Laguna Beach is more of a hidden gem compared to its neighboring beach towns. So more than most cities in Orange County, Laguna Beach feels more intimate and raw. With a bohemian vibe that goes along with its rich art scene and countless natural wonders, Laguna Beach is alluring in more ways than one.
Meanwhile, Newport Beach is a mix of historic wonders and modern-day charm. Thus, the city has a more varied feel to it as you wander across the city and its many islands.
Because both cities’ allures don’t stop at the shores, you’ll find no shortage of things to see and do in either. Laguna Beach and Newport Beach excel in their beaches, but venture off inland and you’ll find that they’re completely distinct destinations.
If you can’t decide which slice of sunny paradise to choose, it’s easy to travel between the two cities. But if this isn’t possible, get to know them more below, and you’ll soon figure out which beach town suits you best.
Laguna Beach is one of Southern California’s best-loved beach towns. While it’s known for its sun-kissed sands and turquoise waters, its small-town feel is what makes tourists fall in love with the city.
Big-chain businesses don’t dominate Laguna Beach. Instead, you’ll find a wealth of independent and one-of-a-kind shops here. And these give Laguna Beach an authentic, raw appeal that’s a rarity in the region.
Despite its small size, you won’t find yourself getting bored in Laguna Beach. The city has a seemingly endless list of things to do, both on the shore and inland. Laguna Beach where surfers, divers, hikers, and mountain bikers all call the city their paradise.
More than that, Laguna Beach has a big reputation as an enduring artists’ hub. With countless galleries, festivals, and tons of other ways to celebrate its artistic community.
Laguna Beach is a city where everyone feels at home. And if you’re not convinced yet, below are reasons why you should visit this sunny paradise.
What Makes Laguna Beach Unique?
Spend a Fun-Filled Day at the Beach
For a small beach city, Laguna Beach surprises its visitors with tons of beaches and coves to choose from. Nestled on its 7-mile (11 km) coastline are over 30 beaches begging to be explored. And whether you want to relax on the sand and take in the scenery or go for an action-packed beach day, there’s a sandy spot that’s perfect for you here.
The most popular beach in the city is Main Beach as it’s so close to the downtown area. Here, you’ll have everything you’ll need for a beach day.
Dotting the beach are lots of cafes, restaurants, and other establishments for your convenience. There are also spots for sports, such as beach volleyball, along with a playground for the kids.
As you can expect, the Main Beach area is bustling and can get too crowded for your liking. But you can always head over to other beaches in the city to get away from the crowds.
Each beach in the city has something unique to offer, so you’ll find a nice stretch of sand to cater to your whims.
If you love surfing, there are tons of beaches here to choose from. But Rockpile Beach, Thalia Beach, and Aliso beach are the top ones for their big waves. Thalia Beach is better for beginners, while Rockpile Beach is best for experts who want to ride big waves.
These spots also have coves that are great for paddleboarding or kayaking. But Crescent Bay is the most popular choice for this watersport. Here, you can even come face-to-face with dolphins, seals, and sea lions. Dana Point is also one of the best spots for whale watching too.
If snorkeling or scuba diving is more your speed, you’ll love Christmas Cove or Cleo Street Beach. Both feature stunning underwater rock formations. And this houses a big and dazzling array of marine life.
Cleo Street Beach also has a sunken shipwreck that you can explore, the Foss 125.
Don’t miss out on the stunning views at Victoria Beach too. At low tide, this beach reveals a fascinating castle-like structure that you can explore.
A Hiker’s Playground
Laguna Beach is more than a beach retreat, it’s also a hiker’s haven. Flanked by over 20000 acres (8094 hectares) of protected land, the city also offers a wealth of inland activities. So if you need a break from the city’s idyllic beaches, the wilderness is only a short trip away!
The hills surrounding Laguna Beach are an outdoor lover’s wonderland. This huge network of hiking and mountain biking trails is an outdoor lover’s dream. These trails offer various levels of difficulty too, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner on an expert.
