From the March 2015 issue

Family Vacation Fun with Surf, Sand and Spring Break in California

There are only two roads leading into Laguna Beach. One comes from the northeast, winding between canyons before rolling through town and ending at the ocean. The other, famed Highway 1, hugs the California coastline.

They intersect in the heart of town, right where everyone seems to congregate – locals and tourists alike – at Main Beach. Everything here seems to revolve around surf and sand. And, unlike other California beach towns, the ragged cliffs offer plenty of smaller, tucked away spots for families to discover.

Hello, Pacific Ocean

There are over 20 beaches, parks and coves in and around Laguna Beach. Each has its own draw. For kids, a unique find is when waves are tugged back into the ocean, revealing a maze of tide pools with sea creatures just beneath the surface during low tide.

We spent the better part of an afternoon looking at tide pools we found just off a residential road where my kids had spotted a sign for Shaw’s Cove. A few stairways later we arrived at a beachside oasis speckled with surfers.

Crouched near a tide pool, my kids were sure they’d spotted an octopus. I wasn’t so positive, but fortunately, volunteer docents are at many of the beaches to answer questions and point out sea life. It’s like having your own outdoor museum guide. Remind your kids that beach etiquette includes leaving everything in its natural environment. In other words, look but don’t touch or take – even seashells.

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Besides beaches, have your kids keep their eyes open for the local parks. One popular choice is the Bluebird Park in south Laguna. The fully enclosed lure is a draw for its slides built into the hillside – and four-story rocket ship! Be sure to snap a few shots at the colorful, climbable mosaic turtle.

Going wild

Get a more bird’s-eye view by heading to the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The best place to start your explorations of the 7,000-acre park is the Nix Nature Center, where your kids can check out interactive exhibits inside while you map out an afternoon hike. Park rangers are on hand to answer questions, and there are family programs like guided hikes available ($3/park, free/entry).

Another hiking spot is Crystal Cove State Park, which includes 3.2 miles of beach – where you’re likely to see surfers and maybe even a scuba diver or two ($15/park). It’s also home to 1920s-era cottages that can be rented for overnight stays (book well in advance!), but most people settle for stopping by The Beachcomber café.

Seeing sea life

Learn more about the area’s sea creatures at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (free/entry). Its mission is to rehabilitate and then release mammals that are sick or injured back into the wild. Your family can view the current patients – usually sea lions or seals; look online for sneak peek.

For an even closer view, schedule an eco-kayak tour with La Vida Laguna. Starting in the calm waters of Fisherman’s Cove, guides point out reefs as you pass over them (about $85/person, free/kids ages 3-8 who ride in the middle).

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