Laguna Beach is at it’s best in the summer.
From the unparalleled Pageant of the Masters to the funky Sawdust Festival this town pulls out all the stops from late June until early September. If you’re an art lover like me, this should be on your bucket list.
Here’s your complete guide to the festival season.
Table of Contents
Where is Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is located in Orange County, California, just south of Newport Beach and North of Dana Point. All of the summer festivals are located within walking distance of one another along Laguna Canyon Road.
Festival of Arts Laguna Beach & Pageant of the Masters
“I don’t know how they do that!” is what you’ll be saying throughout the performance of Pageant of the Masters. Each year hundreds of volunteer actors gather to recreate famous art from many genres. From classic statues to Renaissance paintings and sci-fi movie posters to Norman Rockwell prints, the artworks run the gamut. A combination of creative staging and precise lighting convince the audience there are no human beings on stage. And yet, you’ll see the actors move into position just before the stage lights are turned on.
This year we enjoyed the show titled The Time Machine which uses the famous H.G. Wells story as a basis from which to explore art from the 16th to 20th century. I’ve previously seen the Pageant two times, but this year was by far my favorite thanks to its creativity and range of art.
The show takes place in an outdoor theater located in Laguna Canyon, delivering both a great performance and lovely setting. Pageant of the Masters tickets range from $20-$150 and should be purchased online in advance. Discounted tickets may be available through Goldstar and TravelZoo. There is one show each night starting at 8:30 p.m. from July 7 until August 31.
Your ticket to the Pageant includes admission to the Festival of Arts, a gathering of many talented painters, sculptures, and photographers. Art demonstrations, hands-on art experiences, and live music are also available in the Festival area, so be sure to arrive early and enjoy all this venue has to offer.
Food options at the Festival include the restaurant, Terra, and concession stands. Guests may also bring their own food and enjoy it on the large lawn area outside the theater.
The Sawdust Art & Craft Festival describes itself as unique and funky, and I couldn’t agree more. If there are still hippies left in California, you’ll find them here. As you wander through the stalls of paintings, ceramics, glassware and jewelry you’ll see women in colorful, flowing skirts, men with long, gray hair and beards, and even the occasional tie dye clothing item. This is why I love Laguna Beach!
This festival was created to specifically promote the work of Laguna Beach artists. For nine weeks during the summer visitors walk on pathways covered in sawdust while admiring the work of painters, sculptures, jewelry makers, etc.
Set in Laguna Canyon, on a tree shaded slope, the festival staff and volunteers deliver a lovely environment complete with flowers, waterfalls, and bridges. Two different spots offer live entertainment. We had the opportunity to listen to a band called the Black Tongue Bells on the Main Deck.
Several food vendors are available on the festival grounds. We chose to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant, but did grab a beer while enjoying the art and music. Wine is also sold.
Sawdust Festival admission is $9 per person with discounts available for children and seniors. In 2019 the festival dates are June 28 through September 1 and hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Laguna Art-a-Fair, a display of over 100 emerging and experienced artists and artisans, is housed in a colorful building easily seen from Laguna Canyon Road. Unlike the Sawdust Festival, these artists do not have to be local. At times artists are on site demonstrating their art. This festival also offers an impressive selection of workshops including oil painting, water colors, wood working, beading and more.
Live music is available periodically throughout the day. The Art-A-Fair is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., June 29 through September 2. Admission is $9 per person with discounts for military and students. Purchase the ticket once and feel free to return anytime during the summer.
Pageant of the Masters ticket holders receive free admission on the day of the show, so we started with dinner, then visited the Art-A-Fair, continued on to the Festival of Arts and concluded our evening with the Pageant. It was a perfect evening for an art lover like myself!
Parking and transportation
Key to the enjoyment of all of these festivals is understanding the parking system. The City of Laguna Beach has done an excellent job of establishing a series of parking lots, a free trolley for transportation to and from the festivals, and a system of payment that increases with proximity to the festival area. But it's worth a few minutes to understand this system in advance.
For anyone unfamiliar with the area, consult the parking map in advance and choose one or two lots where you hope to park (Each lot is small, so it may be full. However, there are many lots throughout the city, so there will always be a spot available somewhere). There is a trade-off of increased parking fees for those lots closest to the festivals. It is possible to park for free, but the trolley ride will be long.
After arriving at your designated lot, use the machines provided to pay and place the receipt on your dashboard. Then wait for the trolley to arrive. Be sure to select the trolley going to your destination since each has a slightly different route. After your evening ends, find a trolley stop in order to return to your car.
Laguna Beach Restaurants for summer dining
While food is available at both the Festival of Arts and Sawdust Festival, there are many great Laguna Beach restaurants nearby. And fortunately, there are several within walking distance so you can park and pay just once.
During our two recent festival visits we opted for Another Kind Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant, and Laguna Beach Beer Company which offers pizza, sandwiches and charcuterie. Reservations were not needed at either place.
Other restaurants close enough to walk include Lumberyard, Kitchen, and Oliver’s Osteria.
Best Hotels in Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is fortunate to have some excellent, oceanfront hotels with spectacular views.
The Inn at Laguna Beach is centrally located in town, overlooking both Main Beach and Heisler Park. This is a great location for parking once and walking to many top Laguna Beach restaurants and sites.
Further south on Coast Highway, the Surf and Sand Resort also boasts an ocean front location, but it’s right on the sand. Guests can choose to relax around the pool or on the beach. There’s an award winning restaurant on site called Splashes that I definitely recommend.
Trolley service is available near each of these hotels so guests can easily visit the festivals without moving their cars.
The downside of most Laguna Beach hotels is the price. If you don’t need an oceanview, or are willing to stay just outside of the city, I’d recommend hotels in Irvine. The Irvine Spectrum area is about a fifteen minute drive from the festival area and offers a Marriott, a Courtyard and Doubletree.
Finally, consider an AirBnB which can provide more space and a full kitchen. Here's a Guide To AirBnB: Orange County, California.
What to do in Laguna Beach
When not attending the festivals, there are plenty of other things to do in Laguna Beach. Here are a few of my recommendations;
Visit the Laguna Beach Art Museum
Check-out the Pacific Marine Mammal Center
Take a Laguna Beach Food Tour
Take an Art Tour of Laguna Beach
Stroll through Heisler Park
For a small town, there’s plenty to do here! So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Laguna Beach!