‘Old-school’ hip makes Laguna’s HIP District even cooler
LAGUNA BEACH — Kool-Aid, colorful hair ties and vintage rock ‘n’ roll bands helped bring back the “old-school vibe” during a celebration of history in this seaside town’s HIP District.
The area, along South Coast Highway between Thalia Street and Bluebird Canyon Drive, is home to more than 50 vintage shops, restaurants and hotels. Buildings there are among some of the oldest in Laguna Beach, including La Casa del Camino, The Old Pottery Place and The English Garden.
The district is wedged between the ocean on the west and part of a community known as Village Laguna on the east. There are unique fashion boutiques, surf shops,16 art galleries, 19 restaurants, and coffee shops with outdoor seating. Some of the city’s most popular hotels are along this strip.
On Saturday, March 30, hundreds came out to celebrate the community’s history and to revel in what makes this area of Laguna the “cool part of town.”
There were street musicians, bands and sidewalk art events. Fifty shops and businesses offered specials such as $2 American beers at the Sandpiper Lounge, 20 percent off merchandise at Sound Spectrum, and Thalia Surf Shop had a place to make old-time button pins.
Saturday’s celebration was organized by a collaboration of merchants to boost awareness of the area. Unlike in downtown Laguna, which on weekends gets thousands of pedestrians cruising through, merchants in the HIP District generally rely on word of mouth among tourists who want to venture off the beaten path.
“Tourists are different here, they’re usually not looking for something super touristy,” said Susan Elliott, who operates Twig along Coast Highway. Her store sells gift items made locally and in California.
“I feel like that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “People have a sense they’ve discovered the cool part of town.”
The idea to do the throw-back day came from a presentation Elliott and two other HIP District business owners did a few months back at the city’s Historical Society. In preparing for the project, Elliott learned a lot about life in that part of the city, dating back to the 1950s.
She found out, for instance, that the location now occupied by Billabong, at the corner of Thalia and Coast Highway, used to be home to a photography studio operated by William Mortensen, known for his glamour Hollywood photography. She also learned that a building next to Sandpiper Lounge was built by the Theosophical Society.
“There’s a room with a skylight that was their meeting room,” Elliott said. “It still has a spiritual feel.”
She also learned about colorful characters who are part of Laguna’s past, such as Timothy Leary and his Brotherhood of Eternal Love.
“I can picture in the 1950s who was wandering along these streets,” she said. “Leary used to stay at La Casa del Camino. He’d hold court there and smoked pot openly in the hotel.”
On Saturday, merchants placed old-time photos in their windows flashing back to different eras of Laguna’s past.
“We left it up to the merchants to decide what era they wanted to celebrate,” Elliott said. “Laguna is one of those towns where it’s hard to pin down what era ‘old school’ comes from. Is it the 1800s or the 1920s, when the Impressionist painters were there, or the 1950s or 1970s? Does it mean settlers or painters or surfers or hippies?”