Southern California Close-Ups | A vacation guide to the Southland
Hear that? That dull roar, like the sound from inside a shell?

That might be the Orange County coastline calling you -- 42 miles of beach and beach towns, give or take, from San Clemente to Seal Beach. Follow the advice here, and this coastline might lull you with surfers on swells, startle you with circus tricks, charm you with old shacks on priceless real estate, seduce or offend you with shiny new buildings on equally priceless real estate, tempt you with $2.69 corn dogs or $600-a-night hotel rooms. If you're lucky, at the end of the day, you'll wind up standing on a pier, surfers bobbing below and the faint funk of old bait hanging in the air, and these very coastal waters will swallow the sun. It's a nice trick, no hammer or nail necessary.

These 12 micro-itineraries are designed to get you started along the O.C. coast whether you're coming from near or far. Read more...

--Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times staff writer
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Scroll over each image for info on each itinerary
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1. San Clemente. Just about all of Southern California's sleepy little beach towns have been built up, priced up and, by many measures, messed up. But San Clemente's pier, beaches and red-tile roofs endure, and they're worth a look. Click for more...
2. Mission San Juan Capistrano. Mission San Juan Capistrano, which went up about the time George Washington and company were signing the Declaration of Independence, is famous for the swallows that return every spring. Click for more...
3. Dana Point. Now, we're a bit north of San Clemente, in Dana Point, with a little flashback: In 1834, a rich kid from New England decided to look for a little adventure before starting law school at Harvard. His name was Richard Henry Dana Jr., and he signed on as a merchant seaman on a tall ship working the cattle-hide trade along the coast of Alta California. Click for more...
4. Upscale lodgings. The O.C. coastline is no place for penny-pinchers, especially when it comes to hotels, especially around Laguna and Newport beaches. Among golfers, two of the most popular lodging splurges are the Resort at Pelican Hill (Newport Beach) and the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort (Dana Point), both of which stand beside private courses. Shoppers might book the Island Hotel or the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach near Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach. Click for more...
5. Crystal Cove. Down along the shore between Laguna Beach and Newport, local activists and state officials are rehabilitating a beloved old beach-cottage community called Crystal Cove. "It's just a rustic walk back in time," says cottages manager Lindsay Lane. Click for more...
6. Newport Beach shopping. You love shopping. And you know you need blow-drying by an expert ($35 at Drybar). Also, you need a massive desk that folds up like a steamer trunk ($3,400 at Restoration Hardware). You need a crack at Neiman Marcus and an hour or two to see how Macy's and Nordstrom compare. In other words, you need Fashion Island, in Newport Beach. Click for more...
7. Beaches of Laguna. If fate placed you in beachy, artsy Laguna Beach this afternoon, would you jump in the ocean first or start prowling galleries? If you choose No. 1, begin by taking the measure of Main Beach at Pacific Coast Highway and Broadway. Click for more...
8. Laguna Beach lodgings. You may be tempted to stay at the old Hotel Laguna, which looms familiarly just south of Main Beach. But be wary. Despite the great location and brilliant views from the restaurants, its rooms have needed updating for years. Click for more...
9. Laguna Beach art. Show me the landscape paintings. 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. Click for more...
10. The Balboas, Part 1. Some of the best fun and most difficult parking in Newport Beach is on Balboa Island and the Balboa peninsula. They're connected by an old-school ferry that carries just three cars ($2 a car), which is fun, but otherwise you'll be happier traveling by foot, bike or watercraft. Click for more...
11. The Balboas, Part 2. 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 with rides and games. Click for more...
12. Huntington Beach. If Newport and Laguna are the rich distant relations who might not remember you in their wills, Huntington Beach is the wild cousin who owes you money. Its downtown is all about scruffy surf culture, and the Main Street bars and restaurants stay lively late, with the usual attendant troubles. Click for more...

Video: Inside coastal Orange County
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