Jolene goes to Ohana Fest, Part I
Go: 1000 steps beach
As you can tell from my recent posts, I've been endeavoring to go on more "staycations." To me, a staycation uses the principle of vacation in a more local setting. You don't always have to go far or spend a lot of money to relax, feel adventurous and have a good time. Why not make the best of your time and explore, instead of staying home and doing the same old thing?
If you don't know me personally, I will put this out there now: I absolutely love the band The Naked and Famous. It's been 6 whole years since the first time I was ever graced by their presence, and I've been (debatably) their craziest fan ever since. So, when I found out they were playing this year's Ohana Fest, I knew I just had to see them perform there. My fellow TNAF fan friend Katie also made a pilgrimage of sorts to my neck of the woods so we could turn our fangirl weekend into a staycationer's dream.
Katie arrived Friday night, and after a relaxed night at my place, we headed off on our adventure Saturday morning.
First stop, day one: Sidecar Doughnuts
I'm not a donut fiend by any means, but I wanted to give Katie a wonderful SoCal experience, so I felt it necessary to stop at Sidecar Doughnuts on our way down to the beach.
Located in a fairly beachy, bustling part of Orange County, Sidecar Doughnuts is the shop you never knew you needed. Boasting uniquely delicious seasonal flavors on top of their already amazing assortment of regular flavors. Deciding was difficult, but I opted for both a seasonal flavor (s'mores) and a regular flavor (maple bacon), finished off with a Vietnamese iced coffee. I have to admit, the s'mores donut was a bit rich for me, and I didn't finish it. My favorite was definitely the maple bacon - the perfect balance of smoky and sweet, and the perfectly crisped bacon added a level of texture that I felt the s'mores donut was missing.
The shop was quite busy - the line was well out the door, the whole area swarming with families, couples, and plenty of adorable pups. We were fortunate enough to find a shaded bench nearby to enjoy our sweets.
After satisfying our sweet tooth, we started our journey to the beach.
PRO TIP: DON'T EXPECT PARKING TO COME EASY IF YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO VISIT 1000 STEPS BEACH. EXPECT TO PARK LOCALLY/FIND STREET PARKING.
Our first stop was 1000 Steps Beach, an iconic stop in Laguna Beach, where we had decided to stay for the night. I attended UC Irvine for undergrad, so Laguna Beach wasn't all that unfamiliar. I remembered thinking it was a beautiful place, despite my aversion to the beach in general. 1000 Steps Beach was indeed beautiful, once we survived the daunting marathon of a staircase.
PRO TIP: IF YOU AREN'T IN THE BEST SHAPE, STEER CLEAR OF THIS STAIRCASE.
Eventually, we made it down to the bottom of the notorious "1000 steps," and we were not disappointed. We were graced with blue skies, scattered clouds and beautiful blue water. The tide was pretty high and aggressive - these waves are not for the faint of heart. We made our way to some rock formations to the right, climbed over them (as the tide was a bit high to walk through), and made it to another cove of the beach. The high tide had formed a bit of a ledge in the sand, so we decided to sit and enjoy the scenery for a while.
Between the sound of the waves and the vitamin D surge, we were so relaxed. Staycation mission accomplished! However, said relaxed state began to dissipate when we realized we had to ascend the steps of doom once more. The good news is, we made it to the top!
We finally made it back to our car and decided to grab a cold drink from the local Urth Caffe before ultimately heading to our hotel to freshen up. Most Airbnbs were outside of our budget, and hotels in Dana Point were all booked, so we found a cute, independently owned hotel in Laguna. That's actually why we chose to make a day out of it! The Art Hotel is nothing too fancy, but it is comfortable, clean, and reasonably priced. We enjoyed a room with two lovely queen beds. When you book, there are also rooms with an ocean view, but I actually grabbed the last available room on my favorite site, booking.com, so I didn't really have the option to get a view.
The hotel is covered in artwork, murals, and shelves full of aquatic treasures like seashells. It was a cute, quirky place for us to spend our short beach weekend. We definitely took advantage of the comfy queen beds before freshening up and heading out for dinner.
PRO TIP: DON'T TAKE THE FREE LAGUNA SHUTTLE IF YOU ARE IN A TIME CRUNCH. SOMETIMES IT TAKES A WHILE FOR THE SHUTTLE TO STOP WHERE YOU ARE, AND THERE ARE MANY STOPS ON THE WAY.
We sorted through some nearby dining options via Yelp and decided on The Deck, an upscale restaurant with unrivaled beach views. Upon our arrival, we were already confused. Signage is not clear, and it took us a moment to figure out where the restaurant actually was. When we finally found the hostess, I was not impressed by her attitude and felt that she was not only condescending, but not helpful. I'm not sure how much we stuck out from the typical Laguna crowd, but she was not welcoming, and even her information was unclear. That is all I care to report about her.
The good news: We were seated in 10-15 minutes, contrary to the 45-minute estimate. On top of that, we were seated at one of the best tables on, well, the deck. The views were outstanding. Believe me when I say it is worth it to eat here just for the views! The outdoor seating area is indeed on a deck, with a small bar off to the side and plenty of small tables crammed together. It is a high energy place, so I don't suggest eating outdoors if you are looking for a lowkey, quiet meal.
We were seated a little before 6PM, so we knew we'd be able to watch the sunset from our front row seats. With the roaring ocean behind us, we ordered drinks and started with some fresh catch-of-the-day oysters. I may not be a beach person, but I felt like I was in paradise. The weather was perfect (a much-needed change from the recent heatwave in Southern California), the cool ocean breeze was giving us beach hair, and the food was everything we'd hoped for.
I'm sure you can gather from my travels that I am not afraid to eat and not afraid to indulge. Needless to say, I am generally not a salad person. That being said, I was completely enticed by the shrimp and Dungeness crab louie salad offered on the Deck's modest menu. Both Katie and I decided to order these salads, and they did not disappoint in any way, shape, or form.
Generous amounts of lump crab meat, sweet shrimp, avocado, tomato and boiled egg. My favorite part? There was the most perfect pair of crisp, deep green asparagus on top. The dressing was served on the side, and rightly so. It was the perfect shade of millennial pink, but its richness far surpassed its color. The louie dressing was like Thousand Island but sweeter, and it was the most wonderful way to top off this masterpiece of a salad. Everything mixed together, the creaminess of the avocado with the bite of the Romaine, the rich dressing with the refreshing asparagus, was the most wonderful textural experience. If I've ever been in love, it is with this salad.
While we stuffed our faces, the sun started setting. The most beautiful hues of pinks and oranges bled together over the sea, stealing everyone's breath. This is what adventure is all about, the moments that draw you away from the chaos of your phone, the popularity contest that is social media. I lost myself in the watercolor sky and soothing sound of waves.
If I'm being honest, dessert left quite a bit to be desired, but our chocolate lava cake was still a bittersweet, rich finish to a wonderful meal. Wanting to take advantage of twilight, we finished our food and wandered down to the beach below using the staircase connected to the restaurant. Can you believe you can literally walk to the beach while you're waiting to be seated?
The last moments of light were fading from the sky - anticipation and excitement for our festival adventures the following day were starting to build. Katie and I took in the quiet calmness before returning to our hotel and getting a good night's rest.
Read on for part 2.