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Main Beach, Laguna Beach circa 1929
photo courtesy of

Almost from the beginning, Laguna Beach has stood apart from the rest of Orange County. The differences are geographic, social and political. And they endure.

The area was named Lagonas by the coastal Indians who first lived there, and who were attracted by two rare freshwater lagoons in the nearby canyon.

But by the time the first non-Indian settlers arrived in the 1870s, the area now known as Laguna Beach had more than mere physical allure. Unlike most of the rest of Orange County, it was never included in any of the Spanish land grants.

Under the Timber-Culture Acts of the 1870s, anyone who agreed to plant 10 acres of trees in the area over 10 years and live there while they grew was granted 160 acres to call his own. The cove-filled coastline attracted a handful of homesteaders. But the land was too steep and rocky for agriculture or ranching.

Instead, Laguna quickly gained a reputation as a beachfront resort. Even in the days of mule trails and stage coaches, inlanders from such new towns as Santa Ana and El Toro would make the daylong trek to the quaint seashore village. They'd set up tents and stay the weekend. Some would build summer homes - hasty clapboard cottages with few embellishments, but spectacular views. A few still stand.

By 1888, Laguna Beach was the permanent home to about 15 families, but come summer, the beaches would be lined with rows of canvas tents. Today, a similar influx arrive. Civic officials estimate the city of 24,000 attracts 40,000 visitors daily during the summer.

The community's long-standing status as one of the county's biggest art colonies can be traced back to shortly after the turn of the century, when a San Francisco watercolorist named Norman St. Clair arrived by stage and started painting the surroundings.

Back in San Francisco, St. Clair became a one-man visitor's information bureau, persuading fellow artists to follow his trail. Within 10 years, more than 30 artists had settled in the coastal village. In 1918, they created the Laguna Beach Art Association, a body that exists today.

Sawdust Festival


In the early 1930s, the artists created two of its most popular and enduring annual events: the Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters. Over the years, the city's reputation as a creative getaway has attracted such notables as Bette Davis, John Steinbeck, Victor Mature, Erle Stanley Gardner, Tennessee Williams and Timothy Leary.

The city now claims more than 75 art galleries. Other than its own natural beauty - which attracts tourists and gives artist something to paint, it has no real industry.


Historical Sites:

Irvine Bowl - 650 Laguna Canyon Road
The bowl is the home of the Festival of the Arts and the Pageant of the Masters. The festival, when first held in 1932, had no permanent location. The first "living pictures," now called the Pageant of the Masters, were presented in 1933. In 1941, the Irvine Co. deeded the land for the bowl to the city of Laguna Beach.

Laguna Art Museum - 307 Cliff Drive
Founded by the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1929, the museum is the oldest institution of its kind in Orange County. It houses regional contemporary art and historical art.

Laguna Art Museum
photo courtesy of



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