Laguna Beach is an artsy, hip, yet casual beach town in southern California. It’s a walking town with a Socal vibe and it always seems to be hopping. This city is an exceptional destination for families; it has a plethora of dining and hotel options, endless beach and water activities, and one-of-a-kind shopping boutiques on cozy, European-feeling tree-lined streets. Here’s my list of favorite summer things to do in Laguna Beach with kids.
Sawdust Art Festival
The Sawdust Art Festival offers crafts and art projects for kids
If you spend time in Laguna Beach, you’ll see how art is incorporated into everyday life. The bus stop benches are works of art and painter’s palettes replace the standard city banners hanging from light posts. The summer Sawdust Art Festival is a family-friendly, casual art show and event. Only local Laguna Beach artists can participate.
Kids are welcome here. There are glass blowing demonstrations, complimentary art classes and pottery classes for a fee (they’ll ship your finished project home for you too!). Check the schedule for class times. The festival grounds are compact and may be tough to negotiate the wood chip floor with a stroller. There is a restaurant and music, mainly on weekends. This is a two –four hour activity.
Kayak to Seal Rock
There is nothing more exciting than seeing a California sea lion lazily glide past your kayak, almost as if saying “catch me if you can” which of course my nine year old and I couldn’t.
Pre-kayak instruction on the beach is informative and fun
La Vida Laguna offers two hour kayak tours out of North Laguna Beach. The tour includes kayaking instruction (helpful but lost on my six and nine year old five minutes into the trip) and a guided narration through the kelp beds where we searched for local fish and learned how to “shoot” kelp bulbs. The highlight is reaching seal rock where sea lions and seabirds gather and frolic. If your kids don’t know what “guano” is before the trip they will afterwards.
Set Sail in Search of Blue Whales
The coast off Laguna Beach is full of marine life. There are megapods of dolphins (it’s an unbelievable feeling to be surrounded by more than 1000 frolicking dolphins), sea lions, seabirds and the most popular attraction, whales. There are a variety of whales throughout the year but the two main whale watching seasons are winter for migrating gray whales and summer for blue whales.
Between whale and dolphin sightings, guests on the R/V Sea Explorer get hands-on with science experiments
The Dana Point harbor, 15 minutes south of Laguna Beach has three whale watching companies that offer narrated tours. Dana Wharf offers tours on a catamaran and has a galley with food and drink for purchase.
If you’ve ever seen whales in southern California mentioned on the national news chances are you know Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. Capt. Dave’s tours are on a catamaran and have a unique underwater viewing pod so guests can see the marine life below the waves. There is no food or drink for purchase but Mrs. Capt. Dave’s triple fudge brownies await guests on the ride back to the harbor.
The third whale watching cruise is with the Ocean Institute on their marine research vessel, the R/V Sea Explorer. This is the most educational tour; it’s like a mini science lab and is hands on. There are a variety of activities where kids and adults can identify and touch sea life brought up from the bottom during the cruise. Unfortunately, from experience, I can tell you that the only food on-board, besides hot chocolate and water, is saltine crackers for passengers feeling seasick.
Experience History and Explore Tide Pools at Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove retains its history while providing modern amenities for beach goers
Crystal Cove State Park is located just north of Laguna Beach. Once privately owned, the area was home to a thriving beach community. In 1979, the land was sold to the state of California and in 2001 the beach cottages that lined the shore were vacated and subsequently renovated for public vacation rentals.
Crystal Cove has two dining spots; Ruby’s Shake Shack which overlooks the beach and has limited seating and the Beachcomber restaurant which sits on the sand and requires advance reservations – the setting is spectacular. There is also a small souvenir store and restrooms. If you have an opportunity, both the Crystal Cove Alliance and the Crystal Cove State Park offer nature programs and hikes for families. The tide pools here are full of sea life at low tide.
Climb the Rocketship at Bluebird Park
Kids can be the captain of the rocket ship at Bluebird Park
Bluebird Park is a dream for kids and the parents that are watching them. It’s located off of Bluebird Canyon Drive near downtown Laguna. The free trolley has a stop near here.
The park is set in a neighborhood and is fully enclosed. It has a separate playground for younger children, bathrooms, shade, picnic tables, and unique playgroup equipment that you don’t see anywhere else including slides built into the hillsides, a new age merry-go-round and an iconic rocketship with climbing tower and slides. The large mosaic turtle at the far end of the park is perfect for climbing.
If you go: Forget trying to park in downtown Laguna during the summer instead use the free trolley that’s very popular with tourists, locals and especially kids.
Editorial Note: La Vida Laguna and the Ocean Institute hosted Ciao Bambino for review purposes. We were not asked to express any particular opinion.