By Beth Fhaner | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Now that September has arrived and the summer crowds have dispersed, Laguna Beach’s natural beauty once again beckons locals to venture out and explore. With the arrival of the quieter—but still pleasantly warm—fall season, it’s a desirable time to enjoy alfresco dining in one of Laguna’s scenic parks. Since several eateries around town provide portable sustenance, an autumn picnic doesn’t require too much planning—just follow our guide that pairs Laguna’s most scenic parks with delicious food to go.
Catered by Zinc Cafe & Market
At the north end of Laguna, Crescent Bay Park is a small, picturesque park that is truly a hidden gem. Look for a vista point sign off PCH—the park is across from the Shell gas station and parking is free in a residential area. Located off of a one-way neighborhood street, this quiet and secluded park is worth seeking out for its incredibly stunning views of the Laguna Beach coastline. Bring a blanket for a romantic picnic on the grassy slope or take a seat in one of the benches scattered throughout the grounds. There’s no restroom facility here, but the park is dog friendly as long as Fido is on a leash. Venture down the walkway for a view of Seal Rock, where you’re likely to see pinnipeds and their pups lazing about in the sun.
For an unforgettable picnic here, Zinc features an array of delectable sandwiches, packaged salads, appetizers, entrees, breads and desserts. Sandwich options include baked eggplant or buffalo mozzarella on a French baguette or artisanal cheddar on French ficelle bread. Additionally, Zinc provides crudite, cheese, sandwich and fruit platters for small or large parties. Hot or cold beverages are available, plus a plethora of decadent desserts, including cakes, tarts, lemon squares, brownies, cookies and cupcakes.
Catered by The Stand
For lunch in a lovely meadow-like setting, picnickers need to look no further than Bluebird Park. Tucked off of Bluebird Canyon toward the south end of town, this quaint park boasts a tree-shaded picnic table area at one end of the park and an inspiring children’s playground with a multistory rocket ship at the other. In addition, the area is completely fenced in, making it perfect for families with little ones. Keep an eye out for the “Laguna tortoise,” a large, colorful turtle sculpture located near a basketball hoop, in addition to a small wooden bridge along the park’s outer edge. Free parking and restrooms are available, but leave your pooch at home, as dogs aren’t allowed here.
For good eats during your outdoor dining adventure, grab some healthy grub from The Stand, which features an expansive selection of sandwiches, salads, burritos, tamales and bowls that are both tasty and nutritious. Try the satisfying avocado sandwich with a side of Have’a Corn Chips, the hummus and guacamole pita pocket or the veggie burger. Refreshing beverages such as smoothies, shakes, fresh-squeezed juices or delicious lemonade complement the nosh, and don’t forget to polish off your picnic lunch with The Stand’s yummy baked goodies, including a variety of cookies, carob brownies and cupcakes.
Catered by Sapphire Pantry
Just north of Main Beach, Heisler Park is a gorgeous expanse of land that extends along Cliff Drive and features breathtaking ocean views. The land for this popular park was set aside in 1906, deeded to the city in 1931 and renovated in 2008. Today, locals and tourists alike are drawn to the beautifully maintained grounds. And with numerous picnic tables, grassy knolls, winding walkways, a gazebo, public art, restrooms and beach access, Heisler Park provides an ideal setting for a fall picnic.
Load up on gourmet goodies at Sapphire Pantry before making the trek to Heisler’s Cliff Drive location. Delicious premade salads and sandwiches (try the tuna, cranberry and avocado) are offered at the Pantry, plus many tempting dishes ranging from penne pasta to potato skins with turkey chili. Additionally, customers can peruse the “cave d’affinage” (cellars for maturing cheese) to select from more than 100 varieties of artisanal cheese. Alcohol isn’t allowed at Heisler, so skip the bottle of wine, but other Pantry beverages include gourmet coffee, tea, lemonade and specialty sodas. And don’t skimp on sweet treats for your perfect picnic ending—the chocolate croissants, muffins and cookies (may we suggest the s’mores) are all scrumptious.
Catered by La Sirena Grill
With absolutely stunning views of all of Laguna Beach, Alta Laguna Park (aka Top of the World, or TOW) sits at the very top of Park Avenue and provides a memorable location for a fall picnic. Boasting an abundance of trails that appeal to serious hikers, runners and bikers, Alta Laguna Park also features a nicely manicured park area with picnic tables (some shaded), as well as a cute kids’ playground, restrooms, water refill stations, a basketball hoop, soccer nets and public tennis courts. Another perk is the free parking lot, and the fact that pooches are welcome—not to mention the stunning ocean views.
For appetizing eats at TOW, it’s convenient to first pick up fresh Mexican fare at La Sirena Grill on Mermaid Street. Choose a dish from their extensive menu, which features savory tacos, burritos or torta sandwiches filled with chicken, salmon or pork, among other proteins. Salads, quesadillas and nachos are other recommended options. Wash it all down with refreshing “aguas frescas” (iced, nonalcoholic beverages) of watermelon or strawberry flavors, or lemonade or iced tea. Additionally, with a 24-hour notice, La Sirena Grill can provide large party to-go orders for that family reunion or special celebration picnic.