There’s an entirely new reason to visit Laguna Beach, the quaint seaside town in Orange County. Not the secret coves, numerous art galleries, or tantalizing surf, not even the Pageant of the Masters, where art comes to life in the summertime. Not the fact that everything just feels cleaner in Laguna Beach. Let’s face it. Laguna Beach viewed on The Hills is why most people ended up moving to California. But now there’s another reason to fall head over heels for Laguna Beach – the petite resort known as Hotel Joaquin, a soulful location that feels like your own home.
Hotel Joaquin reminds me of the best of Tulum, where TVs are replaced with real connection – where the conversation is spurred over a Mezcal cocktail, a selection of the best vinyl song, or unique board games. Laguna Beach’s newest hideaway is part of the Auric Road collection (you may be familiar with Korakai Pensione in Palm Springs) where 22 individually designed rooms are filled with vintage pieces, customized furniture, curated artwork, and record players with vinyl selected from all over the world.
Entering Hotel Joaquin does not feel like a check-in, but a welcome into your own contemporary vintage living room with fireplace, music, and a cozy bar serving carefully crafted drinks just for hotel guests, all open to a garden courtyard and pool with the sparkling ocean in the distance. Upon arrival, you may just scream, “I want to live here!”
No TV’s are needed in the rooms either as the ocean views and waves hypnotized us in the Auric Room, day and night, from our private balcony and glorious bathtub drenched in the sunrays and palm frond shadows. The white vaulted ceilings remind us of our beach pad in Malibu while every detail is accounted for, from carefully selected bedside literature to glinting solid brass fixtures in the luxe bathroom and minimalist outdoor pool shower. Even snacks and drinks in our mini bar you might expect to find at a friend’s beach home like Domaines Ott rosé and half bottles of Macallan.
Just like a good neighbor, there is an Adventure Guru on site to help unearth secret spots or soothe your wanderlust – from setting up hiking and biking destinations to paddle boarding or glass bottom kayaking at the quiet Shaw’s Cove a few steps below the neighborhood property. The town is just a walk away too. One morning I made my way to the rooftop herb deck for complimentary yoga on top of the ocean with their resident Yogi Mark Devenpeck, who brought my tight stressed-out traveling body back to life with his traditional yogi methods. My class turned out to be a private one where Mark’s soothing music, gong, and oils made me feel so renewed it felt like pure luck to be graced by his well-trained spiritual practice.
There really is no need to leave Hotel Joaquin with 24/7 text service for your every desire along with meals prepared by Chef Leo, who was snagged from Sunset Tower Hotel in LA. He prepares inventive dinners with his Argentinian background leading his style of cooking (trust me, get the skirt steak) while healthy breakfast made to order is included and can be delivered to your room. Start your morning with chlorophyll water, a smoothie of the day, canyon coffee, coconut yogurt with berries, fried eggs dusted with colorful spices/herbs with house-cured salmon topped with roe or Berkshire pork sausage.
But being in a new area, we left our California bungalow to blaze new roads in our 2019 Chevy Blazer that we were experiencing for the week. This toned and sculpted midsize crossover SUV that fits five passengers appears athletic, Camaro-like. We had already spun down numerous highways using the 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay to keep us off our phones, GPS our route, and play music effortlessly. However, navigating such a big car is sometimes scary for me, but with the safety and driving assistance technology – like 360-degree “HD Surround” cameras and sensors for parking, changing lanes, and avoiding pedestrians – I felt more confident while maneuvering in the town of Laguna. Also, the big circular dials the size of a phone located in the center dash were easy to spin to control our personal temperature. In fact, all the tech – from the infotainment and climate systems to the hands-free liftgate and remote start – was impressive and would feel at home in much more expensive cars.
We happened to experience the great butterfly migration, where the wavering painted ladies fluttered all around us and collided and danced with our Blazer. As we drove on muddy roads and through a river, forward collision mitigation and lane departure warnings were new surprising tech features for me, as the car vibrated my butt when I veered off the course of the road or blared a red light when I got too close to objects in front of us. Safety is definitely key for Chevy.
This sunny morning we drove down south along the coast from Laguna Beach through Aliso Beach, past 1000 Steps Beach and Monarch Beach, by way of Dana Point and Capistrano Beach. The glorious oceanside ride with immaculate roads and fresh air kept making my husband exclaim that he wished he’d moved here ten years ago. After cruising along Route 1 using the adaptive cruise control in traffic, we meandered inland to San Juan Capistrano, past Rancho Mission Viejo on the 74 to make our way to Bell Canyon in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park.
Upon arrival, we zigzagged up dirt paths into the green engorged canyon doused with wildflowers in orange and purple hues. While parking I noticed another Chevy Blazer had a kayak on top and I learned the 2019 model is designed to make loading the roof rack and hitching a trailer easier. Also, the cargo space is not only ideal for outdoor adventures but upon return from our nature endeavor, a picnic lunch spread was served right from the roomy trunk. The night we toasted to our adventures at sunset meandering around Newport Harbor aboard a Hornblower dinner cruise.
The next day we took the Blazer a few miles north to Crystal Cove State Park in Newport Beach. My husband had to take work calls and be on his computer so thankfully the Blazer has a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot with 4G LTE data. While he worked for an hour in the car, I scaled down the cliffside to 3.2 miles of natural seashore.
The landscape felt like Malibu – whales migrating, dolphins frolicking, yellow wildflowers blanketing the hillsides, butterflies darting everywhere, gently rolling surf, tidepools filled with creatures. Crystal Cove felt too good to be true. As I walked the length of the beach in awe poking my fingers into sea anemones and looking at lobster shells, I ended up near The Beachcomber Café surrounded by old cottages on the hillside owned by the state that I later learned are rented out to the public.
Before not too long, my husband was scurrying towards me on the beach on this blissful sun-soaked March day, as we were excited to return poolside at Hotel Joaquin to lounge on a bed and soak in the heated saltwater pool with one of their refreshing spritzes. It felt like we were living our best life! There are places on earth that can transform us, and this is one.