the heart of Laguna on a bluff overlooking Main Beach, the Village center, and Heisler Beach Park, the hotel offers the rarest of luxuries in Southern California: It's within walking distance of everything. So you're mere steps from the beach, yet can walk to all the best restaurants, galleries, and shops, and are able to spend an entire weekend without ever having to start your car's engine.
Each of the 70 rooms is styled with art and decor that pays homage to the hotel's modernist-meets-Spanish-Colonial architecture, with plenty of beach-y wicker chairs throughout, and have large balconies that open onto a 180-degree view of the ocean and the village. Complimentary breakfast is served in your room, yoga classes are held on the outdoor terrace, and there are daily wine receptions, followed by lemonade and cookies. You'll feel like a VIP, but with the satisfaction of knowing you're paying well below what you would pay at the other luxury hotels nearby. [From $216; innatlagunabeach.com]