Late on the night of December 27, while watching a documentary about the band Rush and their final tour – Rush: Time Stand Still – I was inspired to Google the term “Orange Sunshine.” To my surprise, the movie Orange Sunshine was scheduled to have a special screening at the Laguna Art Museum – on my 29th anniversary – January 18. I saw it as a sign. My plan was to surprise my husband Danny. Before making definitive plans, I texted my daughter-in-law to ensure that she did not need us to watch the grand babies on the days we would be gone. After getting the all-clear, I asked my husband if he wanted to go to Laguna for our anniversary, and he readily agreed and even suggested that we book a whale-watching excursion while we were there. Next, I contacted the museum. On their website it said tickets were gone, but there would be a few seats available at the door on the night of the showing. I contacted Irin, the Assistant Curator of Education, and she offered to set aside two tickets for us. Under the circumstances, I felt it would be more appropriate to get an annual family membership for $75. Bingo! We were guaranteed seats!
Booking the Room: Hotels.com and The Tides Inn
This was to be a quick trip: leave Wednesday morning and return Friday late afternoon. (We had to be back for our grandsons’ birthday party on Saturday.) I reserved a room at our usual spot: The Tides Inn. I booked the room through Hotels.com. I started using this site last summer when we were in England and Ireland. The website is super easy to use, and after ten nights, you get awarded a free night, which is a sweet deal. After booking, I called Tides Inn to inquire which room we would be getting, (I have stayed in almost every room on the property). They were able to transfer our booking to room 213, which faces the alley in the back of the property. While there is no view, it is a huge room with two standard beds and you can’t really hear the traffic from Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). This is an older property, just north of Main Beach on the inland side of PCH. There are only 21 rooms, and the decor is old-school California cottage. Only a couple of the rooms have a glimpse of the ocean, some have kitchenettes, and I believe they all have small refrigerators. Being an older property, we have had occasional issues with little things like shower pressure, but management is always super helpful. (After one stay, I left some clothes hanging in the closet, which they mailed to me immediately at no charge!) Overall, it is a pretty chill place to stay, and for Laguna it is quite affordable. Best of all, once we check in, Tides Inn is walking distance to everything we want to see and experience in Laguna, and parking in Laguna can be a bitch.
Additional Planning: Whale-Watching and Dinner at Broadway by Amar Santana
In Orange County, there are two locations to go whale watching: Dana Point and Newport Beach. I found an amazing deal through Davey’s Locker in Newport: $13 a person – our total with taxes and fees came to $31.62. Amar Santana, the owner of Broadway, is a former Top Chef contestant. We had been to his restaurant twice before, and I was excited to go back.
On the Road
We left Vegas at 9:45 am, Wednesday, January 17. Despite stopping at the Del Taco in Barstow for brunch and a bathroom break, we arrived in Laguna at 2:00 pm = epic time. It helped to leave after the Vegas morning traffic and arrive before the after-work (and after-school) traffic in Orange County.
At the Beach
After checking in, we headed straight to Main Beach with our lawn chairs, umbrella, and books. We watched the waves and dogs playing in the sand until the sunset. We went back to the room to change for dinner and then headed to the restaurant.
Broadway by Amar Santana
The best thing I have ever had at Broadway is the Hamachi Sashimi. It is served with avocado sorbet and is amazingly. For our other appetizer, we got a Roasted Shiitake Veloute, which – although tasty – was too rich for me; my husband had no problem. For our entrees we ordered the Mediterranean Branzino and Potato & Sauerkraut Pierogies with Mushrooms. The Branzino was excellent, and while the pierogies were good, they were a bit too heavy on the mushrooms and a bit too light on the sauerkraut. The finale was a honey-themed dessert called Oh Beehive. There was a beehive that consisted of a lemon goat cheese mousse encased in overly sweet merengue. It was served with honey ice cream, honeycomb, and a tiny bee cookie. While I could not finish the merengue, the rest provided a lovely ending to my meal. Walking back to the hotel, we wandered into a new store: Jasmine of Anatolia. Passing by, I was distracted by the Turkish arts and crafts. Feeling a little overwhelmed (over fed) from dinner, I put off serious shopping for another day, but chatted with the clerk about my trip to Turkey in 2012.
