For those who can make only one stop in Corona del Mar, make it the Corona del Mar State Beach. This area alone can make everyone fall in love with CdM, a laid-back multi-million-dollar neighborhood accented by the Pacific, with streets lined by palm trees and flower beds. On the bluff, three signs mark beach access: Lookout Point, Main Beach and Inspiration Point. Each point has a different view, but all share Catalina Island in the background, and Newport Bay and Balboa Island in the foreground. A few steps towards the south end of Ocean Boulevard is a secluded cove near the Robert E. Badham Marine Life Refuge, and some of the most extravagant mansions follow.
Sherman Library and Gardens is located on Pacific Coast Highway and has extensive botanical collections with examples of plant life from desert regions to tropical regions. It is a veritable outdoor museum of plants. Walk along the paths and smell the fragrant flowers and listen to the bubbling fountains. It really is an oasis that will take you away to a calmer, more peaceful place. The place also has a library on site which a delight for art lovers and bibliophiles.
Balboa Island seems to have the best of both worlds: a lazy, relaxing island atmosphere, yet only minutes away from the mainland. From festivals and parades to chic boutiques and restaurants that run the culinary gamut, this man-made island offers the ideal vacationing spot. Boats and cruise ships ply through clear blue waters, while the sprawling promenade is lined with a melange of stately, waterfront cottages. Its sleek boulevards are ornamented with soaring palm trees, whereas a string of attractions like markets, patio-fronted coffee shops, quaint and cozy bookshops, and the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society lend it a touristy appeal. The island is also a stronghold of adventurous water sports like surfing and offers something for everyone, no matter your interests!
If the air inside one of the area's many malls seems too stuffy for you, head to Newport Pier for a day of shopping and dining right on the water. Whether you are in search of a quick buy for a day out on the beach, or are looking for souvenirs to bring back home, you can find it among the many shops and restaurants in this bustling oceanfront area. Here you can pick up an OC sweatshirt to properly emulate those moody walks by the waves, or get the kids some toy shovels to built expert sand castles. Then stop by one of the many kiosks for a fruit smoothie for the ride home, but before you go make sure to walk out to the end of the pier for some great views of Catalina Island and the surrounding beaches.
Historic Mission San Juan Capistrano is a California icon. Perhaps most famous for visits from its annual guests of honor, the swallows, the Mission means many things to many people. For Californians, it is a powerful symbol of the state's complicated colonial history. For Catholics, it is a profound religious site, indicative of the Church's own complex heritage. History buffs spend hours reveling in the facility's many exhibits and displays, connecting viscerally with the sights, sounds and feelings of generations long past. For visitors of any background, it is an undeniably gorgeous place to spend an afternoon-replete with striking architectural elements and lovingly cared-for gardens.
The Ocean Institute is located in beautiful Dana Point Harbor and offers ocean science and maritime history programs perfect for kids and adults alike. See hundreds of marine animals in aquariums, watch animal feedings, experience ocean-themed exhibits, and have fun with hands-on activities. For an extra charge, take a tall ship or a whale watching cruise. The Dana Point Marine Protected Area is steps away from the Institute.
Laguna Beach has long been a center for art. Creative types flocked here in droves to work their magic along Laguna's pristine shores. The Laguna Art Museum continues this proud heritage with an impressive list of year-round exhibitions and programming. Within these hallowed halls, you'll find classic and contemporary works by artists both fledgling and world renowned. An emphasis is placed on artists hailing from California, but the museum's scope is global nonetheless.
While in Laguna Beach, be sure to visit the oceanfront gallery of Wyland, an artist well-known for his paintings of marine life. Nicknamed the "Marine Michelangelo," the first thing you'll be amazed by is the variety of mediums used in his art. Murals are seen on the exterior walls while bronze sculptures loom over the front entrance. The inside overflows with even more: Lucite sculptures, acrylic sculptures, oil paintings, abstract art, brush art, photographs, bronze tables, portholes and mirrors.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church was founded in the beginning of 20th century. The original establishment was on "the Ruins" behind the new church building, which was built in 1958. The interior of St. Mary's is simple and elegant. Hard wood is used from floor to ceiling, and even frames the chandeliers. All of the stained glass transoms were given by donors whose names are permanently marked on the transoms. Sunday services are at 8a and 10a. – Hoiyin Ip
Be warned: St. Francis by the Sea is the smallest Catholic Church in the Guinness Book of World Records. Don't mistakenly walk into St. Mary's Episcopal Church next door. The narrow building of St. Francis contains only 1008 square feet. It was built in 1933, has plenty of old-world charm with a wooden bell tower, 15 stained glass transoms, 7 statues, antique chandeliers, plenty of paintings, Spanish tiles, and dark wood beams with painted symbols. Sunday service starts at 9a. Private services are available by appointment. – Hoiyin Ip
The Neighborhood Congregational Church looks towards similarities with Eastern Spirituality in their practice to follow the word of Jesus Christ. Focus on meditation, gardens reminiscent of Zen monasteries and timely study groups in the Church library enhance a broader understanding of the word. Other activities such as creative lent through art performances and forgiveness trees to inculcate and spread grace are undoubtedly praise-worthy. Worship services are conducted every Sunday at 10a.
The panoramic view of the wilderness and the Pacific from Hortense Miller Garden is second to none. Yet, the view is not quite what makes it a treasure of Laguna Beach. It is the character of the garden and the house that reflects Hortense Miller's love of nature. The garden spreads across 2.5 acres on the upper slope of Boat Canyon, and has over 1500 plant species that grow with limited usage of fertilizers and chemical controls. In the middle of the garden, a simple but elegant house that is wrapped with floor-to-ceiling glass, quietly enjoys the company of its best decorator: nature. Reservations for the tour should be made at least two weeks in advance. Donations are appreciated.