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Friday, September 18, 2015

Laguna Beach and San Juan Capistrano, California

This trip contains one of  the most popular videos we've yet produced.  Why?  I don't know, apparently you all like the beach!  Personally, I think our video on Morro Bay is a bit better, but you be the judge.  Anyway, here is my pick for the best beach in Southern California...

Watch the Video for this trip


It has the makings for a boring, frustrating day. The day after Thanksgiving usually presents us with nothing to do, unless you want to join the mobs at the mall. Not really our cup of tea (to be fair, my wife loves to shop but even she can’t stand the Black Friday stress).

It’s days like this that are made for a day trip. I know “staycation” is the new buzzword, but I just can’t stand that. Occasionally, though, we just like to go out for the day and see what we can find in our general area. That’s what we’re doing today. Hopefully, if you have a trip planned with Southern California…especially Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm…as your destination; you’ll find this information valuable.

I had always wanted to try the Original Pancake House, especially for their Dutch Baby pancakes, so we head down to the City of Orange for our closest location. While waiting for the server to take our order, the table next to use gets their Dutch Babies delivered and they looked burnt from having been in the oven too long.

Instead, we order a stack of regular buttermilk pancakes, some crepes with lemon/strawberry filling, and some “49er” cakes, which are very thin pancakes…sort of like a crepe that has not been rolled. All three are very delicious and we’ll give the edge…just a slight edge…to the 49er cakes.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Robert A. Estremo under CC-BY-SA license

Fully nourished and really stuffed, we head out on the road. Our next stop is the little town of San Juan Capistrano in Southern Orange County. This is roughly half way between Los Angeles and San Diego. We find a parking spot next to the train depot, across the street from the town’s mission.  Easily reached by wheelchair accessible trains run by Metrolink and Amtrak, all the attractions in town are within a block or two of the station.

The mission grounds are very beautiful but the original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. A side chapel has the twin distinctions of being the oldest California building still in use and is also the only documented existing building that Father Junipero Serra said mass in.

We’ve seen the mission many times before, so today we concentrate on the Los Rios neighborhood. This is the street time forgot, sitting across the tracks from the train station. Years ago, I would come here and walk down these shady, tree-lined streets and wonder how much longer it would last with the exploding development happening in this part of the county.

The residents must have wondered the same thing, now it’s a protected historic district. It’s still a neighborhood…families still live in the houses, small shops and a couple of cafes crouch up to the tracks, and it’s a place like no other you’ll find in the area.

Homes dating back 200 years line streets so quiet you can roll your chair along with few worries. A collection of fountains sits in front of little beauty salon. Around the corner, an ancient pickup truck sits in a chicken wire encased garage. Dozens of finches fight over the birdfeeder out back. A huge wall of bougainvillea lines the street.

Around the corner are a sleepy looking nursery and a petting zoo. Llamas sit in the sun waiting for food. A curious emu strolls up to see my camera. The luckiest turkeys in the world strut their stuff on the day after.

The 12:20 to LA arrives and we leave.

Back in the car, we head south to Dana Point and then double back up Pacific Coast Highway to our next stop, Laguna Beach. Even in late November, traffic still snarls in the downtown stretch that has traffic lights on every corner, none coordinated with the next. After the knot of traffic, we turn up a side street and find a spot at the curb to park about a block from the main beach.
Laguna is made up of a series of coves, the largest one, about a half mile long, makes up the main beach in the heart of town. An accessible boardwalk runs the length of the beach. On the north end, a step-free but steep access leads to the next series of smaller coves. When the water’s calm, these small coves attract hordes of snorkelers and scuba divers.

On the main beach, we find a concrete ramp that you can use to go to the high-tide line next to the northernmost life guard tower. In the summer, you can borrow a sand chair from the life guard to go all the way to the water. The mid-beach is a hot bed of beach volleyball, so we take a few minutes to watch. No pros practicing today, however. A musician plays for tips and a bird trainer puts on a pretty good show on the edge of the boardwalk.

We continue up the street where artist Wyland, the whale mural guy, lives and has a gallery. 

We stop to take a look at the art and to use his very nice, clean accessible restroom. A secret spot is located here. Outside the gallery is a hallway…continuing to the end and you’ll come out onto a private, quiet deck where Wyland has set up a small telescope overlooking the beach. It’s a nice place to come and get away from the crowds.

Back out front, we wander around the town a bit, doing a little window shopping and have a quick drink at one of the local pubs. I won’t name the pub…it’s a brew-pub…because the server tacked on an extra six dollars to the tip (which I found out while balancing my checkbook). That burns me up because the total bill was $9, to which I added $3 for tip…plenty, don’t you think?

Later, we head back up PCH and then inland to Placentia where we have dinner at one of our favorite Pizzerias, Tony’s Little Italy. This is a real hole-in-the-wall with only 8 tables and a giant mural of Wrigley Field covering an entire wall. The other walls have Cubs, Bulls, and Bears memorabilia along with a smattering of Angels, Cal State Fullerton, and other local team pennants, surrounding the two flat-screen TVs…usually showing whatever sports are going on in Chicago. This little piece of Chicago has some of the best deep-dish style pizzas around.

As Tony himself brings out our pizza and drinks, we bid farewell and hope to see you on another trip soon.

-Darryl

Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Robert A. Esterno under CC-SA license

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