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Laguna Beach is a seaside resort city located in southern Orange County, California. It is known for a mild year-round climate, scenic coves, environmental preservation, and an artist community. The city has remained relatively isolated from urban encroachment by its surrounding hills, limited highway access, and a dedicated greenbelt. Tourism is the primary industry with an estimated six million people visiting the community annually. Annual large events include the Pageant of the Masters, Festival of Arts, Sawdust Art Festival, Art-A-Fair, Bluewater Music Festival, and Kelpfest.
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Laguna Beach was the site of a prehistoric paleoindian civilization. In 1933, the first fossilized skull of a paleoindian found in California was uncovered during construction on St. Ann’s Drive. Known as “Laguna Woman”, the skull originally was radiocarbon dated to more than 17,000 BP, but revised measurements suggest it originated during the Holocene era 11,700 years BP. Subsequent research has found several prehistoric encampment sites in the area.
The indigenous people of the Laguna Beach area were the Tongva. Aliso Creek served as a territorial boundary between Gabrieleno and Acjachemen groups, or Juanenos, named by Spanish missionaries who first encountered them in the 1500s. The area of Laguna Canyon was named on an 1841 Mexican land grant map as Cañada de las Lagunas (English: Glen of the Lagoons). After the Mexican–American War ended in 1848, the area of Alta California was ceded to the United States. The treaty provided that Mexican land grants be honored and Rancho San Joaquin, which included north Laguna Beach, was granted to José Antonio Andres Sepúlveda. Following a drought in 1864, Sepúlveda sold the property to James Irvine. The majority of Laguna Beach was one of the few parcels of coastal land in Southern California that never was included in any Mexican land grant.
Settlers arrived after the American Civil War. They were encouraged by the Homestead Act and Timber Culture Act, which granted up to 160 acres (65 ha) of land to a homesteader who would plant at least 40 acres (16 ha) of trees. In Laguna Beach, settlers planted groves of eucalyptus trees. In 1871, the first permanent homestead in the area was occupied by the George and Sarah Thurston family of Utah on 152 acres (62 ha) of Aliso Creek Canyon. In 1876, the brothers William and Lorenzo Nathan “Nate” Brooks purchased tracts of land in Bluebird Canyon at present-day Diamond Street. They subdivided their land, built homes and initiated the small community of Arch Beach. In his book, History of Orange County, California (1921), Samuel Armor cited the permanent homestead of Nate Brooks as the beginning of the modern day town and described Brooks as the “Father of Laguna Beach”.
The community in Laguna Canyon and around the main beach expanded during the 1880s. The city officially founded a post office in 1887 under the name Lagona, but the postmaster in 1904, Nicholas Isch, successfully petitioned for a name correction to Laguna Beach. By then Laguna Beach already had developed into a tourist destination. Hubbard Goff built a large hotel at Arch Beach in 1886, which later was moved and added to Joseph Yoch’s Laguna Beach Hotel built in 1888 on the main beach. Visitors from local cities pitched tents on the beaches for vacation during the warm summers.
The scenic beauty of the isolated coastline and hills attracted plein-air painters in the early 1900s. William Wendt, Frank Cuprien, and Edgar Payne among others settled there and formed the Laguna Beach Art Association. The first art gallery opened in 1918 and later became the Laguna Beach Art Museum. Precursors to The Festival of Arts and the Pageant of the Masters began in 1921, and eventually were established in their present-day form by Roy Ropp in 1936. Due to its proximity to Hollywood, Laguna also became a favorite filming location. Starting in 1913, dozens of silent films were made at local coves with Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and others. Actors and film crews stayed during long production shoots at the Arch Beach Tavern on the hillside above Moss Street.
The arrival of painters, photographers, filmmakers, and writers established Laguna Beach as a noted artist community. Although there only were approximately 300 residents in 1920, a large proportion of them worked in creative fields. The small town remained isolated until 1926 because the long, winding Laguna Canyon road served as the only access. With the completion of the Pacific Coast Highway in 1926, a population boom was expected. To protect the small-town atmosphere of the art colony, residents who called themselves “Lagunatics” pushed for incorporation. The municipal government for Laguna Beach incorporated as a city on June 29, 1927. The city has experienced steady population growth since that time, rising from 1900 residents in 1927 to more than 10,000 in 1962, and becoming four times larger in area.
