(Left) Young men at Laguna Beach, circa 1889. (Right) Arch Beach Hotel in the 1880's. (click to enlarge both)
With the opportunity to own land at little to no cost, the first American settlers began arriving at Laguna Beach in the years following the Civil War. Encouraged by the Homestead Act and the Timber Culture Act, which granted up to 160 acres of land to any individual who planted forty of those acres with trees, this seaside population flourished in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In fact, many of the eucalyptus trees planted by the city’s first residents can still be seen today.
Laguna's main attraction though will always been its isolated and picturesque coastline. After seeing it for the first time, you'll understand why tourism grew by leaps and bounds as California residents flocked to Laguna's iconic beaches and coves. And to accommodate this influx of visitors, a series of hotels, inns and restaurants were built rapidly, making this tight-knit Orange County community a must-see destination for residents of the Golden State and beyond.
(Left) Bathers at Laguna Beach, 1889. (Right) Artist Frank Cuprien painting an ocean view from cliffs at Laguna Beach. (click to enlarge both)
But beach dwellers weren’t the only one’s lured in by the Laguna experience. Also planting deep roots in the community were an assortment of famous painters that included William Wendt, Frank Cuprien and Edgar Payne, determined to capture the scenic beauty of Laguna on canvas. After their arrival, the city quickly earned a reputation for being an artist’s haven. And with its close proximity to Hollywood, numerous filmmakers, painters and photographers followed, making Laguna Beach synonymous with the arts.
While many today associate the city with “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” a popular MTV series that aired for three seasons, the cameras have been rolling on Laguna’s scenic shores and coves since the silent era. Spurred by celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford all buying beachfront homes, the city began attracting the attention of numerous Hollywood directors. Over the years, several classic movies including 1930’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” 1942’s “Now, Voyager,” and more recently, 1992’s “A Few Good Men” have all been filmed in Laguna Beach.
(Above) A clip from the 1942 Bette Davis film "Now, Voyager." The scene was filmed at the Victor Hugo Inn, known today as Las Brisas restaurant.
Development though, didn’t come without responsibility for the city’s progressive population. With a rapid real estate expansion, numerous conservation efforts have been made to protect the hills and canyons surrounding Laguna’s Pacific coast. Also, with a dedicated green and blue belt, “Lagunatics” have made sure the beaches are enjoyed for future generations.
Today, with a population of over twenty thousand, Laguna Beach has successfully maintained its historic charm and cherished past. Surveying the city block-by-block, over seven hundred homes are deemed to have historical significance. And being home to the Laguna Art Museum and the Laguna Playhouse, the artist community has been given a chance to flourish with several festivals held throughout the year.