Among coastal towns along the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach has long had a popular following among LGBT visitors and ranks among the more enjoyable and picturesque communities to get away for a beach weekend. This hilly, picturesque town midway between Los Angeles and San Diego lies within one of California's more conservative regions, Orange County, but this is an area with a sizable LGBT population and attitudes have become increasingly favorable over the years. Specifically, Laguna Beach is gay-friendly and also home to several posh seaside hotels and a number of notable restaurants.
For tips on where to eat and play, check out the Laguna Beach Gay Nightlife and Restaurants Guide
Here's a look at some of the top places for LGBT travelers to stay when visiting Laguna Beach or other parts of coastal Orange County. The region's official tourism organization, Visit Laguna Beach, is also an excellent resource.
Gay Beaches in Laguna
Laguna Beach contains one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Southern California, most of it easily accessed down side streets or stairwells at various points along South Coast Highway. Although gays and lesbian have long frequented just about any part of the beach in Laguna, including the centrally located Main Beach section opposite the village's commercial center, two sections have had the strongest gay following, West Street and Mountain Road Beach. The latter stretch of beach, accessed from Mountain Road or Cress Street and located behind the former Coast Inn/Boom Boom Room gay nightlife complex and the nearby Surf and Sand Hotel, actually draws a mix of people, gay and straight, locals and tourists. Since the Coast Inn closed, it's become a bit less of a focal point for gay visitors.
About 2.5 miles along South Coast Highway you'll find what's typically the most gay-popular beach in Laguna, West Street Beach (at S. Coast Hwy. and West St.), which is adjacent to Thousand Steps Beach and Aliso Creek Beach. If you follow the path down to the beach from West Street, turn right when you reach the sand, and walk a bit north to reach the area that draws most of the GLBT sun bunnies.
It doesn't have an especially gay following, but Main Beach Park is the central-most outdoor hangout in Laguna Beach. The broad crescent of sugary sand lies just opposite Laguna's bustling village center (roughly where Broadway and Ocean Ave. intersect with Pacific Coast Hwy., across from Laguna Cinemas), a short walk from dozens of fine restaurants, shops, and markets - you might want to grab picnic supplies from Zinc Cafe and Market and bring them over for an ocean-front meal. Main Beach is fringed by boardwalk and a grassy park and has a volleyball court, lifeguards, restrooms, and showers. It has access to a bike and walking path, and the tidal pools at the northern end of the beach make for interesting marine-life observation. Although there's no parking lot of Main Beach (and also no admission fee), you can always park at a metered spot or in a commercial lot downtown or along the street.
The main gay beaches in Laguna are to the south and include Mountain Road Beach and, about 2.5 miles south of that, West Street Beach. Still, you'll often see gay folks strolling and lazing about Main Beach - everybody in Laguna tends to congregate here at different times.
With its progressive embrace of gay and lesbian travelers and high number of GLBT employees, Kimpton Hotels is well-known among gay visitors to California, where the company has an impressive portfolio of upscale lodging options, all of them with correspondingly excellent restaurants. Just a short drive from Laguna Beach, the sleek Kimpton Shorebreak Hotel (500 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, 714-861-4470) in the laid-back surf town of Huntington Beach.
The Shorebreak was one of the first hotels in Huntington Beach to prominently court the LGBT market, and given this easy-going but ultra-comfy hotel's proximity to the swank shopping malls of Newport Beach and its enviable setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Huntington Beach's classic pier, it's easy to understand why discerning gay travelers would feel perfectly at home here.
The Shorebreak occupies the better part of a new development just across the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy. 1) from the ocean - it includes several shops and other businesses, as well as the hotel's own outstanding restaurant, Zimzala, which specializes in contemporary Mediterranean bistro fare. Additional amenities of note here include a fitness center with a yoga studio, a sun deck with fire pits, a 24-hour business center, a complimentary evening wine hour, and full concierge services. The hotel is also pet-friendly and offers a wide range of beach amenities, including beach chairs, towels, and volleyballs, as well as beach cruiser bikes for guest use.
One of the Shorebreak's greatest assets is its staff - a team of genuinely friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable employees who go to great lengths to make all guest feel right at home. As is generally the case with Kimpton hotels, guest room and common area decor tends toward cheeky and fun - in this case, think surfer-chic. Rooms, many of which overlook the ocean, are decked out in breezy, surf-inspired colors and have a sleek, contemporary look. All have iPod docking stations, Wi-Fi, hi-def flat-panel TVs, nifty writing desks, individual climate control, and spacious bathrooms with separate tubs and showers.
Set enviably along a 500-foot stretch of white-sand beach, the Surf & Sand (1555 S. Coast Hwy., 877-741-5908) has been one of Laguna Beach's favorite places to stay since it opened more than six decades ago, but thanks to some major refurbishments in recent years, it's also become one of the most luxurious hotels in town. Although coastal Orange County has a number of chic beach resorts, the Surf & Sand has rooms located closer to the surf than most competitors. It's also home to the exceptional Splashes Restaurant and the serene, impressively equipped Aquaterra Spa. Another notable feature is the hotel's ballroom and enormous patio overlooking the water, which is a favorite spot for weddings and has also hosted same-sex weddings. Surf and Sand is just a few doors away from the former Coast Inn gay resort, and it still draws a fair number of GLBT patrons, both to the hotel and the restaurant and bars.
This is one of the premier coastal hotels in the region, and the lofty rates reflect the Surf & Sand's popularity and incomparable location. Compared with some of the larger high-end resorts in coastal Orange County, such as the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel and Montage Laguna Beach, the Surf & Sand is more intimate (at 167 rooms and suites) and less formal. All rooms have water views, and even the standard units are quite large, at 400 square feet, with marble entryways, Wi-Fi connectivity docks, flat-screen TVs, and good-size balconies from which you can watch the sun set over the ocean.
You can up the wow factor by booking one of the breathtaking suites - here, things start to get downright plush, as suites have separate parlors and patios, and as you ascend to the top units, whirlpool baths, wet bars, fireplaces, and enormous sundecks.
Additional amenities include a beachfront pool, and a small but well-equipped fitness center. If being as close as possible to the beach and ocean is a priority, you really can't beat this hotel.
In Memorium: the famed Coast Inn & Boom Boom Room complex (closed 2007)
The Coast Inn and Boom Boom Room gay resort and nightclub were synonymous with the Laguna Beach gay scene for decades before the complex closed down in fall 2007 after years of hosting everybody from Rock Hudson to assorted gay porn stars to thousands of GLBT revelers and vacationers. The 1930s-era structure still sits empty along South Coast Highway at Mountain Road - behind it you'll find a relatively gay-popular stretch of beach in Laguna, along a gorgeous stretch of the Pacific Ocean. (The best-known gay beach in Laguna is West Street Beach, about 2.5 miles south along S. Coast Hwy.).
As of this writing, the future of this property was uncertain. But there has been talk that property's owner will redevelop it into an upscale hotel, restaurant, and bar. It's hoped that the new incarnation would be geared toward gay and lesbian travelers, as the old Coast Inn was - at the very least, it's likely it would be quite gay-friendly, as virtually all of the restaurants, hotels, and shops along this stretch of South Coast Highway have a popular GLBT following.