By Andrew Collins – Contributing Travel Writer

Now that it’s cold in Dallas, Laguna Beach makes for a warm welcome

The pool and sundeck at the Surf & Sand Resort affords breathtaking views of the crashing Pacific surf. – PHOTO BY ANDREW COLLINS

The jewel of the so-called California Riviera, Laguna Beach has long been a favorite gay vacation spot. About midway between San Diego and Los Angeles and nicknamed SoHo-by-the-Sea, this charming, chic community has retained its intimate scale and artsy vibe while developing an increasingly impressive crop of plush attractions.

Laguna today is a desirable getaway for couples seeking romance. The ocean views and sandy beaches are spectacular, there’s noteworthy shopping and dining, and there’s one lively little gay bar — just enough nightlife to keep yourself occupied in the evening until another gorgeous day begins.

In the village center lies Main Beach, a breezy park with tile benches, a large expanse of golden sand, heavily used volleyball nets and basketball courts and a small wooden boardwalk. Along Ocean and Forest avenues, and along Broadway, are excellent cafes and some fine art galleries and boutiques.

The glamorous and artsy aura continues in the decor, presentation and quality of its restaurants and the budding cafe culture. One of the finest restaurants and most romantic settings along the Southern California coast, the Splashes Restaurant at the Surf and Sand Resort captivates diners with its sleek dining room directly fronting the ocean and deft service.

Nearby and also of considerable acclaim, French 75 occupies a Tudor-style cottage and serves fine French fare, such as three-way duck with a port-sour-cherry sauce. One of downtown Laguna’s top restaurants, 230 Forest Avenue wows diners with imaginative West Coast regional cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. Another gay-popular venue is Nick’s, which serves nicely prepared traditional American chow and has a lovely outdoor patio.

Zinc Cafe and Market is the ultimate lunch and breakfast spot with a sunny outdoor dining area aglow with greenery and set with zinc tables. The self-serve Taco Loco is more than just a favorite surfer hangout: it serves fish fajitas and tacos to die for, available in many varieties. Get your java fix at Koffee Klatch, a cheerful storefront coffeehouse in the gay neighborhood.

Laguna Beach is not a major destination for gay nightlife— Bounce, a cozy basement lounge with comfy seating, is the town’s only gay bar. If you’re looking for a bit more clubbing action, you can always drive up to Long Beach (40 minutes north), which has a nice selection of lively gay clubs.

Although without a gay resort, several Laguna properties have strong gay followings. At the luxury end, the swank Surf and Sand Resort sits right on the beach, each of its 152 spacious rooms and suites offering panoramic ocean views and a top-notch spa, Aqua Terra.

Gay-owned Casa Laguna Inn draws a mainstream and gay clientele attracted to its lush gardens and courtyards strewn with bougainvillea and queen palm trees, a pool and sundeck.

Laguna Brisas Spa Hotel is a cheerful property with a good reputation in the gay and lesbian community. Rooms are done in cool pastels — the perfect setting for this SoCal oasis.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 21, 2008.

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