This first in a series of posts about our favorite weekend getaway spots features Laguna Beach, made famous by a reality show, but a popular destination for Angelenos for decades. Having terrific resort spots like Laguna so close to L.A. is a major benefit and another reason you'll be glad you relocated!

Located only an hour south of Los Angeles, the tiny seaside village feels like a major resort, with secluded beaches, fine dining, quality shopping and lodging for every price range. One of the reasons Laguna is so special is that it has been an artist's colony almost since its founding, with the first art gallery opening in 1918.Drawn by the natural beauty and clear natural light, artists began flocking to Laguna, staying in the many hotels and boarding houses that sprung up to accommodate the creative community. In the 1960's the town became a focus of the hippie artistic community, with Timonthy Leary living in a home on Gaviota Drive.

Laguna Beach "tower"
Laguna Beach "tower" - built as beach access for homeowner in 1920s

This long artistic tradition lives on today in the form of the many art galleries along the quaint seaside streets where visitors can linger after a meal or while munching on ice cream or gellato.

Another major draw in the summer is the famous "Pageant of the Masters", a performance art experience where great paintings are recreated onstage with live models costumed and painted to simulate characters from the paintings. The pageant plays concurrently with the Sawdust Art Festival, which runs from late June into early September, making it possible to enjoy a full day and evening of artistic-themed adventure.

If the arts are not your thing, just enjoy the easygoing oceanfront atmosphere, with its lush vegetation, tidepools and picturesque rocky coastline. Main Beach is in the center of downtown, featuring lots of volleyball games, oceanfront walks and very public sunbathing, but, if you prefer a more secluded scene, try out the pristine, less crowded beaches at Treasure Island, Crystal Cove or Victoria beach.

Or stroll through downtown with its mixture of shops, galleries and restaurants. One of our favorites is Las Brisas restaurant, mostly because of its spectacular view of the entire cove from high on a bluff which you can enjoy from the many panoramic windows or the outdoor patio.

Or, Laguna is full of fine dining options. There are also many hotels, ranging from the mid-priced Holiday Inn to upscale resorts like the oceanfront Surf and Sand or the elegant Montage resort with its craftsman-style architecture and lush amenities.

Since there are only two small roads into or out of Laguna, plan on traffic during busy weekends. However, if you take your time traveling down the Pacific Coast Highway, arriving or departing can be half the fun.