The summer festival season is over, and the tourists have abandoned Laguna Canyon. But that doesn't mean they took all the fun with them.
The canyon route to Laguna Beach is the year-round home to an eclectic array of attractions that seem even more inviting once the summer crush simmers down. These are the places people zipped right by on their way to the Sawdust, the Art-A-Fair or Pageant of the Masters. They deserve more than a passing glance.
Glass Is in Session
Like many of those who populate the canyon, John Barber doesn't keep set hours. But if you see the "open" sign on his gate and you hear the roar of his furnace, you might be able to watch something special take shape.
For 15 years, Barber has been using heat to turn globs of glass into works of art at his outdoor canyon studio (21062 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach,  494-1464). On a recent weekday, he was making napkin rings and bread plates for Anthony's Fish Grotto in San Diego.
He and an apprentice heated the glass in a 2,000-degree furnace and then rolled it in silver glass powder to give it a luster "the same way Tiffany did 100 years ago," Barber said.
After wrapping the hot glass around a steel rod to shape it, Barber reheated the piece to bring the silver to the surface and moved it to a fuming chamber, where the final sheen was applied.
"When we're working quickly," Barber said, "it's like a choreographed dance."
The products of that dance are displayed in a small exhibit space at the front of the studio. Barber's specialty is hanging vases, which he creates in a variety of colors and sells for $70 at the Sawdust and other festivals and fairs, as well as at his home studio.
He also makes fluted bowls and unique goblets that are popular wedding pieces. This month, he'll begin work on a 25-foot chandelier for a home in Corona del Mar, using colored glass from Europe. The design will evoke images of life in tide pools and the sea.
"That will take a team effort to produce," Barber said.
The artist used to live in town but now prefers the canyon because he can work where he lives. "The furnace is right there," Barber said, "whenever I get the inspiration."
There aren't many places to eat in the canyon, but when the spirit moves Barber and others to get soup, the perfect place is just around the bend. The Laguna Soup Co. (3295 Laguna Canyon Road,  494-6260) is short on space--there are only a couple of tables--but it has a lengthy reputation as the home of good stock.
The 6-year-old business' bread and butter is making soup for the area's hotels, restaurants, coffeehouses and delis that don't want to make it themselves or can't make it as well.
The Laguna Soup Co. keeps six kinds hot every weekday to satisfy local customers. Among the eatery's most popular varieties are chicken with rice and potato broccoli cheddar, said Ben Ballesteros, who runs the place with his partner, Vince Aviatable. Using only farm-fresh vegetables and unprocessed ingredients makes the difference, Ballesteros added.
The hot soups fetch $1.89 for a cup, $3.49 for a bowl, $5.99 for a quart and $19.99 for a gallon. Diners can also order gourmet salads such as the black bean and rice or Asian noodle for $2.25.
The Laguna Soup Co. is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays. It's closed on weekends.
Swings and Arrows
As the major league baseball regular season ends, things are heating up at Laguna Batting Cages and Archery (2003 Laguna Canyon Road,  497-6757).
Business gets slow after the youth baseball and softball seasons wind down, so the cages are closed for a month, said manager James "Dooley" Davis. Of course, for some adult-league veterans, there is no off-season, and the cages recently reopened for a reduced fall schedule.
The business debuted a year ago to fill the need for practice space and instruction in a city with lots of interest and few fields. Machines do the pitching, and hitters can get 24 pitches for $2 or 30 minutes for $15. Hitting or pitching lessons are $40 for a half-hour--$35 for those who buy a block of eight lessons.
Then there's the cage equipped with archery targets set at various distances. Kids love to give archery a shot, Davis said, and he can supply the equipment along with basic instruction. If enough interest builds, he'll start an archery league.
Laguna Batting Cages and Archery also features a basketball court and two Ping-Pong tables and is available for kids' birthday parties.
Business hours are 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. It's closed Mondays.
Another business of interest in Laguna Canyon is Laguna Koi Ponds (20452 Laguna Canyon Road,  494-5107).
If you're looking for a way to enliven your Japanese garden, the ponds can show you koi by the score. The colorful fish come in various patterns and sizes, with some handpicked varieties selling for thousands of dollars apiece. Most go for $50 to $60.
Laguna Koi Ponds is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Take the San Diego Freeway or San Joaquin Hills Toll Road to Laguna Canyon Road and head south toward Laguna Beach. Or take the Santa Ana Freeway and turn south onto the Laguna Freeway, which becomes Laguna Canyon Road.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
1. Laguna Koi Ponds
20452 Laguna Canyon Road
2. Laguna Soup Co.
3295 Laguna Canyon Road
3. John Barber, glass blower
21062 Laguna Canyon Road
4. Laguna Batting Cages and Archery
2003 Laguna Canyon Road