Heart Talk


Laguna Beach Through Two Visitors’ Eyes

By James Utt

We few, we lucky 25,000 souls endure the onslaught of over six million visitors a year to our fair town. Most come for the day to get sandy and sun burned at Main Beach. Some come to ensconce themselves at plush resorts like The Montage. Many come to attend the art festivals. They come and they go, but what impressions linger after they leave?

With this in mind, I decided to conduct the most unscientific of studies. My younger son and his wife came to visit me for six days this holiday season. When they returned home, I phoned and asked if they would list what they found pleasing and disappointing about our town. They are not ones to sugar-coat their opinions and I knew I would get honest answers.

For years, they lived in the bright lights of Burbank before making a radical change by moving to rural Washington, about an hour outside of Seattle. They have, therefore, lived in the big and the small, the liberal and conservative, the chic and the, well, not so chic. What did they think of their stay in Laguna Beach?

I was not surprised to find their positive perceptions far outweighed the negative. The beauty of our seaside community they found breathtaking. They could also see the sun, which, this time of year, is a rare occurrence near Seattle. They are also hikers and found the trails near Alta Laguna Park to offer not only challenging walks, but great views.

When they tired of my cooking, which took about a day, they ventured downtown, where, to their delight, they discovered places they loved. From the casual Rasta Taco to the more upscale 230, they enjoyed tasty food. There was also Nick’s, South of Nick’s and numerous places where they could feed their coffee habit.

They strolled up and down Forest Avenue and found nothing but great shops and friendly owners. This should come as no surprise to us. We learned just last month that Yelp named Laguna Beach the best city for shopping local in California. Tuvalu, Rock Martin, Bushard’s all made very favorable impressions on my son and his wife. At Bushard’s, Philip, the fantastic pharmacist, gave my son sage advice on how to handle a problem with his eye.

Son Steven is a musician who owns 15 guitars. He thinks the guitar shop on Coast Highway is one of the best he has ever been in. Morgan, my daughter-in-law, found a tattoo establishment to her liking. They concluded that people could walk for hours and constantly find places of interest. But we residents knew this, didn’t we?

But Steven and Morgan did find some things that disappointed. Parking on Forest without a resident permit is, they felt, pretty ridiculous. A quarter gets you 10 minutes. Good grief, you get more for your money in a Las Vegas slot machine. They found items in town generally more expensive than they anticipated. This is probably because they have lived for the past three years in a tiny town where a buck goes a lot farther.

They were surprised to see that the old theater and the Hotel Laguna stood empty. Such landmarks should be part of the heart-beat of Laguna Beach, they said, but are a bit like rotting teeth that blights our town’s smile. I am now able to tell them that the hotel has been purchased and the new owner plans to do a great renovation that will restore the old beauty to its former glory.

“Pop, where are the marijuana dispensaries in town?” Steven asked one day. “Well, Steven,” I replied, “we don’t have any.”

“You’re telling me that Laguna Beach, of all places in Orange County, does not sell marijuana?”


“Not even medical marijuana?”

“Not even.”

“Why in the world not, Pop?”

I explained that one former member of the city council said retail sales could lead to loitering and criminal activity.

Steven, a resident of a state that has legalized recreational marijuana, pointed out that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs found no statistically significant changes in violent crime since legalization.

“You guys sell booze in town, right?” He just rolled his eyes and shook his head.

Well, there it is. The observations of two of Laguna Beach’s six million visitors. Hardly thorough or scientific, especially because they are related to me, but I believe they are pretty much on target.


James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” His son is returning next month for another visit. You see, once you come, you can’t stay away.




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