The Big Day
Our whale watching excursion was at 1:00 with a 12:00 check-in, so the plan was to get breakfast and head to Newport – a 30-minute drive up PCH. We usually end up eating in the same restaurants in Laguna, so we decided to try someplace new. After checking online, we decided to try Madison Square & Garden Cafe. It is a short walk from Tides Inn. My husband got a spinach-tomato scramble and I ordered the German Apple Pancake. Both were good, but not life-changing. We then headed to Newport.
The Boat Cruise
After checking in for our whale-watching cruise, we wandered around the Balboa end of the Newport peninsula. We even saw a seal while we were walking on the Balboa pier. After boarding the boat, we struck up a conversation with a guy who had been living in the area for ten years. He mentioned that the whale migration was not due for a couple of weeks. He regularly takes this boat trip to capture photos for his website and stated that it was unlikely we would see any whales; and he was right. He mentioned that he was from Mississippi, and I told him that my mother was born in Laurel, Mississippi. Randomly, he had attended Laurel High School for a year, stating it was an influential time in his life and that he still has Facebook friends in Laurel – small world!
During the just under two-hour cruise, we saw a lot of dolphins, but – as warned – no whales. There is no controlling nature. Nevertheless, it was a lovely experience. The weather – for the entire trip – was amazing with daytime temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s. No regrets!
The Remainder of the Afternoon
It was now about 3:00, and we needed to check-in for the movie at 6:30. My husband suggested that we visit my brother’s cemetery in Huntington Beach. Pretty much every time we go to Orange County, we make the drive to the cemetery. After my brother died in 1970, my parents and I went to the cemetery every Sunday, until we moved from Anaheim to El Toro, at which time we only went monthly. It may seem weird, but the Good Shepard Cemetery is a place where I feel especially close to my long-departed family. The routine is that my husband drops me off with my lawn chair and tissues. He goes to Walmart, while I reminisce and have a good cry. That day was no exception. We had planned to go to the Crab Cooker – a Newport Beach institution with reliably good food – but after the cruise, we weren’t yet hungry, so we decided to try a sushi place instead.
242 Cafe Fusion Sushi
We have walked by this place countless times, and it is always busy. We popped in at 4:50, and I asked the waitress if we could get a table around 5:15 – after the sunset. She said we should be safe. After enjoying another amazing sunset, we headed back to the restaurant. Crossing PCH, my husband looked at the vacant theatre across the street, and said, “Too bad we can’t see a movie tonight.” Closed for about two years, Laguna Cinemas was our favorite movie venue. At the restaurant, we asked the waitress for suggestions and ordered four sushi rolls and a large hot sake: Laguna Canyon (outstanding), Lava Flow (also outstanding), LA (very good), and a Ninja (good, but not good enough to order again). Still a bit hungry, we inquired about the sashimi options and ended up with the Integrated P with G – the P stands for purple cabbage and the G stands for ginger; it was an excellent choice, and the perfect ending to our meal. This restaurant only seats 21 people. There are four or five tables and maybe ten seats at the sushi bar. We chatted with another couple – who laughed when I declined a roll with truffle oil – and they advised us to arrive when the restaurant opens at 4:30 = sound advice. Sushi 242 will definitely be on our Laguna restaurant rotation!
The Big Event: Orange Sunshine
Sushi 242 is basically across the street from the Laguna Art Museum. I had told my husband to dress appropriately for a walk after dinner. He was a bit confused when I led him in the opposite direction of the downtown area after dinner. We crossed PCH heading toward the museum. Danny thought we were going to walk around Heisler Park; instead I led him into the museum and told him we would be seeing a movie after all. I asked him if he had any clue as to what was happening – he absolutely did not. I gave my name to Irin, who was managing the receptionist desk, and she said what a pleasure it was to finally meet me, and she wished us a happy anniversary. To be clear, Irin and and I had exchanged numerous emails to work this whole thing out, including a few that morning to confirm our reservation. When we took our seats, I asked Danny if he wanted to know what was going on or if he preferred to wait for the formal introduction. He chose to wait, so I told him to pay attention to the demographics of the audience that was beginning to stream in. The majority of the crowd was in their early 60s, which is not unusual for any type of museum event. What stood out here was the hippyish nature of many members of the audience and the soundtrack that was playing; it was instrumental and sounded like the Grateful Dead. My husband tried to look it up on Shazam, but nothing registered. The guys sitting in front of us were discussing how many people in the room had likely tried LSD; my husband listened with avid curiosity.
