Whether you’re looking for an exciting weekend adventure with friends or want to head off on your own to clear your mind, a stunning scenic drive can offer just what you need. Fortunately, the area in and around Laguna Beach, California, offers several excursions suited to this type of escape. The next time you’re eager to hit the road, try these scenic drives around the area. You’ll find breathtaking natural sights, engaging canyon roads, and pit stops for tasty meals to help you enjoy a memorable day.
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1, Coast Highway, or simply PCH, is one of the best-known scenic drives in Laguna Beach. This classic is a must-drive at least once. The entirety of the highway covers 656 miles, but you can opt for a shorter local stretch, such as the 37 miles between Dana Point and Seal Beach.
Near Laguna’s Main Beach, the route is perfect for people-watching, with masses of beachgoers scuttling along the streets. Between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, you’ll enjoy sprawling views of the golden sands. Stop at Castaways Park to take in views of Saddleback, Santa Catalina Island, and the harbor. Crystal Cove State Park is another beautiful stop with 3.2 miles of beach and 15 miles of trails. Clustered around the mouth of the Los Trancos Creek, you’ll find the park’s Historic District, which features 46 cottages originally constructed in the 1930s and 1940s.
You can spot surfers among the gently rolling waves as you pass Dog Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach. Head about 12 miles north of Cambria for a final stop at Piedras Blancas Beach. You’ll find parking on the west side of the Pacific Coast Highway. Home to an abundance of elephant seals, this is an incredible sight to enjoy before heading back along the highway toward home.
Santiago Canyon Road stretches between Orange and Mission Viejo, twisting through the Santa Ana mountains past Silverado Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, Irving Lake, Whiting Ranch, and other picturesque highlights. If you want to get out and stretch your legs midway through the journey, park at the gate to Whiting Ranch and hike the Red Rock Canyon. This hike, in its entirety, covers 4.2 miles and takes just under two hours to complete. You’ll pass through an oak forest and emerge into the aptly named Red Rock Canyon with smooth lines reminiscent of Arizona landscapes.
Silverado Canyon offers another enticing stop. What was once a bustling silver mining town is now a quaint community where time seems to move a little slower. The Silverado Canyon Cafe sits across from the town’s post office and weekend farmer’s market. The cafe serves American and Mexican fare with breakfast till two and a hearty lunch menu featuring burgers, melts, salads, tacos, and enchiladas. After you’ve gotten a bite to eat, drive up to Modjeska Peak, if the road is open, for expansive views of Orange County sprawled out below.
Ortega Highway 74
Ortega Highway covers 17 miles in southern Orange County, then continues another 15 miles into Riverside County. This road winds through the Santa Ana Mountains, yielding gorgeous views of the canyons and curves. Around the mid-point, you cross the San Juan Creek Bridge. Initially constructed in 1929, this stunning arch bridge is worth a slow and careful drive both for your safety and enjoying the scenery.
Caspers Wilderness Park is a popular stop along the route. It encompasses 8,000 acres of protected land, including fertile valleys, sandstone canyons, towering California sycamore trees, and several scenic overlooks. Though you can drive through portions of the park, you’ll get the best views if you stretch your legs and go for a hike. The park has 20 trails ranging from easy jaunts under a mile to the challenging 17-mile Bell View Trail. You can find something appropriate for nearly any fitness level.
Carbon Canyon runs from Brea in Orange County to Chino Hills in San Bernardino County. The drive takes about half an hour and winds past Carbon Canyon Regional Park. This 124-acre park features a four-acre lake with two fishing piers and a short 1.1-mile trail that leads to the only redwood grove in Orange County. This majestic sight is well worth the drive.
Carbon Canyon Road continues through Sonome Canyon and Lions Canyon on the way to the suburb of Sleepy Hollow, nestled in the Chino Hills Red Rock Canyon. You’ll pass the charming equestrian community of Summit Ranch as you head north to Chino. When you emerge from Carbon Canyon, you’ll hit Highway 71, ideally placed for more adventures. If you’re turning into Brea, stop for a bite to eat at one of downtown Brea’s popular restaurants, such as Macallans Public House, where you’ll find hand-crafted whiskey cocktails and hearty Irish fare.
From Laguna Beach, take CA-133 North to CA-241 North. You’ll come to a picturesque road with Limestone Canyon Regional Park to the east and Loma Ridge to the west. Exit onto Santiago Canyon Road, which winds past Irvine Lake and runs along the northern edge of Limestone Canyon Regional Park. The park features 3.3 miles of trails through Saddleback Wilderness that offer breathtaking sunset views from the towering mountains all the way out to the sea.
As you enter the Modjeska Grade Road, brace yourself for steep climbs and drops. This road features some of the tightest twists and turns in Orange County. You’ll emerge onto Santiago Canyon Road, which you can take to Saddleback Ranch Road and Glenn Ranch Road, eventually looping back to CA-241 to head back home. You can stop at highlights such as Giracci Vineyards and Farms and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park along the way.
Do you know of other great drives in and around Laguna Beach? Contact our team at California Detox and let us know. We love having local recommendations for our clients when they’re looking for a soothing escape.
Crystal Cove by Tom Hilton is licensed with CC BY 2.0