Many creative, bohemian, and wealthy people have made Laguna Beach their home. They have added to the local culture by providing a theme for the small town. Adventurer Richard Halliburton built his Hangover House on the slopes of South Laguna. Hildegarde Hawthorne, granddaughter of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, described Laguna “as a child of that deathless search, particularly by persons who devote their lives to painting or writing, or for some place where beauty and cheapness and a trifle of remoteness hobnob together in a delightful companionship.”
Laguna Beach was the Southern California epicenter of the ‘alternative’ hippie culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In early 1967, John Griggs and other founding members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love relocated from Modjeska Canyon to the Woodland Drive neighborhood of Laguna Beach, which they later renamed “Dodge City”. Timothy Leary lived in a beach house on Gaviota Drive. The Utsava Rajneesh Meditation Center was located on Laguna Canyon Road and was the last remaining commune in the United States for followers of the spiritual teacher and guru Osho, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
A fire in Laguna Beach in October 1993 destroyed or damaged 441 homes and burned more than 14,000 acres (5,700 ha). The National Fire Protection Association listed it as the seventh-largest loss wildland fire in the United States.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city of Laguna Beach has a total area of 25.4 km2 (9.8 sq mi), of which 22.9 km2 (8.8 sq mi) are land and 2.5 km2 (0.97 sq mi) are covered by water. Its coastline is 7 mi (11 km) long and includes 27 beaches and coves. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the southwest, Crystal Cove State Park and the city of Newport Beach on the northwest, Laguna Woods on the northeast, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel on the east, and Dana Point on the southeast.
The land in and around Laguna Beach rises quickly from the shoreline into the hills and canyons of the San Joaquin Hills. The town’s highest point, at an elevation of 1,007 feet (307 m), is Temple Hill in the Top of the World neighborhood. Because of its hilly topography and surrounding parklands, few roads run into or out of town; only the Coast Highway connecting to Newport Beach to the northwest and to Dana Point to the south, and State Route 133 crossing the hills in a northeastern direction through Laguna Canyon. Parts of Laguna Beach border the Aliso/Wood Canyons Regional Park.
The natural landscape of beaches, rocky bluffs, and craggy canyons have been noted as sources of inspiration for plein air painters and landscape photographers who have settled in the Laguna Beach since the early 1900s. The hills also are known internationally for mountain biking. Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is a 7,000-acre (2,800 ha) wilderness area in the hills surrounding Laguna Beach. This park features coastal canyons, ridgeline views, and the only natural lakes in Orange County.
Laguna Beach has a mild Mediterranean climate with abundant sunshine all year. The average daily high temperature ranges from 68 °F (20 °C) in January to 80 °F (27 °C) in August. Mean annual precipitation is relatively low at 13.56 inches (344 mm). The average ocean water temperatures range from about 59 °F (15 °C) in February to 68 °F (20 °C) in August, with early to mid-September water temperatures often peaking at about 72 °F (22 °C). However, the ocean surface temperatures along the beaches of Laguna Beach may vary by several degrees from the average, dependent upon offshore winds, air temperature, and sunshine.
Laguna Beach has a rich surfing history centered on a five-block stretch of rocky reefs between Brooks and St. Ann’s Streets. The Brooks Street Surfing Classic, begun in 1955, is a “contender for the world’s longest running surf competition,” according to the Encyclopedia of Surfing. The competition is held only when peak swell conditions occur during a four-month-long window in the summer and has been held 52 times from 1955 to 2015. Participation is open only to Laguna Beach residents. Notable participants have included Hobie Alter, Mickey Munoz, and Tom Morey.
Started in 1976, the ‘Vic’ Skimboarding World Championship is held at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach and is the longest running skim boarding contest on the pro circuit.
The Laguna Open Volleyball Tournament began in 1955 and, according to tournament directors, it is the second oldest volleyball tournament in the United States. Participants have included several Olympic gold medalists, including Chris Marlowe, Dusty Dvorak, Scott Fortune, Dain Blanton and Gene Selznick, who won the first seven competitions.
Laguna’s foothill trails are known internationally for mountain biking. Mountain bike hall of fame legend, Hans Rey makes his home in Laguna Beach, as do the Rads, pioneers of mountain biking going back to the 1970s.
The U.S. Open for Lawnbowling is held annually, at the lawn bowling field at Heisler Park.
Laguna Beach was first settled in the 1870s, but was founded officially in 1887 and, in 1927 it incorporated as a city. Beginning in 1944, a council-manager form of government was adopted. Residents of Laguna Beach elect five non-partisan council members who serve four-year staggered terms, with elections occurring every two years. The position of mayor is non-elected and chosen annually among the members of the city council. The council serves to pass ordinances, approve a budget, and hire the city manager and city attorney. The city manager oversees administrative operations and the appointment of department heads. In 2011, John Pietig was hired as city manager following the retirement of his boss, Ken Frank who, after 31 years, was one of the longest-serving city managers in Orange County history.
