Posted by & filed under Travel Post Monthly.

by Lauren Beck

Laguna Beach.  What’s not to like?  Pristine white sandy beaches.  Alluring hidden coves.  Tide pools begging for exploration and cliff-hugging Heisler Park. A touch of the Mediterranean on the Southern California coast.

While the Laguna sunsets are free, this upscale town IS pricey.  If you don’t want to blow your budget, taste the good life at a fraction of the cost with these five local secrets.

(1) Situated on a coastal bluff, the Montage Resort and Spa offers a breathtaking view of the rugged Laguna coastline.  The craftsman-style architecture of the hotel exudes opulence.  While accommodations at the ultra-luxury beachfront hotel range from $695 to $6500, you can enjoy a stroll through their magnificent public gardens at no cost.  Walking trails wind through gardens of sea lavender, daylilies, California poppies and succulents. The hotel is also a great spot for celebrity sightings. (www.montagelagunabeach.com)

(2) On the first Thursday of every month, 40 art galleries host a festive gathering from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. called the First Thursdays Art Walk.  A free shuttle originates from both the Laguna Art Museum and the Bluebird Center. From local artists to the Masters, contemporary style to classical, you’ll find a wide variety of works represented.  And don’t forget to stop by Wyland’s signature gallery and studio located at 509 South Coast Highway (949-376-8000).You may even get to meet the artist during one of his occasional appearances at the gallery!  For Art Walk information call 949-683-6871. (www.firstthursdaysartwalk.com)

(3) Hungry? Head over to the Canyon and to Laguna Culinary Arts for a Thursday evening wine tasting.  A tasting “flight” of two wines and three cheeses, including bread, crostini and assorted olives, is offered for only $15.00.Charcuterie platters are $7.50.  Seating is available between 5:30 and 7:00 p.m. The culinary school also hosts happy hour on Friday.  The $11 minimum includes a $5 charge for food and a $6 charge for wine. The school also offers a variety of home chef classes as well as culinary vacations.  Reservations are recommended.  (www.lagunaculinaryarts.com) .

(4) Need a little pampering?  The Ivy Day Spa, which was highlighted on MTV’s Laguna Beach, features a variety of facials, spa treatments and massages at reasonable prices.  A 30- minute Swedish massage is priced at $40. Hot stone and deep tissue massages are also available.  A one hour European facial is $75.00. ( www.ivydayspa.com)

(5) Enjoy an entertaining and romantic evening like the locals by taking in a free outdoor movie screening every Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. (weather permitting) at Heisler Park.  Bring a picnic basket and beach chairs and enjoy the show. (949-494-8971 ext. 201)

No trip to Laguna is complete without experiencing one of those million-dollar sunsets that are legendary in this picturesque beach town. The best place to watch the sun set is at Splashes Lounge in the Surf and Sand Hotel.  The lounge is terraced one level down from the restaurant and is nearly at beach level.  Two rows of tables have a view through French windows to the dramatic Pacific Ocean.  At high tide, the surf laps against the building.  Come early as seating is limited. (www.surfandsandresort.com)

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