"Over the next 3.5 hours we would WANDER through Laguna and stop at places I never would have found or probably wouldn't have visited."
Start with a beachside location, add a heaping cup of sunshine, fold in good friends, season liberally with interesting food and finish with a splash of tequila. That's the recipe for an indulgent afternoon in Laguna Beach touring the town, learning its history and, best of all, sampling its food and drink.
Flavors of Laguna organized our itinerary, which ranged from art galleries to the world's second smallest cathedral to rasta tacos.
It all started at Dawson Cole Fine Art's sculpture garden, where we met up with our guide LJ. Since this is a walking tour, she made sure to fuel us up first. Out of a large paper shopping bag came white take-out containers from Zinc Cafe and Market.
We unfolded the cartons to find corn and black bean salad. It was a zesty, unexpected start to the tour, and as such, set the tone for the afternoon.
Over the next 3.5 hours we would wander through Laguna and stop at places I never would have found or probably wouldn't have visited, and discovered that they were all enjoyable.
The sculpture garden was more than a convenient meeting location. It was the site of an unexpected discovery. The gallery represents Richard MacDonald, a renowned sculptor whose bronze works capture the grace, strength and movement of Cirque du Soleil performers. They range in size from desktop to backyard centerpiece. Regardless of size, they all display lifelike detail and capture the attention of even the most uninformed art viewer (Me, in other words.).
Our next stop was Saint Francis by the Sea American Catholic Cathedral. With room for 42 parishioners, it is considered the second smallest cathedral in the world (According to www.visitlagunabeach.com.) or, as LJ told us, the second smallest in the nation. Either way, it's worth walking up Park Avenue to see it.
We'd done a fair amount of walking by this point and we were getting thirsty. The attentive staff at Tortilla Republic solved that problem with pitchers of margaritas. Those were accompanied by gluten-free tortilla chips and fresh guacamole. They also served chicken flautas and their roasted tomato salsa that I couldn't stop eating.
We were soon on the move, headed for Rasta Taco, which is as intriguing as it sounds. We munched on jerk chicken tacos topped with habanero pickled onion slaw. The spice was cooled with red sangria, a blend of red wine, blackberry juice, raspberry juice, blueberry juice and peach nectar.
Since everything was so tasty, I wondered how we were going to keep eating. We had to keep walking, of course. LJ led us to the local historical society, which is housed in a small bungalow. We poked around the rooms, and whether it was decor, dishes or distinct smells, the 10 of us on the tour all found something that reminded us of visiting our grandparents or great-grandparents. From there, it was on to Laguna's iconic lifeguard station for a group photo.
The two stops provided enough steps to make room for more bites. We took our places on the cushioned window seat outside Pizzabar and dug into slices of the Californian, featuring spinach, bacon and tomato.
I was starting to think about dessert, and as luck would have it, we ducked into Pepper Tree Lane, a cozy walkway with restaurants and shops, including Gelato Paradiso. It was a sweet treat and one I'm not sure I would have found, given its location.
We ended at Wyland's gallery overlooking the beach. The paintings and sculptures are interesting, but the real sight is on the patio. There, you can watch the sun dip into the Pacific and ponder the really-important questions.
Like, where should we go for dinner?
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, which boasts its own unique flavors, if you know where to look.
Flavors of Laguna www.flavorsoflaguna.com