Laguna Beach has three main parks for you to explore. This includes the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness and the Crystal Cove State Park. But the most popular of the three is the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is home to 40 miles (64 km) of trails. These take you through the lush woodlands of sycamore and oak trees along with incredible views from vistas. This park sits in one of the few remaining coastal canyons in South California.
A highlight of the park that visitors come for is the Laurel Canyon Loop. This loop includes the trails of Laurel Canyon, Laurel Spur, and Willow Canyon. This 3.3-mile (5.3 km) trail is moderately challenging and hides some stunning natural wonders.
Highlights include a cascading waterfall that is accessible no matter what time of the year. Plus, there are small caves that you can explore in the Willow Staging Area.
A Vibrant Art Hub
Art and all its forms are widely celebrated in Laguna Beach, as it’s known far and wide to be a vibrant art town. The city was originally founded as an art colony when a group of artists settled in Laguna Beach in the 1980s. These artists laid down the roots of the city’s art scene and started the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1918.
Today, Laguna Beach continues to boast a thriving art community. Laguna Beach has over 100 galleries and art studios, along with tons of public artworks sprinkled across the city. More than that, the city is also famous for its exciting art festivals throughout the year.
There’s so much art in the city, with many ways to explore it. And if you’re planning to tour its art scene, there’s no better place to start than the Laguna Art Museum. This was the Laguna Beach Art Association that started the city’s art scene, though it got renamed.
After your visit, you can make your way to any of the city’s nest galleries. This includes the Peter Blake Gallery, Sue Greenwood Fine Art, and Saltfineart.
You don’t have to step indoors to get a taste of Laguna Beach’s vibrant art scene though. Around the city, you can come across over 100 different public artworks at any time.
The popular ones are sculptures like the colorful Laguna Tortoise in Bluebird Park. Others are more functional, such as Gerard Basil Stripling’s Repose, which you can sit on. Even more eye-catching are the gorgeous murals around the city, with Laguna Canyon Road so full of them!
Laguna Beach’s event calendar is also packed with art festivals. The Pageant of the Masters is the most famous one. But there’s also the Sawdust Festival, where you can buy artwork from local artists. While performing arts takes the stage at the Laguna Dance Festival.
The Indulging Culinary Scene
Laguna Beach is brimming with well-loved restaurants that make up its exciting food scene. With the city’s stunning landscape, a lot of these offer incredible views of the azure waters as you dine. And with the city’s year-round balmy weather, outdoor dining is a delight no matter what time of the year.
With over 100 restaurants across the city, you’re spoiled for dining choices within this small city. Laguna Beach ensures that there’s a restaurant that suits your palate, budget, and the atmosphere you’re looking for.
You’ll find no shortage of restaurants offering American and coastal cuisine here. But Laguna Beach also boasts international flavors too. From Mexican to Asian to Belgian food, you’ll get what your craving in the city.
With Laguna Beach’s laid-back vibe, it’s easy to find a casual restaurant to dine in and unwind. Nestled against the ocean, The Deck offers breathtaking views of the water, especially at sunset. You can also head over to Skyloft, which offers the same views along with live music to serenade you.
Nick’s Laguna Beach is one of the best-loved restaurants in the city, offering refined American cuisine. Though it sits in the downtown area, it has a relaxed and airy vibe. The restaurant offers great food from breakfast to dinner and has excellent desserts to finish your meal.
Looking for a more healthy dish? Laguna Beach also has tons of vegan and vegetarian options. Among those is the Banzai Bowl, where you can grab healthy and affordable food that you can take to the beach.
Newport Beach is a prime beach town destination in Orange County. The city is a blend of old-town charm and modernity, giving it both a laidback and fresh appeal. Combine this with its balmy weather, golden shores, and blue waters, and Newport Beach is an undeniable sunny paradise.
But inland, Newport Beach also offers a wealth of allures to keep you busy.
