If sunshine, sea views, and a year-round dress code of flip-flops and shorts sounds like your definition of Paradise, the artsy coastal oasis of Laguna Beach should be at the top of your list for your next vegan getaway.
Located an hour south of Los Angeles on a particularly beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline, this town of 23,000 boasts 280 days of sunshine per year and exudes a laid-back, friendly, and welcoming vibe that lures more than six million visitors annually.
Besides gorgeous beaches teeming with surfers and sun-worshipers, Laguna has a well-founded reputation as an artists’ haven. Since the 1920s, plein air painters have come in droves to capture the scenic landscapes on their canvases, and several world-renowned arts festivals have made Laguna an international arts destination.
Since the 1960s, Laguna has cemented its reputation as a counterculture epicenter, attracting everyone from LSD guru Timothy Leary to the Hare Krishnas, who built a temple here and still offer a free vegetarian meal to the public every Sunday. The town is also LGBTQ+ friendly, electing its first openly-gay mayor back in 1982 (the current mayor, Sue Kempf, is also out and proud), and even hosting its very own Laguna Beach Pride Parade.
The town’s vegan roots can be traced back to 1975, when The Stand opened its doors as Laguna’s first-ever plant-based restaurant. Nearly 50 years later, it still occupies the same spot on Thalia Street, two blocks from the beach, where barefoot surfers and tow-headed teens fuel up on homemade nut-milk smoothies and fresh fruit soft-serve.
While The Stand put Laguna on the map as a vegan destination, the town’s vegan offerings have expanded to meet the growing numbers of people embracing the healthy Southern California lifestyle. The only way to fully experience Laguna’s magic is to visit. Carve out 48 hours to get to know this charming town, and let it cast its spell on you.
Magic in the morning
Start your day with a frosty Java Joy shake—frozen coconut, cacao nibs, and coffee whirled together into a thick and frosty morning pick-me-up–at Active Culture, a popular natural foods café boasting a menu full of good-for-you bowls, bagels, soups, and wraps.
Next, mosey next door to the Laguna Coffee Company to grab a fresh, locally made vegan muffin-of-the-day. And if it’s a Thursday, you’re in luck: the café hosts a mini farmer’s market pop-up where you can pick up a gorgeous bouquet of local flowers or a basket of luscious strawberries for on-the-go snacking.
Before the coastal fog burns off and it gets too warm, head to the 7,000 acre Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, and hike the trails dotted with sage and cacti, and keep your eyes peeled for coyotes, bobcats, and deer. Bring water and wear layers; when the sun breaks through the marine layer, it can get real warm, real fast!
For lunch, make a beeline for The Stand and take the vegan vibes all the way back to the ‘70s with a gourmet sprout sandwich on whole wheat bread. It might sound mundane, but this sandwich is full of crunch and flavor. Bonus: sandwiches are served with cult-favorite Have’A chips, made right here in Laguna since The Stand first opened its doors.
Just across the street and down a flight of stairs takes you to the number-one reason to visit Laguna: the beach! Here, the sand is soft and golden, and marine tide pools that are ripe for exploring beckon you. Maybe you’ll spot a sea anemone or a starfish, or a squishy sea slug hiding amid the colorful seaweed.
Laguna is legendary for its thrift and vintage stores, and one of the best and oldest is hidden in plain sight right on South Coast Highway. Cherry Moon is chock full of treasures, from Indian cotton dresses to psychedelic ‘60s artwork. Owner Kent Kelly is vegan, too, and has stories galore to share about Laguna history from the time he arrived in 1968 until now.
A couple of doors down is the perfect spot for a casual alfresco dinner. Taco Loco’s dedicated vegan menu brims with tantalizing options like blackened tofu tacos and faux fish burritos served with scrumptious homemade guacamole. Drink options range from fresh young coconuts and kombucha to Mexican beer and tropical fruit smoothies. An array of vegan desserts is the icing on the cake!
Dynamic and delicious
Stop at the town’s friendly Whole Foods Market for a fresh-pressed green drink (try the Garden By the Sea: carrot, celery, apple, parsley, kale) and balance it out with a vegan maple glazed doughnut or a blueberry bran muffin. You’ll need sustenance for the adventure that lies ahead!
A couple of miles up Laguna Canyon Road, and you’ll arrive at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. If you get there when doors open at 10am, you’ll get your very own private tour of the non-profit outdoor facility that takes in sick and injured marine wildlife, rehabs them, then returns them back to their ocean habitats. If you die of cuteness overload from looking at adorable harbor seals, sea lions, and elephant seals, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Pizza and portraits
Lunch is a no-brainer: the Plant-Based pizza (big enough for two) at Slice is a must! Order inside, then grab a table outside and watch the parade of pedestrians cruise by while you dive into your pie topped with spinach, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and a healthy dose of Daiya cheese and Beyond sausage crumbles.
Next, stroll down Forest Street toward Main Beach, then veer right until you reach the Laguna Art Museum, dedicated to the work of contemporary California artists. Recent exhibits include a Wayne Thiebaud retrospective and a deep dive into the Multiverse through a variety of media. It’s a cool oasis in every respect, and for a world-class museum, surprisingly free from crowds.
Sunsets and sea views
For a refreshing afternoon cocktail, walk out the museum’s front door, turn left, and voila! You’ve arrived at Las Brisas, perched on a scenic beachside promontory hemmed by towering palm trees. If you’re in the mood for vegan-friendly Margarita with a side of chipotle-agave spiced almonds, you’ve come to the right place. You might even get lucky and spot a pod of dolphins frolicking through the waves as the sun sinks into the Pacific.
Before dinner, take the coastal path just beyond Main beach and over to The Fragrance Boutique to create the ultimate Laguna Beach souvenir: your own personalized perfume. With 750 essential oils and fragrances to choose from and a friendly and knowledgeable staff to guide you, you’ll create a one-of-a-kind blend that resonates with your personality. Every time you wear it, you’ll be transported right back to the beach.
For a memorable evening meal where flavor reigns and impeccable service is the standard, head one block over to the small but sweet Thai Brothers restaurant, where veganized versions of Southeast Asian classics await. Start with fresh summer rolls and a cooling papaya salad dressed in a piquant dressing. Next, try the vegetable-laden yellow curry with tofu and steaming brown rice. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the classic sticky rice and mango. The perfect meal to end a perfect sojourn in this little slice of seaside heaven.