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‘It’s like you’re transported into a Hallmark movie by the ocean’: Hospitality Night returns in Laguna Beach

Super Elf Jeff Glass gets in the holiday spirit during Hospitality Night in Laguna Beach on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A block party took over downtown Laguna Beach on Friday night, as the city saw the return of Hospitality Night, an annual holiday event for the seaside community.

The whole town appeared to turn out for the festivities, which of course carried a beach theme.

Arriving with his personal police escort, Santa joined the party by riding in on a beach lifeguard Jeep, then made his way over to the Peppertree Lot. That’s where Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen welcomed the crowd and led it in a countdown for the tree-lighting ceremony.

Then Santa’s travels took him to the Promenade on Forest. Stationed at one of the outdoor decks, the holly, jolly, festive figure met all the good boys and girls to find out what they wanted for Christmas, many of them meeting the man in the red suit for the first time.

Santa Claus waves to families as he arrives via lifeguard Jeep to the Peppertree Lot stage during Hospitality Night.
Santa Claus waves to families as he arrives via lifeguard Jeep to the Peppertree Lot stage during Hospitality Night.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I get to bring my kid down here and it feels normal,” Kelsey Geis of Laguna Niguel said. “He’s so young and seeing a lot of people in masks usually scares him, so getting to see Santa’s face for the first time, it brings joy to my heart.”

Geis’ husband then coaxed their 2-year-old son to say, “Father Christmas,” as they gazed upon the man himself.

A cutout board in the form of a greeting card also allowed people to take pictures of reindeer prancing toward surf and sand. Rich Ferrell, who came to Hospitality Night with his girlfriend, Holly, and brother, Joe, was a good sport in posing as one of the reindeer.

“The camaraderie, bringing the community together, the Christmas spirit, and moving on from the whole COVID thing, especially,” Ferrell said of what he enjoyed about the evening. “It’s time.”

A group of friends who call themselves the Vic Beach Girls show off their reindeer glasses.
A group of friends who call themselves the Vic Beach Girls show off their reindeer glasses soon after the Peppertree Lot tree was lit.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Revelers, many dressed in costume, enjoyed the outdoor gathering. The evening provided several live musical performances — including one that featured a guitarist inside a window display.

Melissa Benson, who came from Texas for a reunion with friends, took to sewing during the pandemic. Her friends enticed her to bring out her creations, which consisted of an assortment of 18th-century gowns.

“We have known each other for about 25 or 30 years,” Benson said.

“We get together every year for a Christmas party in Laguna Beach. During the pandemic, I’ve been sewing, and so I sewed everything over the last year and a half. They suggested I bring everything out for the Christmas party and [said], ‘We’ll get dressed up.’”

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Bushard's Pharmacy displays a 75 balloon to mark its 75th anniversary celebration.
Bushard’s Pharmacy displays a 75 balloon to mark its 75th anniversary celebration.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We like each other and enjoy spending time together,” Benson said. “This is the first time we’ve been together since the pandemic.”

Shops and restaurants throughout the downtown area remained open for business, surrounded by the cheerful and lively atmosphere.

The sights and sounds of the illuminated full streets were missing last year when Hospitality Night was canceled due to the pandemic.

Down on the South Coast Highway end of Forest Avenue, a ukulele-playing chorus of carolers serenaded the audience with a rendition of “Silver Bells” when two toddlers stole the show.

Francesca Aguirre and Amira Beheshti, both 3, danced hand in hand in front of the ukulele band, providing a picturesque scene of holiday cheer.

“They’re in their own universe at the moment,” Laguna Beach resident Jennifer Evans, Francesca’s mother, said. “It’s like you’re transported into a Hallmark movie by the ocean.”

Rebecca Ramirez, left, and Bernard Yin of the surf rock band Par Avion perform at Hobie's in downtown Laguna Beach.
Rebecca Ramirez, left, and Bernard Yin of the surf rock band Par Avion perform at Hobie’s in downtown Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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