The city has tons of wilderness areas for you to immerse yourself in nature. You have several man-made islands, each with its distinct charm, to explore. Top that with a thriving art and food scene, and Newport Beach offers a well-rounded trip.
With its landscape, Newport Beach is a highly recreational destination. And if you’re thinking of spending some time here, below are ways for you to enjoy the best that the city has to offer.
What Makes Newport Beach Unique?
Endless Fun at the Beach
Famed for being a desirable beach paradise, Newport Beach isn’t a one-beach wonder. With over tons of beaches across 10 miles (16 km) of coastline, you’ll find the perfect sandy beach for your trip.
Each of Newport Beach’s beaches has a distinct allure, so you’re spoiled for choices. Some are perfect for small children to splash around, while others are best for peaceful sunbathers. Others are popular for wildlife spotting, while the rest are ideal for exciting watersports.
If you can’t visit every beach in the city, you’ll get to know some of the best ones and what they offer below.
Gentle waves and crystal clear waters await you at Balboa Peninsula Beach. This 3-mile-long (5 km) beach is widely considered to be the cleanest in the city. Because of its calm waters, it’s the best beach to go for swimming in Newport Beach.
Marina Park is the best beach in the city for families with small children. Not only does it have the gentlest waves in the city, but it’s also home to a cool playground near the waters. With this, your children can easily go from swimming to playing here.
Snorkelers and scuba divers have tons of spots to choose from in the city, but Little Corona del Mar Beach is an unmissable one. This beach has a little shorefront, but its best views are underwater! You’ll find a vast array of thriving marine life here, along with tons of tide pools to discover.
There’s no better beach for passionate surfers than The Wedge. This beach is this home to the biggest swell in Southern California, with some soaring as high as 30 feet (9 meters).
If you want a more secluded, tranquil beach retreat, then make your way to China Cove Beach. Tucked away among oceanfront houses, this hidden beach often flies under the radar of tourists. Despite this, it’s easily accessible, with a set of stairs leading down its shore from Ocean Boulevard.
Explore the City’s Vibrant Islands
Part of what makes a trip to Newport Beach so exciting is the many islands you get to explore. Made up of several man-made islands, going around the city hides a ton of surprises!
The most popular island here is Balboa Island. This charming island offers a different vibe, standing seemingly untouched by time with buildings that date back to the 1920s. You’ll feel like you’re walking around a quaint harborfront village here.
You can reach Balboa Island by car, but the most popular option is a scenic ferry ride. There are tons of independent businesses here, and people even come for Suga ‘n Spice’s frozen banana bar! But other than wandering around, Balboa Island also packs a ton of fun.
You can go paddleboarding, or rent a kayak or sailboat and explore its surrounding waters. Or if shopping is your way of having fun, the isle’s shopping scene also doesn’t disappoint!
While you’re in Balboa Island, make sure to stop by the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society too. It’s among the best museums in Orange Country and it has free admissions! The museum offers an interactive experience to get to know the local area, so it’s fun for kids too.
Most of the other islands in Newport Beach mainly serve a residential purpose. So they offer a more quaint charm and relaxed experience than Balboa Island. Some of the other must-visit ones include Little Balboa, Lido Isle, and Linda Isle.
The Thriving Arts Scene
While Newport Beach is famous for its golden coastline and azure waters, it also has an artistic side that’s worth exploring. While there are only a few museums and galleries in the city, Newport Beach excels in quality over quantity. So the city’s art scene is more than enough to indulge the art lover in you and enrich your trip.
The best museum in the city is the Orange County Museum of Art. This contemporary art museum is home to several rotating exhibits to constantly refresh the museum. And its permanent collection has over 4500 artworks by local artists.
Most of these center around Californian art, with works dating from the 12th century until the present time. It houses art pieces by well-renowned contemporary artists. This includes artworks by Elmer Bischoff, Chris Burden, and John Baldessari.
Art in the city isn’t limited to the four walls of a building though. Decorating Newport Beach is tons of outdoor art to celebrate its enduring art community.
