The seaside town of Laguna Beach hosts three summer-long art festivals every year, each with its own personality. Situated around a craggy cove in South Orange County, CA, its popularity with plein-air painters has made Laguna a popular artist community since the early 1900s.
While there are still plenty of landscapes painted along the beach, local artists work in all manner of media, many from studios and workshops that line Laguna Canyon Road through the hills, away from the scenic coast.
There are numerous galleries and the Laguna Art Museum downtown near the beach, which can be visited all year long, but summer is really when artists and art fans take over the city.
It can be confusing when people talk about the arts festivals in Laguna Beach, because it sometimes sounds like one big event, but there are really three separately administered festivals going on. All three offer hands-on art activities for kids and adults, scheduled live music and food vendors or on-site restaurants.
The way ticketing works for each event is different, so check the individual pages for specifics.
The Festival of Arts is the oldest of the three outdoor art fairs, started in 1932. It originally ran for eight days, and now runs for eight weeks in summer. The Festival of Arts is a juried fine art show, featuring 140 of the best artists in the area. It includes artists from outside Laguna Beach, but they have to be from Orange County. The Festival of Arts also hosts the famed Pageant of the Masters living pictures stage production. It runs eight weeks from the first Sunday in July.
The Sawdust Art & Craft Festival, more commonly just called the Sawdust Festival, was created in 1967 to provide an opportunity for more local artists and artisans to show and sell their work. It features the work of over 200 Laguna Beach artists. The Sawdust Festival is the largest of the three with the most ongoing entertainment and the most budget-friendly art. It's also the most kid-friendly of the three. It runs nine weeks, from the last weekend in June through the last Sunday in August.
Art A-Fair and the Sawdust Festival were originally one group under the name the Laguna Beach Fine Art Association, but they split into two events in 1969 with the Sawdust Festival more focused on local contemporary art and Art-A-Fair taking a more traditionalist route. A juried fine art show, like the Festival of Arts, it opened the door to artists from around the US and the world, as well as local artists. Many of the 125 artists come back year after year from locations far and wide, working throughout the year to create the art they bring to the show each summer. Musical entertainment is provided on weekends. It runs nine weeks, from the last weekend in June through the last Sunday in August.
The Laguna Beach Passport to the Arts is a single ticket that gives you access to all three art festivals for the whole summer. You can buy it online, or at any of the individual festivals. The ticket also includes one-time free parking at the lot at 1900 Laguna Canyon Road, free admission to Laguna Art Museum and discounts at local hotels, restaurants and businesses. A free shuttle is available between parking, festivals and downtown locations.
Passports are mailed unless you request Will Call, so if you're planning to visit in the next 5 days, it's better to get your passport on site. If you let the parking attendant at Festival of the Arts know you are just picking up tickets, you may be able to park for a few minutes near the ticket office to get the passport, and then use it for the free parking lot up the canyon.
Tips for Visiting the Laguna Beach Art Festivals
The Laguna Beach summer art festivals are open daily for 12 to 13 hours. I have managed to spend a leisurely 12 hours at the Festival of Arts on a Thursday, participating in every possible activity from Art Talks to the Pageant of the Masters. You could probably also spend quite a long day at the Sawdust Festival with kids between crafts, music, walking around and sampling all the foods and snacks.
All Three in One Day
However, if you have the stamina, it's also possible to see all three festivals in one day. Parking is easier, and you can move through each venue faster on a weekday than on the weekend, and spend less time waiting in food lines at meal time. You can also plan your food breaks outside of regular meal times for quicker service.
If you're planning to go to all three, do get the Passport to the Arts and take advantage of the free parking at Act V and the free shuttle. If you're not going to Pageant of the Masters, start at Festival of Arts, which will be the first festival stop on the parking shuttle coming from the Act V lot, since it's on the same side of the street. Then cross over to Art-A-Fair (closes first at 9 on weeknights) for a quick tour before settling in fro some music and crafts at the Sawdust Festival. the shuttle will take you right back to the parking lot, or if you haven't had your fill, you can meander back across the street to the Festival of Arts until 11, but you'll run into the crowd coming out of Pageant of the Masters in the 10 to 11 o'clock hour.
If you don't plan on participating in any talks, tours, crafts or meals, and don't tend to spend a lot of time looking at every single piece of art, talking to artists or really shopping, you can browse casually through all three venues in three or four hours, or race through in two.
Plan an Overnighter
If you really love art, it's a good idea to take it more slowly so it doesn't become just a blur. If you spend the night in the area, you can visit the festivals in smaller doses and also save time to check out the Laguna Beach Museum of Art (free with the Passport) and the numerous galleries in town, not to mention, the gorgeous beach.
Check hotel rates in Laguna Beach.