The Movie: Orange Sunshine
This documentary recounts the activities of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. This group was responsible for the large-scale distribution of LSD throughout California, the United States, and Europe. So why in the world would I make such a big deal about bringing my husband to see this movie? There are three reasons. One: while my husband was serving in the U.S. Navy in 1970, he dropped a tab of Orange Sunshine at an Arlo Guthrie concert and had one crazy night that included a dash across I-5. This was a highlight from what was otherwise a rough couple of years. Two: I went to high school in El Toro, California, which is just over the canyon from Laguna Beach. During my high school years (1975-1978), I hung out at Laguna nearly every day – especially during the summer. The late 1970s in Southern California was a crazy and liberally-minded time. The generation of the 1960s had worn down the authorities, and people basically did as they pleased. Although the Brotherhood had relocated by that time, the hippie vibe was still alive and well in Laguna. Even today, vestiges remain. Three: when I repainted my office, which is in the the “fame section” of our house, our Feng Shui advisor recommended the color red. I wasn’t quite feeling the red, so I went with a tangerine orange instead, and ever since, I have referred to the space as the Orange Sunshine room.
The film was well-made and very informative. Afterwards, the director and three members of the Brotherhood spoke and took questions from the audience. We bought a DVD of the movie to share with friends and family and headed back to the hotel.
After waking up and packing we headed to the Orange Inn for breakfast. This place has been around since 1931, but I had never eaten there. Growing up, aside from getting a croissant from Scandia Bakery, which sadly closed down about a year ago, or carrot juice from The Stand, which is thankfully still in operation, I never ate in Laguna. I had breakfast at home in the morning before heading out to the beach, and after a day of body surfing, I went home for dinner. At the Orange Inn my husband had a spinach-tomato-goat cheese omelet (yes, there is a pattern here), and I had the Orange Inn Breakfast Burrito with eggs, cheese, avocado, beans, and salsa. This is another place I would definitely go back to. Afterwards, we walked down to the beach and watched some guys surf next to dolphins, and then we walked around the shops, picking up a birthday card for my grandson and some croissants for the road. We also popped back into Jasmine of Anatolia where I bought a mother-of-pearl inlaid box and an evil eye glass disk. I had seen a very similar box at a museum shop in Turkey for the Turkish equivalent of $85. At the time, it was more than I wanted to pay, and I figured I would find one cheaper somewhere else – but I never saw another one like it – until this shop, where I paid $45. I lusted after some Turkish lantern chandeliers – the most impressive was $3,000 – but decided to wait until after we finish redecorating our living room, kitchen, and dining room. I have a feeling I will be back to this store for a more substantial purchase. Heading home, we drove through Laguna Canyon. (It is on the way out of town.) Back in the day, it was called “Dodge City” and was home base for the Brotherhood. In the late 1970s I attended some epic parties there. Today, it is more charming than counter-culture, but I am sure that many old-timers remain. (When we got home and consulted Zillow, we saw that virtually every home sells for $1 million+ – even the homes that are under 1,000 square feet!)
After the surfer wipes out, I zoom to dolphins frolicking in the background.
We were on the road from the canyon at 12:15 pm, and aside from a few gnarly traffic clusters, it was smooth sailing back to Vegas. We made it home at 4:20 pm, with only a brief bathroom break.
Visiting Laguna Beach is like going home to me. There is a peace to this place that I find no where else. We have been there so often over the years, that it is my husband’s and kids’ California home. I know we will be back again soon. After all, I am retired and living my endless bitchen summer!