THE SUNDAY DRIVE, March 21, 2010: An Aromatic Cruise Worth Every Scent by Colleen Bennett

March 22, 2010
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The Laguna Greeter: Makes you want to have a La Verne Greeter.

The Laguna Greeter: Makes you want to have a La Verne Greeter.

The motivation for this week’s Sunday drive was a candle. Not just any candle, but the Archipelago Botanicals Excursion Collection in the Dubai scent. A natural soy candle and the fragrant blend of amber, mandarin and musk is heavenly … a best seller, and as luck would have it, the only place I could find it was in Laguna Beach. Darn.  Following our noses, we were off on our olfactory odyssey.

We left La Verne at 1:30 p.m., hopped on the 57 to the I-5 and drove directly to Baja Fish Tacos in Laguna Hills (exit Bake Pkwy) for a late lunch. Baja Fish is a gem that Peter discovered while working in Laguna Hills for three years. He ate there nearly every day, and didn’t gain a pound. Any kind of fresh Mexican fare that can do that is worth the drive. We go for the fish tacos. They serve the freshest, most delicious Ono, served blackened or grilled. There’s always a line, hardly an available table and the food is inexpensive and consistently delicious. Condiments of translucent onions with oregano, fresh pico de gallo and two sauces complement any dish they serve.

Inside Baja Fish Tacos

Inside Baja Fish Tacos

Heading over the hill to Laguna Beach, about a 20-minute drive, you can pull over at a couple of different places to hike in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The Laurel Canyon Trail in particular, is remarkable for its thick forest, seasonal waterfall and awesome views. The trailhead is at the Willow Canyon Staging Area at 20101 Laguna Canyon Rd. (Rt. 133). If we hadn’t been chasing a different scent and hadn’t left so late surely we would have stopped. (Next time!). Wistfully, I thought that every good Sunday drive should include a hike or a long walk, dining, shopping, drinking and some romance (bromance, growmance, fauxmance, …)

The fabulous store that sells the Archipelago candles is Stephen Frank, at 477 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach, a quick left tug on the steering wheel before you hit PCH and the beach.  The shop has an exquisite, unique and distinctive collection of tabletop gourmet, European pottery, vintage artifacts, and decorative accessories for indoors or out. Forest Avenue is lined with restaurants and shops and could very well be the audition site for the next ‘up and coming’ Laguna greeter. Many sun-baked and sun-kissed bodies (depending how many years you’ve been exposed to the elements) occupy benches around town, sitting seemingly without a care in the world watching life’s passing parade.0101

After parking (bring plenty of quarters), we crossed the street to the Laguna Beach Dog Company, where you could find blingy, pricey garb for your pampered pooch. Ready to be rung up at the register are rhinestone and jeweled  leather collars and leashes, jeweled hair clips, fancy fetch toys, clothes,  ZiwiPeak food, DogsWell treats, harnesses, car seat-belts and a myriad of colorful, indulgent fashion accessories for your pets. Well dressed and well-heeled pups blend right into the street scene.

If you love apricot anything, go to the Coffee Pub, tucked away in the enclave of the many shops at 384 Forest Avenue in Laguna village. They sell an apricot coconut bar, which might surprisingly and simply be the best combination of flavors that you’ve ever had. Now, if it only offered real cream for your coffee, I overhead a patron complaining.

In search of garden accents and pottery for Spring planting, I was looking forward to returning to the famous home of the Laguna Greeter, at the old Pottery Shack . Apparently ‘The Shack’ was reborn as The Old Pottery Place, providing a home for an array of distinctive shops, food purveyors, and offices. Disappointedly, we ventured south on PCH and got several whiffs of that great smoky, camping beach air scent that is always present on an overcast beach day. I wonder anyone has bottled or captured that wonderful scent in a candle yet?

Inside Stephen Frank

Inside Stephen Frank

Mostly we marveled at the spring breakers who had taken over the streets and were spilling out of the many outdoor restaurants, coffee shops and bars, but continued down to South Laguna and to Dana Point, taking note of the spectacular resorts on the coast side — St Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel and Montage in Laguna Beach. At the Ritz, we turned around and headed north toward Sunset, rolling through Laguna again, chic Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach to what would be our last stop, Sunset Beach, where my brother Jim and his wife Coby just moved, not too far down the street from 2010 Academy Award-winning actress Sandra Bullock. He gave us a quick tour of the town, a little one-mile patch of unincorporated coastal playground offering an eclectic mix of seaside homes, restaurants, and seaside hotels. The vibe is cool , but if you blink you’ll drive right past it.

Pardon us, will you be seated very long?

Pardon us, will you be seated very long?

We walked to Captain Jacks, named for Jack Haley, a surfing legend in these parts. Known as “The Raven” for the shock of black hair crowning his tall slim frame, Haley helped usher in surfing’s golden age when at 24 he took top honors winning the first surfing championship in the United States. The year was 1959, and Haley was credited with giving the local community its nickname, Surf City. He opened Jack Haley’s Surfboards in 1961, and Captain Jack’s in 1965, now a Sunset Beach institution.

Jim gave us this quick history and more (Sunset Beach was hit by a hurricane in 1939, which he could have left out) while we were waiting for our drinks and appetizers. Because we were with a local, we ordered an item off menu, which was absolutely delicious, but Jim said he would have killed us both if we let the secret out to a wider audience.

The only answer is to start hanging out more at Sunset Beach, perhaps catching a glimpse of Sandra Bullock walking her dog until we fit right in and the resident beachcombers think of us as those occasional locals who like to drop in from La Verne.

Round trip – 127 miles

Baja Fish Tacos
23020 Lake Forest Drive, #130
Laguna Hills

Stephen Frank
377 Forest Avenue
Laguna Beach
(949) 494-2014

The Laguna Beach Dog Company
384 Forest Ave Suite 1
Laguna Beach

The Coffee Pub
384 Forest Ave Suite 4
Laguna Beach


Captain Jack’s
16812 Pacific Coast Hwy
Sunset Beach

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