Something I’ve been really excited about since I started my new job working for an airline is using my new flight benefits to take some quick weekend trips. Between the free flights and my credit card rewards I figured I could take some pretty cheap weekend getaways – and this weekend was my first real taste of how awesome day trips can be.
A unique thing about the holidays at my company is that they give us Good Friday as a paid day off and I’ve never had that holiday before. It turned out to be a perfect time to fly since it’s not a holiday that everyone gets so the flight loads were great that day. I took a short (free!) flight into Orange County and used a discount that National had given me for my car rental. I also managed to snag a cheaper rate by re-booking my car the day before the trip. My #1 tip when it comes to rental cars is to check the prices constantly! They change daily and even hourly and sometimes drop the day before a trip.
Last month I discovered something called the Emerald Aisle at National and I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be happy with any other car rental experience ever again. All I did was sign up for their rewards program and now I get an Emerald Aisle reservation whenever I book. That means all I have to do is book a mid-size car and then I can take ANY car I want from National’s aisle. It’s AMAZING! I’ve heard that sometimes there isn’t much available but the two times I’ve used it there have been plenty of options. Both times there have been Hyundais (my car of choice) but this time I took the one and only Jeep in the aisle. And while those things are gas gusslers, I absolutely love driving a random vehicle like that when I get a chance to for a few days. And I paid the mid-size car rate to rent it! With my coupon I was charged $25 for a 2 day Jeep rental and I paid for it using some of my credit card rewards. Zero dollars! =D
But back to California. If you’re like me and you use Google Maps to help you find your way, I’ve realized that there are times when it’s important to pay careful attention to the routes it’s offering up. When I asked Google to get me from the airport to downtown Laguna Beach it offered me 3 routes. The first one got eliminated when I told it no tolls. Of the two left one route was two minutes shorter and was the one that Google was going to have me use. I looked at the second route and realized that it looked like it drove along the coast so I told Google to send me that way. For TWO extra minutes of driving I got to drive along the Pacific coast for 15 minutes with gorgeous views of the ocean! Totally worth it. I may or may not have let out a little squeal when I first glimpsed the ocean.
If you go to Laguna Beach I recommend checking out the shops in downtown Laguna. They’re cute and it’s a fun area to walk around. The main beach is right there, people are playing volleyball, there’s a boardwalk, all that good jazz. I pointed Google Maps at Laguna Beach Visitor’s Center and it brings you right where you need to be.
In fact, I stopped by the visitor’s center and ended up going to a different beach than I had originally planned based on a recommendation and it’s one of the best decisions I made this trip. I went to Treasure Island Park which is where some really high end resorts are but the beach is still public beach. To get down to the beach you walk along some beautiful landscaping with ocean views (obviously) the entire time. It’s probably one of the most ideal places to take a stroll that I’ve ever been to.
The public parking is hard to find, but going east on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), take a right onto Wesley Dr and it leads you to a hidden (and covered!) public parking lot. I got there around 11:30ish and there was almost no one there.
I took a bunch of pictures and then managed to find one shady spot on the beach where I plopped myself down and didn’t move for close to an hour. This beach is WAY less crowded than the main beach and some of the more popular areas, so it was really quiet and peaceful and I just enjoyed listening to the waves. It was hands down the most relaxing hour I’ve had all year. This is the view I had looking up from where I was sitting.
When it comes to restaurants and food when I’m traveling, I’ve never been very good about being adventurous. That’s something I need to work on I suppose. For lunch that day I pulled up Yelp and asked it to tell me what was close by that was cheap. Ignoring all of the fast food places, I found Gina’s Pizza and decided to try it out. It was a cheap meal ($5) and delicious! Way better than the cheapo pizza you get at most places for $5. I would highly recommend them if you want a quick, small lunch while in Laguna.
One of my goals while I was there was to take some sunset pictures using my DSLR. I had planned to take them on the beach, but the lady at the visitor’s center told me that a popular place to watch the sunset was Alta Laguna Park so I headed up there later in the day. While my pictures didn’t really turn out that well I do have to say that it’s a fantastic place to view the sunset. There’s actually a park up there so it’d be a nice place to bring a family. And the highest point is right by the parking lot so it’s an easy spot to get to. However, there are a ton of hiking trails going all over and they look amazing so that’s going on my list of things to do when I go back.
I just want to take a second to say that I love SNA (Santa Ana/Orange County) airport. It’s a smaller airport (talk about zipping through security!), it seems like it’s been recently updated, there are lots of good food options (with handy maps of where everything is), free wifi, and the US Airways gates are right by the rental cars. I literally walked to the rental car area in less than 2 minutes. I picked the Jeep, hopped in it, showed them my ID at the booth on the way out, and drove out of the airport within minutes. It was AMAZING! And then 25 minutes later I was parked in downtown Laguna.
If anyone is wondering why I chose Laguna Beach over Huntington or any of the other popular areas I could have easily gone to from Orange County…it’s because I was born in Laguna Beach. However, despite having this city on my birth certificate I hadn’t been back to it since my family moved away when I was 2. Sad, right? I wanted to remedy that and in the process of going there this past weekend I realized that California is always going to feel like home to me. Despite having only lived there for 2 years of my life…I think it’s just in my blood.
And because of that, I look forward to taking many, MANY more quick trips to California in the future.