Thanks to unavoidable Southern California stereotypes (perpetuated in part by Laguna Beach’s very own reality show), it would be easy for an outsider to dismiss Laguna Beach as a soulless place full of botched plastic surgery and PF Chang’s. But that simply isn’t the case - there’s a whole lot more going on here than MTV would have left you believing.
From vegan food out of a barn to greasy old-school diners, Laguna Beach has many great places to eat. The next time you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this beautiful town, use this restaurant guide for guaranteed eating success.
Nick’s is the crown jewel of the Laguna Beach world. But not because of Michelin stars, or a chef from Top Chef, or a seven-course tasting menu featuring baby quail eggs and celery foam. Quite the opposite. This casual restaurant is the ultimate Laguna go-to because it’s one of the most crowd-pleasing restaurants you’ll ever encounter. You will also encounter ridiculous wait times, zero reservation availability (unless you book many weeks in advance), and the greatest prime rib sandwich of all time. Go for a post-beach lunch, go for drinks and snacks at the bar, or go for a dinner date. And get the prime rib sandwich.
Wine Gallery is that rare Laguna spot that feels purely made for locals. This wine bar right on South Coast Highway is a low-key place where you can pop in for a glass of wine, chat with the guy eating a burger next to you, and then decide that the burger looks so good that you order one of your own. The staff is extremely friendly and will help you find whatever kind of wine you’re in the mood for, and it’s especially worth getting here for Happy Hour, when all glasses are $2 off and they do specials on some of the food as well.
Find yourself in Laguna with the need to impress someone, or the need to eat a ribeye? Selanne Steak Tavern is your best option for both scenarios. Owned by a famous hockey player, Selanne is where you throw down in Laguna Beach. Save it for a special occasion (or when someone else is paying).
Close to both the beach and Laguna’s main street is this small Thai spot, packed with regulars updating the owners on their kids in college and the new outfit they just bought for their dog. It’s good for an affordable post-beach meal - try the Tom Kha and the drunken noodles.
It can feel like Laguna Beach is 10 years behind Los Angeles, and Broadway is the perfect example of why we mean that as a compliment. This kind-of fancy restaurant has a very mid-2000s, semi-industrial interior (visible pipes, bare brick), plates with artful smudges of sauce on them, a Top Chef chef, and really good food. The menu is big, but whatever you do, leave room for the perfectly-cooked whole branzino that they conveniently remove all bones from for you. It’s a nice spot for a date, especially if you sit at the kitchen counter and order a couple of the fantastic cocktails to start.
Alessa is the best Italian food in Laguna Beach, and unfortunately everyone and their second cousin knows about it. It’s a night-out spot for locals and tourists alike - but if rich, satisfying Italian food is your kind of meal, then Alessa is worth the wait. You’re probably going to be hungry once you sit down, but try to resist the urge to get a fourth helping of the addictive bread and pesto - you have giant portions of pasta, pizza, and meatballs coming your way.
We’ve never understood why you would willingly choose to undersell your own restaurant with its name. But then again, they do always say to under-promise and over-deliver. And while O Fine might not quite over-deliver, it’s definitely just fine. This is your best option for affordable sushi in Laguna Beach (or anywhere nearby).
The Stand is proof that before The O.C. was “The O.C.,” Laguna Beach was just a sleepy, low-key, hippie-filled beach town. Located in a very out-of-place red barn right off PCH, The Stand has been making vegan & vegetarian food since a time in which that was basically considered alien practice (the ’70s). It’s always our first choice for a healthy and satisfying lunch you can eat outside or take away for the perfect beach picnic.
One of Laguna Beach’s great charms is that it is somehow home to both a Tommy Bahama restaurant and old-school beach town holdouts like Penguin Cafe. (Let’s be clear: you’re not allowed to go to the Tommy Bahama restaurant. It doesn’t matter how good those ahi tuna tacos are.) This place has been open for over 40 years, and while it’s nothing more than a diner counter and a few booths, it’s awesome. Only open until 2:30pm (1:30pm on weekends), come here to get a classic American breakfast or mid-beach day burger.
Laguna’s favorite spot for breakfast and brunch outside, Cafe Heidelberg is where you go for your standard benedicts, omlettes, and salads. Nothing revolutionary here, but it’s a pleasant spot for a low-key daytime meal. For those keeping tabs: yes, it was featured extensively on Laguna Beach.
The food at Las Brisas is Mexican seafood. But that’s not why you’re coming here. You’re coming to Las Brisas to sit on the deck, have a margarita, take in the ocean views, and maybe eat some ceviche. Las Brisas has been around forever, but it continues to be one of the best spots in town for a sunset cocktail.
Husky Boy Burger does not belong in Laguna Beach. And that’s exactly why we love it. It’s an old-school roadside shack just north of downtown serving greasy burgers, fries, and shakes. Is this the best fast food you’ve ever eaten? Absolutely not. But it’s here when you want a quick cheeseburger after a day at the beach.
There aren’t too many full-on, going-out spots in Laguna Beach, but The Saloon is about as good as you’ll find in terms of drinking destinations. And it has just about everything you need - sports on TV, a wide variety of liquor, and a lively crowd of locals and not-locals.
You probably already know that the Montage is one of the nicest hotels in Southern California. But what you might not know is that the food here is excellent. And what you definitely don’t know is that you don’t have to pay half your mortgage to enjoy it. Years of experience in Laguna Beach led us to this discovery: if you book a service at the Montage spa (even for a manicure), you gain access to the glorious, ocean-facing (adults-only) pool and all spa facilities for the entire day. The menu served at the pool is really good - like spa food on steroids (think salads stuffed with lobster). It’s not cheap, but given the fact that you’re eating on a lounge chair with unobstructed views of the ocean and a pool at your feet, it’s worth it.
Absolutely no one will be surprised to find out that Laguna Beach has its very own acai bowl mecca. And its name is Banzai Bowls. These bowls are huge and refreshing (and might just be fruity yogurt, but who cares?) and designed to be cradled in your arms as you sit in front of the ocean. Just know that getting one can be a real time commitment: the lines are always long, and everyone working there appears to have been set in slow motion.
If you’re with a big group after a day at the beach, and you just need an easy place for dinner, go to La Sirena. To be clear - it’s a small Southern California chain - and doesn’t hide that fact well. But the Mexican food is fresh, and it’s also easy to eat relatively healthy if you want to.
Yes, Laguna Beach now has its very own Urth. It was only a matter of time. You know the drill.
Casa del Camino is a boutique, Spanish-style hotel that’s been around the ’20s - but what you really need to know about is its rooftop situation. With its ocean and coastal views, this is the perfect place for a low-key sunset cocktail in Laguna.
Active Culture is another excellent Laguna stop for healthy food that doesn’t suck. They serve a wide range of salads, wraps, and bowls of all kinds - but our favorite reason to hit this place is for frozen yogurt. We don’t know what they do to it, but it tastes better than every other sad ice-cream-replacement we’ve had elsewhere.