Laguna Beach has been an art colony for a century or so. Though rising prices have worn thin the town's hippie veneer, you'll find galleries and festivals all over, especially in summer. Start with breakfast in north Laguna amid the decorative gnomes and greenery of Madison Square & Garden Cafe (320 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; www.madisonsquare.com). Hop across the street to check the smallish but smart Laguna Art Museum (307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach; www.lagunaartmuseum.org) and maybe have a look at blankets and beadwork at Len Wood’s Indian Territory Gallery (305 N. Coast Highway, Unit D, Laguna Beach; www.indianterritory.com), just a few steps away.
From here, you might need to drive a bit. Dozens of galleries, scattered north to south along Pacific Coast Highway, concentrate on classic California plein-air landscapes, including the Redfern Gallery (1540 S. Coast Highway, Suite 103, Laguna Beach; www.redferngallery.com). And there's plenty else too, such as Todd Kenyon's minimalist modern seascapes at the Pure Laguna Beach gallery (1590 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; www.purelagunabeach.com) or the cool old movie and travel images at the Vintage Poster (1492 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; www.thevintageposter.com).
More than 40 galleries stay open for art walks on the first Thursday of every month (www.firstthursdaysartwalk.com). There's also a great selection at Laguna Beach Books (1200 S. Coast Highway, Laguna; www.lagunabeachbooks.com).
As for the art festivals, the weirdest (and one of the oldest) is the Pageant of the Masters (650 Laguna Canyon Road; www.foapom.com), in which volunteers don costumes and makeup and strike poses to mimic old-master paintings (usually early July-late August; √$15-$100 per adult). Other summer stalwarts (with varying individual dates) include the Sawdust Art Festival (www.sawdustartfestival.org), the Festival of Arts (www.foapom.com) and Art-a-Fair (www.art-a-fair.com); the Plein Air Painting Invitational (www.lpapa.org) usually follows in October.
Because you're saving your pennies for art, sidestep the fancy restaurants and grab a tasty Mexican lunch or dinner, prepared with an emphasis on sustainability, at La Sirena Grill, either downtown (347 Mermaid St., Laguna Beach; www.lasirenagrill.com) or at the small chain’s south Laguna location (30862 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach).
10. The Balboas, Part 1
Balboa Candy (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Some of the best fun and most difficult parking in Newport Beach are found on Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula. The island and peninsula are connected by an old-school ferry that carries just three cars ($2 a car; 410 S. Bayfront, Newport Beach; www.balboaislandferry.com), which is fun, but otherwise you'll be happier traveling by foot, bike or watercraft. The highlight of moneyed and mostly residential Balboa Island -- which is also connected to the mainland by bridge -- is the commercial strip of Marine Avenue, where you can buy boutique clothes for yourself and your kids, maybe have lunch at Wilma's Patio (203 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, Newport Beach; www.wilmaspatio.com) and perhaps buy a frozen banana, although that will mean choosing between Sugar 'n' Spice ("the original frozen banana" at 310 Marine Ave.) and Dad's Original (at 318 Marine Ave.).
11. The Balboas, Part 2
The Wedge (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The Balboa Peninsula includes a lot: the Newport and Balboa piers, several small hotels, a bunch of restaurants, a 1.7-mile bike trail that connects the piers, watercraft rentals, harbor cruises, the historic Balboa Pavilion building and a neighboring Fun Zone (600 East Bay Ave., Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach, www.thebalboafunzone.com) with rides and games. If you watched"The O.C." on television (2003-07), many of these spots will look familiar.
At the peninsula's southern tip is the Wedge, a prime body-surfing spot that Esquire magazine once put on a list of "60 things worth shortening your life for." Partake if you dare, then rent a bike ($8-$10 an hour from various storefronts), pedal pier to pier, and stop near the Newport Pier at Jane's Corndogs (106 McFadden Place, Newport Beach).
Later you can choose between the unpretentious 25-room Bay Shores Peninsula Hotel, (1800 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach; www.thebestinn.com) or the 15-room Newport Beach Hotel (formerly Newport Beachwalk Hotel, 2306 W. Oceanfront Blvd., Newport Beach; www.thenewportbeachhotel.com), which is snazzier but plopped down on the semi-scruffy boardwalk. But for now, get in line behind those tourists from North Dakota, fork over about $3 and taste that savory corn-dog goodness.
12. And now the scruffy cousin
Huntington Beach Pier (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)