Depending on how you draw the lines in the sand, there are about 25 public beaches in Laguna and, like most residents, I had been to only a handful — until Sunday.
It was a bucket list thing. I have always wanted to see all of them and so I finally did.
I started at Thousand Steps and worked my way north: Table Rock, West Street and Camel Point. I skipped Aliso Beach and Treasure Island because I had been to both several times.
Then Victoria, Moss Street and Woods Cove. Since Pearl Street is "my beach," I skipped that stretch and briefly jumped over to the strand: Brooks, Oak, Anita, etc. I steered clear of Main Beach, for obvious reasons.
I finished with the north coves: Divers, Fisherman's and Shaw's. No need for Crescent Bay either, of course, since it is the classic, most killer beach of all time, and where I fell in love with Laguna as a boy.
It's probably no surprise that each beach is unique, with its own personality, except perhaps the strand or middle beaches. They are only differentiated by its people. Funny how teens still huddle in cliquey groups, like freckled beach gangs, texting each other from two towels over.
There is very little difference between Thalia and Anita, or Oak and Brooks. Sure, there are surf differences but, generally speaking, the beaches from Sleepy Hollow to Brooks are pretty similar.
Each one of the north and south coves, however, are completely different. Not only do the terrains change — sometimes dramatically — between adjacent coves, but the reefs, waves, rocks and foliage vary like some freak overnight tide taking away the sand.
Big boulders appear one day then seemingly disappear the next.
You can do the Blowhole with ease in the morning but by afternoon, you can't even get to it.
I was most intrigued by the southern beaches, probably because I have spent the least time there.
Thousand Steps is worth the effort. And we all know why it's called Thousand Steps: Even though there are only about 230 stairs, it feels like 1,000.
Once you make it down, the old-timer's Polynesian house awaits you on the right and is a nice welcome. The bath and shower are useful (too bad we don't have more them at Laguna beaches). The only drawback is the notorious, abandoned house at the far south end, which is supposed to get demolished but who knows when.
Meanwhile, the next beach north is Table Rock, a fairly small, secluded gem. It's easy to love Table Rock, with the stunning, deep arch, solid tidepools and ample sand. A very pleasant beach.
Then we have West and Camel Point. So here's the deal: I sometimes forget things — well, often — and I completely forgot that these were our happy beaches. I know. So it took me a few minutes of standing around on the sand before I said to myself, "Wait, what is different about this picture?"
Think South Florida.
But it was all good. I learned a few things, by the way, about men's swimwear fashion.
So the next big beach that I had never been to was Victoria — nice, very nice. It's another exquisitely balanced beach: wide sand, burley size, good tidepools, volleyball, a genuine community feel. There are some drawbacks that have been widely mentioned, primarily the lack of access and parking, which is good for the beachside residents to keep the crowds away. Plus, I didn't see any bathrooms, which surprised me.
The last ones I will talk about are the north coves. Like their cousins in the south, they are geological wonders. The reefs here are outstanding.
Divers is very family oriented because it's right off Heisler Park with easy access. It will remind you a little of Crescent Bay, only tamer. The sand is narrow, however, so not a lot of room.
Fisherman's is very small and secluded with nice reefs. If Laguna could claim a black rock beach, it probably would be Fisherman's.
The final one is Shaw's. With a manicured entryway, it's a little touristy and perhaps too busy for residents on weekends, but it's nice — popular.
So it's not about the "best beach in Laguna." There are several. It's more about experiencing them.
And by that I mean, it's not a checklist mentality. The problem with a bucket list is that people get sucked into the trap of getting it done quickly so they can claim it.
I jumped out of an airplane. Check.
I climbed a mountain. Check.
I drove a race car. Check.
Of course it's more about the experience, the lesson, the lifestyle.
Having said that, I have been to all of Laguna's public beaches. Check.