The city clerk and city treasurer are elected by popular vote and serve four-year terms.
County, state, and federal representation
According to the California Secretary of State, as of February 10, 2019, Laguna Beach has 17,064 registered voters. Of those, 6,509 (38.12%) are registered Democrats, 5,042 (29.55%) are registered Republicans, and 4,620 (27.07%) have declined to state a political party/are independents.
Primary and secondary
The Laguna Beach Unified School District manages public education for city residents. The district includes one high school (Laguna Beach High School), one middle school (Thurston Middle School), and two elementary schools (El Morro Elementary School and Top of the World Elementary School). One private elementary school, St. Catherine of Siena Parish School, is overseen by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
The Laguna College of Art & Design (LCAD) is a small private college located in Laguna Canyon. It was founded in 1961 by the Festival of Arts and Laguna Art Museum as the Laguna Beach School of Art. LCAD offers bachelor of arts degrees in drawing and painting, illustration, animation, graphic design, and game art, and master of fine arts degrees in painting and drawing. In 2013, enrollment was approximately 450 students.
Laguna Beach has a history of environmental stewardship and historic preservation. Laguna Beach is the only Orange County city protected by a dedicated greenbelt inland and bluebelt seaward. In 1968, local conservationists founded Laguna Greenbelt and began a drive to conserve a horseshoe of hills and canyons surrounding Laguna Beach. As of 2011, more than 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) of contiguous wildlands constituted The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Jim Dilley Preserve, Crystal Cove State Park, and the Aliso-Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.
The creation of the 7,000-acre (2,800 ha) Laguna Coast Wilderness Park as a protected area began in the late 1980s and early 1990s when local artists, activists and politicians rallied to preserve Laguna Canyon. With the environmentally focused Laguna Canyon Project and its photographic mural, “The Tell,” as backdrop and stimulus, Laguna citizens forged a partnership to prevent construction of a 3,200-acre (1,300 ha) housing project in the canyon. An exhibition on the Laguna Canyon Project, titled “The Canyon Project: Artivism,” was held at Laguna Art Museum in 2015-16.,. Today the Wilderness Park and Laguna Canyon within it are designated as open space into perpetuity.
The Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve (LBSMR), which extends from Irvine Cove to Treasure Island Beach, was established in 2012, to make most of the coastal area a no-take zone. Docents of the Laguna Ocean Foundation provide monitoring and education at tidepools within the LBSMR. In addition, the 3.2 mile long Crystal Cove State Park abuts the northern border of Laguna Beach.
American Craftsman Bungalows from the early 1900s dot the downtown and South Laguna areas. Between 1980 and 1981, the city conducted the Laguna Beach Historic Survey, a citywide block-by-block study which noted the location of pre-1940 buildings and determined which had historic significance. 706 homes and structures in Laguna Beach were classified as historically significant.
Laguna Beach is the tenth official Transition Town in the U.S. In February 2007, Laguna’s city council unanimously voted to join the U.S. Mayors Climate Initiative, and in April 2013 became the first Orange County city to request formally that the San Onofre Nuclear Reactor not be restarted after its January 2012 shut down. The Aliso Creek Water Reclamation Facility went into operation in 2014. It removes polluted runoff in Aliso Creek, improves ocean water quality, and creates local recycled water. With a grant from Cal Trans, the city is undertaking a transition plan to implement Complete Streets for all users. A North-South bicycle route with signs and sharrows was completed through town in 2014. Laguna Beach passed a citywide ‘Idaho Stop’ for cyclist, a no plastic bag ordinance and a no plastic bottle purchasing policy for its government.
Laguna Beach has its own FM community radio station, KX 93.5. The community is served by an online newspaper, Stu News Laguna (stunewslaguna.com), and one weekly print newspaper, the Laguna Beach Independent. In 2004, MTV created a reality television show entitled Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, which aired for three seasons.
Fire protection in Laguna Beach is provided by the Laguna Beach Fire Department, and law enforcement by the Laguna Beach Police Department. Marine safety services are provided jointly by Laguna Beach City Lifeguards in north Laguna Beach and by Orange County Lifeguards in south Laguna Beach.
Laguna Beach has used goats for its fuel reduction and vegetation management program since the early 1990s.