Photographer: Douglas Pulsipher/Alamy
Among Orange County's high-profile, high-priced developments, this quaint, artistic village anchored by a walkable downtown has always marched to its own drummer. From its founding as an artists' colony, Laguna Beach embraces the diverse, with funky downtown restaurants, surfing culture, and a summer full of art festivals. (Luxe outposts like the Ritz-Carlton and Montage offer high-end comforts, too.)
While some other California coastal towns piled up commerce on their shores, Laguna fought for open space, and now its nearly 25,000 residents reap the benefits of sweeping views and unparalleled public access to some of the most unspoiled coves in America.
Where to Stay: Casa Laguna Inn & Spa is a romantic escape within walking distance of the beach. Rates start at $159; 800/233-0449 or