Oceanfront at Laguna Beach, California

My wife and I try to get to the beach at least once a year. In the past, most of our coastal visits have been to the Atlantic side of Florida; however, we have occasionally made it to other surfside destinations in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Oregon, and California. For the summer of 2022, we decided to spend a few nights at Laguna Beach as part of a trip to San Diego and Joshua Tree National Park. We booked two nights at Surf and Sand Resort because it looked like a really nice place where we could get an oceanfront room with a balcony, something that has become an absolute must for us.

We have learned the hard way the difference between oceanfront and ocean “view” when it comes to beach accommodations. Ocean view only means that some fragment of sand and water will be in your field of vision when you are looking out from a window or balcony. If we want to sit outside our room and gaze at the beach, waves, and water (and we do), we book an oceanfront room. When Surf and Sand Resort promises you this type of room, they really come through in a big way. Our room was on the fourth floor, and it was so close to the ocean that when we were looking out the sliding-glass door from inside, we couldn’t even see the resort’s namesake: surf and sand. The view was more like looking out of the cabin of a cruise ship on the high seas!

Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California

On our first night, we ate dinner at the resort’s restaurant at a table located on a terrace within a few yards of the breakers. The sounds, smells, and feel of the breeze on our skin all combined to make dinner something more than just a meal. The next morning we walked a few blocks to a charming breakfast spot that served the regular fare, along with some specialty dishes and incredibly delicious fresh fruit. For lunch we dined outside at a nearby Mexican restaurant that specialized in providing way more food than we could eat, but it was fantastic. Later that day we took a walk on the beach, which is bordered north and south by massive rocky ledges that jet out into the ocean, both of which were visible from our balcony. That evening we walked again a few blocks to a dinner spot that was on a deck right at the beach, offering stunning views of the sun sinking toward the flat line of the horizon.

Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California
Laguna Beach, California at sunset
Laguna Beach, California at sunset

Yes, we did spend a lot of time eating, but we also relished hours relaxing with books and magazines on our balcony. We took naps in the room. We sat for long stretches on the balcony just watching the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the various ships, boats, jet skis, and surfers that crossed our field of vision. The room was comfortable even though it was not equipped with air conditioning. We really didn’t need it. We kept our sliding glass door open the entire time we were there, day and night, listening to the crashing surf. I never saw an insect – not one. That would never happen on the Atlantic coast. Laguna Beach is truly a gem and worth the splurge. I hope we can go back sometime.

A Different Kind of Coast

Having lived most of my life in Georgia, many of the vacation days I spent outside the state were on the Atlantic Florida coast, with a few excursions to the Gulf Coast in Florida and Texas thrown in the mix. I have friends from my hometown who speak rhapsodically of the azure and green color variations of the water and the bleached white sand of the Eastern Gulf. They save up all year for a week at the beaches of Panama City, Pensacola, Gulf Shores, or Clearwater. With all due respect to their idea of paradise, the Gulf just doesn’t compare to the Atlantic side of Florida for me, mainly because of nostalgia and my personal sense of aesthetics.

My experience of the Atlantic coast in Florida is limited to the northern quarter of the state: Amelia Island, St. Augustine, Ormand-by-the-Sea, and New Smyrna. However, I have spent more time at Daytona Beach and Daytona Beach Shores than all those other locations combined. I still have old black and white photographs of me as a toddler playing in the sand at Daytona back when my family would make the pilgrimage almost every June in the 1960s and 70s. The waves are generally higher and the beaches much wider than at any other location I have visited in Florida. The sights and sounds of the crashing surf there touch me at a very deep level, which I wrote about in an earlier post.

I have visited beaches in other places, such as the coastal islands of Georgia and South Carolina, Huntington Beach in California, and Brighton Beach on the southern coast of England. My wife and I have spent a bit of time together along the rocky cliffs around San Francisco, Monterey, and Carmel-by-the-Sea. I must admit that the west coast has a powerful attraction of its own, and my appreciation for it expanded considerably in the summer of 2021 when we spent a week in Oregon, which included several days at Netarts, a small village on the shore of the Netarts Bay on the northern coast of the state near the town of Tillamook. We rented a small house boasting a spectacular view of the bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond it.

Netarts Bay, Oregon (right) and the Pacific Ocean
Netarts Bay, Oregon (right) and the Pacific Ocean

There are a several features of the Oregon coast that distinguish it from the beaches of Florida. Most of the northern Oregon coast is bordered closely by a rainforest, with thick stands of conifers and hardwoods lining the winding roads that offer access to the collection of seaside resort towns. The landscape of the north Florida coast is mostly characterized by palm trees, palmetto, and sea oats. The northern Oregon shoreline is guarded by the Coast Range, a series of cliffs and ridges that rises dramatically from the Pacific to average heights of 2,000 feet and peaks ascending over 3,700 feet. By comparison, most of Florida is incredibly flat, especially along the Atlantic coastline. For that matter, the highest elevation in the state is Britton Hill in the Northern Florida Highlands, which logs in at a whopping 345 feet above sea level and is almost 50 miles from the Gulf. Lastly, the north Oregon shore contains a mix of light-colored sand, black pebbles, sedimentary rock, and intertidal sea-stack formations of volcanic basalt ranging from modest to enormous size that bulge up from the sand and water. Most of the north Atlantic Florida coastline is buffered by a narrow strip of low sand dunes that quickly levels out to the sandy beaches, with few rocks or outcroppings at all. The fine sand is composed of ground quartz, with a bit of iron oxide mixed in, which gives some areas a light to even dark brown tint.

Manzanita Beach, Oregon
Manzanita Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon

We took the opportunity while we there to make day trips up the coast to visit some of the beaches between Netarts and the Columbia River. Among the features the two coasts share is the look and feel of the towns that thrive on tourist dollars in both locations. Although the resort towns in Florida tend to be larger and flashier, there are still some villages along the northern shore that remind older generations of the way things used to be when they were young, what many folks refer to as “Old Florida.” The quaint seaside village at Fernandina Beach is a fine example. Most of the beach towns in northern Oregon look more like Fernandina than Daytona, such as Oceanside, Rockaway, Manzanita, Cannon, and Seaside. They all seem to be family friendly and pleasant places to visit or even live full-time.

Seaside Beach, Oregon
Seaside Beach, Oregon

In the final analysis, the landscape of the north Oregon coast is far more dramatic than that of the north Florida coast. For those who love the mountains and the beach, Oregon features both in the same place – a twofer! The natural resources seem more diverse too, especially the flora. The cliffs offer better and more expansive views of the coastline and the ocean. There is much less development between the beaches, giving the appearance of a more pristine environment. I will always love visiting the Atlantic beaches of Florida, but I can definitely feel a strong affection growing in me for this different kind of coast.

View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain in Oregon
View of Manzanita Beach from Neahkahnie Mountain in Oregon

The West Coast from Highway 1

The ribbon of highway that traces the rugged coastline south from San Francisco toward Monterey, California offers the traveler some of the most beautiful scenery in North America.  You can close your eyes, put your hands behind your back, hold the camera and snap, and you will still get a photo worthy of any landscape picture calendar.  The Pacific is breathtakingly blue, punctuated by white foam around the rocks that break its surface near the coast.  The contrast of the pastoral countryside and soaring ridges against the seemingly endless watery horizon is dramatic.  If you need to be reminded how small you are, this is a good place to start.  This is one of those places that, for lack of better expression, speaks to my soul — moves me.  I can’t imagine ever getting tired of seeing it.

Hurricane Point on Highway 1 in California
Hurricane Point on Highway 1 in California