By Eric Plante
No need to fly across the globe to experience glitz and glamour in a seaside setting. Here are 5 of our own Southern California coastal towns that can hang with the world’s best.
Dana Point is a boater’s playground. The city was named for Richard Henry Dana, author of Two Years Before the Mast, which included a description of the picturesque area. Dana described the coastal town as “the only romantic spot on the coast.” For the best view of Dana Point Harbor, drive the Street of Green Lantern to the top and look east. If you’ve not yet seen the largest animal to have ever inhabited the Earth, Dana Point is the place to try your luck. Blue whales pass closer to the coast here than any other California shoreline. Blue whale tours run May – October; gray whales cruise this coast during the winter. Sink your toes into the off-white sand at Salt Creek Beach, one of the city’s finest. Every Saturday evening during the summer, curious adults and children gather on the lobby terrace at the St. Regis Monarch Beach to witness a flicker of orange and yellow, as a staff member releases a cluster of monarch butterflies into the dusk sky. If you’re lucky, one of these delicate creatures will mistake you for a landing paddock. Where to eat:The best view in the city is at Cannon’s Seafood Grill, (949) 496-6146. Where to stay: Perched on a cliff, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa overlooks the azure Pacific, www.lagunacliffs.com.
Rancho Palos Verdes is a road warrior’s paradise. Follow Palos Verdes Drive East for stunning bird’s eye views of the azure Pacific and well-manicured golf courses. Along the renowned Pacific Coast Highway there are plenty of spots to ditch the car and explore on foot. Bluff top trails skirt the shoreline and descend to uncrowded beaches. Check out Wayfarers Chapel, where a couple gets hitched every two hours. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Point Vicente Lighthouse still uses the original third order Fresnel lens. Stroll the beautifully-landscaped grounds at Terranea Resort and the Trump National Golf Club; dolphins are often spotted here, just 50 feet offshore. Where to eat:Comfort cuisine, microbrews and spectacular sunsets are found at Nelson’s (at Terranea Resort), (310) 265-2836. Where to stay: The Terranea Resort is the most opulent property in the area, www.terranea.com.
Long Beach is fit for a queen. Board the Queen Mary and soak in the third-story views of Rainbow Harbor and downtown. The Paranormal Ship Walk tour brings you inside the reported haunted locations on the ship. Visit Shoreline Village for its unique shops, restaurants and waterfront views. A 45-minute narrated harbor cruise explains how Long Beach started as a small farming community and grew to be the second largest port city in the West. Stroll the Naples Canals, where American ingenuity brings a bit of Italian charm closer to home. With 11,000 ocean animals in 19 different habitats, the Aquarium of the Pacific is fast becoming a major Los Angeles attraction. Touch a stingray’s silky skin and watch moon jellies move through the water like space aliens. Rent a paddle boat and cruise the waterways in Rainbow Lagoon Park, or just saunter across the colored footbridges. Where to eat:Terraced seating at The Reef affords great views of downtown and the harbor, (562) 435-8013. Where to stay: The Queen Mary Hotel is aboard the famed 1936 ocean liner, www.queenmary.com.
Laguna Beach is busy but always pretty. How the ocean retains its lovely azure color in such a high-traffic area is mind boggling. But a trip to Southern California’s coastal cities would not be complete without a visit to this vibrant beach town. Visit Treasure Island Park and gaze upon turquoise water so exquisite that the Caribbean and Hawaiian tourism boards will wish you hadn’t. Peruse the many shops and art galleries that dot Pacific Coast Highway. The centerpiece of West Coast art since the turn of SoCal’s prettiest coastal cities the 20th century, the Laguna Art Museum focuses on the art of California. The Pageant of the Masters is a summer event known for its tableaux vivants, or ‘living pictures,’ in which real people don costumes and apply makeup to recreate classical and contemporary works of art. To escape the crowds, drive Highway 1 to look for secluded coves and beaches, like Woods Cove, where you just might have a tiny patch of golden sand to yourself. Where to eat:Las Brisas has the best view of Main Beach, (949) 497-5434. Where to stay: Talk about ostentatious, the Montage Laguna Beach has it all, www.montagehotels.com/lagunabeach.
San Diego is America’s Mediterranean. The Coronado Ferry Landing is good for, well, doing nothing. Just plop down on the narrow beach and take in the pretty cityscape. At night, the downtown lights reflect off the glassy bay. The Star of India is the world’s oldest active sailing tall ship. Close up views can be had from North Harbor Drive. The Seal Tour uses a cute amphibious vehicle to give a unique perspective of San Diego Bay. You can’t fathom the sheer scale of the USS Midway unless you climb aboard for a tour; its flight deck alone spans four acres. The 1,000-foot mass of steel served longer than any other U.S aircraft carrier. Completed in 1888, the historic Hotel del Coronado is the largest wooden structure in the United States, and one of the world’s most opulent resort properties. Seaport Village boasts more than 40 shops offering exotic spices and sauces, luxurious soaps, Scandinavian imports, Indian jewelry, sportswear and more. Where to eat:The view at Island Prime is perhaps the best in the city, (619) 298-6802. Where to stay: The Paradise Point Resort sits on 44 beautiful acres, www.paradisepoint.com.