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Monday, Dec 5, 2022

How Laguna Beach Adds Up

The eyes of the global hospitality industry were drawn to a big splash in Laguna Beach earlier this year, when the $360 million sale of the Montage Hotel put the value of the city’s premier commercial property at about $1.4 million per room, on par with the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.

The headlines soon faded, though, leaving industry and civic groups that count the Montage and dozens of other hotels and restaurants as constituents with their usual task of devising various ways to “keep meetings business in town and promote city events,” according to Ashley Johnson of Visit Laguna Beach, the local visitors bureau.

Such efforts bring events and developments of all shapes and sizes to this eclectic community, which manages to maintain a legion of spirited artists on some of the most expensive real estate along the Pacific Coast.

Consider the Laguna Dance Festival, a modest draw that “punches above its weight,” according to Paul Hodgins, a composer, arts journalist, and one of three new board members of the festival—which goes by the same name as the nonprofit that produces it.

The group hired Joy Dittberner as its first executive director in February, and it’s getting ready for a May fundraising gala for the festival, which is slated for September and is expected to draw about 1,000 attendees.

The 11-year-old dance festival and newer cultural events broaden the city beyond its best-known core offerings—the 83-year-old Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters, and the Sawdust Art Festival, which split off into its own entity in the mid-1960s.

Those marquee events draw tens of thousands to Laguna Beach during July and August, the city’s high season, with Sawdust also holding an event in November and December.

Rock On

Art is the key for the Blue Water Music Festival, which is trying for traction in the shoulder season before the big summer crowds, with its annual run set for this weekend.

It hopes to attract about 2,500 people, double last year’s attendance, with tickets running between $35 and $175 a day.

The event raises money for its local nonprofit owner, Blue Water Green Earth Foundation, a group that “taps music and the arts for social and environmental causes,” said spokesperson Joey Lee.

“Most of the bands have local connections,” she said.

Lee said Blue Water attendees aren’t necessarily overnight guests, although a roster of hotels that includes the Inn at Laguna Beach and the Laguna Riviera Beach Resort are offering special pricing tied to the event.

Other sponsors include Brea-based monitor maker ViewSonic Corp., Hobie Surf Shop, a Jaguar dealer in Mission Viejo, and local restaurants Tortilla Republic, Tabu Grill and The Ranch at Laguna Beach.

Trolley cars will bring festivalgoers to the site from the beach areas, Lee said.

The trolley service is part of the city’s expanded efforts to give tourism a boost. It had been limited to a two-month schedule that covered the peak of summer but hit the streets this month in hopes of earning year-round status.

The city has joined with the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visit Laguna Beach to offer the service, which is partly paid for by the Orange County Transportation Authority, which has set a target of about 1,800 riders each weekend.

It’s off to a strong start, according to Johnson of Visit Laguna Beach, who said the trolleys carried 7,000 riders on the first weekend of service and 8,200 their second.

Courting Food

Laguna Beach boosters are also talking up two restaurants, set to debut in May.

Inkas Bistro is an Italian-Peruvian-French restaurant with one other location in Irvine.

Urth Caffé is the first local site and sixth location overall of the Los Angeles-based organic coffeehouse.

Both companies are family-owned.

Inkas will take the spot vacated last year by a Sundried Tomato American Bistro & Catering restaurant. Sundried outgrew its 1,400 square feet, according to owner and local resident Rob Quest, who has two bigger locations in South OC and continues to do catering in Laguna Beach.

Boutique Hotels

Boutique hotels abound in Laguna Beach, part of a constant change in the mix of looks and programs available to visitors.

The 109-room Pacific Edge Hotel this month started Bungalow Beach Club, which offers meeting spaces steps from the beach with options for five- or 10-day packages for use all at once or spread over a year.

“You can hold meetings there, or any social event,” said Mike Fountain, director of sales and marketing.

Fountain said the bungalows are adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant for food service, and each is decorated in the style of an Orange County-based company—Billabong or Fox Head, for example.

Pacific Edge is run by San Francisco-based Commune Hotels & Resorts under its Joie de Vivre brand.

The former Laguna Cliffs Inn debuts April 2 as the new Laguna Beach House after a $1.5 million renovation of its 36 rooms by Phoenix-based Classic Hotels & Resorts, its owner and operator.

Senior Vice President John Grossman said each room has hand-shaped surfboards; retro-looking iPhone speakers; limited-edition posters that evoke the movie “Endless Summer;” and “quirky” food choices that include bison jerky and corn chips from Laguna Beach-based Have’a Natural Foods.

Grossman said “the city has been great—leading, assisting, being progressive,” and he praised the trolleys as an attempt “to integrate transportation options” for visitors.

Classic also owns the Inn at Laguna Beach, which also aims to integrate transportation options: It’s seeking city permission to install a rooftop bar built to look like a Volkswagen bus.

“We want to hoist it up there with a crane,” Grossman said.

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