Start with guitars, get certified gold, end up in Ruins. A rock star's career trajectory? Maybe. But also an ideal plan for investigating the beach side of North Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.
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Mac Yasuda is one of the world's foremost vintage-guitar collectors. He owns more than 600, among them 14 pre-World War II Martin D-45s, probably the rarest and most sought-after of all acoustic guitars. At last count, only 37 of the 91 ever made were known to still exist.
While a visitor to Yasuda's fledgling Guitar Museum recently admired a wall of Gibsons dating to 1914, a gaggle of Gretsches and a row of Fenders from the early 1950s (as well as a paisley model from the '60s), Yasuda apologized because $5-million worth of the instruments were at a show in Japan. He has paid up to $50,000 for a single instrument.
Born in Japan in 1949, Yasuda became a country-music fan in his teens; in 1970, he moved to the United States, made a pilgrimage to Nashville and bought his first vintage guitar--a battered Gibson. In Nashville in the '80s, he met Greg Rich, then head of Gibson's banjo division. Rich's specialty was creating collectible musical art pieces; he now designs for Mac Yasuda Guitars (which sell for $3,000 to $8,000).
"Vintage guitars are fine, but they're limited," Newport Beach resident Yasuda noted. Yasuda also sings; he's performed at the Grand Ole Opry a half-dozen times. Porter Wagoner, Hank Snow and Del Reeves are among Opry stars who play Yasuda guitars.
Yasuda's museum (he used to store his instruments at his Newport Beach corporate offices) doesn't have wall labels yet. Your best bet would be to get Yasuda to show you around. Unfortunately, he's often away on business; how else to afford all those guitars? When he is out of town, you'll probably have to settle for a self-guided tour, although Rich is normally on hand and might field questions.
The unrelated Guitar Shoppe next door offers guitars for sale (up to $20,000) as well as repairs and lessons. Luthier Kirk Sand makes electric nylon-string guitars ($3,000 and up); Mark Angus makes acoustic folk and Spanish guitars ($3,000 tops). Fret not: Other guitars start at $89.
Kristalle does most of its business with museums and collectors around the world. "We're better known on the streets of London and Munich than we are in Laguna Beach," said owner Dona Leicht. The natural history gallery has supplied "finest" crystalline gold to museums including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the Sorbonne in Paris.
In January, Kristalle will loan its collection to the Oakland Museum for a show marking the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in California. Wayne Leicht also owns what is reputed to be the world's top collection of antiquarian mineralogy books. Some date to the 1600s and are worth $50,000 apiece.
You can even buy dinosaur poop! It's $25 at Kristalle. Among other gift items are a dinosaur footprint imprint ($4,500), meteorites ($15-$3,500) and insects in amber ($15-$1,000)--do your own DNA experiments!
Oops! Did we mention that Greg Rich designs his own one-of-a-kind instruments, ranging from $20,000 to $40,000? They're on display at the Music Gallery, which shares space with Groomingdale's (the "free pick up and delivery" sign in the window applies to pets, not guitars).
Rich has made guitars for Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra, Roy Rogers, Paul McCartney, Hank Williams Jr. and Slash of Guns N' Roses. Cartoonish cowboys 'n' cactus scenes adorn one instrument in the window. Inside are a metal guitar with a hula motif and a Fender with a Vargas nude on the body and Playboy bunnies among the frets.
Cheery Picayo looks Provencal, all right, with all those sunny yellows and blues. But the cuisine is Mediterranean, also drawing on influences as diverse as Spain, Greece, Morocco, Italy and Turkey. Dinner is expensive (entrees $21.50-$25). Most lunch items run $10-$13. The char-grilled lamb chops with eggplant puree and tortilla Espanola seem to draw raves. With color alone, the sauteed salmon in a saffron and bell-pepper broth with braised leeks and basmati rice puts sunshine right on the plate.
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Instant history! Ruins specializes in architectural salvage for home and garden. Lisa and John Genesta find these pieces--oversized, mostly stone or wrought-iron antiques--primarily in the U.S. and France. An early 19th century palace fireplace ($3,000) just came in from India. Credit the whimsical Lisa with snapping up the little poodle portrait on the wall.
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1) Mac Yasuda's Guitar Museum
1027 N. Coast Highway, Suite E, (714) 494-2285.
Open by appointment 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
2) The Guitar Shoppe
1027 N. Coast Highway, Suites B, C and D, (714) 497-2110.
Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
875 N. Coast Highway, (714) 494-5155.
Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
4) Music Gallery
673 N. Coast Highway, (714) 363-8208.
Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
1155 N. Coast Highway, (714) 497-5051.
Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; dinner seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.
1231-1233 N. Coast Highway, (714) 376-0025.
Open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, by appointment Sunday.
Parking: There is metered street parking along North Coast Highway and free parking in small lots at Kristalle and Picayo.
Buses: OCTA Buses Nos. 1 and 89 run along North Coast Highway.