The Upgrade

Two Reasons to Head to Laguna Beach this Summer

Studio Robert McKinley's motor inn makeover and an update to a Spanish Colonial gem lure our L.A.-based columnist to the tony beach town.

Marantz turntables are just one of cool amenities offered at the Robert McKinley–designed Hotel Joaquin.

Best known as the setting for televised fluff like ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Laguna Beach: the Real Orange County,’ this surprisingly unpretentious, perennially sun-kissed enclave between Los Angeles and San Diego is worth revisiting as summer rolls around if for no other reason than two intimate boutique hotel arrivals.

Head south from LAX, and within two hours you’ll be cruising along Pacific Coast Highway until Hotel Joaquin comes into view. Studio Robert McKinley has applied its signature surf aesthetic recognizable in projects such as Montauk’s Surf Lodge to a new Cape Cod–style bolthole. Formerly a motor inn, the 22 white lacquered rooms are finished with local terracotta, stone tubs, French flea market finds, and locally sourced snacks in the healthyish minibar. An impressive vinyl collection of 550-plus titles comes in handy when selecting something to spin on the in-room Marantz turntables, offered in lieu of television sets. Some suites feature handwoven wool tapestries inspired by the SoCal sunshine from Aelfie, the Brooklyn–based textile brand.

Hotel Joaquin's lobby stocked with flea market finds.
One of the suites with ocean views.

Reasons to rise from the cloudlike beds made with Anichini linens include complimentary morning yoga in the organic herb garden, hiking trails above Laguna with 360-degree coastal views, and wading among the marine-rich tide pools around nearby Shaw’s Cove. At the guests-only Saline restaurant, chef Leo Bongarra, formerly of L.A.’s celebrity-haven Sunset Tower Hotel, generously shaves freshly procured truffles atop his seasonal seafood dishes, turns out a real-deal Argentine steak, and has been known to send out buckwheat pancakes with organic bananas if he spies you eyeing them on a neighbor’s plate. Covet his suede kitchen apron? He’ll arrange for you to purchase one from the limited-edition line by Reloveler, a nascent local label.

The Californians behind this breezy reboot are eager to introduce their clientele to a wide range of native talent, stocking the activities garage with California’s own Linus Bikes, arranging tours of nearby Laguna Art Museum with its collection of works by homegrown artists, and acting as ambassadors for their neighbors like the well–edited Aris, a women’s wear address down the block.

Scenes from the Spanish Colonial–style Casa Laguna, given a refresh by Martyn Lawerence Bullard.

Another two and a half miles down the fabled coastline lies the Mission–style Casa Laguna where Los Angeles-based Martyn Lawrence Bullard recently revived a seaside cluster of stone buildings set in the wild, lush hillside. Originally designed by builder-architect duo Frank Miller and Arther Benton, the property dates back to the early 1900s and is embellished with secret turrets, hidden patios, and discreet pathways around vintage water fountains. Bullard’s meticulous restoration of the 23-room inn drew on the area’s Spanish architectural heritage with Moorish details from his own Moroccan sojourns. A playful array of hand–painted Moroccan zellige tiles provides the backdrop to mint-green velvet headboards, pale desert yellow club chairs, and Moroccan star lamps that imbue the interiors with colorful touches worthy of the hotel’s past life as an artist’s colony. Find the nearest hammock and enjoy the simple pleasures of the Laguna Beach not depicted by Hollywood.

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