The best place to admire the city’s outdoor art is Civic Center Park. This massive park has an impressive collection of outdoor sculptures. With long hiking trails to follow, this park feels more like an open-air museum!
A highlight of the park is the Bunnyhenge. Made up of 16 sculptures of giant white bunnies, this is one of the more unique sights in the city. Fourteen of these bunnies stand in a circle, facing each other. While two larger ones loom over them with big, colorful eyes.
A Plethora of Scenic Attractions
Marvelous ocean views and breathtaking sunsets are what you’d expect in Newport Beach. But not all scenic wonders in the city rely on the beach. Further inland, you’ll also find a wealth of lush scenery, whether they’re in the wilderness or a well-manicured green pocket.
The Sherman Library and Gardens is a real treat for your senses. This sprawling land is full of elaborate gardens that are home to a wide array of colorful and exotic flora.
Here you’ll find succulents and orchids side by side along with flowers of all colors. This garden also features a desert area, a rose garden, and a fern grotto. Other than that, you can also find koi ponds, fountains, and waterfalls in this whimsical wonderland.
It’s an idyllic spot for a relaxing afternoon. You can paint outdoors or sip on some sea surrounded by the thriving flora. This garden also has a library with over 15000 books, a treat for the bookworms.
If you want to escape into the wilderness, Newport Bay has got you covered.
The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is a change of scenery. This is the largest coastal wetland region in Southern California. With its size and thriving ecosystem, there’s no shortage of sightseeing opportunities here.
Because it’s on the Pacific Flyway, this spot is a migration path for birds. Thus, it’s also a prime destination for bird-watchers. Other than that, you can also go hiking, biking, horseback riding, and more here.
A more varied landscape awaits you at the Environmental Nature Center. Wandering through this sprawling land will take you through different lush ecosystems. This includes redwood forests, oak woodlands, freshwater marshes, and more.
Hiking trails are aplenty here, making it an outdoorsmen’s paradise. There’s also a butterfly habitat here for you to explore.
Laguna Beach or Newport Beach – Which Is Better?
The better destination between these two cities depends on which one suits your preferences the best. Laguna Beach has a charming, small-town vibe. While Newport Beach is a bustling destination with more commercialized attractions.
If you want a slower-paced vacation, go for Laguna Beach. The city’s draw doesn’t lie within its shopping scene or nightlife. Instead, it offers more natural wonders to explore and an incredibly rich artistic and cultural side.
Laguna Beach’s landscape alone is a winner for outdoor lovers. You have the stunning ocean on one side and the mountainous wilderness on the other. Whether you love watersports or trekking, or even both, Laguna Beach can indulge you better than Newport Beach.
Not to mention, Laguna Beach is the best option for art lovers too. Founded as an art colony, it has a long, enduring history with creative minds. The city continuously celebrates art through galleries, events, and more.
If you’re all about comfort and the finest things in life, choose Newport Beach. The city doesn’t have as many natural wonders as Laguna Beach does. But its inland allures lie in its exciting shopping scene and vibrant nightlife.
Although Newport Beach feels fancier, more modern, and busier, this multifaceted city has more up its sleeve. If you ever need a change of pace, the city has several other islands for you to explore. Balboa Island, for example, has a small-town charm that also feels old-fashioned.
How Far Is Newport Beach From Laguna Beach?
Newport Beach is only around 11 (18 km) miles away from Laguna Beach via CA-1 N. If you choose to go through CA-73 N, you’ll be covering a distance of 19 miles (31 km).
Laguna Beach to Newport Beach
You have three options to choose from when traveling from Laguna Beach to Newport Beach. You can either take a bus, a taxi or if you have a car, drive.
Direct buses travel between the two cities daily, departing every hour. The average travel time for this option is around 34 minutes.
One of the fastest ways to travel to Newport Beach is to drive as this only takes around 17 minutes. If you want a fast travel time but don’t have a car, you can always go by taxi as it has roughly the same travel time. The downside of a taxi is its high price tag, as it costs around 35 to 45 USD.