No ho-hum home tour this! The city of Laguna Beach has published a map to its cottages and bungalows called the "Heritage Walking Companion to Self-Guided Tour Laguna by Bus"; for those in shape, a bicycle is an even better option. Thirty historic domiciles are divided into north and south; consider a meal in the middle--at the Cottage, of course.
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Pick up the free cottage-walk map at the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau. Near the bureau, but not on the map, is the Murphy-Smith Bungalow, built about 1923 and one of the few beach houses remaining downtown. (It's next door to Wells Fargo Bank.) The Laguna Beach Historical Society uses the bungalow for rotating displays of local artifacts and photographs. A woman named Blanch Clapp Smith lived there until her death in 1990.
Today, as part of an artist-in-residence program run by the historical society, it's occupied by octogenarian Doc Blacketer, a Laguna resident since 1923; if you look over the back fence, you'll see two little dogs and seascapes on the walls of a little studio. The house is open some afternoons; if it's not, visitors' bureau director Kathleen Spalione suggests leaning over the back fence and calling, "Hey, Doc, are you in?"
Continuing south, the cottage at 411 Arroyo Chico, built in 1884, is both the oldest remaining house in Laguna and the only one in Victorian style; originally it was located on the bluff above Main Beach. A private home at 571 Graceland Drive, built in 1900, long served as the local art gallery.
Much of southern Laguna is built around stream beds. Some homes, such as the 1939 Tudor-style house at 500 Oak St., even straddle a gully. Designed and built by a local woodworker from Denmark, it's connected to the garage by a covered bridge. At 1390 Glenneyre St. is a tiny clapboard cottage with matching shed and garage.
Stargazers will appreciate the house at 530 Mountain Road, originally the home of Polly Moran, a vaudeville comedienne and film actress whose credits included "Alice in Wonderland" (1933) and "Adam's Rib" (1949).
At 489 Pearl St. is an enchanted forest cottage once occupied by Malcolm St. Clair, director in the 1920s of Rin Tin Tin action features, Buster Keaton comedies, Laurel and Hardy features (hailed in Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia as "among their least funny"), the highly acclaimed "Are Parents People?" and a 1928 version of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
The Japo-Swiss bungalow that houses the Cottage Restaurant dates to 1914; note the upturned gables and the tall monkey puzzle star pine in the garden. On the tables inside are turn-of-the century lamps originally made for the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego County.
Sunday-style brunch ($9.95 including fresh fruit and a glass of sparkling wine) is served daily; among a half-dozen poached-egg entrees are eggs Benedict (with Canadian bacon), eggs Arnold (with avocado) and eggs Benedict Arnold (with bacon and avocado).
Another option is omelet Melvin (with seasoned beef, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, Swiss cheese and Spanish sauce, $6.95).
Not far from the restaurant, at 426 and 434 Aster St., are cottages from the '20s, one with elaborate porch ornamentation, the other a shingled building with a Cape Cod look. The 1915 board-and-batten cottage at 445 Linden St. is still used as a seasonal home by descendants of the original owners.
At 390 Magnolia Drive is a 1907 cottage that shows how most early Laguna houses looked. The walking guide notes that a $100 prize was offered for the first house to be built in the Laguna Cliffs subdivision. With the help of family and friends, a couple named Spots from Orange completed theirs in one weekend; the prize probably covered most of their costs.
Farther north, the "witch's house" at 290 Wave St., another fascinating cottage that's not on the map, was built in 1926 and features steep gables, irregular windows and a stone chimney.
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1) Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau
252 Broadway, (714) 497-9229.
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
2) Murphy-Smith Historical Bungalow
278 Ocean Ave., (714) 497-4439.
Open 1-4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
3) The Cottage Restaurant
308 N. Coast Highway, (714) 494-3023.
Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Also 5-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday, 4:30-10:30 p.m. Saturday and 4:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Parking: There is metered street parking at all locations. (There is free street parking near most residential cottages and bungalows on the Cottage Heritage Walk.)
Buses: Laguna Beach Transit gray line serves these locations and the cottages of north Laguna; the blue line serves the cottages of central and southern Laguna Beach.