When Beaufort, the South Carolina town I posted about last week, was named the 2013 Happiest Seaside Town in America by Coastal Living magazine, I started looking back at past Top 10 lists. It turns out that Laguna Beach, a town midway between Los Angeles and San Diego that I visited a few weeks ago, was ranked number 6 in 2012.
Coastal Living highlighted its founding as an artists’ colony and its notability for art festivals. In fact, Laguna Beach hosts many annual cultural events, perhaps the best known of which is the Pageant of the Masters. During the Pageant, people use costumes, makeup, lighting, and props to recreate nearly identical classical and contemporary works of art. When it’s not summer festival season, there’s still a lot of art to see at the local galleries, which are interspersed among restaurants, boutiques, and surf shops.
But I have a confession. My reason for wanting to visit Laguna Beach did not come from a love of art or the encouragement of a magazine; rather it came from a reality show on MTV in the early 2000s. Yes, I was a fan of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. [Insert your bemusement and derision here.] The show aired for three seasons (in my defense, I only watched two!) and followed the lives of high school seniors in the beach community. The episodes were filled with young love, friendships, rivalries, and beach bonfires. So when work took me to Irvine, I decided to drive another 20 minutes on the Coast Highway to see if reality matched reality TV.
I was surprised by Laguna Beach’s location right on the highway and by the volume of traffic passing through the small town.
And I certainly didn’t expect the crowded beaches we first encountered.
But traveling a little farther down the Coast Highway and taking a steep set of stairs down to a less crowded beach,
I immediately recognized the beautiful California flora
and the large, affluent, beachfront homes I once saw from my living room.
In Laguna Beach it’s a quick rise from the shoreline into the hills where the majority of residents live.
Back on Coast Highway, to get the full Laguna Beach experience, I wandered in and out of surf shops as I’d seen my TV friends do so many times before. Unlike the cast members, I walked away without shopping bags, but did pick up a few new shore adages like “Life is Better in Board Shorts”
and “May you always have a shell in your pocket and sand in your toes.”
But no episode of or trip to Laguna Beach would be complete without finding a good vantage point
to watch a beautiful sunset.
My trip to Laguna Beach may not have turned out exactly as I’d pictured it from my living room 8 or 9 years ago, but it did help me remember that summer on the East Coast is around the corner. There’s nothing like the smell of the ocean’s salt air to make you think of summer and, in my case, salted cookies.
My friend sent me an Epicurious recipe for Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies a few months back, so I decided to modify it to create cookies that would remind me of Laguna Beach…Salted Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies!
(I think I’ll enjoy them on my couch with the Laguna Beach Season One DVD while I wait impatiently for Memorial Day Weekend and the unofficial start of summer at the Jersey shore…)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups old fashioned oats
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- Sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and sugar for 3-4 minutes. Add egg, vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Add dry ingredients and beat on low to blend. Using a spatula, fold in oats; then fold in chocolate.
- Onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spoon rounded tablespoons of batter 2 inches apart. Flatten cookies slightly and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through and until edges are slightly browned.
- Cool for one minute on baking sheet; transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM PHILADELPHIA TO LAGUNA BEACH: 2,718 miles