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3-HOUR TOUR

Corona del Mar: Where Picnicking Is a Shore Thing

June 03, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Corona del Mar is the ideal beach community: beautiful homes, a throwback small-town feel and a killer beach area affording spectacular views of the craggy coastline. It's the perfect place to relax and unwind on a short walking tour, culminating in an informal picnic by the pounding surf.

10 to 10:30: C'est Si Bon is where most locals have their morning espresso and read the paper. You meet good people here, and the cafe section is a good place to get yourself in the right frame of mind for a beach picnic.

In addition to the coffee drinks and whole-wheat croissants to start the day with, the bakery features a variety of breads and pastries; buttery muffins, good baguettes, brioche and sweet rolls. Order from the bakery's complete breakfast bar. You can even get poached eggs and fresh fruit.

Afterward, line the bottom of your picnic basket with a few cheeses, pates, linzer cookies or one of the rich pecan tarts from the pastry case. The tarts make especially good desserts on the beach.

10:30 to 10:45: With all due respect to C'est Si Bon, Pacific Farmers Market, just across the street and one block north on Coast Highway from the bakery, is the place I actually fill up my picnic basket.

This is the only local shop where the terrific breads of La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles can be procured, and they are trucked in fresh daily. I think these are the best breads in Southern California. Try the flat, floury ciabatta, or a crusty rye flour bread called levain. There's also good fresh produce here, and lean, smoky deli meats such as turkey, pastrami and corned beef from a good purveyor named Boar's Head, ideal for impromptu sandwiches.

10:45 to noon: Now continue north to the next corner, Marguerite Avenue, and head west toward the ocean. Did you notice that the streets in this community are in alphabetical order, and all named for flowers? That's right. You started at Narcissus Avenue, passed Marigold Avenue and now are at Marguerite, a beautiful residential street lined with palm trees on each side.

As you head away from Coast Highway, you'll start to hear the birds singing, and after a few hundred yards, the Pacific Ocean will come broadly into view. This is a pricey neighborhood, no street lights, very well-kept. Lawns are exquisitely landscaped and beautifully sculptured. You will turn right when you get to Ocean Boulevard and walk to Jasmine Avenue, then head down Breakers Drive, a steep decline with dense tropical shrubbery on either side of the road, toward Corona del Mar State Beach. Cross the parking lot diagonally and head for a small clearing with picnic tables and barbecue grills, visible from the edge of the parking lot. This is one place where you can stop for lunch.

Noon to 1: Now you are properly fortified for that picturesque walk along the beach.

Just up from the picnic area is a small arbor entrance, through which is a sand hill leading up to a view of the jetty. You'll see gulls and other sea birds here, as you watch pleasure crafts totter by out to sea. It gets crowded here during regattas and boat races. This is the ideal spot from which to view the scene. There are usually artists up here, too.

Directly below is a secret little beach, though by now it is quite well-discovered, away from the main beach crescent. Careful, though, it's a sharp drop.

In many ways, this is one of the prettiest spots on the entire coast. Newport Harbor stretches off to the right, and the cliffs of the south coast to the left. To me, at least, this view epitomizes the best aspects of lifestyle in Southern California.

Walk along the crescent to the south end of the main beach, about one third of a mile. There's a jogging path if you want to avoid the sand. At the far end you will come to a sign reading "Inspiration Point," and a sandy road which winds its way back up to Ocean Boulevard. Halfway up the hill is a lookout point with a bronze railing and craftsman-type wooden benches.

This is a good place to view the area's most impressive homes, built up along the cliffs just beyond. The local beach known as Little Corona is also visible, not a state beach and popular with locals. It's just south of where you are standing.

Climb the hill and head south on Ocean Boulevard until you come to Poppy Avenue. Poppy leads directly back to Coast Highway, from which you can walk north and return to Narcissus or Marguerite and complete this wonderful beach loop.

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