When it comes to dining in Laguna Beach, there are lots of choices. Whether you’re looking for a contemporary and casual vibe, or something that’s historic or traditional, you’ll find it in this charming Southern California town, which is known almost as much for its cuisine as it is for its art. Next time you visit, consider one of the following restaurants to complete your Laguna Beach experience:
Nick’s – Right in the center of town on South Coast Highway, this is the Laguna location for one of five Nick’s restaurants in beach cities across Southern California. The quality of their food is consistently good and they always earn excellent reviews. Located on the east side of the highway, Nick’s doesn’t offer ocean views but they do offer unique and flavorful foods, a friendly atmosphere and decent prices. Best of all, there is something for everyone on the menu. A few of us ordered the fish sandwich and it was — true to the recommendations we received — quite excellent. The carne asada tacos were also fabulous. Definitely a crowd pleaser, Nick’s may be my “new” favorite restaurant in Laguna.
K’ya Bistro – Featuring a popular rooftop bar, which has fantastic views, along with a downstairs, street-level restaurant, K’ya is a bit of a locals hangout with a very cool atmosphere. Because it’s a Laguna Beach hot spot, you won’t find an open table or even an open chair in the bar unless you get there early — way before peak dinner hours. They don’t take bar reservations but you can make reservations for dinner downstairs. The menu is also not priced out of reach and the food is good, but it’s the bar that brings people back time and time again. K’ya is located in the south end of town a little away from the main part of Laguna on Coast Highway. Parking near the restaurant — as opposed to the center of town — is recommended. For a perfect evening, enjoy the sunset vistas for an hour upstairs and then dine downstairs afterward in their relaxed restaurant setting.
Las Brisas – Formerly known as the Victor Hugo Inn (many years ago), Las Brisas is situated right above the main beach near the center of town. It’s surrounded by beautiful landscaping that frames the coastal views, and there are walking paths that wind around the ocean bluffs on both the north and south sides of the restaurant. Make no mistake, this is somewhat of a tourist destination. That’s why, at Las Brisas, you’ll get a sense of what Laguna Beach is all about. Built in 1938, it was bought out by Larry Cano (founder of the El Torito restaurants) in the 1970s, and with visits through the years by Hollywood royalty, it’s practically perceived as an historical landmark today. Las Brisas offers Mexican fare and, while I wouldn’t say the food will be the best you’ve ever had, it’s definitely satisfying and you’ll enjoy yourself simply because you’re in one of the most beautiful spots in all of California. Before or after dining, you’ll want to cruise around the pathways in front of the restaurant and soak in the classic Laguna Beach experience.
230 Forest Avenue — This bistro-style restaurant burst onto the scene a few years ago and brings a sophisticated, urban dining experience to Laguna Beach. Known for its huge selection of seafood, along with steak and martinis, it’s upscale all the way. The menu is eclectic and you’ll be tempted to order everything, but the prices are a little steep so you most likely won’t do that. When we stopped in for dinner, we were impressed that they had one of our favorite wine labels on hand — Robert Stemmler — and ordered a bottle for our table. Located in the heart of downtown, 230 Forest doesn’t offer views like its Laguna Beach competitors, but it brings a unique dining experience to the region and gives you a real sense of being out on the town.
The Cliff — This is an entirely outdoor restaurant with fantastic views of the beach. It’s on the casual side as far as ambiance, and located a little south of the main beach but within walking distance. There are terraced seating levels to ensure that just about every table commands a view of the Laguna seascape. You’ll love this choice if the weather is nice, which, in California these days, is just about all the time. The food is good — you’ll find your standard restaurant choices and most likely it will be easy for you to select a meal that suits your tastes. Just like K’ya, the main thing here is the view, and it will not disappoint.
Nirvana Grille – We visited Nirvana Grille during Restaurant Week and were thrilled to find beautiful decor, excellent service and a delicious and classy dining experience. In our group, a few ordered from the Restaurant Week menu while others went with the traditional menu. Everyone was pleased with their selections. I had the roasted poblano chile and caesar salad and both were quite good. Nirvana is located a few blocks east of South Coast Highway in the center of town — easy to get to and worth checking out if you’re looking for something new.
Hotel Laguna: If it’s not clear by now, Laguna Beach is all about the views, and historic Hotel Laguna offers another great spot to take it all in. We arrived early on a Saturday evening without reservations and were pleased (and lucky) to get ocean-front, outdoor seating for our party of six. Excellent dining choices, from seafood and chicken to beef and vegetarian meals, along with a very nice drink menu — and an unbeatable view — made for a memorable evening. The restaurant is quiet and classy, and on the elegant side, but still casual. Worth a visit for a drink or an appetizer at the very least! Friendly staff, too!
Before you go: Because tourists and locals alike enjoy dining in Laguna, reservations are a must. Also, the restaurant scene can change quickly. Make sure that, whichever restaurant you choose, you take a moment before you go to re-evaluate the menu and perhaps even the dining establishment’s rating on the likes of TripAdvisor, Yelp or UrbanSpoon. My best advice is to arrive early and walk around — make a day of it. Have a drink at one place, dinner at another, and maybe even dessert somewhere else. You’ll love every minute!